Quite why the Alvis Car & Engineering Company of Coventry introduced their innovative frontwheel-drive car in 1928, when they had a highly successful range of very fine normal models, is something of a mystery. I recollect that when I drove one of these FWD Alvises it seemed noisy, from the transmission and supercharger gears, with a difficult gear change and that intimidating long flat bonnet. But it was not to be despised. It brought considerable fame to the Alvis name in racing, besides being a landmark in British motoring history. It took on much of the technical form of the racing Millers in America, although it is debatable whose FWD racing cars were first.
We should never forget that these FWD Alvises almost won the first Ards TT race — some say the results were muddled and that Leon Cushman’s Alvis should have been placed ahead of the winning Lea-Francis driven by Kaye Don. They certainly won the 1½-litre class at Le Mans in 1928, and did well in long-distance races in England, with private owners also driving them at Brooklands. Nor should it be overlooked that the straight-eight FWD Alvis, with two different valve arrangements, the first akin to very early Lanchester thinking, used later for racing by Delage, the second the prevailing hemi-head twin-cam layout, was one of Britain’s few contributions in the field of proper Grand Prix cars.
One of the good things about the FWD Alvis itself is that quite a number have survived. This was demonstrated last September when these advanced and unusual cars assembled at Brooklands to celebrate their 70th anniversary. The organisation was in the capable hands of the South Eastern Section of the Alvis OC, which had contrived to have ten or more FWD cars present. They were lined up with the Members’ banking as a suitable backdrop, after which they showed that the drive to their front wheels was no handicap in ascending the 1 in 4/1 in 5 Brooklands Test Hill, only one failure being noted.
The FWD cars had for support some 90 rear-drive Alvis cars. But it was FWD day, and present was Barry Stapleton’s prototype FA two-seater, WK 7349, and the Alvis Company’s own two-seater, UL 2046, in the care of Martin Wickham, its green paintwork a reminder that Alvis cars had raced for Britain in vintage times. It took part in the driving-tests, as did Ian Homer’s well-known Type-FD Le Mans replica, SC 4076. The rest were represented by Peter Livesey’s shining TT-replica, WK 8057, another Le Mans replica FD-type TT car GN 8586, owned by Tony Cox but driven by Gerry Michelmore, R Walker’s Le Mans-type two-seater, SC 2780, from Preston, the two rare long-wheelbase FWDs of Alan Stote, WK 8047, and Tim Crow’s ex-Farley/Pertridge four-seater, UW 2017, as raced at Brooklands, these two a contrast in condition. Also present was Bolton’s ex-Loveridge FD TT-type, UU 8283, a smart two-seater that used to be seen at the Alvis Crystal Palace Meetings, and which Roger Cowell drove up the Test Hill with Lady Paulina Hadley, the daughter of the late Lord Cottenham who used to race the Alvis works cars, as his passenger, a much appreciated link with the old days of Alvis supermacy. Apart from the cars, Dennis Rudkin and Ernest Shenton were there, the former’s car being under a long restoration and the latter having sold his share in a FWD Alvis to Kitchener. During the afternoon some drivers swopped cars, on this first such gathering since their cars left the factory. Excellent that so many have survived and are in use.