How fast did they go?
I was interested in Mr. Day's letter about the 4.3-litre Alvis. A saloon model of this car was tested by The Autocar in 1939 and reached 60 m.p.h. in 13.1 seconds and 70 in 18.0. This was very good going for those days, especially when one notes that the weight, without passengers, was almost 38 cwt. and testing was carried out on the notoriously bad surface at Brooklands Track. Figures dated 8.10.1937 give the engine b.h.p. as 123, more than adequate for pre-war roads, and obtained with a low-compression engine designed for fuel of 70 octane or thereabouts. One tends to forget the great advantages of modern high-octane fuel and the high-compression ratios it permits.
I am not quite sure if Mr. Day is right in asserting that the 4.3 Alvis was the fastest standard saloon made in this country before the war. The short-chassis 12-cylinder 4.48-litre Lagonda achieved a best speed of 103.45 m.p.h. and took 12.9 seconds to reach 60 and 17.9 to reach 70. It weighed, without passengers, about 39 1/2 cwt. in saloon form. Going further afield, there were also the supercharged Cord with 4.72-litre engine which on test in 1937 was timed at a best speed of 102 m.p.h., and the enormous Mercedes 540K (supercharged 5.4-litre) weighing almost 52 cwt. in cabriolet form and achieving, on test in 1933, a best speed of 104.65 m.p.h. But it is true to say that of these 100 m.p.h. cars the Alvis had the smallest engine.
It is really rather profitless to compare the performance of pre-war cars with those of today. Conditions were so different—and motoring so much more enjoyable. The best cars of the 'thirties gave all the performance that was needed. [I agree.—Ed.]
Incidentally, though I have never driven a 4.3 Alvis, in 1950 or thereabouts a friend allowed me to drive his second-hand Alvis Speed 25 saloon, a broadly similar car to the 4.3 but having a 3 1/2-litre engine. Though this car was then 12 or 13 years old and had covered a big mileage I well remember the feeling of solidity it conveyed, its smooth and quite quiet engine and its really delightful all-synchromesh gearbox. Add to these such features as a very high standard of finish, a double sliding roof, one-shot chassis lubrication, built-in hydraulic jacks, and a hand-brake acting on all four wheels and one realises that progress in car design involves losses as well as gains.
The Speed 25 reached a best speed of almost 97 m.p.h. on test in 1938 and cost £885 in saloon form. The price of the 4.3-litre saloon was £995. These cars were first-rate jobs made to last. They had that indefinable quality we call "style" which is so lacking in most of the cars one sees today.