The Editor Investigates the Position of Britain's Coventry-Built Quality Cars

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The demise, last year, of the Lanchester, one of Britain’a oldest makes, saddened the hearts of people who hold the products of our long-established manufacturers in high esteem, believing these vehicles not only to possess considerable prestige value but to be without counterpart anywhere else in the world.

Hearing alarming accounts in the City that others of our famous quality cars might follow the Lanchester into limbo the Editor borrowed another Coventry-built car with a “name,” to wit a Sunbeam, and drove as fast as possible to the City of Cars in the hope of reassuring his readers about the fate and future of three classic makes—Alvis, Armstrong.-Siddeley and Daimler.

Downhill along the wide main road into Coventry the yellow background of an Alvis aero-engine banner on a bridge indicated that we were at “The Alvis,” where Mr. Wiltshire was happy to grant us an interview. He immediately confirmed the intention of Alvis Ltd. to continue production of the handsome Graber saloon. Up to date only 20 of these cars have been sold in this country but these have been very well received, no complaints having been made about the performance or styling of this modern Alvis. Within three or four months arrangements Will have been completed for the production of the bodies in England, with no lowering of the high standard established by the Graber Company. It is possible that some minor modifications will be incorporated, such as an adjustable steering column, a non-dazzle facia in fibre glass, lighter doors and more forward-mounted pedals to provide more space for the back-seat passengers. Incidentally, Reg. Whittingdale, who is responsible for the car side of the Alvis Company, finds the all-synchromesh centrally-controlled gearbox of the 3-litre Alvis very much to his liking but it is interesting that almost every type of automatic gearbox has been fitted experimentally, and it is hoped to offer automatic transmission as an optional extra on the Alvis sports saloon.

After hearing this welcome news that the company which in the past built such famous cars as the 12/50 “Silver Eagle” and F.W.D. models definitely has no intention of abandoning car production we plied Mr. Wiltshire with the “64,000-dollar question,” will the lssigonis Alvis ever be produced? The reply was no. Before returning to the B.M.C. Issigonis designed a 3¼-litre V8 Alvis, for which hydraulic suspension was experimented with. Some six of these engines and two body shells were built but this was a mass-production design and continuing Government contracts for fighting vehicles prevent Alvis from devoting factory floor-space to an output of 10,000 cars a year. So the V8 Alvis is irrevocably shelved. Lack of factory space for private-car production has made Alvis decide to concentrate on the existing quality model, their realisation that a costly car must either be made extremely well or not be made at all, ensuring the continued high quality of their 3-litre model.

From the Alvis factory a short drive brought us to Daimler Road and through the gates of the first motor-car manufacturer in England; as a showroom display by Stratstone, Ltd., in Piccadilly emphasises, Daimler is the oldest known British-built car in existence and the only British firm to have made motor cars exclusively for 60 years. Col. G. J. Long, Daimler’s Publicity Chief, failed to grant us an interview, stating, via a secretary with whom we were put in rather public telephonic contact, that he would prefer us to go away until April, when the first of the new Daimlers will make their appearance. So, after but a fleeting glimpse of the spacious entrance-hall-cum-showroom, in which a Daimler commercial vehicle chassis stands alongside King Edward VII’s 1901 Daimler phaeton and where pictures of later Royal Daimlers grace the walls, we passed on to Armstrong-Siddeley, Ltd.

Here. apart from being royally entertained by Selwyn Sharp and his assistant, we were shown Armstrong-Siddeleys in production, proof-positive that the automobile division of this old Coventry company is again an important and growing part of a concern which makes gas-turbine aero engines, air-cooled stationary diesel engines and other fascinating vehicles as well as motor cars. Indeed, car output is again approaching last year’s figure of 100 Armstrong- Siddeleys a week, although a one-model policy has operated since the four-cylinder chassis and Smaller Six were dropped—for the 3½-litre six-cylinder Sapphire 346 there is a waiting list of some months before demand can be fully met.

This fine car continues unchanged, except that the preselector gearbox, which Armstrong-Siddeley pioneered in 1929, has been discontinued, choice being between a synchromesh box or Hydramatic automatic transmission. Selwyn Sharp uses a 150 b.h.p. two-carburetter Sapphire saloon which, of course, is the model capable of reaching 100 m.p.h. Besides the saloon this chassis carries limousine bodywork with glass division, folding occasional seats and recessed step, concealed when the rear doors are shut, for entry to the spacious rear compartment. Priced at £2,855 7s., inclusive of p.t., this Sapphire limousine is a strong contender for sales in this increasingly specialised field. An ambulance body is also available.

Armstrong-Siddeley make their own bodywork, to exacting standards incidentally, the limousine body seas designed by Lord Kenilworth himself and this must be one of the fastest limousines in production. They find that most of their customers tend to specify automatic transmission, but in this country the optional power-steering is not in great demand, although it is a great asset when parking a heavy car.

There are reminders of history at the Armstrong-Siddeley factory. For example, one road is called Puma Road, commemorating the famous Armstrong-Siddeley aero engine of the First World War, which at one time was produced at the rate of 700 a month, and a faded name-plate on the entrance to a still-camouflage-painted building dating back to 1915 recalls that this was once the Publicity Department of the company. In the factory, apart from the very latest aero engines, you will find Cheetah crankcases being manufactured, replacements for the war-time aero engine of which nearly 40,000 were supplied to the R.A.F.

Certainly amongst Coventry-built quality makes Armstrong-Siddeley is a name still very much alive and on the map. — W. B.