The 1936 Alvis 4.3 has been described as one of the greatest achievements of the pre-war British industry and the fastest non-supercharged car of its day, but fewer than 200 were built before the Second World War bombs began dropping, with just a dozen clad in rakishly elegant Vanden Plas touring bodywork.
Which made the odds on owning one of the latter long indeed. Or at least they were until last year when Alvis Car Co. of Kenilworth, England, began offering “Continuation Series” examples of the 1936 4.3 Short Chassis Tourer.
They're referred to as “continuation” cars because they are considered part of the original series rather than merely modern replicas. Apparently, the Alvis board back in the day approved construction of 77 chassis that were never completed before production halted in 1940.
The new ones, being constructed to order at $316,000 a pop, come with original series serial and chassis numbers and are built to the original body and mechanical specifications, aside from a few minor tweaks to comply with modern emission and safety demands.
Why would anybody want a freshly screwed together and very expensive modern day iteration of a 1930s Alvis sports car? Well, not many have so far – only three have been completed – but a case of sorts can be made.
The 1930s was a wonderful period in the history of the automobile as those designing and building them had largely figured out what they were doing and cars, particularly of the British sporting variety, were both wonderful to look at and, in some cases, improbably fast.
Unfortunately, the truly interesting ones, such as the Alvis 4.3, are often so rare only a lucky few ever get the chance to slip behind the wheel of one. And when they do, they often drive them like the fragile, expensive and mainly for show vehicles most have become.
The surviving 11 of the dozen 4.3 Tourers built have sold at auction for twice the price asked for a new one. But after acquiring a “continuation” Alvis, its owner would presumably feel his spirit freed to drive it as the original 1930s-era tearaways did. Back in the day, they'd have had “supercar” status and been considered an “absolutely wizard motor, old chap.”
There was little magic in the Alvis makeup, however, the company having been created as a serious-minded engineering firm in 1919 before becoming Alvis Cars & Engineering in 1921, with engineer Geoffrey de Freville providing its first engine and the Alvis name. Which he says was simply made up and then framed in an inverted red triangle badge.
During the 1920s, de Freville's side-valve and later overhead valve fours powered innovative and well-engineered models, which proved successful – although sales numbered only in the hundreds. Alvis supplied rolling chassis that were then bodied by the well-known coachbuilders of the time.
In 1926, a newly ambitious Alvis entered a supercharged straight-eight-engined racer in the British Grand Prix, which practised but didn't compete, although Alvis models were successful in other forms of competition. Later in the decade, a six-cylinder engine was developed along with an advanced front-wheel-drive model, the first of this type to go into production in Britain. A team of supercharged eight-cylinder front-drivers finished first, second and third in class in the 1930 Tourist Trophy races.
The 1930s saw the arrival of the sporty six-cylinder Speed 20, which was followed by the larger-engined Speed 25, predecessors of the 4.3-litre. By this time, the amateur motor racing elite of the day considered Alvis on a par with the likes of Lagonda, Bentley and Aston-Martin. It also began producing aero-engines and armoured fighting vehicles.
The seven-main-bearing, 4.3-litre engine was announced in 1936 and gave 137 hp at 3,600 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque directed to the rear wheels through an all-synchromesh four-speed gearbox. It was available with short- or long-wheelbase versions of a sturdy ladder-frame with independent front and live axle rear suspensions. Techy touches included Clayton Dewandre vacuum-assisted cable-operated brakes, driver-adjustable Luvax dampers and hydraulic jacking and central oiling systems.
They were fitted with various sporting and saloon bodies, the sexiest of which was the Vanden Plans Touring four-seater with its cut-away doors and fold-flat windscreen. It could accelerate to 100 km/h in 11.5 seconds and had a top speed of 170 mph.
The modern version is based on works blueprints and is a close-to-exact copy from chassis to engine but made from modern materials and with its engine featuring fuel injection and electronic management to meet emission requirements. A collapsible steering column, seatbelts, brighter lights and hydraulic brakes are also part of the package. You can also order extras like five- and six-speed or automatic transmissions, power steering and various luxury trims, plus a satellite navigation system.
The company building it is actually a “continuation” version of the original itself. Alvis was taken over by Rover and then British Leyland in the 1960s, and car production ended in 1967 (it continued to make armoured vehicles). This was followed by the creation of Red Triangle Autoservices, set up to maintain and restore the 22,000 cars the company had produced since the early 1920s. Red Triangle was in turn taken over in the early 1990s, later acquired the Alvis name and established Alvis Car Co., which is building the current 4.3 Tourer.
If you want one of these superb-looking 1930s throwbacks, just call in your order and send Alvis a cheque for $316,000 and, within a few months, one will arrive on your doorstep. What you'd do with it then is problematic as it won't comply with Canadian road regs, but where there's a will there's often a way.
Don't forget to check out our gallery: In pictures: 1936 Alvis 4.3 Short Chassis Tourer