Alvis – Maintaining Perpetuation

Britain’s historic manufacturer carries on

Over 100 years since the first Alvis was created, the cars are still maintained, restored and even built from new-old-stock in the atmospheric, labyrinthine building that has housed them since 1968. It’s a remarkable story that would be hard to believe, were it not for the bricks, mortar and rather dusty metal evidence you see before you.

In 1968, the remaining assets of the once-great British car company Alvis were transferred to a building on a new industrial estate on the outskirts of Kenilworth, a few miles from Britain’s car-building capital of Coventry. These assets included thousands of unused parts – from nuts and bolts to engine blocks and chassis, as well as engineering drawings and build sheets for every car ever sold.

And the bit that’s hard to believe? That 52 years on, the very same building is used not only to house and distribute all those spares, and to service and restore classic Alvis models, but also to build ‘new’ Alvis cars. The records are stored nearby, in The Alvis Car Company showroom. The spares and restoration side of the business is still known as Red Triangle, as it has been since 1968.

Alvis originated in 1919 with naval architect Thomas George Johns, who was already well established producing automotive parts when he was approached by engineer Geoffrey de Freville with an advanced four-cylinder engine design. So it was that Johns’ company was renamed Alvis and the engine used as the basis for the 10/30 and, later, the 12/50.

By the outbreak of World War Two, Alvis had been among the first to introduce front-wheel drive, synchromesh gearboxes, independent front suspension, inboard brakes and more. In 1950 a new model, the TA21, with a fresh 3-litre six-cylinder engine, was introduced. The company was still using external coachbuilders – most notably the Swiss firm Graber, whose bodystyle Alvis purchased the licence to in 1955, so it could be used for future models.

Rover bought a controlling stake in Alvis in 1965 but was soon eaten up by British Leyland, and that was the end of the Alvis car division, with production finishing in 1967. That’s when a management buy-out saw all the designs, tooling and spares transferred to new company Red Triangle – which was later bought out by Alvis enthusiast and businessman Alan Stote.

Since then, Alan has managed to purchase the right to the Alvis name from BAE Systems, and hence to launch The Alvis Car Company to sell new continuations of the pre-war 4.3-litre and the post-war 3-litre models.

They are built mostly from new-old-stock parts and new bodies made by Red Triangle, and they’re selling worldwide. There’s even an agent in Japan. Unbelievable? Actually, no.

There are around 20 ‘dead’ post-war Alvis’ awaiting resurrection at Red Triangle. Some will act as donors, others as customer-commissioned full restorations.

Spares upstairs at Red Triangle, many of them new-old-stock – even engines and chassis – some dating back to the 1920s. Many are kept on shelves and in storage bins that were first installed in the Alvis factory during the ’20s. But now they all have a barcode… Spares account for a third of the business.

Alvis was always known for high standards of engineering, and that’s backed up by the quality of its engineering drawings, which cover every part for every car. All the documents have survived – more than 50,000 drawings and data sheets in total.

Although Alvis never made a body – they were all from coachbuilders – Red Triangle creates all its panels and even full bodies in-house, using traditional techniques, including the English wheel.

As demand for restoration and continuations has increased, the team has expanded, and now includes staff from Coventry’s Abbey Panels – once known for making Supermarine Spitfires then prototype bodies for the British car industry after WW2.

Wooden bucks for the Graber models have been made in-house, and supplemented with 3D-printed patterns for smaller panels.

Records include build sheets and all related correspondence – this one notes that the Duke of Edinburgh’s chauffeur was unhappy with the carburation of the Park Ward drophead given to the Duke.

Tens of thousands of original spares are stored above the Red Triangle workshops.

Alan Stote bought his first Alvis in 1981 while running an automotive parts business, which he sold in 1988. Alan was a customer of Red Triangle, and he agreed to get more involved with the company, buying it in 1994. It’s since quadrupled in size.

The Alvis Car Company showroom building – located at the entrance to the industrial estate on which Red Triangle has been based since 1968 – was bought ten years ago. It’s here that the continuation models, cars for sale and Alan’s own vehicles are displayed.

There are build records for every car that Alvis made – nearly 22,000 in all. Each one had to be gently ironed and placed in a plastic slipcase for protection, a process that took a full year. Among the many notable customers was fighter pilot Douglas Bader.

Special Alvis service tools in the Red Triangle workshop.