History of the 1953 - 1955 Alvis TC21
Alvis founder Thomas John started in the automobile business before WWI, learning a great deal about production with Armstrong Whitworth armaments, then Siddeley-Deasey light cars. After building Puma aero engines during the war, those companies merged to become Armstrong-Siddeley.
John struck out on his own, buying a small foundry in South London which had developed skills in aluminium manufacture, and whose name combined 'Al' (the chemical symbol for aluminium) with 'vis' (Latin for 'strong'). Alvis light cars went from strength to strength in the 1920s, being renowned for their sporting qualities and reliability.
The 1930s saw the company building the Speed 20 and Speed 25 6-cylinder, 3- and 4-litre sports cars. They were the equal of Lagonda, Invicta and Bentley, and favored by numerous coachbuilders. A line of smaller 4-cylinder models kept the firm in the black, though not by much. But the high-quality, George Lanchester-designed 1938 12/70 pointed the way to the future. It would be the first new car from Alvis after WWII.
John died in 1946, but he was succeeded by J.J. Parkes, whose son Michael would grow up to drive for Ferrari. The factory had been destroyed by the devastating Nazi raid on Coventry, so Parkes moved to a new location and launched the TA14. It was was an update of the 12/70, with a 65bhp 1,892cc OHV 4-cylinder engine, capable of 75 mph. Mulliner sedans were accompanied by Carbodies and Tickford drophead tourers, and a number of small coachbuilders offered woody station wagons. In all 3,213 TA14s had been built by 1950.
Alvis offered the TB14 roadster in 1948 with a fold-down windscreen, curved cloverleaf grille, hidden headlights and ungainly proportions. Only 100 found buyers. The roadster gained a traditional Alvis grille for the TB21 in 1950, and got the new 95bhp 3-litre 6-cylinder engine but only 31 of these had been sold by 1952.
However, the new 7-main bearing 6-cylinder engine was very well received in 1950, and the Alvis TA21 provided longer handsome saloons and drophead coupes. Top speed was now 95mph, and front suspension was independent with coils and wishbones. The Alvis TC21 gained twin carburetors and slightly better performance. Alvis built 1,314 TA21s including 302 drophead coupes and 757 TC21 saloons. There were no TC21 drophead coupes until the advent of the Grey Lady.
The final model in the series was launched in 1953. The TC21/100 Grey Lady, was a handsome update, now capable of 100mph, thanks to high compression and taller rear axle gearing. Most had Rudge-Whitworth wire wheels, bonnet scoops and side louvers. The window pillars were slim and trimmed in chrome, the interior was wood and leather. Only 48 had been built by 1956 – including a handful of Tickford-bodied drophead coupes from October 1954 -- when Swiss coachbuilder Carl Graber redesigned the “T” series.
Alvis production was always limited and the cars are infrequently offered on the market. The 4-cylinder TA14 is comparatively underpowered, but the 6-cylinder TA21 and TC21 are useful performers. Buy the best complete car you can find and get in touch with the owners’ club, which is excellent.