The Alvis Car Company is in the business of building new vehicles for a discerning customer base.
Keith Adams takes a tour of the factory and interviews Alan Stote, the company’s owner.
Alvis: Trading on quality and excellence
The reborn Alvis Car Company has been selling its Continuation Series of models since the mid-2010s, and is proof positive that the United Kingdom’s car industry is capable of building brilliant, quality vehicles, laser targeted at the needs of its customers.
What makes Alvis unique is that of all the companies building continuation cars, it’s this one that has the best claim on doing the idea completely correctly. The company uses original tooling, builds its cars using traditional methods and the original Works blueprints, while documenting its new cars using existing build and chassis records.
It’s a wonderful United Kingdom business, and one that’s survived the ages thanks to the passion of its current owner, Alan Stote.
The history of Alvis
Originally founded in Coventry in 1919 by Thomas George John, Alvis started building small stationary engines and scooters among other things. However, following a move to building its own engines, and then a move to nearby Holyhead Road in 1923, the marque with the famous red triangle rapidly moved towards car production.
An influx of design and engineering talent from Daimler, headed by ex-Daimler man and new chief engineer, George Thomas Smith-Clarke, rapidly moved Alvis forward. The first Alvis car, the 10/30, was an instant success even before it was improved into the 12/50 that went on sale in 1923.
These pre-war Alvis models were all sold with coach-built bodies produced by third-party suppliers – a common business model at the time. Bodies were produced by Carbodies, E. Bertelli Ltd, Gurney Nutting, Hooper, Mulliners, Tickford, and Vanden Plas among others. These cars were counted among the best the of United Kingdom’s luxury and sporting cars.
Post-war growth and diversification
After the war, Alvis resumed car production with the TA14 and developed that further into the legendary TA21. The company began its partnership with Swiss coachbuilder Graber, as the UK suppliers dried up as they tied themselves to larger carmakers, such as Aston Martin, Bentley and BMC during the 1950s.
A string of beautiful and desirable coupes followed, and Alvis’ cars would go toe-to-toe with the best from Aston Martin, Bentley and Bristol. As the 1950s became the ’60s, Alvis became a target for acquisitive larger companies – and, as a consequence, it fell into the hands of Rover in 1965, and although the Solihill company developed a new P6-based coupe, it failed to make it into production, as the marque was subsumed into British Leyland in 1968.
Alvis as a carmaker effectively died in 1968, but continued as a military supplier. The car business – including all of its chassis, engines, components, all of its plans, drawings, customer records and data sheets of all models built – were transferred to a new company formed by the ex-staff and technicians of Alvis called Red Triangle, which continues to this day restoring Alvis cars and supplying parts worldwide. The Alvis Car Company was reformed in 2009 when the trademark was reunited with the original company.
The Alvis car model range today
The Alvis Car Company now offers six new models in its Continuation Series, and continues to restore customers’ cars from its HQ in Kenilworth near Coventry. ‘My motivation for building these cars was seeing the sheer number of recreations appear in the early 2000s,’ says Stote. ‘For me, it’s originality and provenance that makes the difference.’
‘I started pursuing the Alvis name – British Aerospace owned the Alvis trademark, and I went to see them and we negotiated the transfer of the trademark back to us. That protected the existing business and then gave us the opportunity to build the cars, because as an OEM we can build new chassis frames.’
From there, the continuity came, and the model line-up followed. These include the pre-war model bodied with the Vanden Plas Tourer, Bertelli Sports Coupe and Lancefield Concealed Hood and the post-war Park Ward Drop Head Coupe and Graber Coupe and Graber Cabriolet. All are road-legal, all beautiful and Alvis has worked hard to ensure they’re fully compliant.
Launched in 2018, the Bertelli Sports Coupe, Lancefield Concealed Hood and Vanden Plas Tourer are powered by the company’s 4.3-litre straight-six engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
According to Alvis, it conforms to current emissions standards, too, as they use current engine management systems. These cars are addition to the original production run that ceased in 1940 and are given chassis and build numbers that follow on from those issued with the initial batch of cars.
The post-war Park Ward Drop Head and Graber models followed later in 2019 and are powered by Alvis’ 3.0-litre straight-six engine and driven through a five-speed transmission, with the option of an automatic transmission and power-assisted steering. The engine components are unused items from 1968 – it is a remarkable product line produced by a remarkable survivor.
The factory where they’re fashioned
The factory is fronted by a modest and smart showroom. It’s festooned with an array of heritage imagery including portraits of the most significant characters from the company’s past. What’s more impressive, though, is the sheer variety of cars on show – from a selection of Continuation Series models to period and restored cars. It’s more of a museum to the history of Alvis than a mere showroom.
However, a tour of the factory is absolutely fascinating, and the sheer scale of the operation – which isn’t apparent from the roadside – starts to unfold as you explore. The stock of parts is astonishing, with many still on their original racking, and carefully labelled. It’s impressive – and the culmination of decades of careful curation.
It’s the same with documentation. It’s total, with much of the original correspondence from each of the 22,000 cars made still intact and pristine. ‘We have a document file on every owner,’ says Stote as he pulls out a buff folder from a set of drawers. ‘This is Douglas Bader’s from when he bought our cars. And this is the Duke of Edinburgh’s – showing where he wanted the roof two inches higher…’
The workshops where the cars are made are fantastic, and just what you’d expect. Body panels are hand-fabricated from sheets of steel, folded on original tooling and use the 1960s-and-earlier wooden bucks used to make the cars back in the day. There are elements of modern technology, such as 3D scanning, but the overall impression is one of boiler-suited craftsmen fashioning these cars just as they did 70 years ago. Lovely…
Alvis today and tomorrow
In these days of personalisation and individual choice, Alvis offers a service on another level. ‘We will build our cars to the customer’s exact specification,’ says Stote. ‘We had one who wanted cupholders, and we built them. In stainless steel. Now, you might object to that, and when it comes to it, if you do, when you have your car made you won’t have cupholders.’
He adds: ‘Improved reliability makes the hobby more enjoyable, so the Continuation cars have fuel injection and electronic ignition. Now purists may bristle at that, but if you prefer, you can have carburettors.’
As you can imagine, the Alvis Car Company’s Kenilworth Works site doesn’t make many of these Continuation Series models. Alan Stote states that they start at around £300,000, such is the bespoke nature of the cars, the price is very much on an individually-agreed nature, Given the seven-figure sums that some continuity cars cost, this seems almost good value in comparison – as well as being extremely authentic and usable.
That alone makes what the Alvis Car Company is doing in Kenilworth, and what its owner Alan Stote has achieved, all the more remarkable. Long may it continue.
Interested in buying one of the six Continuation Series models? Head to the Alvis Car Company website here.