It’s hard to put a finger on why the Alvis TD-TF series of cars has never had a higher profile in the wider classic car world. They’re handsome machines with lots of olde worlde British character – the drophead versions are a staple with TV art directors; Stephen Fry recently drove a TE21 in popular drama Kingdom – yet they’ve never been particularly sought-after as classics. Although values have risen considerably in recent years, they’re still not at the top of most people’s wish-list of potential purchases.
But maybe that’s as it should be, for much of the Alvis’s appeal is that it flies ‘under the radar’. Even a Bristol seems flash in comparison with the understated Alvis. They’re not sports cars but have decent performance – unusually, Alvis is believed to have underestimated its engines’ power outputs – and they are superbly engineered. That’s why several owners of pre-war Alvises have a TD-TF as their ‘daily driver’, and why a central core of surviving cars remains in the same ownership for decades.
In fact, given proper maintenance and protection from corrosion, there’s no reason why any of this series shouldn’t be used like a modern car: they all had front disc brakes (and rear discs from 1962), and they all used variations of Alvis’s rugged 3.0-litre straight-six. Furthermore, virtually every part is available from marque specialist Red Triangle. Can you think of a more stylish and handsome way to get around town than in an Alvis?
Your only problem might be finding the right car. With only around 1500 examples built in total, the supply will always be limited.
Red Triangle is the name for Alvis cars of all ages, having been the official supplier of spares ever since Alvis stopped making cars in 1967. Alan Stote (pictured above) owns the company and has steered it to new levels in recent years – see Time With, Octane issue 81 – but deferred to his sales director Richard Joyce, who was on holiday at the time of our photoshoot, for the following market information.
‘Values have risen in recent years, perhaps helped by the TV series Kingdom,’ says Richard, ‘but in reality they have just been catching up with the rest of the market. A really good restored TE or TF drophead could make £90,000, and a mint saloon £45,000-50,000. Usable examples of either would be £50-70k for a DHC or £20-25k for a saloon; £10k for a project.
‘Buyers have polarised opinions about whether they prefer the looks of the single or stacked-headlight cars. Personally, I rate the TD Series II very highly, being the first model with all-round disc brakes and a five-speed ’box.’
IN A NUTSHELL
Although put together well by coachbuilder Park Ward, these cars had no more anti-rust protection than any other car of the 1950s and ’60s, so corrosion can obviously be an issue. There’s a mixture of steel and alloy panels – the bonnet, roof and bootlid being made of alloy, and doors too from the TD21 Series II onwards – and even a fair bit of wood, including the A- and B-posts and the door frames.
Electrolytic corrosion between alloy and steel is rarely a problem, but you should check the places you’d examine on any old car – wheelarches, inner and outer sills, boot floor, outriggers from the main box chassis, and so on. Make sure the doors shut well: a leaking windscreen can rot out the wooden A-posts.
‘A full body restoration might cost £30,000-35,000,’ says Richard Joyce, ‘but the car should then last a very long time, given some decent anti-corrosion treatment. The good news is that almost every part is available: we have the original drawings, so can remanufacture parts when necessary.
‘Mechanically, these cars are very robust – we recently did unleaded head conversions on a 1960 and a ’61 car and found they were still running standard-sized bores. Electronic ignition is a worthwhile upgrade, and one that we foresee becoming very popular.
‘Quite a number of cars were originally supplied with a Borg Warner DG automatic gearbox and it’s actually very good for town driving; you can adjust the ’box to give greater smoothness or more rapid gearchanges. Power steering is a useful option and we now offer an electric PAS conversion for about £3000 fitted, with a switch under the dash that lets you vary the amount of assistance at will.’
There are no particular issues with the suspension, other than a number of grease nipples that need regular attention to prevent premature wear. Harvey Bailey handling kits have been available for some time, with bigger anti-roll bars and improved dampers. Wire wheels were available in period and are similar to those used on Jaguar Mk1s.
These cars are no longer the bargains they once were – back in 1993, when this author last took a close look at the TD-TF range, a mint TF21 drophead would have struggled to fetch £30,000. Now it could fetch up to three times that.
Nevertheless, when you consider what, say, Aston Martin DB5s and 6s are now worth, the Alvis doesn’t seem particularly expensive. It may not have the performance of an Aston (although the late cars were good for 120mph; Alvis tested a production TF at 126mph) but it has rather more space, and just as much grace.
As a car to use and enjoy regularly, there’s much to be said for the TD Series I and II. They were built in the greatest numbers – 1073, compared with 352 TEs and just 106 TFs – and they tend to offer the best value for money, particularly in saloon form. Even the first-series TDs had front disc brakes, while overdrive was optional on the ’Healey four-speed transmission.
Dropheads, of course, are inherently more valuable, and having four proper seats makes them ideal family classics. About one in every four of the TD-TF range is thought to have been bodied as a drophead, so they are rare but not ridiculously so.
If you can afford it, a properly restored example is worth shelling out for. Look after it and you will have a quality car for life.