Wednesday, 17 May 2006 16:29
in Marques

Memories of Vintage Motoring - Alvis Front Wheel Drive

Written by 
Edited extracts by MartinStubbs from the unpublished autobiography of Dacre Stubbs ® Photos: Dacre Stubbs Collection                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I had only recently faced up to the sad need to part with the Aston Martin, which my friend Ronny Robinson had taken over, thus allaying what worries I had about its future. I also still had two Bentleys, the next cars to go (my future father in law had advised that if I wanted to marry his daughter I needed to change my playboy lifestyle).
But a friend of mine in the north wanted a home for his very unique Alvis of 1 1/2-litres, front-wheel-drive and supercharged. I could see this car as a replacement for the Bentleys, being much smaller and utterly fascinating. My great friend Bertram Morris found out that Harrison (the owner) was scared to death of it and would let it go at a bargain price to anyone fool enough to drive it. It therefore became mine for a sum well under two hundred pounds, and although I devoted a lot of time improving the front suspension, it never cost me another penny. This was a special model of Alvis built for racing and related to the renowned 12/50 and 12/60 models. But there the relationship ceased for the designer had taken one of these engines, supercharged it and turned it completely around back to front, and with the gearbox attached, had contrived an assembly of differential, brake drums and short axles to drive the front wheels. It had many other interesting features and it had indeed had considerable success at Le Mans and in Tourist Trophy races, but it was difficult to handle and had built up a reputation for consuming a number of unwary drivers. I had plenty of pre-knowledge about this car, its peculiarities and its variety, so temptation got the better of me and it entered my dwindling stud of thoroughbreds.  
Having seen the little holiday and fishing resort of Salcombe some years previously with its very narrow and tortuous streets, I decided that the 4 1/2-litre Bentley which was my ‘fleet’ flagship at the time, might be a bit cumbersome and could throw a temperamental on so long a journey. I therefore chose the more compact and spartan FWD Alvis, although its screaming supercharger might disturb the locals.
However if we went quickly to the inn, locked it away and hope not to start it again until straight out for home at the end of our stay, we could not collect too much flak. One might wonder upon the suitability of a carriage which had barely enough room for two adults in the cockpit, devoid of any protection from the weather, except for a small low windscreen, in which to undertake so long a journey. But it was mid-summer, the Alvis had excellent road-holding, if one knew how to drive it, good brakes and a superb engine.

Pauline (my future wife) was an open-air and sporting girl, very strong physically and character-wise. Having been brought up in a family who owned a 30/98 Vauxhall and later a huge Bianchi, she was quite capable of handling anything I could throw at her. Moreover she had driven my Aston Martin along the what is now the M1 beyond Hemel Hemstead, Hertfordshire at a speed of no less than 110mph (175kph), so I had no misgivings that she could take over the Alvis when I was in need of a rest. The journey from London to Salcombe was some 250 miles (402km) and as I would already have done another 200 miles from Leeds, it was not long before I required a break. However the following morning Paul complained of sore arms and shoulders which of course was due to the very rugged steering qualities of the Alvis which after only a 100 miles one felt one was steering a wild beast.

The steering wheel was not set conventionally square in front of the driver, being positioned at an angle to meet the steering box which was in the centre of the chassis behind the engine. This small aberration was necessary because the two connecting rods to each front wheel moved independent of any tie-rod between the wheels. Altogether the Alvis was an interesting thoroughbred and was named by my friends as the ‘Blut Wagon.’

Latest from MotorMarques Team

Print Email
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Read 4923 times Last modified on Thursday, 07 April 2022 09:10
« Allard J2 More in this category: Alvis racing »

Leave a comment