The Grenfell Special

The more challenging questions we receive usually involve Alvis that are made up of more than one car and sometimes non-Alvis parts.

To  alvisarchive@btinternet.com Feb 2, 2016 at 4:29 PM

I wonder if you have any info already ref a special my stepfather built and raced in the early 1950’s. He was Brian Grenfell. The car was reg OY 5253 and was built from a Firefly chassis and a 4.3 engine was installed.
The car was raced quite successfully and also did speed events. I have photos of it being built, of it racing at Silverstone etc. It was a very good looking car and certainly not your average bitsa. It did a lot of service too as an everyday car, again more photos of it loaded up for trips to/ from Norfolk to Cornwall.
Regards

Alex Grenfell

A quick look at the car database shows no current AOC member owning it after 2007, so emails to Wayne and Brian and a search of the Bulletin DVD came up with a lot more detail.

Grenfell

Wayne Brooks <waynealvis@aol.com> To alvisarchive@btinternet.com Feb 2 at 6:28 PM

According to The Alvis Firefly by Simon Fisher OY 5253 is on chassis 10240.  Firefly SA 11.9 Cross & Ellis 227 4 Light Saloon 10240 10691 14976 OY 5253, despatched 13.1.1933

10280 - 255The picture above is Donington paddock around 2003/4 & below (late 90s) is in unblown form at Brooklands test hill (see Postscipt)10240 - 0192

With the help of Brian Maile, Alvis racer and other owners, we have tracked it down to Switzerland, under restoration.

Alvis Firefly Special – OY 5253 – A brief history by Alex Grenfell

The car was built by my stepfather, Brian Grenfell, in the early 1950s. There is a copy of an article from a local paper, in a family album, with 1951 written beside it. gren2 (2)It refers to Brian, and him being from Tydd St Mary, which is a village near Kings Lynn. It also states that Brian was from Tintagel in North Cornwall, and the birth of the Alvis came about due to the cost of his journey’s between his then family home, and the Norfolk area. As the newspaper article notes ‘travelling backwards and forwards by train was an expensive luxury’.

In 1952 Brian bought a tumbled down old cottage not far away in Norfolk, and there were many journeys to his parents’ home in Saltash, just over the river Tamar, in Cornwall. Travelling that sort of distance in an open sports car, sometimes loaded up with belongings, sometimes towing a trailer (!) would certainly have been an adventure 60-65 years ago!

Brian and my mother, around 1953/4
Brian and my mother, around 1953/4

Of course there was no bridge across the wider river Tamar back then, it was built in 1962 I think, so there was always a rush to get down in time for the last ferry from St Budeaux, near Plymouth, to Saltash. Missing that meant quite a long detour via Tavistock and Gunnislake, across the nearest road bridge.

Brian and mother, his parents behind. Setting off from Saltash to Norfolk.
Brian and mother, his parents behind. Setting off from Saltash to Norfolk.

The Alvis was known as ‘Charlie’; all my parent’s cars were given names, usually by Mum. I have no idea on what basis, but they stuck, and I can still remember some of them.

Brian, and friend with Firefly chassis in 1951. Note ‘mechanics’ clothes!!
Brian, and friend with Firefly chassis in 1951. Note ‘mechanics’ clothes!!

Back to the beginning……..I believe the original chassis was from a Firefly, and the magazine article refers to a 1933 car, so that would stack up. As is mentioned, the chassis was shortened by 9”, and the engine mounted 11” back, and 5” lower. The end result was quite a handsome car, reminiscent of an HRG.

The original engine was, I assume, the Firefly 1500 cc; the article refers to 12HP. The 4.3 litre engine was installed by around 1955, when the car was also used for competition. I have no actual performance data, but I know it was quite a quick car, especially back in the early 1950’s.

The car certainly competed at Silverstone and Goodwood, probably others, as well as some Speed Events like Brunton hillclimb.

The later car, 1955/56, obviously good for towing!
The later car, 1955/56, obviously good for towing!

Visually, the radiator and front was narrower with the earlier engine, and wider once the 4.3 was installed. The photos clearly show this.

The earlier narrower car
The earlier narrower car

I have owned an AC Ace from that same era for many years, and I believe that Charlie would have given it a good run for its money, even if cornering might have proved a tad more challenging than with the independently sprung AC!

Whilst all this car building, travelling from East to West, competition, and general all round use was going on, there were many, let us say, just as interesting things going on in personal lives at the same time!

My mother, who was a wartime bride to a Polish fighter pilot, Witold Lanowski (my father), divorced in 1953, and married Brian. Apart from his practical skills, stepfather was an archetypal entrepreneur, buying major properties in Knightsbridge, going bust in 1956, buying a garage in Weyhill, near Thruxton, and so on. The relevance of this to the car is that it somehow survived the turmoil, and creditors (!), and the last I know of it in our family ownership was 1957 or 1958.

Brian passed away on the Isle of Man a couple of years ago, and until I received some old photo albums recently (let us just say that he and I did not see eye to eye for many years, so lost contact), I had not given much thought about the car.

I never really imagined the car could still be in existence, so when I contacted Alvis Archive and they had heard of the car, and ‘sources’ suggest it is now in Switzerland, I was staggered! We still await the outcome of this part of the story, as they say, to bring it right up to date.

All of this is perhaps interesting, but needs bringing alive with photographs, or at least photos of old photos. I have included some, together with dates, where known, locations/circumstances etc.

Leaving Saltash once again, family in attendance
Leaving Saltash once again, family in attendance
…and caravanning
…and caravanning

What all this does show is how we are all going to miss the family albums of yore, with their fading B&W photos, captions and dates…….As they say, without these, a lot of this would have been impossible. Wonderful images too of a different era.

Saltash again, myself leaning against the car!
Saltash again, myself leaning against the car!
Silverstone, said to be 1954
Silverstone, said to be 1954
Silverstone again
Silverstone again
Earlier car I believe and at Thruxton in the early days….
Earlier car I believe and at Thruxton in the early days….
Charlie outside the garage at Weyhill, near Thruxton
Charlie outside the garage at Weyhill, near Thruxton

Alex Grenfell

February 2016

Postscript..

Adrian Paul writes…

I owned this car from 1994 – 2007.

It was a basket case when purchased & I rebuilt/developed it over my ownership into a very competitive car (VSCC races/sprints/hillclimbs)

The first picture is Donington paddock around 2003/4 & the second picture (late 90s) is in unblown form at Brooklands test hill.

There was an article published in the AOC bulletin written by me, but also included an original article by Brian of the original build in the early 50s.

Cheers, Adrian

PS a couple of pics attached at more recent events…oy5253-2

Oulton Park
Oulton Park
Shelsley Walsh
Shelsley Walsh
Mallory Park 2006
Mallory Park 2006