Cars A To Z: A

Thanks again to C/2 for suggesting this topic. I will not necessarily choose my favorite make for each letter, but make no mistake: these will be my choices. This is my blog, after all.

The “A” automobile is actually one with which I am not that familiar. Even given its recent “rebirth” it’s sort of a forgotten British make: Alvis. A picture from the linked piece, which itself was the final push I needed to pick this company:


Alvis Graber Super Coupe


T.G. John founded the company in 1919 in Coventry, England. At first, Alvis only manufactured engines under license from other companies, but by 1920 was producing cars. The company would also manufacture race cars, aircraft engines, armored cars and other armored fighting vehicles. Alvis were/was (UK/US conjugation) a pioneer of front-wheel drive, they built the first all-synchromesh transmission (gearbox in UK parlance), they used servo-assisted brakes, independent suspension, overhead cams, and aluminum pistons, all before World War II. They built successful sports cars and won races.

The derivation of the company name has been a source of debate. Some believe that Geoffrey de Freville, who designed the first actual Alvis engine, proposed the name Alvis as a compound of the words “aluminium” (remember, that’s how “aluminum” is spelled and pronounced in the UK) and “vis” (meaning “strength” in Latin), or perhaps it may have been derived from the Norse mythological weapon maker, Alvíss. De Freville however forcefully rejected all of these theories. In 1921 he specifically stated that the name had no meaning whatsoever, and was chosen simply because it could be easily pronounced in any language. He reaffirmed this position in the early 1960s, stating that any other explanations for the source of the name were purely coincidental.

John ran the company until 1944. Sadly, his retirement was short as he died in 1946. Alvis lost its way after the war, in part because its main factory had been severely damaged by bombing. The lack of vested leadership also contributed to its decline, no doubt. This was true even though famed designer Alec Issigonis–designer of the Mini–joined the company. Alvis management sold controlling interest in the company to Rover in 1965. When Rover became part of British Leyland in 1967 that marked the end of the low-volume Alvis passenger car although production of military vehicles continued.

In 2009, however, a company called Red Triangle bought the rights to Alvis’ car trademarks in addition to all of the relevant drafts and data sheets. Much like the late Glenn Pray and his son Doug build (built) NOS versions of Auburns and Cords, Red Triangle has recently completed its first continuation Alvis using NOS parts and tweaked to meet modern emissions standards. Here is an homage to Alvis:



I believe the car in the advertisement is a TA-21 from the 1950s. I am still nowhere near as familiar with Alvis as I am with other makes, even other British companies, but I think it’s a name worth remembering, especially since it appears to have risen from the dead.

Have a great weekend…






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4 thoughts on “Cars A To Z: A

  1. I am also not very familiar with Alvis. Years ago, I attended a British automotive flea market twice as a vendor, didn’t get much chance to head out to the field to see any cars, but I wonder if between that show and British Car Day any Alvis’ (Alvi?) show up. Certainly that coupe is a lovely car, and the one in the ad has a very ‘Bentley’ look to me.
    Guess I’ll be on the lookout for more books, this time with a British accent.


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