Demonstration Run

From THE MOTOR December 14th 1955…

DEMONSTRATION RUN – To Scotland in an Alvis Graber Saloon By Philip A. Turner

GLASGOW HERE WE COME.— The Alvis setting off from the works at Coventry at the beginning of its 370-mile journey.

Most desirable of all machines is the modern gran turismo or trans-continental touring car. Excitingly beautiful—and beautifully exciting—it at once makes one think of long, fast journeys down straight continental roads with the trees flicking past in the brilliant sunlight. A lovely newcomer to the ranks of British gran turismo cars is the Graber-bodied Alvis and the allure of the single ivory car on its stand at Earls Court drew a constant throng of worshippers throughout the run of the Show.

When, therefore, the chance was offered of travelling to the Scottish Show by sharing the driving of the sister demonstration car with Alvis Homes Sales Manager B. E. Frayling, needless to say it was an opportunity which was seized with both hands.

On the Wednesday morning before the Show, therefore, a small party foregathered as arranged in front of the Alvis works in Coventry. In addition to the two co-drivers, there was photographer Peter Brookes, who was going to record the journey for posterity and who therefore formed the third member of the crew, there was Alvis Director Stanley Horsfield saying for Pete’s sake don’t break it as there are only two in the country. And there was the car itself, looking even more lovely in its dark grey finish than the cream car on the stand. Its boot swallowed the combined luggage of the expedition at one gulp, Peter climbed into the back, the sales manager took the wheel and I shut the maps firmly away in the roomy facia locker and settled into the very comfortable seat alongside him.

Unwanted Diversion

The big car nosed its way across Coventry and we headed for Leicester, a city which always poses the problem of whether time is lost or saved by using its ring road. After some discussion, we pressed straight through the centre, a decision we almost regretted when we came to a cross-road where all traffic had choked itself to a standstill. Worse was to follow, however, for the car was just getting into its stride again outside Leicester when we were diverted from A46 and sent round a narrow and winding road via Syston, where the Inter-varsity speed trials were held before the war. In spite of its past glories the Alvis crew roundly declared that, so help them, they would not worry if they never saw Syston again, this bitter mood having been provoked by miles of trailing behind slow commercial vehicles with no opportunity for passing whatsoever.

However, all things come to an end, even diversions, and once back on A46 the Alvis was given its head, the rev. counter hand soared past the 3,000 r.p.m. mark as the speed mounted into the seventies and life was worth living. Soon, we came to the turn for Ollerton and Bawtry, a turn incidentally, which is very inadequately marked and has no warning sign before one reaches it. Time something was done about it.

LUNCH STOP.—Leaving the hotel just outside Doncaster after an excellent lunch.

Stanley Horsfield in his wisdom had prophesied we should make Punch’s Hotel outside Doncaster for lunch and we drove into its forecourt just as they opened the bar.

As we walked away from the car, Frayling handed me the keys and said “Now she’s all yours,” which was enough to give anyone an appetite for lunch. My last visit to this particular hotel had been in January when it was the scene of the Doncaster control for the Monte-Carlo Rally.

Then, it had been freezing hard as a huge crowd milled round the entrance at midnight and the packed foyer had been brilliantly lit by the special lamps of the newsreel boys. It now seemed strangely quiet as we ate a peaceful—and excellent—lunch.

Then back to the road, and I slid behind the big, pleasantly raked steering wheel. Herman Graber himself is a very keen driver and not merely just a builder of fine bodies, a fact which is at once evident from the rightness of the driving position, and the arrangement of the instruments with the rev. counter and the speedometer directly in front of the driver and the most important of the gauges, the oil gauge, placed between them.

Moreover, the instruments have plain round black dials with white figures and are thus the easiest of all to read.

Right from the little 10/40 model, every Alvis has been essentially a masculine car, a piece of machinery demanding to be properly handled rather than a mobile boudoir trying to kid the driver he need take no trouble at all over what he is doing. The latest car is no exception, which is not to say that it is in any way difficult to drive and could not be handled by a lady.

As we moved off from the car park, I found the car could be started in second gear on level ground provided the revs. were kept well up, but for an uphill start it is best to use first gear. The box retains the occasional reluctance to accept first or second gear in a hurry which was a feature of the Grey Lady model, but the third-to-top and top-to-third changes are sheer delight, for the stubby little central lever can be whipped back and forth with no protest at all from the synchromesh. Although the car is quite surprisingly flexible—and Frayling, in fact, rarely came off top gear when driving—to anyone like me who is a confirmed gearbox addict, this ability to snick into third to steady the car and then whip the lever back into top as soon as the situation ahead clears adds immeasurably to the pleasure of driving. My only regret was that the spacing of the smallish pedals made heel-and-toe work difficult, although it could, in fact, be accomplished by using the side welt of one’s right shoe to operate the throttle, a practice calculated to make new shoes look very second-hand in next to no time. The fitting of a treadle-type accelerator pedal would improve matters considerably in this respect. Once having shaken ourselves clear of Doncaster, we came to the allegedly open road, although this is surely flattering A1 far beyond its deserts. For mile after mile we seemed to travel in a haze of black Diesel fumes awaiting an opportunity to pass the string of lorries in front. When our chance came, in would go third gear, the rev. counter hand would surge round its dial and we were past and away, then back into top for a mile or so of gloriously free motoring before we came up behind yet another clump of lorries.

One of the delights of a high-performance car is that it does not have to be driven at the limit of its road holding and performance and at the smallest margin of safety in order to attain a reasonable average owing to the fact that it can make the best possible use of every clear run. The Alvis demonstrated this truth to perfection, for although we drove it with the greatest regard for the safety of our own necks we still maintained a running average of 44.4 m.p.h. for the first 200 miles which had included traversing Coventry, Leicester and Doncaster, the very slow diversion round Syston and the congestion of the Great North Road.

Of course, I am fully aware of the fact that reader Snodgrass last week averaged 55 m.p.h. over it on his 1936 Morris Eight, but then reader Snodgrass has imperilled his immortal soul through causing so much bother to both his recording angel and his guardian angel.

Shortly after passing through Boroughbridge we saw a DB2-4 Aston Martin hardtop stationary outside an inn and I recalled that Editor Christopher Jennings had told me he also was driving to Glasgow in a DB2-4 hard-top on this day. The car, however, was pointing in the wrong direction and as we flashed by I got the impression that it was finished in a single shade of blue, whereas the Editor had told me his car had a two-tone finish.

While we were still idly speculating on whether or not it was the Editor having lunch we had passed, we came to a lorry parked on our side of the road and over to the left of it a big twin-engined Varsity trainer aircraft making a low approach to the airfield on the right of the road. Suddenly, I recalled reading a recent article in Picture Post on the horrors of the Great North Road, which had quoted as one of the horrors the fact that all traffic had to be halted at one point whenever aircraft wished to land on an adjacent training field. I therefore braked abruptly from about 65 m.p.h. and swung to a standstill behind the lorry, much to the amazement of the rest of the Crew, an amazement which turned to cold chills down our collective spines when we saw the big Varsity sweep across the road only a few feet up and also saw that concealed by the stationary lorry was a notice at the side of the road commanding all traffic to halt. Unless the authorities put a pole-type barrier like a continental level crossing across the road at this point, there is going to be a choice collision in the not-too-distant future between an aircraft coming in to land and a car or lorry on the road.

Brief Encounter

We were just beginning to breathe more freely and to enjoy the straight stretch of road–part of it twin tracked —in this area when I saw in my driving mirror the blue Aston Martin gaining rapidly on us. Pouring on more coal, I tried to make out if it was, as I now suspected, the Editorial Chariot, but all doubts on this score were set at rest by the Aston passing us at a good 105 m.p.h. with Margaret Jennings driving and the Editor encouraging his staff with a thumbs-up sign from the passenger’s window. Only strangely enough he gave it with his fingers. About six large shovelfuls of coal were then poured on and we gave chase, though I had scant hope of regaining the lead in our private Glasgow Grand Prix, the Aston Martin having the edge on us in both performance and driving skill, for does not its pilot hold the coveted Brooklands 120 m.p.h. badge gained for lapping at that high velocity in a massive 6½-litre Bentley. However, we did what we could, and with the speedometer indicating 93 m.p.h. we managed to hang on for some time, but on glancing in the rear view mirror I seemed to see a furious Stanley Horsfield shaking his fist at me. Then I recalled that the Alvis was still being run in and had covered less than a thousand miles, so eased back the throttle and regretfully abandoned the pursuit. However, when I kept my pre-arranged rendezvous with the Editor in the bar of the Central Hotel at Glasgow I told him I was so glad he had obeyed our notice—”Running In—Please Pass.”

Soon after this episode we threaded our way cautiously through Catterick and over its perilous bridge, then pressed on to Scotch Corner where we turned left for Penrith. Then followed the most enjoyable part of the whole run, for the road from Scotch Corner all the way to Carlisle is a real driver’s road, swooping up and down hill and round the most fascinating corners, In spite of the fact that it is by no means a small car, the Alvis showed up very well indeed on this section with the gear lever in constant use—not, it should hastily be added, because the gradients, made it necessary to change down, but for the sheer joy of extracting the best from the car. The steering of the Alvis takes a little getting used to, for it inherits to some extent the velvet mouth of the Grey Lady and therefore requires only a very light pressure on the big steering wheel to swing the car round a fast bend. Although, as remarked previously, the Alvis is still a masculine car, it must be driven with light hands.

THE MORNING AFTER.—Reloading the car on the morning foil an overnight stop at Carlisle. The boot swallowed not only the luggage but a vast pile of catalogues being conveyed north for the benefit of Scottish small boys.

Dusk had fallen by the time we dropped down into Carlisle to our night stop at the very comfortable Crown and Mitre Hotel in time for a late tea. Up in good time the following morning, we set off for the frontier in drizzling rain which soon turned to a downpour. Never have we been passed across a frontier so speedily, so clutching our foreign exchange allowance of saxpences and bawbees, and doing hurried calculations as to how many mickles make a muckle we pressed on into Scotland, carefully remembering to drive on the left. We had made such good time to the frontier, in fact, that the marriage shop at Gretna Green was still shut, but this did not really worry us as none of us was particularly wanting to be married.

Left: THE FRONTIER.—The car had made such good time to the border that Gretna Green’s marriage shop on the right was not yet open. Or is it the close season for run-away matrimony?

Right: ONE MORE RIVER.—The by now somewhat travel-stained Alvis on one of the many bridges across the River Nith. The photographer jolly nearly fell into the river while standing on one of the pillars of the bridge to take this one.

The Motor had recently published an article extolling the merits of the Nithsdale road to Glasgow in place of the usual run over Beattock to Abington and Hamilton on A74, so at Gretna we turned sharp left on to A75 to Dumfries. The first part of this route is uninspiring, but after Dumfries where we joined A76 the road follows the line of the River Nith, crossing from one bank of the river to the other every now and then just to provide a little variety.

SHEER POETRY. —Charm has been defined as poetry in motion, so here is the charming Alvis beside the National Memorial at Mauchline to Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.

Even in pouring rain, the scenery was superb, the river flowing in a deep gorge for much of the time and its thickly wooded banks still retaining their autumn tinting.

Beyond Thornhill, the railway runs alongside the road for mile after mile, and it was here we had our Great Train Dice, for we began to overtake coach by coach a fourteen-coach express hauled by a big black brute of a locomotive with numerous massive driving wheels.

A Crosti-boilered “9F” No. 92023 2-10-0. mentioned in Steam World October 2008

Soon, both driver and fireman had spotted us and were leaning out of the cab window and waving us on, a challenge we met by urging the speedometer needle on up into the ‘eighties, and we steadily drew ahead only to have Sanquhar’s 30 m.p.h. limit flash into sight, so that the excellent brakes were called upon for some determined effort in order to reduce our headlong progress to something approaching the legal gait. Lucky train, we thought, with no limit to hamper it, as it shot past with a derisive blast from the whistle.

Entry into Glasgow

At Cumnock we made our one and only refuelling stop, thanks to the big 14-gallon fuel tank and the light thirst of the Alvis which had so far averaged better than 25 miles to the gallon. From Kilmarnock onwards we fairly stormed along the four-track road to Glasgow, a road which in spite of its attractive appearance needs treating with considerable caution on first acquaintance for many of its bends are surprisingly sharp and, moreover, have an unpleasant habit of going on curving for a long, long time. Nevertheless, we covered this 15-mile stretch with such extraordinary swiftness that a considerable argument broke out between the driver and the navigator as to whether the built-up area we were entering was really the outskirts of Glasgow, which in fact it was.

Having had some experience of Glasgow’s undisciplined and highly dangerous traffic on previous visits, I unkindly left Frayling the task of bringing our precious motorcar unscathed to the Central Hotel, which he did, needless to say, without turning a hair. So ended a most pleasant journey in one of the most outstanding—and I personally think the best-looking—cars on the market. No prototype is without faults and the Alvis obviously required attention to its rear suspension, possibly in the form of increased damping, but it had proved a delightful long-distance touring car with a performance that matched its looks, and it was with very real regret that I watched it drive away to take its place in the demonstration car park for the run of the Scottish Show.

JOURNEY’S END.—This view of the Alvis outside Glasgow’s Central Hotel, well illustrates its lovely lines and explains why the driver of a petrol tanker first rubbed the rain drops off his driving mirror to obtain a clearer view of the car overtaking him and then leant so far out of his cab to obtain a better look as we swept by that we feared he might tumble out on to the roof.

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