The Very Highest Standards of Engineering
These days Alvis is remembered as one of the early car companies that embodied the very highest standards of engineering, and during the twenties was at the forefront of technical innovation. Alvis was formed in 1919 by T. G. John, the Company's name being derived from the trade mark of a light-alloy piston (in itself, an innovation just after World War 1) invented and developed by John's co-founder G. H. de Greville. It was a post-war era, when released from the shackles of conflict and shortages, people were seeking light sporting cars, and soon the Alvis 10/30 with steel artillery wheels was regarded as one of the very best.
The 10/30 was destined to be developed into a very potent Alvis model, but before the original side-valver had been pensioned-off in 1923, more than 250 of the 60 mph (97 km/h) cars had been produced - healthy figures in those halcyon days. By 1922. the bore size had was enlarged to 68 mm, the type designation changed to 11/40, and the maximum output raised to 40 bhp (30kW). Soon it was renamed the 12/40, and with the later addition of overhead valves
(pushrod) in 1923 it became the famous 12/50 which was to remain in production for nine years. During those years the model gained a tremendous competition reputation, including victory in the 1923 JCC 200-miles Race at Brooklands where C.M. Harvey won at an impressive 93 mph (150 km/h) - a wonderful showing for a car derived from a sports 1.5 litre.
We could devote many pages on Unique Cars and Parts
to unfold the mass of technically-advanced cars which stemmed from the Coventry works in those days, but it should be mentioned that in 1925 a Roots-super-charged 1.5 litre front wheel-drive Alvis appeared with a maximum output of 100 bhp (75kW) which, with dry weight of 9y cwt (482.6 kg), gave a searing performance. On its very first outing, the new blown four-cylinder gained a class win in the famous Shelsley Walsh (near Worcester) hill climb with a time of 54.2 seconds.
The blown front-drive car went into production in 1928 as a sports two-seater (the original had been built as a possible contender for the 1926/7 Grand Prix formula), and sold in considerable numbers for a car of its type. It was incredibly advanced for its time with independent front and rear suspension, inboard front (drum) brakes, ohc motor with ‘bucket’ type tappets, and the aforementioned front wheel drive. A works team finished first and second in their class at Le Mans in 1928, and another finished a very tight second to the winning Lea-Francis (also a blown 1.5 litre) in the Ulster TT of the same year.
The Silver Eagle and “Alvivacity”
Alvis also introduced a 1.5 litre straight eight sports car in 1929, and there were also experimental versions with light-alloy chassis frames. The following year, a supercharged edition was introduced with a 95 mph performance (153 km/h) carrying full touring equipment. Demand for such (brave) advanced cars was limited, however, and soon, Alvis were forced to concentrate on simpler, rear-drive models. From 1928 the 14/75 six-cylinder ohv “Silver Eagle" was put into production, and that smooth 85 mph (137 km/h) machine was well-accepted by sporting drivers of the time. The publicity men invented the phrase "Alvivacity" for the advertising campaign, and that term summed it all up very well.
By 1931, a very low, very attractive six-cylinder Alvis made its debut, and it was destined to become a great favourite amongst those who favoured a sophisticated sporting car. Powered by a 2.5-litre version of the "Silver Eagle" engine, the 1931 "Speed Twenty" had semi-elliptic springs all-round and mind blowing bodywork
for the time. After about 18 months of production, however, Alvis started piling-on the advanced features - they adopted independent front suspension (of the transverse spring type), "coiled-coil" valve springs (a novel type of spring adopted to overcome surge, consisting of a coil spring composed of a ring of small coil springs), and a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox - the world's first production all-synchro box with four speeds.
The Alvis Firefly
By 1934, the ohv 'six' had been increased to 2762 cm3, and after another two years, the motor was upped to 3.5 litres and the model was renamed "Speed Twenty-five". Alvis hadn't finished, though, and by 1938 the power-unit was stretched yet again, that time to 4.3 litres, and that's what they christened the car, the 4.3. In that form, and carrying heavy, luxurious coachwork, the 4.3 was one of the world's fastest-accelerating cars, and was good for more than 100 mph (162 km/h). But the company kept their four-cylinder models in production, the power-units being modified "12/50s", and up until 1935 the excellent "Firefly" was available with the choice of four-speed all-synchromesh' manual (yes, the "Speed Twenty" box) or with a pre-selective box.
For 1936, the four-cylinder "Firebird" was introduced, powered by an 1842 cm3 motor using identical bore and stroke dimensions (73 x 1 10 mm) to the original "Speed Twenty" six-cylinder. It was superseded by the basically similar "12/70" which was produced until the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939. In the early thirties, Alvis got into financial difficulties but were bailed-out by London dealer Charles Follett, who had raced the marque with great success at Brooklands and elsewhere. Follett set about putting the Coventry marque back on the map, and so well did he apply himself that by 1932, in spite of a depression (and helped by the introduction of the "Speed Twenty" the company made a profit of 24,000 pounds (about $47,000) - big money in those days.
The Alvis Grey Lady
After the war, Alvis concentrated on two models, the four-cylinder '14' (another adaptation on the evergreen 12/50 engined three-litre in-line 'six'. The latter evolved into the 150 hp (112 kW) TF Series 1V, (known as the 'Grey Lady), bodywork
being a British-built version of the original Swiss- Graber-bodied three-litre. Alvis did plan to introduce a new highty-advanced model and lured Alec Issigonis
away from Morris Motors
to design and develop the exciting V8, which sported a light alloy monocoque construction and advanced suspension. In the end though, the company dropped the car due to the enormous capital it would have required to develop it, and to put it into production.
They realised too, that the market for a new Alvis would have been relatively limited. So, Alex packed his bags, went back to Morris (and BMC) and found fame and fortune with his Mini and other modern designs. Then events turned full circle, the Rover company took over Alvis and then was in turn swallowed up by the Leyland group
. Alvis car production ceased, but for a lengthy period the Coventry works produced the radial air-cooled
Leonides Aero engine for helicopters – a power unit that gained a very high reputation in aviation circles.
Also see: Lost Marques: Alvis
| Alvis Specifications
| The History of Alvis (USA Edition)