AN ALVIS SHORT STORY – Alvis Alwil 3 Litre Tourer
This brief story is about Alvis TA 21 Chassis no 24169 Registration MGP 932 by Alan J Wildin
My interest in all things mechanical started during my early childhood collecting cigarette cards that depicted motors, air planes ships etc, and later leading to dinky cars where such fine examples of the British motor heritage lay, namely such names as Alvis, AC, Bentley, Riley and Aston Martin could be found. Then during the early 1960s my father bought me a 1951 Sunbeam Talbot 90 2a and my love affair with motors then took of at quite apace.
The interest in the Alvis though came about whilst on honeymoon in 1965 and staying at the Railway Hotel of Stirling, and being invited to join a well heeled couple for an evening meal and to share their table. The evening progressed well and the meal was perfect, the company we felt at ease with until they suggested that we join them for a late evening drive in their Alvis TE21 dhc.
At that invitation I declined and felt out of sink, please remember that class distinction was still prevalent then. As I knew quite well that only those who owned such a motor of distinction were of above my back ground. However the love affair with The Alvis took mid stage in my life.
During the mid 1980s I took control of my career to set up the company Alwil Bodies Ltd, manufacturing commercial vehicle bodies. Now it was here that one day driving back from visiting a client, that I came upon three cars on a garage forecourt not far from where I lived in Biddulph of which under a blanket of snow I could make out their marques, Alvis, Jaguar and a Rolls-Royce. Yes it was the Alvis that took my attention, and the next day I visited Mr John Alcock owner of a Ford distributor garage who was located next door to Alwil Bodies.
Now John was all things known to mankind where motors were concerned, he was of the old brigade always dressed immaculate in his best boiler suit and shirt and tie. Just after the war, John’s was one of the only places that could get you a car of distinction, Maserati. Ferrari, Alvis, Aston Martin etc.
“John, there is an Alvis down at the local garage can you please have it looked over for me to see if it’s worth acquiring?” I asked, “Leave it to me sunshine” he replied. Later that week I passed the garage and the Alvis had gone. I then went down to John’s quickly, “John it’s bloody gone!”
So what was the Alvis? A TD 1961 dhc reg no DXS 698. Now I was smitten and had the bug of all things Alvis.
Having now acquired my first Alvis I decided to see if there was an Alvis Owner Club, and yes there was such and making contact with member Mr Mike Fletcher I received an application form to join the club.
A few days passed since I sent my application in the post when late one evening I received a telephone call from a Mr Ernest Shenton President of the Alvis Owner Club asking if I would like to attend a local section of the North Staffs branch which was a part of the Midland section of the Alvis Owner club my membership no 7924M and that they held their meetings the 2nd Tuesday evening at the Red House pub in Caverswall.
As this was a quick half hours drive from Biddulph, my wife and I attended our first meeting of the AOC as a member. Here we met a wide variety of like minded Alvis folk, to name a few, Ernest Shenton, Ron Buck, Nick Walker, Bert Adams etc sadly all now deceased.
Ernest was a font of Alvis information and at all times would be seen with a note book and pencil similar to those that the police used and upon hearing anything appertaining to Alvis would write down and record for his vast record of all things Alvis. Just give him a registration number and within seconds he would tell you the Alvis model, chassis number etc.
Now it was at one of these meetings that a discussion took place regarding Alvis pre war and post war chassis along with their body designs and the conclusion was that a Pre war body design could not be fitted to a post war chassis. Now then you may recall that I owned a vehicle building company, and as a trained coachbuilder of the old school knew most if not all about bodies and how they were built etc. So at the next meeting at the Red house I brought up the subject of bodies on Alvis chassis and made the statement that Alvis never built a complete car as such and that they were engineers, not car builders, they produced chassis which were then sent out to various body builders to have their bodies built to the Alvis chassis.
This raised quite a few eyebrows but after a long discussion most agreed that my statement was possibly correct, Ernest agreeing such high praise from such a person of Alvis esteem. A few months went by when one evening reading the AOC monthly bulletin I spotted a 1951 Alvis TA21 reg no MGP 932 for sale, and that it had an home made body fitted to it, a quick call to the Alvis member Mr Andrew Cheshire of Solihull and the deal was done I will call in a few days to collect the Alvis.
MGP outside with the old body removed
So now with the 2nd Alvis back in the Alwil Bodies works, I took stock of the situation does the engine run, will it start etc? A large battery from a Foden truck was borrowed to see if we could start the engine; a temporary fuel line was fitted and filled with new clean fuel and fresh oil. After a couple of attempts trying to start and yes it would not. I took a short cut and went to John Alcock and advise him of what I was doing. “Be with you in a min” he replied.
Well he followed with no messing, “right, what have you done, battery connected, new fuel, and she will not start, ok, turn the key and press the tit, stop now” he replied, out of his boiler suit side pocket came a large screwdriver and with it he hit the solex carb. “Now try it”, and as if by magic she started fluffed a few times but then the engine would run.
“What on earth have you just done, John?” “You don’t expect after a few years of not being ran that the float in the float chamber may not be stuck so how on earth do you expect the fuel to flow.” Hit me with the screw driver please, the obvious staring you in the face.
Time now to remove the home made body and to get it back to a straight Alvis TA21 chassis, I then took the rolling chassis out side to see it in its full glory as it would have left the works ready to go to a body shop for its body, taking photographs from all angles side, front, rear, under on top etc, I had enough to make a start with a new pre war body design which would be in keeping with all traditions appertaining to pre war design.
A body design that I always admired although not on an Alvis was that of the Jaguar SS 100 and as its dimensions were suited to the Alvis TA chassis I took that body design as my guide. The flowing front wings, the twin slab fuel tank on the rear, the twin screen shapes on the bonnet all of which became my goal. The first thing that I did now was to take some of the photos and have them enlarged to the largest possible, we achieved something like a 4.00 foot by 2.00 I recall of a side elevation and from this we could then over, trace the new body design to see if it would sit and look in order.
Here it became apparent that there was certain areas that needed to be altered to make any progress with this chassis, for example the location of the radiator, the steering wheel, the wheel sizes to just name a few. This then is where the decision was made to continue and make a start of the chassis modifications and make a start of the body.
The chassis modification were started first to ensure that when altered the drawing of the new body would fit like a glove onto the chassis photos. The radiator was moved, lowered and fitted to a new position. The steering wheel was lowered and refitted. The wheels were removed and disposed of as they were of no use being 15 rims and we needed at least 17in rims and of Alvis jelly mould make.
Here then was a major problem as we need to fit pre war wheels to post war hubs not possible, but nothing is impossible, remove the hubs completely and start a fresh, so the front axles were made a start of and removed. Here a break through came about as a Alvis member had Alvis 12/70 wheels for sale and they were just what was required. He even had six for sale so telephoned and they were now mine for this project. Having the 17inch Alvis jelly mould wheels back at the works, it became apparent that if we had Alvis hubs etc then there should not be any problem with them to fitting the chassis.
I now took the bold decision that while making these changes to the wheels then why not up date the braking system to modern design disc brakes being preferred, will Alvis td disc brakes fit or not? After much burning of the mid night oil and head scratching a solution was found, a trip down to Red triangle new parts needed purchasing, ask no question Rowland and I will tell you no lies. (Rowland Simmons was the MD of Red Triangle).
Back to the works and after checking and double checking my thoughts, my engineering skill applied and low and behold I had accomplished the impossible. Pre war and Post war together and on the same axle.
Having completed the front axle a start was made on the rear axle which was far more straight forward, back down to Red triangle for the parts required, I decided to leave the brakes as drum on the rear as the main stopping power was now being delivered to the front axle.
Again Rowland asked what on earth was I doing you have purchased pre war and post war parts, and you can not mix them, too late was my reply. I have and will continue to do so and when the project is complete I will show you what can be done.
The next step was to remove the fuel tank, and refit in the vertical but slightly slanted forward also fabricating a spare wheel arrangement for twin spare wheels. Now with the chassis alterations complete back outside in the open new photos taken re check with the new body drawings ensuring that all now in proportion. Time to take stock of the situation.
Was there any more changes to be made to the rolling chassis? Change the single solex carb for twin su, straight forward change there, a new manifold, carbs and done, new down pipe, Why not fit a stainless steel exhaust straight through. Done. Move the battery location and fit isolating switch. Locate new front seat frames, ex Lagonda found and fitted perfect fit.
I now decided to take a break before making a start with the new body and took a few months off to concentrate on running the company business.
Now it’s well worth saying that Mr John Alcocks advice was, that if the engine runs and with no undue noises or any signs of oil or water being used best to leave the engine alone period. It is better to run it and to take stock of the engine and running gear no need to strip down just for the sake of it. The only exception was to fit a new clutch assembly while access is easy.
As I have a wide network of contacts regarding the coachbuilding industry I checked the contacts and found a name of Mr Bill Jakeman panel beater extraordinary what a character, and would you believe it he was visiting John Alcock that same day as he and John being of similar age and having a long friendship both fanatics of the TT races that went back many years. “What are you up to” he asked? So I told him of the project “be with you later in the day” he replied.
Later that afternoon Bill and John both came to visit and before you new where you were we were out in the workshop where Bill was full of enthusiasm and started to advise what to do get me
some large sheets of ½ plywood and we will make a start. Ok we need to make a side profile in plywood full size, well before you new it, it was late evening now and my wife was on the phone your teas in the dog she said. But we had made progress quickly.
The side profile then became a full mock up of the body design showing the shape of the wings front and rear plus the running boards, I recall that, that year the AOC was holding a Midlands section day at Trentham Gardens, Near to Stoke on Trent, so it was decided to take the project to put it on display for all Alvis folk to see, quite a few comments were made as you could expect but all if not all were positive.
From this mock up we could then see where and how the new bulkhead was to be located, a few days later after fabricating the new Aluminium bulkhead it was secured to the chassis which then allowed the securing of the new located steering wheel, the pedals for brakes, clutch etc were fitted and in addition, the new floor also here was the opportunity to locate the new Lagonda seat frames, things started to take shape quite fast.
Rear view of side profile showing the twin spare rear wheel arrangement.
Back out side in the open the rolling chassis was taken to see in day light how we had progressed and to see with the plywood mock up in place if we had any areas of concern. All was perfect as you would expect, so back in the works, I must add here that at all times the chassis was moved in and outside the works it was under its own power. Having now a design shape to work from the
body frame was fabricated using the traditional method of English Ash all joints being glued and screwed together. I must say that whilst Bill Jakeman was not present all of the time but he did spend many an hour casting his eye over the project, his expertise was of most use, there is not much that he doesn’t know where bodies are concerned.
Next was to make a start of the Aluminium body and here Bill introduced his young apprentice of old Peter Mullroy and his apprentice Mike Riley.
You can now tell that Bill is not young he must be in his early eighties. At this stage of the project I made the decision to let go of the reins and allow Peter, Mike and Bill to get on with the Aluminium body fabrication as remember I had a company to run.
A couple of months went by when Bill came into the office to advise that they had finished their work and would I like to come and see what was what.
Now being that the project was located in the works outside my office window and yes at all times I could see what was taking shape, really there was no need for me to go and see at the progress but that I did you could not ignore such a request now could you, that would have been a insult of great magnitude. To say that I was speechless is an understatement there before me the best view of the year an Alvis Alwil tourer body in its full glory. Perfect just perfect Bill, Peter and Mike well done you are to be congratulated for your skills.
With the body now complete it was time to fabricate a new brass windscreen frame and fit prior to having chromed plated. Next was to check the stock of lights etc and fit making a new wiring loom. The seat frames were sent to Brian Barlow of Rolls Royce to be upholstered in Connolly red leather. With all now set, time for a mot test to ensure that we are road legal. A full bill of health given.
THE ROAD TEST BEGAN
Various Alvis events were undertaken, the main events being Alvis Midlands day, Alvis Northern day, The 1991 Alvis tour of Britain, The Norwich union rally 1991, racing circuits including Silverstone, Donnington and Oulton Park.
Time progressed and now it was time to introduce John Holder to paint the body in Alfa Romeo Red. ( John worked originally at Park Ward the coach builder who were responsible for the Alvis TD range)
2016 I sold the Alvis MGP 932. New owner unknown as not disclosed by commission seller.