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TVR interview exclusive

Published: 05 March 2007

The TVR saga has taken another twist. Young Russian millionaire Nikolai Smolenski has bought back the collapsed sports car maker and gone into business with two Americans. We’ve interviewed them all.

The American duo are eventually expected to take full control of the company, with Smolenksi cutting ties with TVR and returning to his home in Austria. Jean Michel Santacrue and Adam Burdette from Florida have ambitious plans to take TVR onto the world stage selling 5000 cars a year and claim to have pre-orders from 2000 American buyers and a network of US dealers; they hope to have cars on sale by the last quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2008, they told CAR Online this week. Santacrue and Burdette say they have been planning a TVR launch in the US for the last year and that they also have plans to sell 2000 cars in the Far East, with a further 1000 cars across Europe – of which only 250 will be sold in the UK.

The plans are as ambitious as Smolenski’s own targets when he bought TVR three years ago, but the young Russian never got close to achieving his goals, despite pumping an estimated £15 million into the car firm. The relaunched TVR faces numerous problems. Top of the list is where the cars will actually be built. The most likely location is Italy and sports car specialist Bertone or Pininfarina are the preferred contractors. A deal will be struck this month, bringing to an end 60 years of UK manufacturing.

Smolenski was scathing in his criticism of both the Government and the local Blackpool authorities, for their lack of support to TVR. ‘Britain does not support industry, they promise a lot but don’t deliver,’ he said. ‘I can’t see how TVR can go back to Blackpool because Blackpool was never feasible as a production base.’ But there will still be a strong British input in TVR cars, with British suppliers like Ricardo preparing the engines and gearboxes, while other British firms will deliver the car’s interiors and other components.

Another hurdle to pass is the fact that TVR models are not type-approved to meet American emission and safety legislation; without that approval, the 2000 pre-orders for the US are worthless. The American duo believe that type approval will be granted, stating that they have already started work with the US authorities. As for the actual cars, Nikolai Smolenski, promised two new GT models based on the Sagaris and Tuscan models will relaunch the brand. Both new American directors emphasised that TVR would remain very much a ‘British’ car, as Santacrue explained: ‘That is what the American buyers want, a true British sports car icon.’

To make sure the Britishness is retained, a team of 20 British designers and engineers will be employed – from the original TVR staff – to design and develop new models. Another major question in the TVR saga is how much damage has been done to the brand after nearly two years of uncertainty and, in particular, the turbulent last few months. Santacrue thinks TVR is a badge worth salvaging. ‘The brand has been around for 60 years, I don’t think two months of bad press will destroy TVR. The brand is still very strong.’ Smolenski admitted that after two rollercoaster years running TVR he would have done things differently, and said he felt for the workforce who had lost their jobs. ‘The workers have to be mad, they should be mad at me. I accept the blame. I realise it will not be easy for them to find a new job in Blackpool.’

He is still hopeful of recovering some of the estimated £15 million he has ploughed into TVR, once the company is relaunched and finally starts selling cars again in serious numbers. But having had to pay around £2 million to buy the firm back for a second time he is far more likely to end up out of pocket; some would say that is the price of failure to deliver. One thing is sure, there is no doubt there are still more twists to come in the car saga that reads like a Russian spy thriller.