Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd
Former type Private company
Successor Rover Company
Founded Coventry, England 1919
Founder(s) Thomas George John
Defunct 1967
Headquarters Coventry, England
Number of locations Production locations:
Coventry, England:
Area served Worldwide
Key people

Thomas George John
Chairman and Managing Director, 1919 – 1944
Geoffrey de Freville
John Joseph Parkes
Chairman and Managing Director, 1946 – 1973
George Thomas Smith-Clarke
Chief Engineer and General Manager, 1922 – 1950
William M. Dunn
Chief Engineer, Vehicle Division, 1922 – 1959

A.F. Varney
Chief Engineer, Aero Engine Division, 1922 – 1972
Industry Automotive industry
Products Automobiles, military vehicles, aircraft engines

Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd was a British manufacturing company that existed in Coventry, England from 1919 – 1967. In addition to automobiles designed for the civilian market, the company also produced racing cars, aircraft engines, armoured cars and other armoured fighting vehicles, the latter continuing long after civilian car production ceased.

History of the companyEdit


1932 Alvis Speed 20 Tourer


1937 Alvis Speed 25 Offord Roadster


1938 Alvis 4.3 Litre Saloon

Early historyEdit

The original company, T.G. John and Company Ltd., was founded in 1919 by Thomas George John (1880 – 1946). Its first products were stationary engines, carburetors and motorscooters. Following complaints from the Avro aircraft company whose logo bore similarities to the original winged green triangle, the more familiar inverted red triangle incorporating the word "Alvis" evolved. On December 14, 1921, the company officially changed its name to The Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd. Geoffrey de Freville (1883 – 1965) designed the first Alvis engine and is also responsible for the company name.[1]

The origin of the name Alvis has been the subject of a great deal of speculation over the years. Some have suggested that de Freville proposed the name Alvis as a compound of the words "aluminium" and "vis" (meaning "strength" in Latin), or perhaps it may have been derived from the Norse mythological weaponsmith, Alvíss. De Freville however vigorously 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.[1]

Production was relocated to Holyhead Road in Coventry, where from 1922 to 1923 they also made the Buckingham car. In 1922 George Thomas Smith-Clarke (1884 – 1960) left his job as assistant works manager at Daimler and joined Alvis as Chief Engineer and Works Manager. Smith-Clarke was accompanied by William M. Dunn, who also left his job as a draughtsman at Daimler to become Chief Draughtsman at Alvis. This partnership lasted for nearly 28 years and was responsible for producing some of the most successful products in the company's history. Smith-Clarke left in 1950, and Dunn assumed Smith-Clarke's position as Chief Engineer, remaining in that position until 1959.[1]

De Freville's first engine design was a four-cylinder engine with aluminium pistons and pressure lubrication, which was unusual for that time. The first car model using de Freville's engine was the Alvis 10/30. It was an instant success and established the reputation for quality workmanship and superior performance for which the company was to become famous. The original 10/30 side-valve engine was improved, becoming by 1923 the overhead valve Alvis 12/50, a highly successful sports car which was produced until 1932. Around 700 of the 12/50 models and 120 of the later Alvis 12/60 models survive today.

1927 saw the introduction of the six-cylinder Alvis 14.75 and this engine became the basis for the long line of luxurious six-cylinder Alvis cars produced up to the outbreak of World War II. These cars were elegant and full of technical innovations. Independent front suspension and the world's first all-synchromesh gearbox came in 1933 followed by servo assisted brakes. The Alvis 12/75 model was introduced in 1928, a model bristling with innovation, such as front-wheel drive, in-board brakes, overhead camshaft and, as an option, a Roots type supercharger.

As with many upmarket engineering companies of the time, Alvis did not produce their own coachwork, relying instead on the many available coachbuilders in the Midlands area, such as Carbodies, Charlesworth Bodies, Cross and Ellis, Duncan Industries (Engineers) Ltd, E. Bertelli Ltd, Grose, Gurney Nutting, Hooper, Lancefield Coachworks, Martin Walter Ltd, Mayfair, Mulliners, Tickford, Vanden Plas, Weymann Fabric Bodies, and William Arnold Ltd. Several cars also survive with quite exotic one-off bodywork from other designers such as Holbrook, a U.S. coachbuilder.[2]

In 1936 the company name was shortened to Alvis Ltd, and aircraft engine and armoured vehicle divisions were added to the company by the beginning of World War II. Smith-Clarke designed several models during the 1930s and 1940s, including the six-cylinder Speed 20, the Speed 25, and the Alvis 4.3 Litre model.[1]

Second World WarEdit

Car production was initially suspended in September 1939 following the outbreak of war in Europe, but was later resumed and production of the 12/70, Crested Eagle, Speed 25, and 4.3 Litre continued well into 1940. The car factory was severely damaged on November 14, 1940 as a result of several bombing raids on Coventry by the German Luftwaffe, although ironically the armaments factory suffered little damage. Much valuable gear cutting and other equipment was lost and car production was suspended for the duration of the war, only resuming during the latter part of 1946. Despite this, Alvis carried out war production on aircraft engines (as sub-contractor of Rolls-Royce Limited) and other aircraft equipment.[1]

Post warEdit

Car production resumed with a four-cylinder model, the TA 14, based on the pre-war 12/70. A solid, reliable and attractive car, the TA 14 fitted well the mood of sober austerity in post war Britain, but much of the magic attaching to the powerful and sporting pre-war models had gone and life was not easy for a specialist car manufacturer. Not only had Alvis lost their car factory but many of the prewar coachbuilders had not survived either and those that had were quickly acquired by other manufacturers. In fact, the post war history of Alvis is dominated by the quest for reliable and reasonably priced coachwork.


Rover took a controlling interest in Alvis in 1965 and a Rover-designed mid-engined V8 coupé prototype named the P6BS was rumoured to be the new Alvis model but with the takeover by British Leyland this too was shelved. By the time the TF 21 was launched in 1966, (available, like its predecessors in both saloon and drophead form and with either manual or automatic gearbox), the model was beginning to show its age despite a top speed of 127 mph - the fastest Alvis ever produced. With only 109 sold and with political troubles aplenty in the UK car manufacturing business at that time, production finally ceased in 1967. In 1968, a management buyout was finalised and all the Alvis design plans, customer records, stock of parts and remaining employees were transferred to Red Triangle. The Alvis name lived on with armoured fighting vehicle production.

1970s to presentEdit

Main article: Alvis plc

As part of Rover, Alvis Limited was incorporated into British Leyland but was bought by United Scientific Holdings plc in 1981. Subsequently the company's name was changed to Alvis plc. Alvis plc acquired a British truck manufacturer Universal Power Drives in 1994, naming their new subsidiary Alvis Unipower Limited. The trucks were subsequently branded as Alvis-Unipower. In 1998, Alvis plc acquired the armoured vehicle business of GKN plc, and the main UK manufacturing operation was moved from Coventry to Telford. The site of the Alvis works in Holyhead Road is now an out-of-town shopping complex, but its name, Alvis Retail Park, reflects the heritage of the site. In 2002 Alvis plc purchased Vickers Defence Systems to form the subsidiary Alvis Vickers Ltd, which was in turn purchased by BAE Systems in 2004.

BAE takeover

In 2004, the board of Alvis approved a £309m takeover bid by the American defence company General Dynamics. Within 3 months BAE Systems, which already had a 29% stake in the company, outbid General Dynamics by offering £355m. The action was seen as a defence of the home market from a foreign rival. David Mulholland of Jane's Defence Weekly said "I don't believe BAE expects to make money from this deal," characterising the purchase as strategic rather than commercial. The bid was accepted by the majority of shareholders.

In September 2004, BAE announced the creation of BAE Systems Land Systems, a new company bringing together the BAE subsidiaries; "BAE Systems RO Defence" (the former Royal Ordance factories) and "Alvis Vickers". Alvis Vickers became BAE Systems Land Systems (Weapons & Vehicles) Limited, a subsidiary of BAE Systems Land Systems. In 2005, the acquisition of United Defence led to the creation of BAE Systems Land and Armaments. Alvis also took over Unipower as part of a plan to tender for the contact to build the new Heavy Haulage tank transporter tractor units for the UK army to replace the Scammell Commander units then in operation that dated from the 1980s and had Leyland heritage. The operation was renamed Alvis Unipower and also provides parts support for the former Scammell operations. BAE Systems ended the use of the Alvis distinctive red triangle trademark.

In 2009, Red Triangle negotiated the legal transfer of the Alvis car trademarks. The following year, the company announced that the 4.3 Litre Short Chassis tourer would once again be available. All Alvis' records remain intact at the company’s Kenilworth headquarters along with a large stock of period parts. One of the men to have worked on the very last Alvis car produced in 1967 is still retained by Red Triangle in a training capacity. Built to the original plans, the new car has been named the "Continuation Series", to reflect the 73-year interruption in its production between 1937 and 2010. It differs only in detail from the pre-war examples: for emissions, the engine is governed by an electronic fuel injection system with [[Ignition_system#Electronic_ignition|elec

Product HistoryEdit

Alvis special reg 973 UXY at Boroughbridge CV 09 - IMG 9071

A late model Alvis at the Boroughbridge Classic Vehicle show in 2009

The manufacture of cars was stopped in the 1967. For detailed info on Alvis Cars see Wikipedia Alvis Cars article here

Military vehicles and aircraft crash tenders becoming the main product lines then.

In the late 1990s they designed a Supper Heavy Tractor unit to tender for contract for a new British army Tank transporter unit. Several evaluation units were built, but they lost the contact to American firm Oshkosh. The units were sold to Alstom for ultra Heavy Haulage use as ballasted tractors.

Alvis military vehiclesEdit


An Alvis Stormer ambulance and an FV432 armoured personnel carrier of the 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st United Kingdom Armored Division, proceed north after crossing the Saudi-Iraq border during Operation Desert Storm

Hungarian automotive engineer Nicholas Straussler (1891 – 1966) had designed an armoured car in 1932 (which has since been given the nmae AC1), which was built by the Manfred Weiss company under licence in Budapest. When Hungary aligned itself with Germany soon after that, Straussler emigrated to England.[3] Straussler's small new company, Straussler Mechanisations Ltd, lacked the necessary resources and capacity to build the vehicle on a large scale, so Straussler approached T.G. John, and Alvis-Straussler Ltd, a short-lived joint venture company, was formed in July 1936.[3][4] The protoype vehicle produced, the Alvis Straussler AC2, was built upon the AC1 chassis. The first AC3—the first operational purpose-built armoured car ever produced—was delivered in 1937 by Alvis-Straussler Ltd, built upon the AC2 protoype.[3] A total of 27 of these vehicles were built (12 for the Royal Air Force, 3 for the Portuguese Army, and 12 for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army).[4]

The Saladin, Saracen, Salamander and Stalwart vehicles were all built on the same chassis. Saladin armoured car (FV601 model) was the first of these to be designed and built. Several different models of the Saracen were produced, including the FV603 armoured troop carrier, FV604 Regimental Command Vehicle, and FV610 Armoured Command Post vehicle. The Stalwart was produced as the FV620 and FV622 models, while the Salamander crash tender was produced as the FV652 model.[5] The FV611 model was also built to serve as an armoured ambulance.[6]

The Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) series of tracked armoured personnel carriers includes the FV101 Scorpion, FV102 Striker, FV103 Spartan, FV104 Samaritan, FV105 Sultan, FV106 Samson, FV107 Scimitar, FV4333 Stormer, and the Streaker.[5][7] The first vehicle of this series was the FV101 Scorpion, which was the first aluminium tank ever to be built. The hull and turret are actually fabricated from a welded aluminium-zinc-magnesium alloy. 17 Scorpion prototypes were delivered for field testing in February 1969.[5]

Gallery of military vehiclesEdit

Model rangeEdit


A few examples of Alvis's military vehicles can be seen in preservation.

Alvis military vehicles+

Template:PML Alvis military vehicles

See alsoEdit

References / sourcesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Day, Kenneth (1989). "Part I: Company history", Alvis:the story of the red triangle, 2nd, Somerset, England: Haynes Publishing Group, 10–112. ISBN 0854296670. 
  2. Walker, N (1997). A-Z of British Coachbuilders. Bay View Books. ISBN 1870979931. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Munro, Bill (2002). "Chapter 1: The Alvis", Alvis Saracen Family. Ramsbury, England: The Crowood Press Ltd, 7–19. ISBN 1-86126-537-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jost, Jacques (2000). "Alvis-Straussler Armoured Cars in the Netherlands East Indies". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. Retrieved on 2011-07-24.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Day, Kenneth (1989). "Part V: Armoured vehicles", Alvis:the story of the red triangle, 2nd, Somerset, England: Haynes Publishing Group, 272–95. ISBN 0854296670. 
  6. Munro, Bill (2002). "Chapter 4: Saracen development", Alvis Saracen Family. Ramsbury, England: The Crowood Press Ltd, 54–76. ISBN 1-86126-537-9. 
  7. "[ Alvis plc]". Armoured Vehicles. (2008). Retrieved on 2011-07-24.
  8. A Stalwart at the REME museum


External linksEdit

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