RH Insurance Red Triangle

Speed Models

The early 1930s was a period where much of the technology that appeared in the early 20th Century started to mature and evolve into the products we recognise today. Styles were changing and the market for motor cars as well as broadening was also becoming more competitive. 

In the case of Alvis, their relationship with their London Distributor was at something of a crisis and the Board made the decision to switch away from Henleys to Charles Follet, who was offering to take chassis on more advantageous payment terms .

In return, Follet wanted more influence in the design and possibly following the new dropped form of the Invicta was looking for cars that exhibited a lower, longer sleeker look than had previously been the case.

Smith-Clark of Alvis was opposed to the notion that the styling of the bodywork should dictate the engineering form of the car. However, Alvis had to move with the time if their ambition was to be met and what started initially as a sporting car evolving from the 6 cylinder Silver Eagle, evolved through a new chassis and adaptations to the engine into the Speed 20 SA; the first of the true Sports Car. The Alvis Speed models were born and the Speed 20 SA, marked a line of cars that continued in production for all of the 1930s, establishing the name of Alvis as a manufacturer of quality cars.

Sales of the Speed 20 SA were good and today it is an admired and highly regarded car amongst Alvis owners. But also as today, cars enjoyed continuous development and by the summer of 1933, Alvis were looking to work in features that were found on few cars of the day and which were to mark Alvis as a innovative manufacturer leading the way. The launch of the Speed 20 SB at the Olympia show in 1933 brought 3 significant changes over the SA, namely independent front suspension, an all synchromesh gearbox and driver adjustable suspension dampers. In 1933, even one of these features on a car was unusual and set the shape of the Alvis car through to the end of pre war production in 1940.

Alvis was looking to compete further up market and the system whereby a manufacturer could offer chassis only very much allowed this. The 3.5 L, introduced in 1935 did this, offering a slightly extended chassis (up by 3”) and a larger engine at 3.5 Litre and some 19.22 RAC Horse power. Aimed at a different market, the car retained the dropped chassis of the Speed 20 and was aimed squarely at taking sales from Bentley.

Simultaneous to the 3.5 L, the Speed 20 appeared with an increase in engine size of some 200cc and further stiffening of the chassis.

Bentley and others were not standing still and Alvis was able to respond in 1936 by dropping the 3.5 L engine into a Speed 20 chassis to produce the Speed 25. Production of the Speed 20 over lapped this and the final model of the Speed 20 the SD was essentially an SC with minor changes. Confusingly, the Speed 25 launched as the Speed 25 SB, the SA model being the 2.3 L.

The 3.5 L continued also, but a larger 4.3 engine had been developed and dropped into the 3.5 L chassis to give the 4.3, marketed by Alvis as the fastest non supercharged car on sale in Europe.

The ultimate lineage of these pre war sports car arrived when the 4.3 L engine was dropped into what was essentially the Speed 20 chassis to produce when clothed by Van den Plas the ultimate pre war Alvis, the short chassis VdP 4.3 Tourer.

Production of the Speed model range continued into 1940 and there were already developments that would need to wait until the 1950s planned for the cars. These included coil spring based independent suspension and razor edge styling on saloons.

The last cars were in various stages of production as the Luftwaffe carried out their aerial blitz on 14 Nov 1940 that levelled the Alvis works , these cars being recorded in the records but lost as Alvis turned its focus to supporting the war effort.

Owners in the day included Film stars including the likes of George Formby, Miss Dorothy Patten, George Nervo. The performance of the cars made them attractive to Police Forces, who purchased them for use by the equivalent of their flying squads.

Today, these cars are some of the most highly regarded and competent cars of the period. With their looks and performance, they attract attention as they did in the 1930s. They were the super cars of their day and their performance now is more than adequate both terms of acceleration, handling and stopping capability.

Speed 20 SA Speed 20 SB Speed 20 SC Speed 20 SD 3.5 Litre Speed 25 4.3 Litre
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