There's much more to Alvis than its 'sixes'

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Author: James PagePublished:

It’s a problem that most owner’s clubs will recognise – how to attract new enthusiasts, and make the most of modern methods of communication such as social media.

Rob Rowe works hard to ensure that the Alvis Owner Club is doing both of those things. As a marque enthusiast myself, no arm-twisting was required to head down to Guildford to chat with Rob and try out a cross-section of cars that were kindly brought along by club members.

The Speed 20/25 and 4.3 models are well known and remain the types of Alvis that people most associate with the company. But Rowe – owner of a Firebird as well as a TE21 – is keen to ensure that the more affordable four-cylinder cars aren’t forgotten.

“You can get a Firebird for £16,000,” he says, “and that buys you an interesting family saloon. The car’s age can put people off, but you soon learn your way around them.”

Insurance is one of the key stumbling points for younger enthusiasts. Rowe’s daughter is on his policy, and he encourages her to drive his cars.

“They need to be used,” he says. “It’s no good having your kids worrying about ‘wrecking Dad’s car’ – you have to get them involved.”

The selection of various Alvis models that turns up is testament to the owners' willingness to support the club and help Rowe promote the marque.

Anya Ledwith, Richard Wadman and Tim Harcourt were all introduced to Alvis by their parents. Wadman still drives the handsome Speed 20 Vanden Plas tourer that his father bought in 1962, and in which he taught himself to drive. The others are long-time owners who have enjoyed a number of the Coventry-built cars over the years. 

All were happy to chat about their cars and let me give them a try, and you can see a video of them all in action by clicking here.

Brian Neale – 1935 Firebird SA 13.22

Neale owns a late TF21 as well as this delightfully patinated Firebird, of which he is only the second custodian.

“I knew the first owner and collected the car from its original Walton-on-Thames home,” he explains. “It had been used on reserved occupation all through the war, before being taken off the road in the 1950s and kept out of sentiment until I bought it. 

“I then subjected it to a long (and sometimes depressing), almost entirely DIY restoration – and got it back on the road in 2002.”    

Anya Ledwith  1935 Silver Eagle Special SG 16.95

‘Rumbold’ was first owned by WH Charnock (who named and rebodied it in 1948) and bought by Ledwith’s late father Brian in 1962. He competed in a number of VSCC events.

“I grew up with Rumbold, attending club events with the family and ‘helping’ my dad in the garage. The car transferred to me in 2003, to continue the family PVT tradition!

“My partner, Richard Gilday, and I have worked extensively on it, learning a lot about pre-war engineering in the process. We’ve taken part in AOC events, such as Driving Tests at Brooklands, and the VSCC sprint at Goodwood last year.”

Mike Baker – 4.3 short-chassis tourer

This sublime car is one of 12 short-chassis tourers produced by Alvis and bodied by Vanden Plas between 1937-‘40. Built in 1938, it was delivered to its first owner – a Mr Moore in Weston Super Mare - on Valentines Day 1939. Fast and stylish, it represents the ultimate Alvis for many enthusiasts.

“It stayed in the UK until 1959,” says Baker, “when it was bought by an American serviceman who had it flown to the USA.  

“It stayed there in a small museum until, in 1988, I got a tip that it might be for sale. The deal went through and the car was returned in March, whereupon we started on a rolling restoration - fix it, break it and keep fixing it until it stops breaking. 

“We’ve taken it to the Arctic Circle, the USA, New Zealand (both islands) and all round Europe. My wife and I consider ourselves very lucky to own it.”

Ian Smith – 12/70 Tourer

Driving Smith’s car proves to be the revelation of the day. The restored example feels taut and beautifully sorted, and it offers lively performance.

“It was a Glaswegian Police car through the war,” he says. “In the severe winter of 1963, it was taken off the road with a cracked block. It reappeared, rebuilt and under fresh livery, in 1982.

“We bought it in 1992 and immediately rebuilt the engine. Since then, we’ve toured New Zealand, North East America and 13 European countries. It runs comfortably at 60mph and returns more than 20mpg. The ‘fours’ are much more reliable than the ‘sixes’, too! I used to do 5000 miles a year in it, and still do 2-3000.

“It’s a true gentleman’s sporting carriage. Alvis tried to make cheaper cars but didn’t want to compromise on engineering – it’s very light but has quite a strong chassis.  

Tim Harcourt  1947 TA14 Duncan (above, with Ray McMullen's 12/50)

This is one of 30 Alvises that were fitted with aluminium bodies by Duncan Industries. It is thought that around 10 survive. 

“It's had a hard life with many owners,” says Harcourt, who has been going to Alvis events since he was 14, and driving them since he turned 25 and the insurance premiums became bearable. 

“It was restored around 14 years ago and has been in the family since then. 

"It was first registered in Canterbury in January 1948 as DFN300. In 1973, and after at least three owners, it was seen in poor condition in Tunbridge Wells. It was restored and resprayed in 1976. In 1987, the original registration number was sold – it became FIL 5134.

“My grandfather bought it in 1999, and the registration changed again to JAT39. The restoration continued in 2000 – it was converted to unleaded, the dashboard was rebuilt and the front nearside wing was repaired after a gate swung into it! The car passed to my parents in 2002.”

Ray McMullen – 1927 12/50 TG Carbodies Sportsman Saloon

This example features a superb interior. Spacious and beautifully trimmed, it shows that Alvis could do luxury as well as performance. 

McMullen has owned a number of Alvis cars in the past, and has put the 12/50 up for sale because he fancies another Speed 25.

The 12/50 lasted from 1923-’32, and featured an overhead-valve engine. Its right-hand gearchange and crash ’box give it a more ‘vintage’ feel than the other cars, but it’s wonderfully statesmanlike.

Although I was familiar with the Speed 20 and 4.3, I will admit that I knew relatively little about the four-cylinder cars, and driving them has been an education. The Coventry firm’s early adoption of all-synchromesh gearboxes makes many of its later pre-war cars easy to drive – in the same way that Riley’s preselector does for that marque.

On this evidence, entry into Alvis ownership is more affordable and user-friendly than you might imagine.

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