By 1955, the Alvis TC21 was coming to the end of its life. It had originated before the Second World War and plans had been made to replace it with a new aluminum sedan designed by Alec Issigonis. It would have an interlinked suspension, which would see the light of day as BMC’s hydrolastic system some 10 years later. In this case, though, the cost was prohibitive and the idea was shelved.
Meanwhile, Swiss coachbuilder Hermann Graber had developed a very handsome full-width sports coupe that used the six-cylinder, 3-liter TC21 engine and chassis. It was called the TC 108G (108” wheelbase and G for Graber) and one was shown at the both the 1955 and 1956 Earls Court Motor Show.
Alvis was in a spot. Standard-Triumph had bought coachbuilder Mulliners of Birmingham, and Aston Martin had bought Tickford, so neither had time for Alvis bodies. The solution was a joint project in which handsome alloy sports coupes and drop head coupes would be bodied by Graber (it was his design) and also Willowbrook of Loughborough, which had previously built buses. Over the next two years, Graber would build 22 coupes and drop heads, while Willowbrook built 15 coupes.
The TC108G was both elegant and fast, with 115 bhp from the 2,993 cc engine and top speed of 95 mph, later increased to 100 mph. An Austin-Healey four-speed gearbox was fitted, and an optional Borg-Warner automatic was also available. Graber was too small to manage all the production, and insisted on making each car slightly different, while Willowbrook’s quality control was casual, so Park Ward took over construction in 1958 and it became the Alvis TD21. Park Ward built 1,070 TD21s until 1963, and the model gained front disc brakes in 1959. Park Ward also redesigned the interior so the back seat was usable, as Graber preferred to build two-seaters. The series II of 1962 gained four-wheel disc brakes and a ZF five-speed gearbox.
The series III of 1963-67 is more commonly known as the Alvis TE21 and instantly recognizable by its vertically stacked dual headlights. A total of 352 coupes and drop heads were built up until 1967 and a new cylinder head boosted power to 130 bhp, and top speed to 107 mph. These cars were bodied by Mulliner Park Ward, as H.J. Mulliner (different from Mulliners of Birmingham) had merged with Park Ward to share the Rolls-Royce and Bentley coachbuilding.
The final Alvis model was the TF21, which was built alongside the TE21 until the company closed in 1967. British Leyland purchased Alvis and feared (correctly) that its Rover division would suffer by comparison. The TF21 was fitted with triple SU carburetors producing 150 bhp and top speed was now 120 mph. The suspension was refined somewhat and the dashboard redesigned, but the two models are quite similar.
Few Alvis TD, E or Fs were left-hand drive, but they can be found. The cars are as subtle and well-finished as a Savile Row suit, and have often enjoyed long-term ownership. The club is excellent, both informed and helpful with thorough records.