Former Speed 25 Model Secretary, George Butlin, met F R W “Lofty” England shortly before he died in 1995 and the result of this meeting was published in the same year in Bulletin 427. It is reproduced here with further links – a fascinating reminder of the many exceptional engineers who spent time at the Alvis and went on to great things.
Lofty’s Alvis days (24 August 1911 – 30 May 1995)
from Bulletin 427 June 1995
ln February’s Bulletin the chairman asked if anyone knew the history at Alvis of “Lofty” England, who went on to become competition manager and chairman of Jaguar. The following month George Butlin met him
F R W ”Lofty” England is living in retirement in Austria and has been discussing a biography of his motoring career. The following brief details of his involvement with Alvis suggests that the book, when published, will be of great interest to Alvis enthusiasts as well as to a wider public who will remember him best for his illustrious involvement with Jaguar.
Lofty worked for Alvis on four separate occasions. He served his apprenticeship with Daimler at their London service depot at the Hyde which at that time employed some 200 people and was one of a number of factories on the Hyde, others being used by Beardmore (taxis), Windovers coachbuilders), and General Motors (Chevrolet assembly).
This was followed by a spell with Birkin and Couper at Welwyn Garden City where he had his first experience of preparing racing cars. When Sir Henry Birkin’s single-seater track car was driven on the road to Brooklands by Charlie Newcombe, Lofty drove behind in a follow-up car. On one occasion they took it to an exhibition in London, driving it down Park Lane!
Birkin and Couper diversified into activities other than racing cars, made the prototype of a British tractor, and a fairground-size motor racing game similar to that made today by Scalex, but ran into financial problems and folded in 1933. Mike Couper who had got out and started a motor business in St Albans later became a Jaguar dealer. Charlie Newcombe who had been the foreman at Welwyn joined Jaguar post-war as chief inspector. Lofty then joined Alvis for the first time as a fitter at their premises in Jubilee Place, Chelsea – a very old-fashioned four-storey building once occupied by Hoopers the coachbuilders.
The houses on the opposite side of the road were used by artists and when doing nude paintings had Alvis chaps watching from the upper floor windows! He remembers that while there and having become a tester, the early Speed 20SA was a good car and the next model the SB while a very good looker was somewhat spoilt by extra weight from the innovations of IFS, and the fine all synchromesh gearbox spoilt by a very bad clutch operation.
In 1934 he left and went to work for Whitney Straight with his team of Maseratis doing most of the European races. That was followed by a job with ERA building and racing their single seater cars. He again worked for Alvis as a road tester at their new service depot on the Great West Road in 1935, then worked as a racing mechanic for Richard Seaman and chief mechanic for Prince Bira, before in 1938 being approached by Alvis to re-join them as service engineer – the main job being to try and pacify the dealers and customers who were not at all happy with the Silver Crest models.
When the war started he was dealing with the reconditioning of Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero engines, which as an “essential” occupation delayed his entry into the RAF in 1941, in which he became a pilot. He vividly recalls the bombing of Coventry; something which was obviously going to happen, since for some 10 days raids had taken place on a small scale using radio beams set up in the occupied countries. The following morning he had to try a number of different roads to get to the works for his home in Leamington Spa and then round the car works on the Coventry side of the railway bridge completely destroyed and the new factory beyond the railway bridge damaged by about six bombs. Understandably very few Alvis employees reported for work but more turned up after lunch. Maybe the fact it was pay day had some bearing on this!
The Kestrel job was dispersed to Stafford and Stone taking aver premises requisitioned by the Factory Dispersal Board at Leicester. These were an unused ex-Triplex factory and part of the Lotus shoe factory. On completion of his war service at the end of 1945, he re-joined Alvis as assistant service manager. When thinking of moving from Alvis he confided in his boss Harold Vaux who said: “Don’t be in too much of a hurry. I have similar ideas!” But through a long-standing friendship, cemented during his Brooklands days, with the (by then) Jaguar development engineer Walter Hassan, England heard of a job, and on 1st September 1946 joined Jaguar as service manager.
During this last period with Alvis he was asked by C G H Dunham, the Luton Alvis distributor, to make his 12/70 single-seater special into a two-seater suitable to compete in the 1946 Belgian Grand Prix. The Alvis board reluctantly allocated £50 to cover the cost so it was mostly done by willing helpers during evenings. Dunham said that he and Lofty could both drive in practice and whoever went fastest would drive in the race.
On arrival in Brussels they found that wings were required although not stated in the regulations so Lofty had to make a set. Being faster than Dunham he drove in the race and when running third, one carburettor float chamber broke off, but having flattened the petrol pipe it ran on two cylinders and Lofty finished fifth.
Other recollections of that period are the FWD 8 cylinder engined single seater car owned by Frank Hallam, the Birmingham distributor, and running a 4.3 car in a production sports car race at Brooklands driven by George Hartwell, the Bournemouth distributor and his co-driver, who started rather badly by taking the car up the Aerodrome Road before practice and not seeing the barrier across the road where the Campbell circuit crosses; so more work for Lofty.
From his Alvis days he recalls that Willie Dunn was stopped in his ideas of making a modern car by Smith Clarke who he regarded as “short-sighted”.
It is interesting to speculate how the post-war history of Alvis might have been influenced if Lofty had remained with the company.