Alvis is one of the many British car brands that have almost been forgotten today. The company was founded in 1919 as ‘T.G. John and Co. Ltd.’ for the production of stationary engines, light scooters and carburetor housings for Zenith. In the autumn of the same year, employed engineer Geoffrey de Freville developed a four-cylinder engine, around which an automobile was built in the following months. This went into series production in 1920. The engine was given the nickname ‘Alvis’, which finally led to a new company name after the Avro aircraft company had successfully complained about the too similar company logo of T.G. John and Co. The word ‘Alvis’ was now used in a new logo with a red triangle placed on the lower apex.
On a par with Bentley and Aston Martin
In the following decades, Alvis achieved a similar reputation as Bentley and Aston Martin through high quality and various race wins. In addition, Alvis manufactured aircraft engines and military vehicles and also offered some passenger cars with armouring on request. After World War 2, the Three Liter Series made its debut, starting with the TA21 (sedan) and the TB21 (drop head coupé). A three-liter inline six-cylinder engine was used to power these cars. Alvis, like many other manufacturers at the time, only assembled the complete chassis including engine, transmission and axles. External coachbuilders were then responsible for the bodywork and interior design. In most cases the customers chose Mulliners of Birmingham (not linked to HJ Mulliner), AP Metalcraft or Tickford.
In 1953 the Alvis TC21 sedan appeared as the successor of the TA21. At the same time the open TB21 was dropped from the model range. Alvis added the TC21 as a drop head coupé after a slight delay. The six-cylinder engine was more powerful thanks to a new cylinder head and the use of two SU carburetors. Power climbed from original 83 to 100 hp. In the meantime, more and more customers were annoyed that the bodywork from Mulliners and Tickford looked outdated. The traditional Swiss company Carrosserie Graber, known since 1926 for beautiful and at the same time restrained bodies, stepped in at this point. A few special bodies based on the TC21 and the status as Swiss importer of Alvis cars ultimately helped Graber to secure a major order to produce standard bodies for later models in the following two decades, starting with the successor model TC108/G.
Cabriolet Sport by Graber at Bonhams
Bonhams is offering a special Graber bodied Alvis TC21 at their Bond Street Sale in London on December 16, which was converted into an online auction due to the Corona pandemic. Customers in the 1950s had the choice between a sedan and two different convertible bodies from Graber. For their own stand at the 1954 Geneva Motor Show, Graber created this Cabriolet Sport with 2+2-seating configuration. The two rear seats can be covered. In contrast to the TC21 from factory, the team around Hermann Graber even modified the otherwise upright radiator grille for a sportier version. After the motorshow, the car remained in Switzerland for a long time. 35 years ago the current owner bought the Alvis and imported it in Great Britain. During this long period of time, he had various smaller restoration and repair works carried out, for which corresponding documents and invoices are available. He also participated in the Monte Carlo Classic and classic car rallies to Riga and Moscow. The dashboard proudly bears a little patina. Bonhams expects a hammer price between £ 120,000 and £ 140,000.
So the question remains as to what happened to the once great brand Alvis. Why has this manufacturer name almost completely disappeared from the collective memory? Alvis first had to cope with the fact that almost at the same time Mulliners entered into a very close relationship with Standard Triumph and Tickford was bought by Aston Martin Lagonda. With no bodywork supplier in the UK, Graber had to be contacted as described above. In addition, the TA350 with self-supporting bodywork and V8 engine, which had already been almost completely developed, had been rejected shortly before it reached series production for financial reasons. From 1956 on, things continued with the TC108/G, which Graber designed in a modern pontoon shape. The bodies were built by Wilbrook on a contract basis. Then the TD21 followed in 1958 and the TE21 in 1964. But a lack of further developments led to falling sales. In 1965 the Rover Group took over Alvis. Even the TF21 presented in 1966 still had the same inline six-cylinder engine that debuted in the TA21 in 1950. At least it had 150 hp in the meantime.
At times only military products
After only 107 units of the TF21, Alvis’ car production ended in 1967. Two prototypes developed together with Rover, the Rover-Alvis P6-BS with V8 mid-engine and the Alvis GTS, didn’t go into series production. In 1981, the name rights went to United Scientific Holdings plc, which was renamed Alvis plc in 1992. The company manufactured military vehicles and armored vehicles. In 2002 the subsidiary Vickers Defence Systems was acquired from Rolls-Royce and the company renamed to Alvis Vickers. Two years later, it was bought by BAE Systems, a multinational aerospace, defence and information security group. In 2009, BAE sold the rights to the name Alvis to the British company Red Triangle. After the end of Alvis’ car production, Red Triangle took over all design plans, the company’s inventory and part of the workforce. They since have maintained and restored the classic cars. Since 2009 the company has been registered as Alvis Car Company and now also offers replicas of some classic models based on old chassis.