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Grantura Mark lll, Mark lV 1800S - TVR's Grantura Mark lll, Mark lV 1800S

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There’s an appealing delicacy about the TVR Grantura that shouts ‘drive me’.

It’s a combination of compact overall dimensions, a well-proportioned shape, and a cockpit that, even at a cursory glance, you know is going to be cossetting to the point of confinement. The Grantura might be an early phase of TVR’s long and charismatic lineage, but you just know it’s going to be a great drive.

And even before you clamber in and taste its idiosyncratic delights, there’s no mistaking the breed – this is a TVR. That much is telegraphed by the shape, which has clearly defined hallmarks that survived intact (apart from the wedgy Tasmin experiment) from this era right through to the day the final Sagaris rolled off the line at the Blackpool factory in 2006.
 
But, as TVR historians will tell you, the Grantura might well have been the first of a long line but it certainly wasn’t the first TVR. It was an evolution of Trevor Wilkinson’s 1955 ‘saloon’, itself a production version of the specials that had rolled out of his garage before. It’s also interesting that, when the Grantura arrived in 1958, it wasn’t known as a Grantura at all, but was simply called the Mark I. The Grantura name came into use in 1959, when the car was shown to potential customers – when Wilkinson told the world the car was in production, though in fact there was only the one example in existence.

Evolution is a long-running theme in TVR’s history and it shows, even here. The styling of the Grantura, so identifiably ‘TVR’ in its execution and proportion, is also clearly a modifed version of the Rochdale body that Wilkinson used for his specials – yet it is these mods that give the car genuine character.

Looking at the two Grantura 1800s you see here, what’s obvious is that Wilkinson couldn’t leave things alone. The body changes seen at the rear of the green car to create the ‘Manx’ tail in 1964 are superbly effective, as is the use of Ford Cortina Mk1 lamp clusters.

Inside, the cars are stark but less cramped than you might think, considering the tiny doors you have to struggle through to get in. Once you’re sitting inside, you soon appreciate their legs-outstretched driving position, and the near-vertical steering wheel. Considering the reputation these cars have for poor build quality (and early Granturas were shocking), and their general demeanor of a kit-car special, they feel remarkably ‘together’.
 
Both cars are powered by the MGB’s 1.8-litre B-series engine, which is a real old-school slogger. It offers plenty of low-down grunt, easy acceleration and just enough power to entertain. There were many engine options TVR owners could choose from, including Ford’s sidevalve for those on a budget, while the Mark I and Mark II could be had with the Coventry-Climax FWE engine. Our MGB-powered pair are typical of most Granturas.

Cars built before 1962 had Volkswagen-based twin-parallel trailing link independent suspension – and a reputation for being bone-shakers. The Mark III and Mark IV, with their John Thurner-designed chassis, employ an all-independent wishbone and coil spring set-up. It feels firm and responsive. There’s little play in the ultra-direct steering, and a surprising amount of kickback – it wouldn’t be too far off-beam to describe the Grantura 1800 as nervy. But that’s all part and parcel of the racing car feel Wilkinson always wanted in his cars.

Of course, he had long gone from the company when these cars rolled out of Blackpool. He’d walked out in 1962 when it became clear that he had lost overall control of the company as the financial troubles that regularly affected TVR took hold. But his legacy was a good one – as the ability of the Granturas built by the team that replaced him at the helm of TVR so clearly demonstrate.

Wilkinson’s tenure at TVR had been troubled, though.  As early as the end of 1958, TVR Engineering had to be dissolved, leaving Layton Sports Cars and Grantura Engineering putting together TVR cars for both the UK and export markets. It was a disaster, and one that lasted until 1961 when the company folded once again… and then again in 1965! It wasn’t until the arrival of Martin Lilley that the marque could run on an even keel. Finally TVR began to move forwards.  

As for the Grantura, it’s a real tribute to the essential ‘rightness’ of the design that it lasted as well as it did, outliving three company restructures and two disastrous drives into the US market. All it needed was stability, and with the arrival of the Mark III and the use of one engine family – the MGB’s 1.8-litre – that was achieved. But the real excitement was reserved for the V8-powered models. Turn the page to find out about those.


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