The automotive world makes for a broad church. There are £500 bangers, there are £5,000,000 supercars, and there is everything in between. If you like cars, there is something, truly, for every enthusiast of every budget, no matter how great or how small that may be. So logic would dictate, then, that money is the golden key to get you whatever car you want? In most cases, that is indeed true. If you want a Ferrari 250GTO, or a Lamborghini Miura, the search might be slightly longer than it would be for a Ford Focus, but you will find one and should your pockets have the depth, you’ll be able to buy it. Money, though, isn’t the be all end all when it comes to acquiring a rare machine. Sometimes the roadblock is far more… basic. Say, if fewer than ten were built in the first place.
The 1936 Alvis SD was the final incarnation of the Speed 20 model. It was a rare car to begin with, given only 149 were made. But of those, only six were bodied as open tourers by legendary coachbuilders, Vanden Plas. A rare version of an already rare machine – rare squared, if you will.
The car you’re looking at here is indeed a 1936 Alvis Speed 20, but it’s not a Vanden Plas. In fact, when it was delivered to Messrs. Hartwell of Bournemouth on the 27th of June 1936, it was in fact a Charlesworth-bodied saloon. And so it stayed during its time with Norman Knowles, the car’s first owner, and Sqn. Ldr. Gerard Norwood, it’s second. In 1986, however, the car was acquired by D. J. Lawrence and that is when things started to change.
By this point, the aging ash frame of the saloon body was beginning to lose its way. The original carpenters probably hadn’t envisaged it surviving for as long as it did, and while it had indeed survived better than anticipated, it was becoming rapidly apparent that some sort of restoration was needed. The chassis, engine and other mechanicals were strong after all. It would have been criminal to kill the car off simply because of some old wood.
Mr. Lawrence was all too happy to put the restoration into motion. However, he had zero intention of leaving the car as a saloon. Instead, the car would be designed and bodied to be evocative of the Vanden Plas version, built in small numbers as we mentioned earlier. To do this, the skills of MGM Coachbuilding were employed first. They built the new ash frame, a four-seat tourer with ‘suicide’ opening doors and a long, sloping rear end. The metalwork, which is all aluminium, was carried out by Classic Metal Shaping, and was done to such a high standard that it was the recipient of a glowing magazine article.
The restoration, while impressive to the onlooker, was losing the interest of Mr. Lawrence by the late ‘90s, and as such, the car was sold to Jim Berry in 1997 as an unfinished project. Jim gladly picked up from where others had left off, and fitted the new front wings and also treated the car to a full mechanical overhaul. The wings are of note because, in our opinion at least, they are more aesthetically pleasing than those of the Vanden Plas. Longer, and with a more defined ‘teardrop’ shape, they suit the long proportions of the car well.
Unfortunately, Jim became ill and was unable to finish what had, by now, turned into a lengthy restoration. The car was once again sold, this time to Tony Simpson. Thankfully, and unlike seemingly every ‘unfinished project’ that drifts around the classifieds, Tony did indeed finish the car off. New wiring, interior, dashboard, seats, a new hood and even a good amount of re-chroming. Finally, a vision dreamt up by several owners and decades prior had come to fruition, and the resulting car was and still is nothing short of magnificent. A grand tourer of impressive proportions, it’s a car to both see and drive. But that’s the question, isn’t it? Has it been driven? Or has it been built, only to then once again lay dormant?
Well, we can happily report that the car has been, and continues to be in use. It went to Scotland for a while with a new owner, before working its way back down to its current owner in Devon. He’s owned the car for a number of years now, and takes a great deal of pride in telling us of the journeys both home and abroad this Alvis has undertaken. It seems that all those years in restoration purgatory, if you will, have left a sense of adventure within the car. It’s not an antique that leaves you feeling nervous in its presence. Instead, what has been built is a car that you want to drive. And thanks to years of fettling, rebuilding and fine tuning, it is more than happy and willing to oblige.
Behind that big steering wheel, there is some work to do. The throttle, for example, is the centre pedal. However, the four-speed manual transmission boasts a synchromesh on all gears, and as such, it’s no more difficult to drive than a car much newer. Once your feet remember where to go, of course. The brakes take some getting used to, being rod-operated drums all round, but they do bring the car to a stop. The steering is surprisingly direct and is laden with feedback as you weave through lanes. And you might even need to correct a bit of opposite lock, such is the impressive power and torque from the straight-six engine. It’s glorious.
There were so many points where this car might not have happened. Stalled restorations due to a simple lack of motivation, or a not at all simple matter of poor health. Years rolled by. It could have so easily been forgotten. But, because of the charms of this car, and because of what D. J. Lawrence put into play with his vision to pay homage to the Vanden Plas, it did eventually see completion and once again, the road. And the road is all the better for it. This is a truly unique motor car. Born from the passions of many to become the lucky machine for one.
And that one could be you. The current owner, owing to a need to thin out a collection, is offering up the chance to own this magnificent machine. Currently listed on Car & Classic Auctions with no reserve, you’re a mere bid away from being the next lucky custodian of this very special Alvis.