Classic Cars: Alvis is king
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CLIVE LIKES A GOOD-LOOKING CAR HE’S NOT AFRAID TO USE
Clive hadn’t originally planned to buy this New Zealand-new 1963 Alvis TD 21 Series II but after attending an Alvis club AGM at Masterton in his 1923 Alvis, and hearing the following year’s AGM was planned for Dunedin, he bought a newer car — a 1953 Alvis.
“Not a particularly good car, but it certainly made the trip.”
Clearly the extra comfort and longer road legs appealed, so when Clive saw this TD for sale at Ellerslie Concours, the result was almost a foregone conclusion.
“I’d always admired it, it’s just that little bit easier to drive.” So he swapped cars with the owner for a few weeks.
“I went over it thoroughly and there were a few issues — the paint wasn’t particularly good — and I made him an offer.” Since then it’s driven to the South Island three times — but naturally, he hasn’t sold the other two cars.
This body was supplied by Rolls-Royce subsidiary Park Ward, but prices were high to match — the TD 21 Series II cost £1995 plus £998 tax when new, about twice the price of an equivalent Jaguar, though well below the sports saloon class leader, Bentley.
“It was a middle- to upper-class car,” Clive says, “Prince Philip has one the same as mine, or did for many years. Douglas Bader was a proponent. It was generally people who didn’t want a Rolls or a Bentley, but something a little below that — these days they might drive a Merc.”
But the prices spelled the end for the brand, and after building 22,000 between 1919 and 1965, Alvis was taken over by Rover, then swallowed by British Leyland.
It’s keeping the cars going, and using them, that lights Clive’s fire. Pictures/ Jacqui Madelin.
If this Alvis looks unfamiliar, it’s because so few are about. Clive reckons that of the 268 built of this model, about 199 survive globally, five of them in New Zealand.
When he got the car the paint had bubbled, “caused by using a phosphoric acid base to clean the steel, and not washing it off properly. When I removed the paint, in places it came off in pieces as big as a dinner plate.”
He ensured it was properly cleaned before the new paint went on. He thinks the car may once have been red, but this was its colour when he became the third owner five years ago, the first having been a Dunedin doctor.
The interior is not only standard, but all original, including the indicator position atop the steering wheel, and the slide-switch to select Park, Neutral et cetera for the three-speed auto that at first I thought was a heater dial. Beneath that is the “min”, “hold” and “max” selector — hold for general driving and max to hold the revs.
One long uphill in top was swallowed effortlessly, we even overtook a modern vehicle without changing down, the 2993cc engine allegedly good for 169km/h and more than capable of our open-road limit, even fully laden.
“On a Nelson trip with the Alvis club another one broke down just before the Takaka Hill, so we loaded all the passengers and luggage, took them up and over the hill’s 150-odd corners, and they stayed with us for three or four days.”
Clive’s been to Invercargill in the car, and Timaru, on Alvis club trips.
“The planning and anticipation is half the fun. A lady in the club is a very good at organising, and she plans the route and I get motels and the ferry crossings, then local members organise the rally and the AGM and we pick up members as we go.”
The first problem he ever had was returning from Timaru when the starter motor shorted. “We had to have a tow start, that’s the only problem we’ve had.”
I can see why he might choose this car for the long trips, the coil-spring front and semi-elliptic rear suspension and these seats deliver a comfy ride. The brakes are good — though the lever feels stiff. This model introduced discs all round in place of the rear drums fitted to the Series I, and he’s left them standard, the car remaining all original, at least until the power-steer unit he’s ordered is fitted.
Meanwhile, it takes muscle to manoeuvre at parking speeds.
Back at base, we browse among six BSAs in various stages of restoration, the three Alvises — Alvii? — plus a Triumph GT6 and a 1965 Daimler, and all the Alvis club’s spares. In theory Clive’s retired, but he tinkers with cars every workday, and makes some of the spares, machining aluminium castings for spare parts. The club even has a parts list, with prices for about 1000 components ranging from $3 washers on up.
“We made aluminium sumps for a 1924 Alvis, we made 12 or 14 and sold them round the world to make it worth making the pattern.”
It’s keeping the cars going, and using them, that lights Clive’s fire. “It’s a lovely car but it’s not pristine,” he says. “I like a car to look nice and be mechanically sound but not necessarily pristine. If I did a top-notch paint job I wouldn’t want to take it anywhere. I don’t want to be frightened to use it.”