Owner Peter Wheeler has sold 100% of the shares of his Blackpool-based UK sports car maker TVR to Russian Nikolai Smolenski, the company said in a statement.

According to the Moscow Times, Smolenski is the son of one of Moscow’s original oligarchs, and he snapped up the British firm for an estimated $US27 million, “further fueling the Russian tycoon mania that has gripped the island kingdom since Roman Abramovich splashed out for the Chelsea soccer club a year ago”.

Smolenski is the 24-year-old son of the man who presided over the largest bank failure in Russian history, Alexander Smolensky, the paper added.

The company employs 400 people in Blackpool and new investment in the factory and its technology will bring great benefits to both the cars and the workforce, the TVR statement said. The company reportedly makes about 1,000 cars a year.

“I am very enthusiastic about the potential of TVR and am grateful for the opportunity to become a car manufacturer,” Nikolai Smolenski said in the statement. “I have always been a fan of British car manufacturing and believe that the best automotive designers and engineers are in this country.”

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TVR was founded in 1947 and developed over the last 23 years by Wheeler. New models have helped the brand’s profile to grow dramatically over the last 10 years.

“It’s been a fascinating time and I shall be very sad when I eventually leave,” said Wheeler. “However, it’s time to hand the reins over to a younger man and I look forward to helping him with his exciting plans.”

Wheeler remains as a senior consultant overseeing styling and engineering.

Plans to bring put the new Sagaris and Tuscan 2 models continue unchanged and the first demonstrators will reach dealers in the UK, Japan, mainland Europe and South Africa over the next couple of months.

The Moscow Times cited David Metcalfe, a trade official in Blackpool’s city council, as saying that TVR opened a showroom in Moscow earlier this summer, and that he helped arrange for the use of the British ambassador’s residence for the launch party.

In March, the Financial Times reported that TVR was looking to break into the American market after US interest for its cars soared after they appeared in last year’s blockbuster movie “Swordfish,” starring John Travolta, the Russian paper noted.

Paul Walton, an editor at the BBC television programme Top Gear, told the Moscow Times that Smolenski was thought to have paid Wheeler £15 million ($27 million), a figure that could not be confirmed.

“All you’re really buying is the name,” Walton reportedly said. “It’s quite a niche market. Nobody wants to drive such a fast, uncomfortable car.”

A spokesman for Alexander Smolensky, Eduard Krasnyansky, declined to comment when reached by telephone in Moscow late Tuesday, saying only that Nikolai is currently living in London.

In February, Finans magazine called the younger Smolenski Russia’s youngest ruble billionaire with an estimated personal fortune of 2.9 billion rubles ($100 million), the paper noted.

In December 2001, according to the Moscow Times, Nikolai Smolensky became the youngest chairman of a Russian bank, Pervoye OVK, which was made up of the remains of his father’s bank, SBS-Agro, which collapsed in the wake of the 1998 financial crisis.

After taking over the chairmanship of OVK, he announced ambitious plans to open as many as 1,500 branches nationwide. However, those plans never made it off the drawing board and OVK was later bought by Interros billionaire Vladimir Potanin’s Rosbank, the paper added.

Alexander Smolensky, who reportedly now spends much of his time in Austria, helped bankroll former President Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 campaign, the Moscow Times said, adding that, after SBS-Agro’s dramatic collapse, he famously told The Wall Street Journal that people were stupid for trusting him with their money, and that his foreign creditors deserved nothing “but dead donkey ears.”

The elder Smolensky still controls a small bank called Stolichnoye Kreditnoye Tovarishchestvo, which until recently was called Severo-Zapadnoye OVK, the paper said.

According to the Moscow Times, Krasnyansky said the new owner of TVR is no longer involved with his father’s bank.