The Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd is a fascinating footnote in the annals of the British motoring industry. Founded in 1919 by Thomas George John, the company began with building components such as carburetors, stationary engines for farming and industry, as well as motor scooters – which they charmingly named the “Mobile Pup”. Alvis went on to produce an exceptional range of luxurious motorcars, and found great success in motorsport. Talented and creative engineers made their mark on the company, and it developed a reputation as a great innovator. They were responsible for some very significant firsts in the automotive world, the most notable being in 1933 with the very first production all-synchromesh gearbox and servo assisted brakes. Prior to that, they had experimented with front wheel drive, inboard brakes and supercharging on the model 12/75 of 1928. Yet for all of their innovation, Alvis remained somewhat under the radar and even today, does not seem to garner the same recognition as its contemporaries such as Bentley, Lagonda or even AC. Automobile production trickled on into the 1960s, but by that time Alvis was more known for its military vehicle production than automobiles. The Alvis Company was eventually acquired by Rover who then was swallowed up by British Leyland in the 1970s, altogether disappearing by the end of the decade.
The Alvis Motor Company completed development of its new 3571 cc engine in the latter half of 1935 as a replacement for the 2762 cc engine in its flagship Speed 20 Model. The engine was planned for a new model to be introduced in 1936. Unfortunately the new chassis wasn’t ready, so as an interim measure, a Speed 20 SC chassis was lengthened 5.5 inches, the new drive train was installed, and it was dubbed the 3 1/2 Litre. The 3 1/2 Litre was a response to clients desires for ever more luxurious and spacious coachwork. As bodies grew larger and heavier, Alvis rightfully offered those buyers who sought additional luxury an option of a more powerful engine that kept performance in line with what was expected of their cars. Only 63 3 1/2 Litre chassis were dispatched before the new Speed 25 replaced it for 1937.
The handsome example presented here is a 1935 3 1/2 Litre SA wearing very rare and desirable Vanden Plas Pillarless Saloon coachwork. It was originally dispatched from the Alvis Works as a chassis to Vanden Plas in 1935, eventually destined for Charles Follett, Ltd, the London Alvis distributor, and is believed to carry the first production 3 1/2 Litre engine. One of only two VdP Pillarless saloons built on the chassis, this car has some unique features, Follett’s logo was circular design, and this motif was carried by VdP onto the door handles and the front wings which are skirted with a cycle - like crown. It is believed that prior to it being offered by the dealer, this very car, chassis number 13097, was used on the Vanden Plas stand at the 1935 Olympia Motor Show where it was elegantly presented in its original black over beige leather. From London, it was assigned the English registration number JD 5942 and sold to its first owner in Essex, who only kept it for a brief period. The car’s ownership history is documented from 1935 through to the present day with only a few lapses. The last owner was fastidious, keeping notes and every record and piece of correspondence from his purchase in 1986. The history file is massive and includes repair and restoration receipts, correspondence between owners as well as via the Alvis Owner’s Club, photos of the car before and during restoration, as well as event photos. The car was subject of a feature article in The Classic Car in 2002, a copy of which is in the file. The original Alvis instruction manual, Alvis spares catalogue, Andre shock booklet, and Marles steering book accompany the car. There are also copies of a period Alvis advertisement announcing the new 3 1/2 Litre, which show a drawing of this car. It is remarkable to find a car of this era with such history.
Records show it was partially disassembled at some point in the 1970s, and received a light restoration in 1976. The car was once again restored some twenty years later in the UK by marque specialists Fisher’s Restoration and Earley Engineering. The owner’s dictate to the restorers were to keep the car as original as possible, and to not “over restore” it. The ash framing in the car was replaced as necessary, and the car’s structure is very solid, without the alignment problems suffered by so many pillarless bodies. The deep burgundy main body does deviate from the original color scheme, but it looks very handsome against the black fenders and correct beige interior. The paint work has taken on a patina since completion but remains very presentable and attractive, very suitable for a tour car. Chrome and brightwork are attractive and the car wears many fine details such as trafficators in the C-pillars and a gorgeous radiator mascot. Vanden Plas was always best known for their luxurious saloon cars and this example does not disappoint. The beige leather and carpet remain very serviceable in spite of showing some wear and are more than suitable for an enthusiast who prefers a broken-in feel. The wood work on the dash and door caps is in very lovely condition, with no signs of heavy wear and a nice deep gloss to the finish. Correct original instrumentation remains in the dash. Under the bonnet can be found the fabulous 3 1/2 Litre six which is not only very attractively presented, but runs beautifully. Very correct and well detailed, the engine and bulkhead are clean and tidy, with a wonderfully patinated look to the fittings and fixtures.
This delightful Alvis is a rare and fabulously attractive example of this desirable pre-war sporting saloon car. The handsome and elegant lines would make this car suitable for the show circuit following some light restoration work, but perhaps more appropriately, this model is designated as a Full Classic by the CCCA, making it an ideal choice for touring.