The TVR Trident story is probably the most intriguing and dramatic chapter in TVR history. Between 1964 and 1966 TVR produced only four Tridents before losing the manufacturing rights to a local TVR dealer who started making his own (non TVR) Tridents. The TVR Tridents are unique in many ways: designed by an Italian/English designer, handmade by Carrozzeria Fissore in Turin and powered by an American Ford Cobra V8. They are also the only TVRs to date to feature a steel/aluminium body work.
The Trident story starts in the early sixties when TVR was still a very low volume manufacturer. Founder Trevor Wilkinson had already left and it was the time of frequent management and strategy changes. It was said that there were more directors than skilled workers at Hoo Hill.
At one point the TVR people thought the time was right for an assault on the best of British sports cars like Jaguar and Aston Martin. The new exclusive more up-market TVR had to be developed on the original TVR chassis, while its bodywork had to be designed by a famous Italian styling house. Not unusual given the fact that the sixties were the high days of Italian car designers like Zagato, Bertone, Fissore, Giugiaro and many others.
In Spring 1963 some TVR managers met a certain Trevor Frost in the
Derby Arms pub in Treales, near Blackpool. Frost was English designer with
Italian roots, working at that time at Carrozzeria Fissore in Turin, under
the name Trevor
Trevor Frost persuaded Carrozzeria Fissore to build two Tridents (no 1 and no 2) on a Grantura/Griffith chassis. They were finished just in time for the 1965 Geneva Motor Show. The Tridents were nothing like a TVR had ever been and in some respect they resembled more an eighties' 350i Coupe rather than a classic TVR. The 'wedge' body work was made of steel with a one-piece aluminium bonnet. Power came from a 4.7 litre Ford Cobra V8, developing 270 bhp, linked to a four speed gearbox. Wheels were Dunlop 72 spokes. The Italian roots were reflected in the Alfa Romeo rear lights, Fiat front lights and many Alfa Romeo switches inside.
The new TVRs got a warm welcome from the motoring press and according to the Daily Mail, the Trident simply was the most beautiful car in the world. When the Geneva show closed its doors, TVR had received orders in excess of £150,000. Inspired by this success, TVR ordered two more Tridents from the Fissore work shops, this time a coupe (no 3) and a convertible (no 4). These two cars were to become test cars in order to make development of the Trident possible.
Disappointing sales results of the Grantura and Griffith left TVR with a new financial nightmare however. By August 1965 - even before Fissore could deliver the two Tridents - TVR went bankrupt for the second time. As TVR enthusiasts will know, Martin Lilley, a TVR dealer from Barnet took the company over together with his father Arthur. He gave priority to production of the regular TVRs and by Christmas 1965, TVR was back on the road again to establish its firm reputation as an uncompromising sports car manufacturer.
What had become of the Trident in the mean time? During the months in which the Lilleys were taking over, the rights to the Trident were allowed to fall between the cracks and ownership remained unclear. Did it belong to TVR, to Fissore or simply to Frost? Both Fissore and Frost held money from TVR and they feared the Trident project would cause heavy financial losses. A local TVR dealer from Suffolk, Bill Last, approached Fissore with a view to obtain the manufacturing rights of the forgotten TVR. How exactly Last acquired the rights has never been clear, but acquire them he did. This enabled Last to commission a brand new Trident from Fissore and to market it as a Trident.
Austin Healey 3000
The car's design differed significantly from the original TVR Trident as it was based on an Austin Healey 3000 chassis. Moreover the body work was made of glass-fibre rather than steel. Between 1966 and 1976 Tridents Cars and its successor Trident Motor Company, built some 130 cars.
As for TVR, they had lost the Trident in 1966 and they would never recover it. Fortunately, Martin Lilley went to Fissore to pick up the remains of no 3 and no 4, which were then finished by TVR. The convertible even became Lilley's personal car for some time.
TVR Trident ownership has remained unchanged for ages, probably because of the uniqueness of each of the cars. While no 1 and no 2 moved to the USA, no 3 and no 4 stayed in the UK. Today all four cars still survive and that is mainly due to the efforts of Chuck Lynn, a former American TVR Trident owner. But in 2000 something unusual happened as both the coupe no 2 and the no 4 convertible were sold to two Belgian TVR owners. As a result half of the TVR Trident production now resides in Belgium and it looks like their current owners will hang onto them forever.
The TVR Trident after all is not only a unique TVR but also a unique piece of British sport cars manufacturing.
Copyright © Jo Hemelsoet, 2001