For almost half a century, Alvis built cars of quality, performance and individuality for connoisseurs and upheld British prestige on the race track for ten years when far larger firms failed to do so.
Its designers led the industry in the fields of independent suspension, gearbox design and also front wheel drive. Alvis Ltd. built engines ranging in size from 4 to 1500 horse power, small cars of one litre as well as tanks, powered the first hovercraft and for years supplied most of the engines for British made helicopters.
Car production ceased in 1967 and then, as part of United Scientific Holdings (a Brierley investment – so has connections to New Zealand), Alvis produced the very advanced Scorpion tank which sold in twelve countries, including New Zealand. In 2004 the company was sold and the Alvis name was dropped. However, Red Triangle Ltd. bought all the tools and dies and produces new spare parts to the original specifications, thus enabling the marque to continue today.
Inception – World War II
1918 G.P.H. de Freville designed his first car.
1919 T.G. John purchased Holley Carburettor Co. in Hertford St. Coventry and commenced manufacture of Hillman stationary engines as T.G. John & Co.
1920 Having purchased de Freville’s design, John commences production of ‘Alvis’ 10/30 side valve.
1921 Modified 10/30 laps Brooklands at 93 mph. Air cooled twin cylinder Buckingham in production but not a commercial success. Company renamed Alvis Car & Engineering Co. moves to Holyhead Road.
1922 Production of side valve 12/40 commenced and the “duck’s back” body introduced for sports version of the 10/30 known as the 11/40.
1923 Captain G.T. Smith-Clarke joins the company and designs new O.H.V. engine known as the 12/50. Major C.M. Harvey (12.50) wins the 200 mile race aty Brooklands at 93.29 mph.
1924 Only team of British cars to finish 200 mile race. Alvis took 39 class records in one day up to a distance of 700miles and speeds ranging from 70-97 mph. Liquidator appointed. New company formed after staying order made.
1925 Supercharged 12/50 engine in a front wheel drive chassis takes World 1½ litre record and laps Brooklands at 104 mph.
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1926 12/40 side valve production ceased and 12/50 available in sport and touring sizes. Front wheel drive two seater sports car catalogued at £1,000. Streamlined supercharged straight eight 1½ litre front wheel drive car entered for British Grand Prix and 200 miles races.
1927 The first six cylinder Alvis (15.75) introduced. S.C.H. Davis (12/50) wins six hour race agt Brooklands. Straight eight front wheel drive car with modified 1½ litre engine laps Brooklands at 121 mph.
1928 First British manufacturer to put a front wheel drive car into production, the specification also including all independent suspension. A front wheel drive car wins 1½ litre class in the 24 hours race at Le Mans and L. Cushman takes second place in the tourist Trophy race. More world records broken at Brooklands.
1929 14.75 becomes the “Silver Eagle” (16.9 h.p.). The 1927 straight eight 1½ litre engine used as basis for a new sports car, raced at Le Mans and in the T.T., one of which takes records up to 200 miles at about 100 mph.
1930 New straight eight F.W.D. cars entered for the Tourist Trophy race take first three places in their class, at nearly 70 mph, but Alfa Romeo, with engines 250cc larger, wins race by about 1 mph. Sales of the front wheel drive cars fall and Alvis announce their withdrawal from racing.
1931 12/50 reintroduced with small changes in design, production having almost ceased during the preceding two years.
1932 “Speed Twenty” announced, the standard tourer being capable of nearly 90 mph. Followed by a smaller version – the “Firefly”. C.G.H. Dunham laps Brooklands in a Speed Twenty at 103 mph.
1933 The “Crested Eagle” introduced with 17 or 20 hp engine, preselector gear box and independent front suspension, believed to be the first British production car to be so fitted, as were all larger cars up to 1939. The Speed Twenty, and all larger cars up the war, fitted with a four speed synchro-mesh gearbox believed to be the first in the world to go into production in the Empire Trophy race. F. Hallam wins the Canada Trophy at 102.48 mph driving 1930 T.T. car.
1934 A larger engine for the “Speed Twenty” announced at Show time and the “Firefly” is superseded by the “Firebird”. The “Crested Eagle” and “Silver Eagle” continue in production with modifications.
1935 Production now about 1,000 cars per year. D.G.H. Dunham’s single seater Speed Twenty laps Brooklands at 118 mph. New factory for the production of aero engines planned.
1936 Company’s name changed to Alvis Ltd., and new factory built and equipped. New 3½ litre car, based on Speed Twenty design, introduced but with seven bearingcrankshaft. Late in the year an entirely new model, the “Silver Crest”, announced together with an enlarged version of the 3½ litre known as the 4.3 litre.
1937 Company in financial difficulties due to lack of foresight. However, has laid basis for the company’s later important contribution to the war effort. “Crested Eagle”, “4.3 litre” and “3½ litre” (now Speed 25) in production. Larger cars fitted with Servo assisted brakes and 4.3 litre one of the world’s genuine standard 100 mph saloon cars. New 12/70 announced. 1930 Silver Eagle laps Brooklands at nearly 100 mph.
1938 Only detail changes made to range of cars, the company’s main efforts now being devoted to the Aero Engines and Mechanisation Departments. 4½ litre straight eight overhead camshaft engines built in very small numbers and 4.3 litre engines modified to dry sump lubrication for use in tanks.
1939 No new model but prototype of the 1940 “Silver Crest” built with ‘razor edge’ coachwork and Lockheed airdraulic struts fitted experimentally in place of front springs and shock absorbers. Modified 4.3 litre laps Brooklands at 115.29 mph and C.G.H. Dunham’s special makes fastest sap (109.94 mph) in the last race ever run at this track.
The War Years
Car factory destroyed in 1940.
T.G. John retired in 1944 (died 1946).
Production of Gnome-Rhone radial engines ceased at start of war. Alvis controlled 21 ‘shadow’ factories in which over 10,000 Aero engines were made, over 3000 serviced, bomb trolleys manufactured and a vast quantity of castings and machinings produced.
Post War Years
The Leonides aero engines, Saladin and Saracen armoured vehicles and fire tenders for aerodrome use have been the Company’s main production. Car production as follows:
1947 – 1950 TA14 and small number of the roadster model TB14 produced.
1950 3 litr1963e TA21 introduced – a few roadster (TB14) cars built.
1952 Alex Issigonnis left Alvis after designing prototype of very advanced high performance saloon. The “credit squeeze” and coachwork difficulties forced the company to abandon this project.
1953 Modifications to 3 litre and retyped TC21/100, production of which ceased in 1955 when the coach-builders, Mulliners, were taken over.
1956/7 Very small number of TC 108G with Graber designed bodies (made by Willowbrook Ltd.) built.
1958 TD21 with Graber designed bodies, made and modified by Park Ward, put into limited production.
1959 TD21 still further modified.
1961/2 Series 2 TD21. Disc brakes all round, optional 5 speed gearbox, minor body changes
1965 Merger with Rover.
1966 Series 4 TF21. 150 b.h.p. engine, triple carburettors. Revised dashboard. Improved Z.F. gearbox.
1981 Alvis Ltd. purchased by United Scientific Holdings, a group specialising in the manufacture of defence equipment, for £27,000,000. Forward thinking design and high engineering has brought success to Alvis during the last sixty years and these qualities, even more essential at this time than in the past, assured the future of the company