The story of the TVR Griffith begins with the story of TVR itself. TVR is one of those tiny British automakers that’s managed to survive its own checkered history. Established by Trevor (TreVoR) Wilkinson in 1954, it quickly turned from kit cars to an odd-looking fiberglass-bodied coupe, the Grantura. Also sold fully assembled, the Grantura had a multi-tube backbone chassis designed to accept a variety of proprietary engines and suspension components. But sales were difficult, and TVR was reorganized no fewer than three times by the early ’60s.
Then, a break. Three Granturas ran at Sebring in 1962, and two of the drivers happened to maintain their personal cars -- a Grantura and a Shelby Cobra -- at the New York shops of Jack Griffith. Griffith’s crew wondered if the Cobra’s 289 Ford V-8 fit the TVR. It did. Seeing the potential, Griffith asked TVR to supply Granturas for Stateside installation of the Cobra drivetrain. Desperate for cash, TVR agreed, and the TVR Griffith went on sale in 1963.
Drivetrain apart, the new model was a Mark 3 Grantura with stronger, wider wire wheels. The hood was bulged to clear the V-8, which Griffith offered in stock 195-hp form or 271-hp “Hi Performance” tune. The only gearbox was a Ford-built four-speed. Like all early TVRs, the Griffith had little cockpit or luggage space, a very hard ride, and typically casual “cottage” workmanship. The original 200 model also tended to overheat, but a better-engineered 400 replaced it in spring 1964, bringing twin thermostatic cooling fans that addressed the problem but didn’t entirely cure it. The 400 also introduced the sharply cropped tail and big rear window that would persist at TVR through the end of the ’70s.
The 400 was well received, and TVR was soon shipping five engine-less cars per week. High power and low weight meant vivid performance, but nose-heavy balance could make it a handling nightmare. The Griffith, said British auto writer Roger Bell, “has too much power for its own good in less than perfect conditions. That’s what makes it so exciting. . . .”
The car was soon done in by its own quality problems and, more seriously, a prolonged U.S. dockworkers strike. Jack Griffith gave up after 1965, thus shattering TVR’s fragile finances and forcing the Blackpool concern into liquidation. While there’d be many more TVRs to come, none were quite as hairy as the original TVR Griffith.