Looking for some plump classic car motoring? The Alvis TD21 is the classic for you...
"Make way for the quality!" was a line many motorists would have heard emanating from the cockpit of an Alvis Three-Litre drophead during the last 1960s and early 1970s – shortly before being overtaken by a man with tin legs. Sir Douglas Bader loved his Alvis, which he would drive in a manner most befitting of a former fighter pilot. "Best car in the world" was another epithet applied to the car by another irritable, gritty, patriotic part of British culture; John LeCarre’s creation Jim Prideaux from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Both are right, and both in their manner rather sum up the Alvis TD21. It has a ‘tally-ho’ spirit combined with restrained good taste and sheer Britishness; a cocktail found in no other car.
Engine – 2993cc, 6-cyl,
Power - 115bhp@00rpm
Torque - 152lb/ft@5200rpm
Top Speed – 105mph
0-60mph – 13.9seconds
Economy - 18mpg
Gearbox – 4/5 speed manual, 3 speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Most cars were coachbuilt by Rolls-Royce subsidiary Park Ward, with styling inspired by the TC108G. The roof, bonnet, and bootlid are aluminium, as are Series 2 doors. But that’s where the easy bit ends. Park-Ward bodied Alvises are no stranger to iron oxide, due to their manner of construction. In order to reduce weight the TD21 was produced from thin steel pressings, which were spot-welded together in order to achieve a strong yet light structure. This left water free to worm its way in and corrode ious sections from the inside out. Check the sills, the boot floor, the base of the roof, and the inside of the rear wings. The boot floor is connected to the rear wings by flanges which rust out, and the joint between the inner arches and the wings has been known to do the same. The roof may be floating in mid-air – two easy ways to check are to check the condition of the leather interior trim attached to the roof, and to get in the back, put your hands on the roof, and push up! The rear window also has a wooden frame attached to a crossmember below the parcel shelf – make sure there’s no rot here.
There are 2 types, Series 1 and Series 2. Principal cosmetic difference is the nose; Series 2s had integral spotlamps, whereas the Series 1 made do with a pair of cooling ducts between the lamps and grille.
Due to an innate company desire to avoid waste, the first 25 TD21s actually had an engine carried over from the previous TC108G, rather than the design intended for the TD. These had a siamesed head, unless the ‘six port’ head of the engine intended for the car. The later engine has improved breathing, higher peak revs and a higher compression ratio, and is generally more desirable. These can be differentiated by the rocker cover and the angle of the induction/exhaust face. Grille slats can deform – this directs air away from the radiator and leads to overheating issues.
With the exception of the gearbox it’s all standard Alvis fare – the box being an Austin Healey derived unit with an Alvis-designed selector mechanism. The Healey ‘box isn’t up to the torque of the Alvis engine, and synchromesh on second is problematic. Many fit the later ZF five speed box, or a Getrag unit from a modern BMW. Best of the standard gearboxes is the 3 speed Borg-Warner automatic, for which parts are readily available and relatively inexpensive.
A full retrim will cost an arm and a leg – so make sure it either isn’t necessary or has been done properly in the past. The map pockets and door trim often get overlooked when the car has been retrimmed due to their complexity – a good trimmer should have done these when any work to the seats has been done. If they don’t match, it’s only a partial retrim – don’t let the seller con you. Cars may have been retrimmed with vinyl if working to a budget – check that the material isn’t cloth backed.
That lovely figured walnut won’t be cheap to replace either – make sure everything’s in good order. Same with the carpets – quality isn’t cheap, and only the best will do for an Alvis.
Nothing quite says "class" like an Alvis Three Litre. Unlike Jaguar, Daimler, Royce and Bentley, the image hasn’t been tainted by association with some shadier aspects of the company’s past or present output. They’re very much "old money", and conjure up a picture of this scepter’d isle which is forever golden – it’s the car oft-driven by retired servicemen in country villages, and perhaps sums up this portion of England better than any other metaphor. Get one bought and bask in all those admiring glances – you’ll never look back.