Courtesy of Bonhams

The Trident Clipper started out as a Trevor Fiore styling exercise commissioned by TVR and exhibited at the Geneva Salon in 1965.

When the Blackpool-based sports-car maker went through one of its many financial crises, the Clipper project was acquired by Bill Last, one of its dealers. Early Clippers used the TVR Grantura chassis before Last switched first to the Austin-Healey 3000 frame and then to that of the Triumph TR6 for the related Venturer and Tycoon models. Ford V8 engines were used for the fiberglass-bodied Clipper, though two late examples were completed with Chrysler units. It is estimated that Trident built approximately 120 cars of all models between 1967 and 1978.

This most attractive and unusual car represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire an extensively restored example of a rare British GT at a fraction of the rebuild costs.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 Trident Clipper Coupe
Years Produced:1967–74
Number Produced:30
SCM Valuation:$39,833 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$200
Chassis Number Location:Right side of front bulkhead
Engine Number Location:On right side of block
Club Info:Trident Car Club
Alternatives:1964–67 TVR Griffith, 1964–67 Gordon Keeble, 1963–71 Chevrolet Corvette
Investment Grade:D

This car, Lot 162, sold for £32,200 ($39,386), including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ closed-doors Goodwood Members’ meeting sale on March 29, 2020.

Ah, the Brits: We are a nation of stubborn innovators, habitually doing things the hard way. If you wanted a fast and stylish fiberglass-bodied coupe in the ’60s or ’70s, the simplest solution would have been to go and buy a Corvette. Topped with a gorgeous shape by one of the world’s best styling studios, it was fully developed, debugged and reliable.

But no: More than one brave soul has decided to build his own device, sadly without the benefit of backing from a multinational corporation. Like many before and since, TVR had aspirations for a more luxurious (aka expensive/profitable) GT than its early spartan creations.

The birth of the Clipper is rather convoluted, including steel-bodied prototypes built by Fissore in Italy.

Though Trevor Frost, aka Fiore, who worked for Fissore, was capable of a crisp shape, exemplified by his Elva GT160, some of whose hallmarks carried over into his sharp-edged TVR Trident concept, elegant the Clipper production car was not. That was partly due to the different proportions dictated by the Healey chassis, and partly due to detail changes in the process of getting it into production.

Small manufacture means having to use off-the-shelf fixtures and fittings, and so it is that as well as the brought-in chassis, the Clipper uses BMC 1800 Mk1 taillights, which don’t sit well on the slabby, Maserati Sebring-like rear. Straight from the aftermarket shelves came those Wolfrace slot mags, custom-car (and Lotus) favorites of the ’70s.

The V8 coupe, claimed to be able to crack 150 mph and 0–60 mph in five seconds, cost £3,250 when a Jaguar E-type 2+2 coupe was £2,245. The list price for 1972, when the sales brochure advertised the Clipper as having a 300-bhp Chrysler engine, was £3,399.

By this time, the styling had changed from the Ford Corsair-like arrangement with cutouts for the headlights to the rather arachnoid four-light setup that reminds one of the Ogle Mini — or Monteverdi 375, its makers would probably prefer.

The Ford 289 engines were fitted into standard Austin-Healey 3000 chassis at the Trident works in Suffolk — at first Woodbridge, and then Ipswich. In 1970, with the Healey chassis supply coming to an end, the Clipper continued in production on a lengthened Triumph TR6 chassis, also used for the Ford Essex V6-engined Venturer, the most numerous model produced.

An opening rear hatch was introduced for 1971, and by this time the taillights had been changed to smaller rectangular units. Our car, which has the TR6 chassis, has the opening hatch and the later front end, but now wears the earlier-type taillights.

A rare car

The Trident Car Club reckons the catalog estimate of 120 cars is wrong. It’s now reckoned that just 85 Tridents of all types were built, which includes 30 Clippers, making them rarer than a 250 GTO.

According to the chassis number, this is the 13th Trident built in 1971, and according to the club, is a very early car to have the updated front end.

It wasn’t registered in the U.K. when new, and turns out to have been in South Africa and then Zambia in its early life. It was back in Europe by the time the vendor bought it and, during 2009–10, he had it restored by Tim Walker Restorations Ltd. in Buckinghamshire.

As received, it had V6 power, like the Venturer. But pictures from South Africa show it with a V8, and it wears a Clipper V8 badge on the tail. At the time (2002) it was red and wore Simca 1000 taillights — which is where the side vents come from, trivia fans.

“It was a real labour of love,” said managing director Guy Walker. “It was all very shabby and the chassis and frame extremely rusty. We carried out a body-off, nut-and-bolt restoration” (although the fiberglass and paint were by Hightone Restorations).

“Only a true enthusiast would have put himself through such a rebuild; glad he did, it was great fun. The running gear is generally TR6 but with uprated brakes and suspension, and we boxed up the chassis a bit because of the engine that was going in. The interior was amazing, all to the owner’s and our design, with air conditioning, using aircraft vents.”

The catalog coyly described the engine as being “unusable.” Well, it was the wrong type — so a 302-ci crate motor was fitted, with a T5 gearbox. Satellite navigation was added, and the electrics were upgraded with comprehensive modern fusing, but it’s odd that the opportunity wasn’t taken to ditch the Webasto sunroof. The car has only covered about 800 miles since the restoration and appears all in good order, though we couldn’t inspect it personally.

Two comps

The nearest equivalents to the Clipper would be the TVR Griffith and Gordon Keeble — both English-built fiberglass coupes with American V8 power set well back in the chassis, although both have more-sophisticated underpinnings than the TR6’s semi-trailing rear end: double wishbones under the TVR and a De Dion rear on the Keeble.

About 260 Griffiths were built, and many of the survivors have been made into racers; they’re light, quick, and their short wheelbase helps them change direction quickly.

The Gordon Keeble is the kind of refined grand tourer that the Clipper aspired to be, using Corvette power and discs all around: 99 were built and most of them survive, while there are only reckoned to be about 20 Tridents of all types left.

A bargain — if you didn’t buy a Corvette

Offered because the owner is mainly resident in another country and therefore unable to drive the car much, it sold to a U.K. buyer for about half what you’d expect to pay for either of the above, and a fraction of what it cost to bring it to this level.

Judged only by those standards, it’s a relative bargain. However, a simpler solution might have been to save all the fun of restoration and the general inadvisability of stuffing 300-plus bhp into a TR6 chassis (eeek!), and simply buy a Corvette — far more numerous, better looking … and cheaper too, in pre-rubber C3 form. The numbers don’t add up here, but then neither does British eccentricity. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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