From Cameron Slater
I was prompted to write the attached article by a recent email exchange with John Fox about using Archive photos of the Duke of Edinburgh’s TD21 in a presentation I’m working on for the British Motor Museum at which I volunteer as a Museum Guide. As you will see I’ve spent a number of years with Alvis and although that’s a long time ago I’ve never lost interest in these fine cars.
So in the interest of adding to the Archive’s expressed aim of amassing as much information about Alvis cars as possible, I wrote this piece about the cars I’ve owned. I hope you feel that it’s the kind of thing your subscribers would appreciate and if it does produce any feedback or recollections from others, that would, for me, be a very interesting bonus.
Finally, you may already know this but the British Motor Museum has a 1965 TE 21, a Supercharged 1928 Front Wheel Drive which is nearing the end of a chassis up restoration, the 1967 Rover/Alvis P6BS prototype and the prototype Rover/Alvis Saloon designed by David Bache and nicknamed ‘Gladys’.
A trio of Alvis – by Cameron Slater
Sometime in 1974, I went to a slightly iffy used car dealer in Glasgow to look at a Rover P5B Coupe. And there in the front of the forecourt was this sad-looking TD21 with one front wing showing signs of a poor DIY repair job, one spotlight missing, two-tone paint with faded metallic silver roof over a tired maroon colour. The upholstery was sound, the woodwork faded, the varnish peeling, the headlining unmarked, the chrome was OK and the tyres were almost new Good Year radials.
I had always fancied the TD21 Alvis but for me, it needed knock-on wire wheels. The rather worn example I was looking at did have wire wheels – so I bought it. I knocked the dealer down from a totally unrealistic £325 to an acceptable £250 and drove it away. I never did see the Rover P5B Coupe I had gone there to look at in the first place.
Over the next few months I dealt with the more urgent mechanical issues and got the car running reasonably well.
The car’s registration was JSN 210 and the chassis number, 25954. By delving into the Alvis Archive, I find that the car is listed in the current TD Register as having been dispatched on 8 December 1958 so I imagine it wasn’t bought and registered until early 1959. According to the TD Register, it’s actually number 9 in the production series of the Park Ward cars. I passed on all the documentation I had when I sold the car but my recollection is that its first owner was the managing director of, I think, an engineering or a foundry company in Alexandria – hence the SN (Dumbartonshire) registration.
There were some detail differences between this and later cars. The rear wings behind the wheel arches were straight panels while later cars were slightly curved under, the air cleaner box was a slim rectangle instead of the thicker and rounded version on later cars. Transmission was via the BMC four speed gearbox from the Austin Healey BN4. It had an umbrella handbrake and drum brakes all round and, unusually, the speedometer and the rev counter needles swept in different directions.
So I was now the owner of an Alvis TD21. I joined the Alvis Owner Club and subsequently became the Chairman of the Scottish Section for a couple of years. I took the car to various shows around the central belt of Scotland and was a regular entrant at the annual Mellerstain House classic car event. But the bodywork was always a let-down so something had to be done about it.
I took the paint off the front wing only to discover that the top of the wing and the headlight mounting were mostly filler. This was a bit of a blow since my welding and panel beating skills were non-existent but I was a dab hand with the Isopon 38, so I simply made the filler conform more accurately to the original wing shape.
I then hired a spraygun and compressor and a few litres of Jaguar Midnight Blue cellulose paint. Despite my lack of experience, it all turned out rather well. True, there was more orange peel finish than I would have liked, especially on the offside, but if you looked at the car’s near side from about ten yards, it really looked quite presentable.
I drove the TD21 for a few years until I could afford to get it properly sorted. My daily transport at this time was a Ford Capri 2.0 so I set off from Glasgow and headed for Kenilworth and Red Triangle who, of course, were able to supply me with everything I needed. I drove home with a new front wing, two rear wheel arches and two (steel) door skins squeezed into the back of the Capri.
I knew that Mercury Motors of Lundin Links in Fife had a good reputation for restoring all kinds of classic cars, so I engaged them to rebuild and repaint the Alvis.
The results were a transformation. My TD21 emerged from a couple of months of renovation looking like new. The dreadful front wing and all the rusted panels had been replaced, the doors had been reskinned and rehung, and the whole thing had been resprayed in Jaguar Carmine Red.
I should, of course, have had it painted in its original Alvis colour of Alice Blue, but I thought red suited the car extremely well.
In about 1987, I was totally seduced by an AC Greyhound and sold the Alvis for about five grand. My recollection is that it was bought by an enthusiast in Wick in the far north-east of Scotland.
I heard nothing more about JSN 210 until one day in late 2014, I was browsing through the classic cars on Ebay and was astonished to see ‘my’ Alvis offered for sale. It had clearly been in good hands since my ownership and had been restored to its original Alice Blue colour. The car looked wonderful and so did the asking price. If I had held on to it for all those years my original £250 would have multiplied by a factor of about one hundred and forty. Sadly, in recent correspondence with John Fox, I learned that the car had been fire damaged although whether terminally or not John did not say.
My second Alvis was a 1964 TE 21, registration number CBA 239B, chassis number 27140, with wire wheels and the ZF 5-speed gearbox. I bought the car from an acquaintance sometime in, I think, 1975. It had some damage to the offside rear wing and had been languishing on a driveway in Glasgow’s west end for some time so the dark blue paintwork was faded. He wanted fifty quid for it. I bought it. I was completely and utterly off my head.
(The TD in the photo below is my TD21)
First, I had nowhere to put it so it sat in the road outside my flat. Second, the damaged bodywork needed repaired and third, it wouldn’t start. It needed a new battery, new plugs, points and all the electrical leads changed. Then, I discovered that the offside chassis rail was rusted through in a couple of places.
So this was a disaster. Why I thought I needed a second Alvis I will never know. But I now had one TD 21 which looked passable and ran rather well and a TE 21 which wouldn’t start, needed chassis and bodywork repairs and looked terrible. It had to go. At some point in, I think, early 1976, some deluded soul gave me fifty quid and trailered it away and I never saw or heard of it from that day to this.
But that’s not quite true. I recently discovered the Alvis Archive site and found CBA 239B listed in the TE21 register. Further research in the 1983 Members List showed that the car was owned by Kenneth Boyle in Glasgow who also owned a TD21 (26395 Reg.4626 DG). However, the 1980 Membership List showed Mr Boyle to be the owner of the TD21 only. Two explanations seem possible; either Mr Boyle bought the car from me in 1976 but didn’t register it with the Owners Club until 1983 or someone else bought the car from me and Mr Boyle bought it from my mystery buyer in 1983. So, does CBA 239B still exist? If so, I’d be fascinated to learn of its history.
(Thanks to Wayne Brooks who recorded the following: AOC Calendar March 2007: 1961 TD21 Saloon, Chassis No. 26395. Rolling chassis piled with bits. Body removed (except scuttle) but most parts above the waist survive. Car taken off road and stored since 1976 because of body rust. Also spare TD engine (No. 26277) plus ZF box and many parts from 1964 TE21 Saloon, Chassis No. 27140, also stored since 70’s. Offers for the lot to K. Boyle.)
My third Alvis was a 1938 12/70 saloon. I bought it from its owner in West Kilbride, Ayrshire for £100.
It needed a lot of work, but, given my lack of body restoration expertise, why I thought this would be a suitable project now seems completely inexplicable. Having tinkered with it in spare moments for some months, I sold it to a colleague for £100. He got the car running, hacked the roof off, restored the bodywork and turned it into a quite presentable convertible tourer. Sadly I have no record of this car any more – not even the registration number – but if any readers can add to my recollections of this or the other two cars, it would be good to hear from them.
4 thoughts on “Reader writes”
Interesting article. The front wing on my TE 21 looked similar 20 years ago.
Don’t forget the cartoon of a crowd outside Buckingham Palace. A man turns to his mate and says: “See that man just off centre, the one in the naval uniform? He drives a TD 21”.
I think they all got to look like that at some time in their lives.
JSN 210 was in Watten eight miles from Wick sadly owner now deceased. I repaired all the bodywork and resprayed vehicle shortly after it was bought. Welded rear chassis legs not in great condition. Bodywork was fair welding and filling required then sprayed in a Nissan colour I’ve no photos available In 2014 or 15 it went to Bristol area