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Independents defiant after TVR sale to Russian

Caterham will stay British, insists managing director Simon Nearn, following the sale of TVR to Nikolai Smolensky, Russia’s youngest millionaire. “We’re not selling out to the Russians,” he says.

“Everyone has their price, but Caterham has a longer history than TVR, and has been profitable more consistently. We’ve turned offers down, but it’s tough in the specialist sector and I’m not surprised Peter Wheeler wanted out.”

TVR enthusiast and motorsport fan Smolensky, 24, paid between £10m-£15m to acquire Blackpool’s TVR which builds 1,000 cars a year and employs 400 people. The former banker is believed to have struck a deal with TVR founder Wheeler while a rival contender was going through due diligence.

TVR has been struggling because of the high cost of producing engines, build quality problems that deflated sales and lack of money to assault the US. In 2002 it made profits of around £400,000.

Smolensky plans to invest heavily in new technology and production methods to transform TVR into a global brand.

Other independents remain bullish and Nearn’s defiant tone is echoed by Simon Hucknall, sales and marketing director of Noble Automotive. “We have no plans to sell out,” he says. “Prospects are good and the M14 goes on sale next spring: we have buyers for the entire 2005 production of 53 cars.”

Peter Wheeler, aged 60, bought TVR in 1981 after selling his chemical engineering company and stays on the board as a senior consultant.

TVR has 18 dealers and was looking for another six prior to the purchase. They are upbeat about the new owners. South-coast TVR dealer Dream Machines has invited Smolensky to its August 21 open day. “We believe he is good news for TVR”, says co-partner Sam Waite.

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