As a number of other marques come to terms with allegations of criminal behaviour in relation to the building of “Specials” purporting to be original cars the question of provenance has raised its head again in the Alvis world.
Chris Taylor, our senior Concours Judge, asks in his June 2016 newsletter “This brings me to seek your opinion regarding this year’s judging at International where Mick Fletcher and I were judging the pre-war entries for concours. However there were not enough cars to field full entries for all sections so, in line with standard practice, entry classes were amalgamated but that meant this year specials were put with standard cars causing a newly re-bodied special to take the top pre-war prize for concours. This has led to quite a lot of emails and I would be interested in any opinions you may have on the subject for us to get it right next year.”
So the dilemma facing the judges and organisers of events is the classification of cars. The Preservation Class introduced a couple of years ago did not attract many entries and was intended to encourage those with original cars nicely presented but not in top condition to enter the competition. This year’s criteria for judging did not include “originality”.
Meanwhile cars are still being advertised as original or as a particular model when examination of the archives database show they are not as described. A quiet word with the advertiser will hopefully ensure that a potential buyer will not be duped. Hopefully any potential buyer will enquire of the Model Secretary before parting with large sums. We know from experience that often buyers ask us about a car after they have bought it.
Robin Bendall writing as a retired Concours Judge has added his opinion on this matter which is something that’s concerned him for quite a while.
…..“the problem is not only the outward appearance of an Alvis but also the amount of modification that takes place in the mechanics which in my opinion makes many of these cars specials or at least not how they were designed. There are alternators, electronic ignition, power steering, overdrives, changes of gear boxes and distributors for magnetos of older cars, even seats with head rests on them surely all these modifications make them specials, and of course we know about bodywork .
How do we differentiate?
My view is there should be a master class in Concours for cars that are standard, that is to an Alvis design as it left the factory – not so many cars but they deserve to be recognised as original, the rest should be in a standard concours where they can be judges as ‘specials’ to some degree.
Maybe we could have a non-original section on their score sheet with say 100 points and a scale of deductions which take points off for non-original parts being fitted e.g. 5 points for an alternator and so on, a scale could easily be worked out and entrants would have to declare what alterations have been made to the car when they enter.
For bodywork a car that’s been converted to a drop head or has had a new body made should be judged on the quality of the design /conversion. So body designs that are very good and would meet an Alvis standard would be judge as such although I can think of other cars that would not meet that criteria by a mile. It would also have a benefit in knowing what cars are non-standard. In the VSCC no modification is acceptable but that takes things to far in my view.
It’s just the germ of an idea but there must be a way to encourage people to keep their cars as Alvis designed and intended them to be used but accepting that some people want their cars to be modernised for ease of use.”
So we have a suggestion that we create a list of possible deviations from standard which in any case we all ought to declare for insurance purposes. How far do we go? Is a replacement bodywork panel less original than a repaired one? Should points be deducted for flashing indicators on the older cars? When should leather be replaced rather than refurbished.
For the record this is an extract of AOC club policy from 2006.
The Alvis Owner Club fosters and encourages the following activities:-
- Preservation of Alvis cars.
- Driving Alvis cars.
- Promoting the Alvis Marque.
- Social & sporting events.
- Maintenance & restoration of Alvis cars.
The principal aim of the Club is to encourage the preservation, driving and display of Alvis cars and the other aims listed support this primary aim. Only proper and sensible preservation, maintenance and restoration can allow this to be achieved so that not only present, but future generations of enthusiasts may experience the delights of Alvis ownership in full measure. (See Appendix i)
Given the preservation aim of the Club, the most desirable Alvis is, in principle, one which is in totally 100% original condition and has not been modified in any way since leaving the factory. This, of course, is an impossible ideal. Items such as batteries and tyres have a limited life and would now be unserviceable even if the car had been laid up on the day it left the factory. Retrospective legislation and modern road conditions also demand modifications if the cars are to be used safely in today’s traffic conditions. Nevertheless, Club Policy is to encourage Members to maintain their cars in a condition which is as near to the original specification as is practical. (See Appendix ii)
It follows that the aim of the Club to promote the restoration of Alvis cars should, where practical, be done using parts which were originally associated with the individual chassis in question (e.g. the engine, gearbox, rear axle, coachwork etc ideally should be those originally fitted to the chassis). (See Appendix iii)
Generally speaking the Alvis motor car is a well balanced design with few inherent faults. Little is to be gained by modifying the design and a policy of restoration to as close as possible to original specification will pay dividends. Unnecessary modifications are discouraged and modifications should not be made without careful consideration or advice. (See Appendix iv)
Owners are encouraged to restore their cars with the original coachwork and reproduce interior trim as faithfully as possible. The excuse that saloon or other coachwork was removed “because it was beyond economic restoration” is deplored. (See Appendix v)
- SPECIALS & BUILT-UP CARS.
It is recognised that original/restorable Alvis cars are in short supply and it is considered appropriate to build up a car using an assembly of genuine Alvis components which originally came from different cars, with some new parts when original parts are not available. (See Appendix vi)
- SAFETY MODIFICATIONS.
The safety of our cars, the occupants and other road users is of paramount importance. Lighting which was adequate in the 1930’s is often inadequate now, as are the minimum legal standards currently allowed for old cars. Lights which are smaller or dimmer than those on modern cars can be easily overlooked by other road users, while electric semaphore and hand signals are often not seen and may not be understood by young drivers. There are appropriate Safety Modifications. (See Appendix vii)
It is recognised that the Club has no jurisdiction over the actions of members with regard to their own property. These recommendations are issued to existing and new members as guidelines following extensive consultation with Club members. It is expected that members will abide by them, help promote and encourage others to support them in the spirit in which they are intended. It may be appropriate to modify the Policy from time to time. It is not issued as a means or guide for the purpose of classifying any particular Alvis vehicle.
N.J.Simpson FIMI. Technical Advisor.
In the 1950’s the main interest for members was with driving and keeping the cars roadworthy on a low budget. In many cases between the 1950’s and 1970’s pre-war Alvis cars were often in use as everyday cars. Many were owned by the impecunious and ‘Do-It-Yourself’ was the order of the day. Preservation and originality were not considered as much of a priority as they are today and many worn out examples were consigned to the scrap yard. In spite of this, during this period, some members with foresight enabled some wonderful Alvis cars to be preserved.
In those days the Motor Trade took little interest in old cars and many of the skilled artisans who knew about them had retired and the skills needed to maintain them had been dispersed or lost after the war. Practices which are deplored today and unnecessary were commonplace, such as breaking up cars for spare parts, amalgamating cars, removing saloon coachwork and converting chassis to an open sports body or constructing ‘specials’. We are extremely fortunate today that some of those early Club Members gathered and recorded so much information about Alvis products, preserving the cars, sometimes under difficult circumstances and leaving today’s enthusiasts with a rich legacy.
Alvis cars were never manufactured in large numbers and there is a limit to the number of surviving cars. The efforts and foresight of enthusiasts all those years ago should not be compromised by those who wish to create Specials and Replicas by plundering the limited numbers of surviving original complete cars. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in values of the more sporting Alvis cars, even replicas. Because of this pressure, the supply of closed cars for conversion has increased leaving the affordable surviving car numbers depleted.
This continued destruction of surviving ‘Entry-Level’ saloons is reducing the opportunities for younger and less wealthy enthusiasts to experience Alvis cars and the benefits our club. This applies to both pre-war and post-war cars. A growing number of Alvis enthusiasts believe our Club has the prime responsibility to take a positive lead to encourage, educate and persuade owners and prospective owners in the preservation of the remaining original Alvis cars.
Although many well-known and previously much modified cars in the Club may not strictly measure up to these new guidelines, their modifications and existence are a part of the cars’ history and it is emphasised that this policy will not apply retrospectively. These cars and their present and future owners will remain welcome members of the Club.
Of course there comes a time when the demands of originality conflict with maintaining a reasonably presentable motor car (paintwork fades, steel corrodes, wooden coachwork frames rot, upholstery disintegrates and plating tarnishes, etc). It is for the individual Members to decide the appropriate balance in this respect and refurbish as faithfully as possible.
The Club has among its Members and Council specialist ‘Model Secretaries’, many with long experience and comprehensive records of Alvis cars. They may be consulted by those in need of information with regard to original specifications and those considering making changes which may conflict with the Club Policy.
Members who own original and/or dilapidated cars, particularly those with closed coachwork are particularly welcome to bring their Alvis cars to club events if possible where a warm welcome will await them.
In many cases the ‘ideal’ restoration will not be possible because parts have been substituted, lost, damaged beyond repair or simply worn out. It is then acceptable to utilise parts from another car which has already been broken up, or new spares manufactured by specialists.
New parts should as a general principle, be manufactured to the original Alvis factory specification. If new parts are made to a different specification (to take advantage of the availability of modern materials) they should conform to the extent that it should not be necessary to modify original parts in order to fit them. It is sometimes necessary for owners to fit alternative major units to keep their cars running because of the high cost of restoration of the original unit. This is supported by the club provided, wherever possible, displaced original major numbered components such as engines should be retained to be passed on to a subsequent owner who may wish to restore and refit it.
It is certain that most Alvis cars will outlive their present owners and we should consider ownership as a Period of Trust before the cars move on to a future generation of Alvis enthusiasts. It therefore behoves us to make no irreversible modifications which involve cutting, welding or drilling parts. Such modifications are deplored. Owners should not be selfish concerning modifications and should ensure that Alvis cars are passed on in as historically a correct condition as possible for the reasons already stated.
Having stated that, modern traffic conditions are quite different from those for which our cars were designed, and it is recognised that some changes may be needed to allow for this. The fitting of modern safety features such as brake lights, flashing indicators, and the recommended standards for front and rear lighting are covered in the section on Safety Modifications. The extra electrical load may be too much for the standard ‘Third Brush’ dynamo on a long night journey, and there are modifications, reversible, and discreet.
The cooling system of our cars was not designed to work for long periods when the car is stationary or in slow-moving traffic queues, so it is acceptable to fit an electric fan.
It is recommended that new or replacement electrical wiring should be run tidily, out of sight where originality dictates it, and adequately secured.
Some owners have fitted higher ratio rear axle gears to help their car to be used in modern road conditions without overstressing the engine. This modification is more suitable than changing gearbox ratios or fitting modern overdrive units, but is not suitable for all models and advice should be sought. The Club does not wish to encourage it, although in keeping with its policy of promoting the use of Alvis cars on the road it accepts this modification provided it is fitted only to cars which will benefit, that the chassis and body are not mutilated and the original components are retained for re-use so that it could revert to standard specification later.
If no body exists owners are encouraged to build a reproduction of the original, in either closed or open design which could have been fitted to the chassis at the time of manufacture. Materials used should be appropriate to the period of the car (eg leather rather than vinyl and aluminium rather than glass-fibre).
It is preferable to seek an alternative, body-less Alvis chassis for replica coachwork purposes rather than destroy a complete original car however dilapidated it may appear. Un-restored, project cars with original coachwork are becoming rare and may become desirable for proper restoration purposes later. Every effort should be made to preserve them intact for those who want to restore them in the future.
Members who consider their Alvis to be beyond restoration are urged to discuss the situation fully with a member of the Club Council before taking steps to alter the car. Council members are available to provide advice at this stage and assist in directing the owner to responsible and capable restorers and specialists.
THE DESTRUCTION OR REMOVAL OF ORIGINAL BODIES FROM THEIR RIGHTFUL CHASSIS IN ORDER TO BUILD CARS WITH MORE ‘DESIRABLE’ (i.e. SALEABLE) OPEN COACHWORK IS DEPLORED.
There are a few businesses supplying used spares for Alvis cars and the Club urges them to only take spares from incomplete cars totally beyond repair and to encourage those purchasing cars or chassis from them for restoration or rebuilding to seek advice from Club Council members before embarking on their project.
vi) SPECIALS & BUILT-UP CARS.
These practices are endorsed because they support one of the primary aims of the Club; to encourage driving Alvis cars. It is preferable to the alternative of allowing the constituent parts to deteriorate or be scrapped through lack of use. Owners of these cars should ensure that the car is accurately described and not claimed to be original and that the components to construct it are not taken from a complete car. Anyone considering the building-up of a car or Special should consult the Club Council before starting work.
vii) SAFETY MODIFICATIONS.
It is recommended that rear lights, brake lights and direction indicators be sufficiently large or bright enough and located so as to be clearly distinguishable on busy roads with fast-moving traffic both in bright sunlight and in poor weather conditions.
This involves a departure from originality, and some care is needed in the selection of suitable light units and their positioning and fixing. There is a choice of units available from specialists and although almost all contain modern components, it is possible to find units which do not look too out of place on our cars.
Flashing indicators are highly recommended and may be incorporated into sidelights and rear lights. These may be legally white at the front and red at the rear but may not be immediately understood by other road users as flashing red rear lights could be confused with brake lights. However, there are now excellent and discreet miniature amber coloured units available which may be either built-in to the existing side light units or located separately in a reasonably discreet fashion so as not to spoil the appearance of our cars. It is also very worthwhile to incorporate a hazard warning switch into the system for emergency use.
Today sidelights have been more or less downgraded to parking lights and headlamps must be used in all conditions of poor visibility. Original headlamps can be upgraded to provide better illumination on unlit roads in the face of oncoming traffic, while having better dipped beam cut-off to prevent dazzle. The best solution is to provide alternative illumination which will meet the legal requirements, which can be done by incorporating low-wattage quartz-halogen bulbs into the original headlamps or fitting a pair of suitable additional driving lamps fitted with these bulbs, and switching over to the main headlamps occasionally when additional illumination is needed. These modifications require careful thought and some knowledge and skill to fit make the conversion.
Many of our cars are equipped for a single ‘dip’ left headlamp with the second, right headlamp extinguishing. This system, sometimes queried by the police and some MOT stations is, in fact perfectly legal at the time of writing, but are not be safe in the modern traffic environment. It is recommended that owners of these cars convert to ‘Double-Dipping’.
The DVLA does its best to cater for our cars but most of their rules are for modern cars. Thanks to the FBHVC, to whom our Club subscribes, some of the more bizarre European ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ rules have been modified to allow us to enjoy our cars in reasonably original fashion and without excessive restriction.
Our cars are able to retain their original identities (i.e. Registration Mark) despite a change of engine or body even if it has been completely dismantled and rebuilt. However, if it has been built up using parts from a variety of different cars or too many new parts, although it is recognised as contemporary with its component parts, it is given a new identity because it did not have a previous existence. Cars which have had a continuous existence despite having had several major parts replaced over a period of seventy-plus years may be difficult to classify for DVLA registration purposes.
It can be argued that provided all the changes have been properly dated and recorded over a period of time including the Registration Documentation, then the car which exists today can legitimately lay claim to the original Registration Mark. The main objective of DVLA is to prevent ‘laundering’ of stolen vehicles or parts or new cars claiming a fraudulent history. These rules vary and are updated from time to time and Members are advised to apply either to DVLA Swansea or their local Registration Office for a ruling.
A number of books have been written on Alvis cars and, although mainly concerned with the Alvis Company history, some of them have useful maintenance sections and useful technical information on Alvis cars. There is also the AOC Technical Compendium, an indexed Club publication containing reprints of most of the technical articles contributed by members to The Bulletin during its first 50 years. There is also the Club Archive. The Club Council Members, Model Secretaries and the Technical Advisor are also pleased to assist with Members queries.
Nicholas J.H.Simpson FIMI. Technical Advisor.