After almost 10 years in the wilderness, TVR is
back in British hands
after Surrey-based entrepreneur Les Edgar bought the company “lock, stock and barrel” from Nikolai Smolensky. But who is Les Edgar and what are his plans? We called up to find out.
Edgar made his money as a computer games developer and now runs a country house estate. He freely admits he has no experience in the car industry, but he has serious form as a petrolhead. In 2002, he backed Aston Martin’s re-entry into Le Mans for no reason “other than I wanted to see Astons back where they should be - in GT racing.”
As for the lack of an auto industry background, maybe we shouldn’t be worried. Peter Wheeler didn’t have one either when he bought the company in 1989.
He says the sale involved “a substantial amount” of items from the Blackpool factory but also he said wasn’t about to resurrect the 2004 line-up, even though he could: “It’s time to move on”. We still don’t know what he’s going to make, when it’ll be made or who he’ll partner with. On these and many other questions he’s staying tight lipped until the project is much further forward.
“We don’t want… to carry on the bullsh*t that for years and years has been surrounding the marque.”
He says we shouldn’t worry: “I don’t think anyone’s going to be disappointed with what we do.”
1959 Grantura shows how far back TVR goes
What does TVR mean to you?
“It probably means same as it means to many people on PistonHeads. It’s a very famous British sports car brand that’s well known for its power, for its slightly suspect styling, but nevertheless unique and fantastic in many ways.
“A lot of people are surprised to hear it’s been around since 1947. It epitomises the British sports car manufacturing industry, from the early 30s when a lot of people did a lot of these companies on a shoestring. Sadly a lot of those marques have been swallowed up or disappeared altogether. TVR fortunately managed to make it into the new millennium, and people are still very much aware of it. It’s slightly ironic that some of the best cars where produced right at the point it was decided it should implode. If you ask what it means to me personally, I don’t want to go into that because that gives a flavor of what I’m about to do next with it.”
Have you owned TVRs in the past?
“That I’m not going to reveal. We are very conscious of that fact that anything that we say before we’re ready to say it could easily be misconstrued.
“Even simple things like, I owned such and such a car. People start surmising that’s the sort of thing that I’m going to look to build in the future. It sounds minor, but what we don’t want to do is to carry on the bullsh*t that for years and years has been surrounding the marque, we want to stop that now. Our target was to bring TVR home and then to finalise a plan that will reintroduce the brand in a meaningful way.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be disappointed with what we do. Obviously not everyone will agree with it, but others will think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but hopefully there’s enough of the latter to make us into a profitable car manufacturer.”
Wheeler built the TVRs he wanted, says Edgar
You know the saying, to make a small fortune in the British sports car industry you start with a large one. Do you have a magic formula to dodge that fate?
“Yes. The magic formula is ‘get it right’. Everything you do in life or manufacture in life is governed by some compromise or other. It’s a question of compromising things that you’re prepared to compromise and concentrate on the ones that should never be compromised. I may see things that can be compromised that other followers of the marque may not agree with. But of course something has to give somewhere otherwise we end up with a million-pound car.”
It’s an uphill struggle even for people who seemingly get it spot on. Is it something that worries you?
"You’d be foolish not to be worried about getting it right. We won’t get it 100 per cent right. We’ll get it right from our perspective, but it may not be right from other people’s perspective. I think a lot of people who manufacture cars sometimes lose sight of what they should be doing and get rather embroiled in making something for a market that isn’t their market.
"That’s the growing pains of small car manufacturers. If you don’t focus on your core market, if you decide to get bigger, that’s the time you’ve got a big potential for screwing up. TVR has a very specific clientele. Of course we all like to think we can broaden our markets in order to survive, in the way Aston Martin have done. In the process sometimes some of the finer points are lost in its brand meaning."
Edgar is clearly focused on TVR's DNA
Who do you admire in the industry. Who’s got it right in your view?
“Land Rover is getting it right. There’s a great British marque. There are any number of other manufacturers making similar cars, but they haven’t managed to get that unique thing that Land Rover has. You can turn up anywhere in a Land Rover, regardless of the age and its kind of acceptable. From a shabby old Series I to a brand new Range Rover. They’ve remained true to their brand values yet they have traversed different markets and different countries.”
How can you apply what they’ve done to TVR?
“The fundamental lesson is to protect the brand. That doesn’t mean you can’t change it, but it does mean the DNA is all important. I’ve got a very personal and clear interpretation of what the brand stands for, but it may not be everybody’s.”
Some horrible things have happened to the brand over the last 10 years. Is that a problem, or can you reset the button to 2004?
“I wouldn’t dream of doing that. I’d like reset the button to 2013. We are what we are. We’ll be judged by the steps we take. I can’t do anything about what happened in the interim. All I can do is move forward, put my money where my mouth is and be judged on the results of that. This not about going back, this is about going forward.
“It’s not about looking back to 2004 – there’s nothing wrong with the cars from 2004, they were fantastic cars. But it’s time to move on.”
But you couldn’t even build those cars again, even if you wanted to, right?
“Why couldn’t we build them again? Of course we could. We own everything to do with the cars, we bought everything lock stock and barrel. We can build what we want to build really. The point is not that. The point is we wouldn’t want to relaunch those cars. We’re not building a company on nostalgia. We’re building on what people want to buy. And we understand what people probably want to buy has got a lot to do with the DNA and what they could buy before.
“It’s not going to be the same, of course it’s not. In the way the Sagaris wasn’t the same as the original Grantura. But it has elements of that carried through.”
What did the sale include?
“Everything. I’m not going to tell what they are, but yes there are a substantial amount of mechanical items, they cover a wide breadth of parts. We bought everything that was left of TVR.”
Rebirth for Sagaris not on the agenda
the jigs and moulds
“I can’t say – it’s covered by confidentiality. The agreement signed by myself and Nikolai contains some stringent confidentiality provisions.”
What is the heart of TVR for you? Is it the engine? The styling? The brand itself?
“I think it’s the people that buy them. We’re looking a demographic that is probably different from what it was 15-20 years. We build cars that hopefully people want to buy, and they may not be the same type of people that bought them 10 years ago. At the base of it the DNA has got to be the same thing running through.”
What is that DNA?
“People’s view would I suspect be different. They might say Britishness, they might say unique, they might say handbuilt, bonkers mad. We all know what TVR means. You see on your site all the time. You’ve only got to read one of the 40-odd pages and you’ll get a fair idea of what TVR means. And it’s fairly consistent.
“Bear in mind that an enthusiast on his fourth TVR is not necessarily the same as the person who’s going out to buy a sports car because they don’t like the look of a Lotus and or the idea of a Caterham.”
You’ve got to look outside the core customer base then?
“Yeah I think you do. Again If you make it too broad then you will compromise some stuff, so I think deciding on who you’d like to buy your car is one way of look at it. I don’t think Peter Wheeler decided who he will sell his cars to. I think in all likelihood he said, ‘I’m going to build this’. Build it and they will come. But who ‘they’ are is only proven when they’ve build the thing in the first place.
“He put a lot of him into it. That’s often the hallmark of small companies, led by one vision, right or wrong.”
"It won't be an SUV" one of the few givens
What’s your car background?
“Aston Martin racing was something I was passionate about. And getting that back on the track at Le Mans [in 2002] was my brainchild, something I wanted to achieve. It didn’t have an purpose other than I want to see Astons back where they should be in GT racing.
“I have other mechanical qualifications that will help me in the road ahead, but not specifically in automotive manufacturing.”
That would mean going into partnership with someone. Have you established the ties you need?
“I can’t tell you.”
“We have things worked out. It’s just that we haven’t announced it yet. We haven’t shared any information with anybody outside of our board and don’t intend too. Our plans for how when and who will not be revealed until we’re ready to do that.
“We do have a very clear idea of what we’re doing, we do have plans in place.”
What made you decide at this point in your life that you wanted to own a car company?
“I’ve always been passionate about cars, so an opportunity has come along to rescue a great British marque and so something with it. Who wouldn’t be interested? If you’ve got petrol in your veins you’ve got it, so then it’s only a question of money and time. And having the right people with me, which I have, on the board.”
Where would you like to see yourselves in five years’ time?
“That’s a hard question. In any investment you look at the end game, certainly in the motor industry my impressions are the end game is usually a long way down the road. If you’re going to make TVRs I can’t see it being anything other than a will to make cars that people love. Achieve that and you’ve got everything.
“I guess we’d like to think in five years time we were on the road to achieving that.”
Will you be using your own engines?
“It depends on what we build in the first place. There have been assumptions that we’re going to build something as there was before. We’re clearly not going to be building wind turbines and we are going to stick to an automotive theme with anything we do. But I couldn’t give you a heads up on any mechanical aspect of what we do other than it’s likely to have four wheels and hopefully the doors won’t fall off.”
And it won’t be an SUV…
“I wouldn’t like to say. Who knows? You must never enter into these ventures without having a sense of adventure. However that’s not true to the DNA. As they say, never say never, but if you look at other people’s attempts at SUVs you’d have to think long and hard to up against the likes of Land Rover. I can’t imagine it’ll be on our radar any time soon.”
Do you have ambitions as far away as China?
[Laughs] “Take over the world, that’s my ambition. If China happened to fall by the wayside while I was doing it, so be it. Again this is a very carefully thought out business proposition. There’s a lot of passion here, which you need if you’re going to build great cars. But this is huge undertaking. No matter how small the production line, no matter how few the cars.”