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Speed 20 SB

Speed 20 SB Description

he advent of the SB Speed Twenty marked a subtle shift in the market which Alvis were attacking - slightly further from the out-and-out sports car and slightly nearer to the high-performance luxury car.  In this we can detect once again the powerful influence of Charles Follett, who had already shown the sales potential of the Speed Twenty in SA form and who was aware of the improvements which would go down well amongst his moneyed clientele.

This is not to suggest that the changes incorporated in the SB were solely, or even primarily, cosmetic.  A specification which included independent front suspension, synchromesh on all four gears and rear shock-absorbers controlled from the instrument panel was advanced by any standards in 1933, all three features being new on the SB.  The front suspension changes also entailed new steering-gear and brake-linkage layouts, and chassis modifications including the addition of a deep cruciform member in the centre; this latter item, although drilled for lightness, greatly increased the rigidity of the chassis.  The engine was carried over unchanged from the SA.

Nevertheless these and other changes also had the effect of increasing the car's showroom appeal. The ifs, all-synchro gearbox and Telecontrol shock-absorbers clearly indicated that the car would be easier to drive, even before a confirmatory road-test, and built-in jacks and centralised lubrication reduced the terrors of owner-driver maintenance.  Three other changes in specification were aimed directly at improving the attractiveness of the finished car's appearance: larger headlamps (Lucas P100 instead of Rotax 80), smaller wheels (19" instead of 20") and a sloping scuttle/bonnet line instead of the SA's vertical one.

The sales figures confirmed that Alvis were moving along the right lines.  Total production of 375 was hardly any more than the SA, but they were sold in one year instead of two.  Body styles were many: the factory standard designs were the Cross & Ellis four-door tourer and the Charlesworth saloon and drophead coupé, but the Follett cars bodied by Vanden Plas were also virtually standard - saloon, drophead coupé and two-door tourer.  In addition the Speed Twenty was now being sought after by the clients of bespoke coachbuilders, and seven such firms also bodied the SB chassis.

Careful study of the Works records over recent years, and elimination of "doubtfuls", has shown that production was laid down in three batches over the approximate period September 1933 to August 1934, except for the SB prototype chassis 10851 which dates from July 1933. Some information, if only a works build record, exists for every one of these cars, but in many cases this is all that is known.  However, zealous work by Model Secretaries and others, particularly amongst old licensing records, has dug up much more data in many other cases.

From the members list there were 66 cars still in existence and belonging to members.  If one assumes that any car known to have been in existence in, say, 1975 is unlikely to have been scrapped thereafter, then the probable total of all survivors is about 120 - almost a one-third survival rate.  Of these, it is a matter of increasing regret that only 19 are saloons or fixed-head coupés; attractive as it is to drive an open car, it is less and less justifiable to obtain one by converting a saloon, and it is to be hoped that we have seen the last of this practice.

Tony Phillip-Smith

Past Speed 20 SB Model Secretary

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