The M-Series TVRs were a step towards full production car credibility for the Blackpool company, after years of building cars you could buy as kits as well as ready made.
The range – so called because ‘M’ was for ‘Martin’ – lasted the 1970s and brought stability and profitability to TVR. And they were so good, they were remixed in the late-1980s.
TVR M-Series : Dial ‘M’ for Martin
When they arrived on the scene in the early 1970s, the M-Series cars were a huge step in the right direction for the company. TVR’s boss since the company had fallen into Administration in 1965, Martin Lilley, wanted to stamp his own identity on TVR, while making it a serious player in the sports car market.
Lilley achieved that ambition at the 1971 Earls Court Motor Show by unveiling the M-Series alongside the arresting-looking Zante prototype, while staffing the stand with nude models. TVR attracted a lot of attention on that day.
First to go on sale was the Triumph-powered 2500M in 1972, but the range would subsequently be expanded. The M-Series’ styling may have looked reassuringly familiar after the Grantura, Vixen and Tuscan of old, but underneath there was an all-new multi-tube frame, which was claimed to be both stronger and simpler to repair. Sadly, the Tuscan V8 SE (Blackpool’s own AC Cobra, no less) had quietly died in 1970, and wouldn’t be replaced effectively until the 1990s.
The milder Ford-powered 1600M followed in June 1972, using Kent power – it remained in production for about a year before being revived briefly in 1975 to sate demand for more economical sports cars in the wake of the 1973-74 Energy Crisis. The launch-spec 2500M made way for the Ford Essex-powered 3000M after a brief crossover following the car’s launch at Earls Court in October 1972. These were busy days for TVR.
Familiar looks, all-new platform
Under the skin, the M-Series carried on the front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout that had been used in its predecessors, and also continued the glassfibre body-on-frame construction that made their production so flexible. Like Lotus, TVR used a backbone chassis, and the improvements for the M-Series were overseen by Chassis Engineer and TVR dealer Mike Bigland during 1971 in the lead-up to the new car’s launch.
Bigland had history with TVR, proving responsible for engineering improvements to the steering and suspension of a customer’s 1967 TVR Tuscan SE – and the improved car soon came to the attention of Martin Lilley. Bigland’s M-Series backbone chassis used a central-backbone layout, combined with perimeter tubes.
The structure was comprised of both round- and square-section 14- and 16-gauge steel tubing – meaning it combined the ease of construction associated with square tubing, and the strength of the round stuff. The result was an all-new chassis – and an upgraded workshop at Bristol Avenue to build it.
Styling was an evolution of the outgoing models, although the new look at the rear was penned by Martin Lilley with the help of Joe Mleczek, who had been at TVR since 1959. Lilley also designed the interior and trim, which was a bigger step from the Vixen-era cars.
Dipping into Triumph’s parts bin
The car’s suspension was via double wishbones and coil springs front and rear. The brakes were 11-inch discs at the front and 9.0-inch drums at the rear, while the steering on all the cars was via rack-and-pinion, with the rack manufactured by Alford & Alder. Some components — such as the differential carrier and front suspension wishbones — were unique to TVR, but much was sourced off the shelf from other manufacturers – most notably Triumph.
That reliance on Canley’s parts bin was in evidence come the launch of the M-Series. It was a staggered launch, with a blurred crossover from the old Vixen range o the new cars, with several cars being made up of old bodies over new chassis – but, common to both, was the silky straight-six Triumph engine in the 2.5-litre car. It lent confusion – we had the TVR 2500 (96 were built) and then the launch M-Series, the 2500M for the US market.
By 1973, the M-Series was selling well and coincided with the end of the kit-car era. From 1973, it was no longer possible to buy your TVR in kit form, and Lilley was delighted: the production situation simplified considerably, and the big-six-powered 2500M proved the best seller of the lot.
Export plans ahoy – a V8 added to the plan?
In 1974, John Wadman (the President of the Canada-based import company TVR North America) began a project to replace the Triumph 2.5-litre with a Ford 302cu in V8. Wadman handled the engineering of the conversion, which involved the use of different engine mounts, radiator and springs. The Ford V8 was mated to a BorgWarner T4 gearbox with a rear differential from the Chevrolet Corvette, and the 5000M was shown at the 1975 Toronto International Auto Show.
However, TVR had bigger fish to fry. In January 1975, a disastrous fire destroyed large parts of the factory and numerous vehicles. TVR NA ordered and pre-paid for six cars from the manufacturer.
This gesture helped to secure future support from TVR for Wadman’s V8 conversions: the factory eventually supplied five M-Series coupes without engines or transmissions, specifically for the purpose of V8 installations. TVR NA also converted three cars that were originally equipped with the Ford Essex V6, but which had arrived from the factory with cracks in their cylinder blocks.
Hatching out the innovative Taimar
However, the Ford Capri V6-powered 3000M was the star of the range in the UK and Europe, and it would be this car that would form the backbone of the range throughout the decade. It was effortlessly quick and smooth with a 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds and maximum speed of 121mph, with far nicer steering than the 2500M.
In its 1976 road test, Autosport magazine, said: ‘If it were legal, you could cruise all day at 100mph or more, with a feeling that the engine was doing no work at all. The car is mechanically quiet at such speeds and, though wind noise begins to intrude, it has been greatly reduced since my last TVR road test. Curiously enough, the deep muttering of the exhaust is more noticeable at very low speeds. Many enthusiasts enjoy such vintage sounds, but it does cause a suspicion of body boom, which disappears as soon as the car gets into its stride.’
The magazine concluded: ‘The TVR Taimar is an exceptionally well made sports car that will still record a genuine 125 mph, even with the anti-pollution equipment that is now standard. It should be a good investment, for its body is immune from rust, and its fuel consumption is moderate for a high-performance 3.0-litre car.’
It proved a suitable car for further development and, by 1976, had sprouted an opening hatchback to become the Taimar. It was an innovative new addition to the range, proving the adaptability of the M-Series body. This was the first major alteration to the M-Series, and proved an unlikely star of the 1976 London Motor Show. According to TVR biographers, the name was supposedly created from ‘Tailgate Martin’ – in the event, 395 normally-aspirated Taimars were built.
The Taimar was also positively greeted by road testers. In his 1978 road test, Clive Richardson of Motor Sport concluded: ‘I rather liked this handsome TVR Taimar, so full of character and exciting thanks to the willing, rorty, Ford V6. Maybe it is not the world’s best-handling sports car, but it does retain that feeling of brutishness, performance and air of hand-built individuality coupled now with additional sophistication and versatility which are needed to justify its price. The similarly-powered Capri 3000S may be much better value at more than £2000 less, but would a lady be seen in rabbit fur in preference to mink?’
Then, the M-Series lost its roof in 1978 to become the 3000S convertible. It was this car – the first open-topped series-production TVR – that was the company’s bestseller as the 1970s drew to a close. Times had changed and TVR had grown up. To become an open-top, the body received a myriad of significant changes. Outwardly, it was identical from the A-posts forward, but the windscreen, doors and rear were all new – and, in the ultimate retro move, the S did without side windows, but used Jensen-designed sidecurtains instead.
For those who wanted V8 Griffith 200/400-style speed during the 1970s, TVR approached Broadspeed to produce a blown version of the 3.0-litre Essex V6. The first 3000M Turbo prototype was unveiled at the 1975 British International Motor Show at Earls Court, and went into production the following year.
It ran an interesting induction system, with a carburettor that was sealed inside a pressurised box atop the engine, and a turbocharger itself was mounted low and forward in the engine compartment.
It was quick, and rare – the Broadspeed-developed car pushed out 230bhp to give a claimed maximum speed of 150mph and a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds, but somehow it lacked drama compared with earlier fire-breathing models, and clearly missed a V8. After a seven-year run, the M-Series made way for the altogether more progressive Tasmin in 1980.
Ordinarily, that should have been the end of it, except…
M becomes S: The 1980s rebirth
By the late 1980s, and the advent of the increasingly scary ‘wedges’, there was room for an entry-level TVR. What better way, then, but to offer one than by building a revised version of the old 3000S, priced at around £2000 less than a Tasmin convertible? Its arrival in 1986 coincided with the classic car boom of the mid-1980s and hit just the right note.
However, although it looks similar to its 1970s forebear, the 1991 TVR S3 felt rather different to drive, thanks to its more sophisticated semi-trailing arm rear suspension. Scuttle shake was an annoyance, but not excessively so. In the dry, it felt planted and secure, and a lack of ultimate power (150bhp) meant you could play in the bends without too much risk of being bitten.
When the V8S model rumbled onto the scene in 1991 – combining V8 power with the classic bodyshell and answering an obvious question – TVR’s course was well and truly mapped. The company would go forward by looking to the past. The 1970s wedge had been put out to pasture, and developments of the new ‘old’ car concept were TVR’s passport to a more spectacular future.