You know what was a great decade for cars? The 20s. The last one I mean, not this one that we’re almost three years into (!!!). Lots of great cars came out of the 20s, and a few great car companies. One of those companies was Alvis, which began making cars just over 100 years ago and successfully implemented groundbreaking technologies that are commonplace today.
T.G. John and Company Ltd. was a British manufacturing company founded in 1919, originally making carburettors and motorscooters. The next year the company started making cars and in 1921 changed its name to The Alvis Car and Engineering Company.
It is sometimes suggested that the name is a portmanteau of “aluminium” and “vis” – Latin for strength. However, Geoffrey de Freville, the man who came up with the name has stated that it is meaningless and that it was chosen because it could be pronounced in any language
The 20s were really great for Alvis. Its first car was the Alvis 10/30 which had a four-cylinder engine that used pressure lubrication for the main bearings, an advanced feature a hundred years ago. The car was an instant success and established the company’s reputation for quality and performance
In 1924 the engine got an overhead cam and the car became the Alvis 12/50. The car’s first race was at the JCC Brooklands 200 mile race where it finished first. The production 12/50 was a successful sports car with a range of factory bodies that had different seating options and open or closed roofs. Alvis did not make their own coachwork. Like many upscale auto companies at that time, it outsourced coachwork to the many British coachbuilders nearby.
In 1928 Alvis introduced the front-wheel-drive Alvis 12/75, an advanced car that had inboard front brakes and a Roots blower that gave the car enough power for 137 km/h. The first fully synchronised gearbox came from the company a few years later in 1933.
As World War II began, Alvis began building aircraft engines and military equipment like tanks. A few years ago, Jalopnik readers determined $US80,000 (around $115,117 if we were converting today) was a nice price for one of the company’s Scorpion tanks. After the war, Alvis built cars until 1965 when the company became a subsidiary of Rover.
I found one of their later cars at a Petersen Automotive Museum cruise-in a few weeks ago. A 1952 Alvis TB 21. The TB 21 is rare, there were only 31 made, but this one is unique. Thirty of the TB 21s were built as right-hand drive two-seaters. One prototype was made in left-hand drive with four seats for the American market, but they decided not to produce it. This is that car.
It has a 3-litre pushrod straight-6 engine making about 90 horsepower. Front suspension is independent with coils, and the rear has leaf springs. Like all good cars, this ‘52 Alvis gets driven, often to car shows and cruise-ins.
It was a great reminder that Alvis was an innovative car company that got its start in the 20s and continued to make beautiful vehicles for decades. Since 2012, Alvis has been making what they call “continuation cars,” which are its old car designs with modern tech like fuel injection. Cool, but not as cool as an old Alvis. Though as we’ve suggested before, it is perhaps not a bad way to spend your rich-person money.
This article has been updated since its original publication.