The latest PPS can be found by clicking on the titles below, or read on for the older ones
A TALE OF TWO TEs – March 2016
By one of those strange quirks of fate, two telephone enquiries on consecutive days, both seeking Registration Mark recovery, precipitated more than usually interesting lines of research. The ‘nod’ towards the Dickens novel in the above heading is deliberate, because as therein, London and Paris figure in the current deliberations. Since we all know what a TE21 saloon and drop head look like, I’ll skip the cars and dwell on the personalities.
It was in 1994 that the theme of International Alvis Day that year was “Celebrity Cars “. At that time I had established that about one hundred Alvis cars had been owned by interesting and/or prominent people: characters who had made as notable a mark in their respective professions as our favourite marque had done in the history of the automobile. I had sent out invitations to the owners of all those known to survive at that time, with the result that sixteen such turned up at Tatton Park for what proved to be a popular display. The honours were taken by Alex Marsh with the ex-Whitney Straight, ex-Henry Williamson Silver Eagle chassis 7903, reg. DR 6084.
Since then much water has flowed under the bridge, and subsequent research has established the number of now eligible cars to be nearer four hundred. I have accordingly got work well in hand for a new Alvis Book upon the aforesaid lines, hopefully in plenty of time for the Centenary. (Now, organisers … there’s an idea for a repeat of the 1994 theme). What now follows is a taster of the proposed format, using the two TE 21’s of the heading as a pattern.
27207 BAE 567B
A drop head coupe first delivered to a company in Bristol, and an unremarkable history until 1972, when it caught the eye of a Professor Robert M. Laughlin, and was exported to the U.S.A. Originally intending to be a poet, R.M.L. took a B.A.in English at Princeton, but took up anthropology, studying at Harvard ( M.A. in 1961, followed by a Ph.D in 1963 ) Bob Laughlin’s area of study concerned the Maya civilisation in Mexico, becoming a world authority on the subject, writing a number of related books including :
The People of the Bat ( 9780874745900 )
Beware the Great Horned Serpent ( 9780942041194 )
The Ch’ol Maya of Chiapas ( 9780806147024 )
and especially The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacomtan, so small wonder that the letters “TZOT” appeared on the US number plate of the Alvis.
In later life Bob Laughlin became Curator Emeritus of Maya Studies at the Smithsonian Institution. A truly remarkable career and contributor to world anthropology. Without his astonishing “Dictionary”, later researchers would have found their work much harder.
Following Bob’s illness, the car has now returned to the UK via the Port of London and is undergoing restoration. Registration recovery is in hand.
27259 FJF 887D
A gold-coloured saloon, this was somewhat unusually sourced from the Leicester Alvis agents: Francis Motors Ltd., by none other than the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, born 23rd June 1894. It was briefly registered there, as above before being exported to the Windsor’s home in the Bois de Boulogne district of Paris.
This car has been known about for very many years, but disappeared from radar following H.R.H.’s death on May 28th 1972. Wallis Simpson survived him until her death April 24th 1986. At an as yet unknown subsequent date the car returned to the U.K. via the Port of London where its French plates were replaced by “NGP 202 D”, allocated by the Greater London Council. No attempt seemed to have been made to recover the original at this point, leading to subsequent keepers never being aware of its true regal origins, but now corrected in the Spring of 2016.
Original registration recovery in hand. Car under restoration.
(FOOTNOTE) Regarding the proposed “Celebrity Owners” Book, Members owning a vehicle thought to be eligible for inclusion are invited to check with me that it is one of the 400 or so currently recorded. Whilst self-recommendations, no matter how extrovert the member are unlikely to be considered, examples in the area of crime and notoriety will, (as with the SD Speed Twenty 13054 / BOV 463 of J.G. Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer).
MULLIN’ OVER ALLOY by Dave Culshaw – February 2016
Aluminium! One of the planet’s more plentiful metals and mostly familiar to car owners in the form of castings for cylinder blocks, head, water pumps, and for the cladding of coachbuilt bodies. But an aluminium car? Well that’s a comparative rarity.
One of the earliest attempts to produce a mainly aluminium car was the American Pomeroy, with around seven produced around 1920-1924. : L.H. Pomeroy of course being the distinguished designer of the 30-98 Vauxhall who had crossed the pond in furtherance of his career.
The concept of bolting together a series of what would be known as ALPAX castings to form a chassis was subsequently espoused in the 1938/39 Amilcar Compound, with just over 600 produced just prior to WW2, and one version for the U.K. market badged as a Hotchkiss Ten. This Amilcar of course emanated from the drawing board of J.A. Gregoire, and there were later spin-offs on this them with the Hotchkiss-Gregoire, the Australian-built Hartnett-Gregoire, and the less-successful Grantham-built Kendall. The Dyna-Panhard was another derivation of the idea, though using Duralinox spot-welded pressings rather than castings.
At the end of WW2, with military requirements no longer needed, there was quite a glut of the shiny stuff, and up at Mulliners of Birmingham (which had been a shadow factory), directors Louis Antweiler and Harry Joyce, plus designer James Wignall later had come up with the idea of applying proven aircraft techniques to cast in aluminium, body frame components which had previously been formed in ash. The production concept however had its roots just a little earlier in two forms – a four-light razor-edge S.S. Jaguar saloon built for Standards Sir John Black, with one very similar upon a prototype 1940 Alvis Silver Crest with airdraulic strut suspension (chassis 16201 / EVC 732)
Although Alvis Ltd. were unable to progress this due to the factory being bombed, the design would morph into Triumph’s 1800 and Renown saloons, though in a six-light configuration. Mulliners did however continue their Alvis contract which had started on the 12/70 range, with the conventionally ash-framed TA14 saloon.
A single TA14 prototype TA14 though was built using the cast frame technique, but was not proceeded with on ground of cost. Specialist makers such as Alvis were collectively in danger of being put out of business with the bumbling Gaitskell’s iniquitous double purchase tax, and it was actually Daimler who were the first to take up Mulliners concept, with the DB18 and later Consort. It would be 1950 before Alvis eventually followed with the TA21 saloon. These bodies are quite easily quantifiable, being numbered M 2001 to M3150.
At this point, and coinciding with Mulliners factory move to Broad Lane, the tooling was altered to give concealed hinges on the centre pillar, and chromium frames to the door windows, plus push-button handles to the doors. Bodies from then on in are numbered M3151 to M3599 and are applied to the TC 21 and TC 21/100 series.
Now a year or two back, an example of the latter came into my workshop, this being the ex-Dunham 25704 /KMJ 1, though by that time it had become “15 HYY”. The car, though mechanically sound had suffered some accident damage to the body’s off-side resulting in a cracked A-Post, and was thus beyond restoration. The opportunity was thus taken to carefully dismantle the body from the nearside and thereby obtain hitherto unseen photographs of Mulliners interesting construction.
It will be observed from these photographs and diagrams that the use of spacing fillets allowed the design to be applied to similar cars of differing wheelbase lengths (viz : Renown 9ft, DB18 10 ft, TA21 9ft 3in), with the upper part of the divisible C-Post replaceable with one of right-angle profile to achieve the six-light of the Triumph and Daimler. The doors concerned are also of cast construction with spacers as with the body frame, and, as any owner of one of these devices can attest – remarkably rigid and rattle-free compared with the ash-frame TA14.
The whole design is a veritable masterpiece of pattern-making and casting techniques, with the incorporation of detail such as window channel guides, door lock apertures, and the slot for trafficators. The only snag occurs when any re-trimming occurs. Steel screws and bolts are incompatible with aluminium, and strenuously defy removal.
So, what price the virtually all-aluminium car nowadays then ? Well, it has actually come to pass with the advent of Jaguar’s XE, and related Land-Rover models. Fair to say though, I believe, that Pomeroy , Gregoire, and Mulliners were notable pioneers in the successful journey to widespread 21st century use.
Nick Simpson comments: Mulliners; I did some research on Mulliners when I found all their old records at Warwick University where, they presumably still reside. I discovered that the alloy frames were introduced to speed up production of the bodies on the line. Matching alloy body frames were also incorporated into the shut faces of the body front and back as well. With these frames they could assemble the ‘side’ of the car with screen pillar, back door post, cant rails, bottom door rail and doors as an assembly. They were pre-constructed on jigs and delivered to the assembly line ready to erect. This did away with several people who in earlier times hand fitted and adjusted each door for fit.
1st November 2015
PUMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Run an Alvis as a daily driver, as many of us used to, then you were never far removed from recourse to a gas station. Though, it has to be said, petrol companies used to help us out, typically in sponsorships, as did B.P. in our 1970 Jubilee Tour of Britain. It is with this general theme that I offer two mystery car photos this month for readers’ consideration.
The first, an SA Speed Twenty, was written up by one time owner Pierce Carlson. His adventures over the western seaboard of the United States, (recorded in Bulletin 415 on your DVD) constitute a masterpiece of automotive wit, and bear comparison with the late Commader Clinkard’s hilarious account of his epic drive in a similar SA, from Portsmouth to Macclesfield in the height of winter ( remember where he relates having used up his last match peering into the petrol tank ? ). As to Pierce’s car, there were two or three SA Twenties known to have been in the Hollywood area in the thirties, and used in such movies as ” Charlie Chan in Paris ” , Laurel and Hardy’s ” A Chump at Oxford ” and ” The Ghost Goes West ” , and also the Bulldog Drummond series. Pierce recalled the presence of unexplained holes in the firewall area and rear deck, which lent plausibility to the theory that these might have been camera mounting points for use during road shots. The original colour, found under many layers of paint, Pierce describes as a dull tan, which one day my assist with an apportionment. The original Alvis engine had been discarded in favour of a Plymouth unit, and the car reportedly ended its days on a Santa Monica beach, the wheels later turning up in a nearby car parts shop, save for one, donated to Pierce’s friend Tom Rowan for the latter’s SB 20 : 11187 / OC 5676, which, incidentally just recently turned up at Coys after a sojourn in Chile. A rewarding area for future study for anyone with time on their hands might be to review all those relevant movies, and freeze-frame the Alvis bits. Better than watching ” THE MARTIAN ” , or ” MACBETH ” Any takers ? If only our late movie buff Everett Smith was still with us.
The other photo, equally mysterious, ought in theory to be a doddle to solve, after all, the registration number is visible, is it not ?
But no , JVC 611 is known to have been issued to a TA14 by Coventry City Council on May 17th 1950. It has, however a very early chassis number 20523 with a build of circa August 1946. Just recorded as a saloon, with no maker declared, this TA14 may well have been just a Works development hack, and run on trade plates for most of its life.
As to identifying the TC108G. of the photograph, well, only 37 all types were constructed, so it is a case of trying to eliminate those not having the pertinent features of our subject. Firstly, it is one of the Willowbrook versions, so we are down to 14. It has wire wheels, right hand drive, and is certainly dark in colour. This would appear to put 25919 , 25932 , 25933 , and 25935 in the frame. There is however a most intriguing alternative Could the photograph explain the 24-year gap in the history of 25938, beginning life as a TC108G with a build of November 1956, but re-designated as a TD21 by the Works as the Park Ward development car and not registered until May 1959 as 9 VMG ?
Clutching at straws, as one often does in these matters, is there such a thing as a National Benzole Archive which any member is aware of, that might be accessed for other views taken of this obvious publicity shot at the same time, which might shed further light on this conundrum ?
7th November 2014
“Crested Eagle – the very Model of a Modern Major-General“
by Dave Culshaw
What follows is an explanation of how H.S. Gilbert’s tongue-twisting lyric from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” comes to be associated with ALVIS. And no – neither owned an Alvis as both had passed on before the make was conceived.
One day last Spring there comes in my postbag a tranche of photographs from Richard Mitchell (who obtained them from Tim Harding) – all of ALVIS cars where identification and/or history was sought. All were fascinating in various ways, but when one was of a car previously unapportioned to the record, hence I was rivetted by the snap of one of the huge ‘square-rigger’ Crested Eagles bearing the registration number EPJ 454 .
Devoid as this was of any engineering numbers such finds can be a time-consuming pain to identify, but in this case luck was in. I remembered that one of my Speed 25s, the one which went to Sue Speyer initially, and thence to ‘Rocket’ Roy Spiers to be converted into a highly successful track car, had originally been registered as EPJ 457. It seemed highly likely then that both cars would have gone through the same dealership at the same time. So it was then that Page Motors of Epsom did indeed handle both 13384, and Crested Eagle 13573 in the Christmas week of 1936. Q.E.D.
Now this is where the story really starts, and the connection is made. The first owner, courtesy of Red Triangle’s Guarantee Cards turns out to be one Major-General Sir Edward Northey GCMG, CB, JP (1868 -1953) His military career and remarkable life would fill a volume in itself, and readers desirous of knowing more are pointed to www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk At the risk of brevity in this short piece could mention education at Eton and Sandhurst, battles at Ladysmith, Mons and Ypres; appointed ADC to King George V in 1915 and present at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. Altogether a most significant find, attribution, and a new “Celebrity Car” Does anyone know what became of it?
This latest PPS from DC coincides with the receipt of a file of research papers on the coachbuilder Mayfair from Martin Boothman and the discovery of several period photos in the Herbert. The Major General’s car was a Mayfair bodied Crested Eagle.
THE TALE OF THE THREE GREY LADIES
27th October 2014
In the very early days of the Alvis Owner Club, a most effective method of membership recruitment was that of attaching application forms to windscreens. This was, of course at a time when the sighting of an ALVIS car on the road, or parked up in a sidestreet was an everyday occurrence. I, and indeed many others, kept a supply of forms in pocket ‘just in case’. The encounters resulting from this practice were sometimes memorable, as was one which has just come back in my ken after some fifty years.
I then lived very close to Wigan town centre and would frequently see a very well kept two-tone TC21/100 passing by, always driven sedately by one of two old dears. It took many months before I caught it, and them stationary, and a conversation was struck up. They kindly allowed this keen young chap to raise the bonnet and establish that the chassis number was 25569 (Mulliners M3330), to log to the already observed registration number DTS 894.
At the end of the conversation they said ( and most proudly ) “We are Barry Mason’s aunts, do you know of him? Well of course there could hardly be anyone in Wigan, or indeed in the musical world who had not heard of the brilliant locally born songwriter, never far from the hit parade having penned songs too numerous to list in full, but most memorably “Delilah” for Tom Jones, and “The Last Waltz”, for Engelbert Humperdinck (the younger).
I had more or less forgotten the above encounter, until July, when a Wigan magazine featured an article about Barry Mason, written by David Sudworth, who I immediately contacted, to tell of the above connection. David was extremely interested in this, and resolved to tell Barry of it. Imagine my surprise then, a couple of days later, to get a telephone call from the great man himself, confirming the story of his aunts, and the Grey Lady. Barry pointed out additionally that the two aunts were sisters who had married two brothers, one of whom was Oliver Hart, a very well-known speedway rider of the day.
Now : the inevitable question : where is DTS 894 now? Interestingly it is still listed on the DVLA search system.
It is known to have been with a Nigel Thomas Bridger, of Meldreth, Royston, Herts (Member 6670 of 1982), and then there is an unconfirmed report as perhaps being with a Peter Wilson of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. I would dearly like to know of its current disposition, not to mention Barry Mason himself, so that the story can have a pleasant conclusion.
In the meantime, musical members can be recommended to visit Barry Mason’s fascinating website, detailing all of the 60 million records that he has had a hand in, in varying ways, with a plethora of different artistes. Log on
www.barrymasonsongwriter.co.uk and prepare to be amazed.
POSED, PROBED and SOLVED by Dave Culshaw – May 2014
It is quite a few years ago now that Tony Phillips-Smith, when delving into the Exeter Registration Records netted the name of Dr. Guy Steele-Perkins as a TA 14 owner. I wondered at the time if there could be a connection with that world-renowned trumpeter : Crispian Steele-Perkins.
Recently the opportunity arose to make contact with this popular recording artist, who, in a very nice hand-written letter confirms that the aforesaid Doctor was his father.
He continues ……… ” The car you write of is vividly clear in my memory, it was father’s second Alvis and I think grey in colour. The previous one was black and we had to have the garage enlarged to fit it. I have cine film of the black Alvis from 1949, and somewhere, my late brother’s widow should have a photograph of it being lowered into the hold of the Innisfallon – the Fishguard‑ Rosslare-Cork ferry in which we travelled to our summer holiday in western Ireland ( The Southern Lake Hotel, Waterville ) the same year. We returned twice more in the grey Alvis, fabulous cars, both of them.”
( THESE CARS SUBSEQUENTLY CONFIRMED AS : 21512 /HFJ 787 and 23677 /KFJ 644 )
Now in Alvis terms, the trumpet merely means the tapered extension from Joe Lucas’s electrical bit : the horn, both of which on certain models as the photographs show – are extremely vulnerable to traffic knocks.
In musical terms however the trumpet and the horn are separate instruments, though part of a quite numerous family of related ‘winds’. Crispian Steele-Perkins, apart from the evident joy of playing, has a hobby of restoring such devices ( and classic motorcycles too ).
A visit to his website : www.crispiansteele-perkins.com is thus to be highly recommended.
Finally .. on this windy topic) it was once reported that the famous horn player Denis Brain was negotiating for a 4.3-litre Alvis before he was tragically killed in a car accident on the way back from an Edinburgh Festival, whilst in the world of jazz, the legendary “Turk” Murphy ( trombonist) was confirmed as the owner of the 3rd Speed 25 built : 13328 / DLX 8.
POSED, PROBED and SOLVED
3rd July 2013
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July 13th 2012
” THE FRENCH CONNECTION “
It is perhaps surprising, given that France is Britain’s nearest Continental neighbour, very few Alvis cars, pre or post-war found their way to that country.
This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands, where Alvis exports abounded.
Think ” Alvis “, and ” France ” together, then the most obvious (and best documented) association is that with the Gnome-Rhone aero-engine manufacturers in Paris from 1935 which led to numerous developments.
Back to the cars however, and there are at least two notable exceptions.
The first occured in the summer of 1926, when T.G. John commissioned a saloon body on 12/50 TG chassis No 4431 from Vanvooren of Paris. Whether or not Vanvooren ever used it for exhibition purposes is not presently known, but the car duly returned to Coventry where it was registered RW 8744 around 4th October 1926.
Sadly, no image of this car has yet come to light. Fortunately however we know quite a bit more about the second example of a Vanvooren Alvis, when the fifth SD Speed Twenty chassis to be built, 12779, about September 1935, crossed the channel and after bodying by Vanvooren was a star exhibit at the Paris Salon of that year.
” The Motor’s ” Show Report of October 8th 1935 also relates that a polished chassis was present as well. All this of course is coincidental, in timing with the Gnome-Rhone negotiations referred to earlier.
But was there also another catalyst? It is not widely known that a prominent Alvis employee was quite conversant with Vanvooren, E.R (Roland) Fox, son of Edwin (he of Vanden Plas Coachbuilders, of Kingsbury) had taken up a position with Alvis, progressing well up the echelons of management where it is known at one stage he was allocated the mysterious experimental “Ace ” car (VC 9368, chassis 9130).
Brian Smith (Vanden Plas chronicler ) relates that after Technical Training at the Regent Street Polytechnic, Roland Fox went off to Paris to study the work of Chapron, Kellner AND Vanvooren, later proceeding to Geneva and doing the same at Carrosserie Gangloff. lt is thus fairly obvious that by the time he took up his new position with Alvis Ltd. Roland Fox must have known as much about continental coachbuilding as anyone in Coventry at the time, and his role may well have been pivotal in the the construction of the Speed Twenty Vanvooren, before he returned to the Vanden Plas” family ” firm.
The Vanvooren car created a lot of fascination over the years, particularly with illustrator (and former Alvis Owner Club SD 20 model Secretary) Tony Phillips-Smith, who conducted much research, establishing that it must have escaped the occupation during World War Two, and that for many years it resided with the Pozzoli family (Serge Pozzoli being a greatly respected automotive chronicler, and Bugattiste.) Tony’s research also encompassed the Vanvooren company itself.
It was Tony who alerted me to the fact that the Vanvooren Alvis had been re-imported to the U.K. by collector Brian Classic, and it is Brian who kindly allowed me to visit him and view this most interesting car. To say that it has a presence would be an understatement.
I learned much from this visit.
The Works Guarantee Card for the vehicle merely records the first owner as ‘Bouregon’.
A plaque on the facia panel goes further denoting the name George Bouregon d’Hubert, and the address l44bis, Boulevard du Montparnasse.
There the artistic connection continues for I have subsequently established that the address is now an art gallery, proprietaire : Rosemarie Napolitano, who specialises in the work of Lea Riviere, so a fitting and serendipitous rounding off to this story.
It brought back some happy memories for me too, when as a student I had elected to do a thesis on Coachbuilding. This of course necessitated visiting as many of the ateliers as possible.
In the course of this I met Roland Fox, and at Hoopers : Osmond Rivers, who had been one of E.R.F’s tutors at the Regent Street Polytechnic.
Most memorable of all though was meeting H.G.R.N. (Herbert) Nye, designer of the Bentley Continental, at H.J. Mulliner.
He gave me some general arrangement drawings of some of his designs which I still treasure.