Historic Car Brands
The name ‘Alvis’ was the brainchild of Geoffrey de Freville, who set up an aluminium-piston manufacturing business in the UK in 1914. In conjunction with Welsh engineer, Thomas George John, he developed the first Alvis car, the 10/30 that made its debut at the 1920 Scottish Motor Show.
The Alvis name was wholly made-up and not an acronym or contraction of any words.
Alvis 12/50 Sports at Oldtimer Fest at Woburn – Charles01
This vehicle featured aluminium body panels attached to a braced tubular metal frame. A claimed top speed of 60mph indicated this car’s sporting capabilities. The engine was a side-valve four-cylinder, with aluminium pistons and pressure lubrication – innovative for the time – and it was upgraded to 11/40 and, later, 12/40 outputs.
As with the model designations of many European vehicles of the period, the ‘10/30’ nomenclature combined RAC ‘rated or taxation horsepower’ (10hp) with ‘brake horsepower’ (30bhp).
Early 1920s’ car production in Coventry was supplemented by building Buckingham 1100cc cycle-cars.
Prospects at Alvis must have looked good, because George Thomas Smith Clarke left his works manager’s job at Daimler to join the firm; as did draughtsman William M Dunn. These two men were responsible for many of Alvis’ successful models for the next 28 years.
Alvis 12-50 Sportsman’s saloon – Thomas’s pics
In 1923, de Freville’s side-valve engine was redeveloped as an overhead-valve model – the 1500cc 12/50 – that became an overnight success when the race-tuned, 16-valve variant won a 200-mile race at Brooklands. Engines for touring vehicles were ‘stroked’ to 1650cc.
Financial troubles overshadowed progress in the early 1920s, with the weekly payroll under constant risk, but acceptance of the 12/50 model stabilised cash flows.
In 1927 Alvis launched the six-cylinder 14/75 model with initial displacement of only 1900cc that was soon enlarged to 2150cc and called the ‘Silver Eagle’.
1928 12/75 Front Wheel Drive open two-seater T.T. replica – Michael Barrera
Alvis’ 1928 release was a radical front wheel drive car, with the 12/50 engine given an overhead camshaft then turned around. It was available with or without supercharging. An unsupercharged car won the 1.5-litre class at Le Mans in 1928.
The front wheel drive motivation came initially from the need to make Alvis’ racing cars more competitive. The first such machines were designed to compete under the 1.5-litre (4.5-litre naturally aspirated) GP formula and had straight-eight blown engines. Piston trouble plagued these very fast, 300km/h cars and the GP project was abandoned after the 1.5-litre formula wound up. However, several sports car racing derivatives were campaigned by the factory in 1929/30.
1939 Speed 25 sports saloon – Eddaido
Front wheel drive production models suffered from ‘torque-steer’ that inexperienced drivers didn’t like and only around 150 FWD models were sold. However, the six-cylinder models proved popular throughout the 1930s, with progressive upgrades. The previous emphasis on sports car bodywork was replaced by most buyers’ preference for closed, saloon bodies.
Notable models were the 1932 Speed 20 2.5-litre that, in 1934, acquired independent front suspension and the UK’s first all-synchromesh gearbox. Engine capacity was increased to 2.8 litres in 1935.
1933 Crested Eagle drophead coupé – Steve Glover
Developed in parallel with the Speed 20 was a long-wheelbase version, powered by a 3.6-litre six and that became the Speed 25 model in 1936. Servo-hydraulic brakes were incorporated in 1937.
1936 Alvis Speed 20 – Chris 73
Alvis’ big performer was the 4.3-litre version of the Speed 25 that was a genuine 100mph car, even with heavy saloon bodywork and rivalled the performance of the much more expensive Lagonda and Bentley cars.
With war clouds gathering, aircraft engine and armoured vehicle divisions were added to Alvis’ production abilities.
3.0-litre TC 21/100 Grey Lady sports saloon – Terry Joyce
The Alvis plant had been badly damaged in the Coventry bombings, but car production began again again 1946, with the four-cylinder TA14, base on the pre-War 12/70. Alvis’ biggest problem was the lack of surviving bodybuilders and many were committed to larger-volume car makers.
1948 TA14 drophead coupé-cabriolet – Jim Gifford
The TA21 of 1947 was essentially a TA14 chassis, powered by the three-litre six-cylinder engine.
Bodywork availability reached a crisis point in 1954 and a deal was struck with Swiss bodybuilder, Graber, for bodies and designs from that company. Subsequent models – the TC108G, TD21, TE21 and TF21 – found it progressively more difficult to compete on price with a burgeoning Jaguar that was mass-producing fast saloons for around half the price.
1967 3.0-litre Series IV cabriolet – Charles01
Despite – or maybe, because of – Rover’s interest in Alvis in 1965, the end came in 1967, after Alvis had sold only a little more than a hundred TF21s, despite its being the fastest Alvis ever made.
The Alvis brand continued in military vehicle production until 2004, but, in 2009, Red Triangle was granted the Alvis car trademarks and began producing a ‘continuation series’ of replica 4.3-litre tourers.
Alvis Continuation Series
After disappearing for years, British marque Alvis Car Company is back – the brand is restoring vintage models and crafting brand-new Alvis Continuation models.
To bring back a treasured car model is a massive undertaking, but entrepreneur Alan Stote has upped the ante by resurrecting an entire marque. As a collector, Stote was enamoured of the vehicles from Alvis Car Company, active in Britain from 1920 to 1967.
Of some 22,000 examples produced, around 5000 remain in existence and, remarkably, many are still regularly on the road, thanks to the automaker’s innovative over-engineering.
“Alvis was the first company to produce a front-wheel-drive racing car in 1925; the world’s first all-synchromesh gearbox and the first design for independent front suspension in the UK,” said Stote. “It’s main competitor was Bentley.”
Like most top-shelf car makers of the time, Alvis was not in the body business, so its cars were dressed by the top coachbuilders of the day, including Vanden Plas, Lancefield and Park Ward – some as one-off creations.
“What gradually happened is these coach builders got swallowed up by the big car companies,” noted Stote.
“As a result, Alvis was running out of people to build bodies for its chassis.
“And of course, that bespoke coachbuilding was terribly expensive.”
According to Stote, while a Jaguar E-type cost roughly Stg£2000 in the early 1960s, a bodied Alvis was twice that figure, which was an obvious problem.
In 1994, Stote bought the entire parts inventory that included more than 70,000 records and drawings, along with history on each vehicle produced.
After acquiring the company name in 2008, Stote and his team of 23 employees now restore original vehicles and offer brand-new Continuations. Each is based on one of the six Alvis models from his own collection and takes two years to build.
While the new bodywork is built using traditional aluminium-over-wooden-frame construction, the 4.3-litre Alvis six-cylinder engine is made with modern technology. It looks vintage from the outside, but is emissions-compliant, thanks in part to electric fuel injection that’s cunningly hidden behind the stove-enamelled air cleaner box and manifold.
So, are these replicas or the real deal?
“How can they be replicas?” asked Stote, rhetorically.
“We are the Alvis Car Company and we have the drawings.
“It’s just been a long time between orders!”