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Alvis TD/TF

Alvis TD/TF Published: 9th Oct 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
Alvis TD/TF
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Why not own a...? Alvis

A quality British specialist that died in 1967 after a Rover take over, Alvis was an Aston rival in its day yet its TD-TF cars, dating from the mid 1950s, can still be bought for the price of a TR5/6. Bentley-like in style, by Swiss stylers Graber, these are smart and swift coupés and drophead that are not difficult to own and exude a unique detached air of dignity most rivals simply can’t offer.

Model choice

You have a choice – either buy a classic or, if you prefer, a turnkey new recreation from The Alvis Car Company (Red Triangle), an independent specialist run by ex-factory staff (see news pages).

Launched in 1956, two years later ushered in a welcome redesign by Park Ward identifi ed by a single-piece rear window in place of the previous wraparound item of the TC108G, along with a name change to TD21. Desirable front disc brakes are fi tted as standard a year later, to cope with a power increase to 115bhp courtesy of a better six-port cylinder head. An automatic gearbox now became available to order followed with an overdrive option for 1960.

The Series 2 for 1962, saw rear disc brakes plus a fi ve-speed ZF manual available to special order. By the time the last car is built (in 1963), 1073 TDs had been made, making it the most numerous of the series.

The TE21 is easily identifi ed by those striking stacked headlights. Mechanically, a fi ve-speed gearbox plus improved front suspension and steering (now with optional power assistance) feature. The 2993cc straight-six is also now uprated to 130bhp plus, to lighten the clutch effort a coil spring instead of a diaphragm design is now installed. Power steering is standardised on the last TEs to make driving easier as well. The TF21, is the fi nal iteration, bolstered with a triple-carb 150bhp engine, and uprated suspension plus this model features a different dashboard design from its predecessors.

With well under 2000 made (only 784 examples of the Series I TD21 but just 289 Series 2 versions. With all of 352 TE21s and a mere 106 TF21s), there aren’t many to go round, meaning it may be a case of what you can get, but like-forlike the TE/TF are the ones to opt for because of their better running gear, with power steering and disc brakes the most desirable fi ttings. This is not set in stone however because, being a small specialist car maker, specifi cations can vary and it’s not unknown to see cars fi tted with different running gear depending upon what was available at the time.

Red Triangle, grew out of Alvis’s demise in 1967, operated by company ex employees. It says, “Although the survival rate is very high, relatively few of these cars were made and owners tend to hang onto them. As a result you might have to wait a long time to get exactly what you want”.

Behind the wheel

“In an era when the number of truly distinct cars tends to diminish, and those makes which are available tend often to be of very similar layout, the Alvis remains as something exclusive with very defi nite individuality of character” remarked Motor.

These cars are some of the most capable grand tourers ever created. Comfortable, spacious and with excellent visibility, the 3-Litre makes the ideal long-distance companion.

Refi nement is very good too, but don’t expect sports-car-like handling; this is a 1950’s car after all although having said that the Alvis is more than a match for an XK or an Aston with strong grip and surprising agility for such a big and bulky car even if it lacks similar straight line panache or overtly sporting pretensions. Top drawer refi nement is the compensation providing the type of innate luxury a Bentley Continental does.

With a kerb weight of over 1.5 tonnes performance isn’t great; period road tests posting 0-60mph times of 12-14 seconds – but when you drive an Alvis you realise that speed isn’t everything.

Making one better

Even if you want to keep the car stock, improving the cooling this great big straight six is very wise as they have a tendency to overheat. An electric fan and water pump can be fi tted, perhaps twinned with a three-core radiator.

Other club accepted improvements include a high-torque starter motor and an alternator conversion but overall this isn’t a classic which tends or lends itself to be modifi ed.

Latest engine mod is a dedicated electronic fuel injection set up, courtesy of renowned Alvis experts Earley Engineering that pushes out a useful 160bhp and 210lbft of torque. It costs a hefty £7000 but already half a dozen cars have been converted. It is fully reversible if required and is fully approved by the owners’ club. If the engine needs an overhaul, Earley Engineering can incorporate some subtle mods, too.

There’s not much you can do to improve the handling other than see everything is in tip top order and set up properly – Earley Engineering specifi es rebuilt period Koni dampers which the model came with – many now rely on other less suited makes. There is a Harvey-Bailey handling kit which, according to Alex Earley is effective only on the coupés as the dropheads are too fl oppy to notice any meaningful gains. Instead, get someone like an Alvis expert to get the basics right.

“Many of the cars that arrive in our workshops are spoilt by worn or badly adjusted steering and suspension due to part-restoration. It is possible to transform the Alvis driving experience with these areas corrected. Customers are often amazed after problems ignored for years by others are rectifi ed, providing a driving experience better than they ever believed possible”, claims the Herefordshire company.

Power steering is worth having but few models have it. It’s possible to fi t a modern electrical set-up however, which offers variable assistance via a dash-mounted switch – budget on spending £3000 to have it fi tted.

Earley has considerable experience in fi tting EZ systems with its own mods.

There’s better scope with the brakes however. Essentially a Jaguar set up, you can convert to standard discs and uprate them further with Coopercraft four-pot callipers while also replacing the rear piston assemblies with new stainless steel alternatives. To upgrade the front brakes costs £1000, while sorting the rear brakes is around half this. These prices are for the parts only but it’s a good investment.

Before fi ve-speed gearboxes were fi tted, the Alvis wore a Big Healey gearbox plus overdrive and as a result uprated transmissions are widely available from the likes of A.H. Spares.

Maintenance matters

For such an exclusive specialist classic, the Alvis is amazingly easy to keep sweet and no harder than a Jaguar XK or Big Healey of the same vintage to maintain at home or implying an old school garage, although as with many hand built masterpieces, the skilled hand of a marque specialist is money well spent.

While not a parts bin special of such, Alvis did rely on using proprietary mainstream components and there’s a fair cross-over of parts; the Big Healey gearbox being one. Not that you need to do such searching and scurrying around as parts supply is excellent, thanks to Red Triangle who can also supply a copy of the original comprehensive owner instruction manual which came with every car. All the 35,000 + parts supplied by Red Triangle – the only supplier of genuine Alvis parts – are made to original works drawings. Other suppliers are Earley Engineering and Chris Prince.

Alvis to your advantage?

General Watch for non-standard parts and bodges due to previous lowly values. Originality will count in years to come and it may be costly to revert back to standard. And vet as many as feasible to set a reliable datum. Whether it’s a saloon or a convertible, a full body resto can easily cost over £30,000 with minor engine work maybe 10K or more!
Body The stout chassis is strong albeit features a closed box section so it can trap water – pay most attention to the front box sections where the lower front wishbones attach. Also closely inspect the sections rising up over the rear axle around the jacking tubes, sills and around screen surrounds. Things can get extremely costly if the car’s structure has been allowed to deteriorate too badly, as repairs are complicated and panels are expensive – with new wings priced at £1800 apiece as an example. A mixture of alloy and steel panels were draped over a frame built of ash and steel Morgan-style. However, despite the close proximity of the steel to the aluminium, there’s rarely a problem with electrolytic corrosion, although rotten wood and steel are quite possible. If the windscreen has been allowed to leak because of failing seals, water will, with little doubt, have got into the wood frame and it’s likely there’s some serious rot as a result. The B-posts and door frames are also wooden so check the timber is intact . Be especially wary of convertibles due to poor fitting hoods.
Engine Aside from the usual checks (blue smoke from the exhaust under power, fuming and lack of performance), ensure the oil pressure reads 60psi once up to temperature, but even higher readings are normal and shouldn’t be a problem. Some parts have to be remade and a full overhaul is likely to run up a £20,000+ bill as a result.
Running gear Early models used a Healey ’box, replaced by a five-speed ZF unit and parts for the latter are scarce and costly – a modern Getrag five-speed gearbox can be fitted for around £8000. Autos are available but rare. If car is jacked up incorrectly, it’s hard to detect suspension wear – lift by the outer edge of the wishbones. You need to check for rot in the lower wishbone spring pan as well as bottom damper mounts. The Jag XK Dunlop callipers fitted to all cars from the TD Series 2 onwards can seize if the car is left unused for any length of time, with pitting of the calliper bores being a common problem, requiring replacement callipers.
Trim Rolls-Royce levels of wood and leather comes at a price – running into thousands of pounds if a significant amount of refurbishment is needed – but Red Triangle can help. A new convertible roof costs around £4500, so check all trim is in good enough order.

I bought one

Regular contributor Robert Couldwell replaced a much loved Jaguar XK150 that he owned for more than a decade for this drophead TD (from Dutch dealer Gallery Brummen) a few years ago when prices were keen. He’s absolutely delighted with the swap, particularly after introducing his to a few upgrades such as front disc brakes, modern seat belts, a dynamo looking alternator (Dynator) and – best of all – EZ electric power steering which has transformed the drive even though it wasn’t an easy conversion. He is now sorting out cosmetic details and enjoying life in the slow lane while watching his canny purchase soar in value.

What to pay

Costing perhaps a quarter of the price of a DB2, it’s difficult to think of another upper crust British GT that offers as much. You can own a fairly decent coupé for under £40,000 with the best around the 60 grand mark although dropheads command three times as much and Graber-bodied cars up to 50 per cent more. It’s as well to bear in mind that at this price level leading Alvis specialists Red Triangle can offer factory renovated and in certain areas modernised alternatives although the company says these recreations won’t diminish the value of ‘originals.’

The car’s timeline


The TC108G débuts, fundamentally it’s a TC21 that’s been redesigned by Swiss coachbuilder Graber, although under the bonnet there’s still the familiar rugged 2993cc straight-six, tuned to give just 104bhp.


Welcome redesign by Park Ward ushers in a single-piece rear window in place of the previous wraparound, along with a name change to TD21.


Desirable front disc brakes are now fitted as standard, plus power increases to 115bhp courtesy of a better six-port cylinder head. An automatic gearbox is now available as an option.


Facelift; larger sidelights, Austin-Healey gearbox gains welcome overdrive option.


Still the TD21, but the Series 2, fitted with rear disc brakes plus a five-speed ZF manual is now available to special order. By the time the last car is built (in 1963), 1073 TDs had been made, making it the most numerous of the series.


TE21 débuts, identified by stacked headlight styling. Mechanically, a five-speed gearbox plus improved front suspension and steering (now with optional power assistance) figure. The 2993cc straight-six is uprated to 130bhp plus the clutch is coil spring instead of a diaphragm design, making it much lighter. Power steering is standard.


TF, bolstered with triple-carb 150bhp engine, and uprated suspension also features a different dashboard design.

Here’s six of the best reasons to buy one

  • Rarity and exclusivity
  • Rolls-like pedigree
  • Remarkable value for money
  • Appreciating asset
  • Strong specialist support
  • Remarkable survival rate

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