Historic scene with Gordon Cruickshank

Special delivery 

A one-off hillclimber is ready to reappear in competition after three silent decades in storage

Château Impney hillclimb seems to have become a high-season target to tempt unusual machinery out of the workshop. This year an Alvis special that hasn’t run for years will sprint up the Midlands hill, reawakened from a three-decade slumber for its new Norwegian owner. 

Built by brothers Billy and Eric Goodwin in 1946-7, the good-looking device, its shape clearly echoing the Alfa Romeo Alfettas which were topping the post-war Grand Prix charts, hit the track in 1948. With Billy Goodwin at the helm it quickly achieved success, especially at Shelsley Walsh with a series of class wins and one international record. Divested of its hillclimbing twin rear tyres, Billy also took it on the track though with less impact, except on its driver who suffered burns when at Oulton in 1955 the scuttle-mounted header tank burst, scalding him with hot coolant. It was the finish of Goodwin’s racing, and the end of the car’s career until the 1970s when it reappeared in VSCC races. Since then it has remained immobile in a private collection until last year, when our Scandinavian enthusiast added it to his stable of Alvises. Now it’s being recommissioned by Earley Engineering in Herefordshire, who have plenty of Alvis expertise.

“It’s one of the many Shelsley specials of the time,” says Alex Simpson who’s in charge of the job. “The Goodwins were hillclimbing before this, but they decided to build their own machine patterned after the Grand Prix cars of the period.”

Instead of adapting an existing chassis the brothers used their fabrication business to construct a bespoke twin-tube frame with some advanced features. “There’s substantial cross-bracing,” says Alex, “and in the centre the engine and gearbox are used to brace the frame; they’re actually load-bearing. It was built with independent twin wishbone suspension all round, using long torsion bars at the front and a transverse leaf spring at the rear sitting over a cage that hold the diff. ”

All their own design, too, though utilising Humber Super Snipe parts up front and Alvis rear hubs and hydraulic brake system. The gearbox too is from Alvis, an all-syncro four-speed Silver Crest unit which was a special-builders’ favourite back then. So much so, says Alex, that you can’t find a whole Silver Crest today.

“We don’t know who made the very pretty body,” Alex says. “Probably a local coachworks, but it’s built with low frontal area, skin-tight to the engine.”

Powering the machine is a 4.3 Alvis six, gulping fuel through an English-as-muffins triple SU carb set-up and blue-printed, with lightened crank and flywheel, high-compression pistons, gas-ported – basically using all of Earley’s expertise in preparing these units for racing and rallying. Says Alex, Alvises make extremely sturdy rally cars: “We began with restorations, but increasingly we’re doing endurance rally prep and we’ve had great success on events like Peking-Paris, the Patagonia Rally and Trans-America.”

Though purchased complete, the car has been stripped down for all the crack-testing and refettlement an old racer needs before relaunching its career.

When completed Alex expects the Goodwin to throw some 200bhp and 360lb ft of torque down the Shelsley ashphalt – but that ain’t enough: “The Goodwins ran it from the start with a supercharger, and at the end of this year we’ll be returning it to blown specification, with a Roots supercharger driven from the crank nose and twin SUs. In that spec it was up around 365hp…” 

Really? “Oh yes. I’ve been liaising with Rod Jolley, who has a strong interest in this car because it has such history. He is refurbishing the Giron Alvis for this year, and he’s getting north of 400 with a similar set-up.” This is good news too – I’ve missed seeing that lengthy single-seater missile in action with the ever-flamboyant Jolley winding off armfuls of opposite lock.

“We’re sharing knowledge with Rod,” continues Alex, “as although we have supercharged some road cars with 7-8lb boost this will be up around 16lb so there’s plenty to learn from him.”

The plan is for Alex to get fully on top of the Goodwin special in its unblown form, which is how it ran in the 1970s, before adding even more gobs of torque. Sounds eminently wise to me. “And I need to get used to the two configurations – single wheels on the circuit and twin rears for the hills. But in the first year while I and the owner find our feet we’ll stick to sprints and hillclimbs.”

April is the target for a first shakedown. Comments at the time, says Alex, were that it was very predictable with none of the brake tramp a lot of vintage cars have. “Because it was so stiff it could be set up quite softly – you’ll see in the photos there’s quite a lot of roll. Independent suspension was still quite rare then, and a lot of people were running pre-war machines so by comparison it seemed sophisticated.”

With Château Impney and Shelsley’s Classic Nostalgia meet pencilled in among other events this season, you should have a chance to see this unique device in action. I hope they’ve moved that header tank.