TD21 Description

By 1951, aero engine and armoured vehicle production made Alvis quite a profitable company and plans for a completely new car had been made.  This was to be to a radical design by Alec Issigonis who joined Alvis in 1952.  However, by 1954 and the production of a running prototype, it became clear that the rising cost of development work and production facilities, far beyond the original estimate, had caused the project to no longer be commercially viable.  Up to 1955, almost all of the cars produced since the war had saloon bodies by Mulliner of Birmingham and DHC by Tickford but these specialist coachbuilders had both been purchased by other motor manufacturer in the mid 1950s.  If car production was to continue at Alvis, a new approach was required.

Since the beginning of the production of the 3 Litre, Carrosserie Hermann Graber in Switzerland had received over thirty chassis at that time, to which they fitted bodies of their own design and construction.  These cars were to some degree all bespoke and very much admired.  In 1955 a contract was signed between Alvis and Graber for parallel production of cars on the TC21/100 chassis to one of Graber’s recent designs. Graber would build twenty two cars in their normal way and Alvis forty one using bodied made by Willowbrook, all to be designated the TC108/G.  Graber made and sold all of their cars but Willowbrook could only manage bodies for fifteen cars in the same time, compared with the hundreds of Alvis cars per year normally available to the UK and world markets.

A favourable reception by the motoring press of the TC108/G failed to translate into sales success. The number of Willowbrook bodied cars sold did not reach beyond the mid-teens and quality problems soon became apparent. With the company’s success in other fields, it seemed that the Alvis car would quietly fade away and few would have foreseen a further ten years of Three Litre production. It had proved impossible to bring Alec Issigonis’ innovative new design to production, yet the Alvis management persevered and ultimately found a way forward.

By early 1958, Alvis had made an arrangement with Rolls Royce for the supply of a version of this Graber design, improved for rearward visibility and passenger and luggage accommodation, to be made by their coachbuilding subsidiary Park Ward. That company had recently installed a 300 ton stretch press which greatly improved the productivity of their body panel forming department, enabling them to take on additional work.  This new car was to be known as the TD21 and over 1,000 examples were made over the next five years. Superficially it looked similar to the earlier car, but in fact it was subtly different almost everywhere, especially at the rear.

The instruments were grouped centrally in the dashboard. As was usual with Alvis, coachwork styles offered comprised a saloon and a drophead coupé. The saloon was a two door five seater available in a range of eight standard colours, with non-standard finishes at extra cost. A narrower rear seat dictated by the hood mechanism made the coupé (always referred to as simply the ‘coupé’ by Alvis) more of a four seater. It featured an Everflex hood which folded very neatly into the body with virtually no protrusion yet was fully lined. It also had gutters above the door glasses and a neat aluminium peak rail, items often omitted in a restoration.  Seemingly Herr Graber was paid a royalty on each coupé sold, but not on the saloons. The seats were luxuriously padded and trim was Connolly Vaumol leather throughout.

Mechanically, the only significant change from the earlier car was the adoption of the BMC Austin Healey gearbox with hydraulic clutch operation instead of the Alvis unit which had served since the days of the pre-war 12/70. Otherwise the early cars had drum brakes without servo assistance but eventually a system of Lockheed front disc brakes and Girling drum rear brakes with vacuum servo assistance was offered, initially as an option, then as standard. The hand brake was operated by a pull handle under the dashboard. A full-flow oil filtration system was incorporated in the engine. For the first time the Borg Warner three speed automatic gearbox was available as an option and proved very popular. Another option frequently specified was wire wheels, but the Reutter reclining seats were less common.

TD21 Series I

The TD 21 was a success from the start, particularly as the price was now below £3,000 (just!) including tax for the saloon whilst the coupé was rather more. A Jaguar XK 150 cost £2,110.

The first major modifications were the fitting of a 12-port cylinder head and larger carburetters which raise the power output to 115 bhp. The Instruction Book notes that maximum power was restricted to give greater output in the medium speed range, resulting in excellent acceleration and great flexibility. Even today the TD feels powerful on the road and few cars of the era respond so exactly to the driver’s wishes. Maximum speed was about 105 mph. The unloved under dashboard handbrake was eventually supplanted by a substantial chrome lever between the front seats.

Whilst roof, bonnet and boot lid were panelled in aluminium, the doors were wood framed and steel panelled and accordingly of great weight. Late in the Series 1 (as the cares were retrospectively referred to following the introduction of the Series 11), the frames and panels were aluminium and these cars are colloquially referred to as ‘Series 1½’.  Overdrive became optional, but comparatively few cars were so equipped, making them sought after today.

A total of 1,069 TD 21s of both series were produced, 784 in Series 1 and 285 in Series 11. These figures include chassis 25938, the prototype which technically began life as a TC108/G.
Some 50 chassis of both series were sent to Graber in Switzerland to receive his superb coachwork

TD21 Saloon

The TD21 was introduced in 1959 with a total of 784 produced of which 592 were built with saloon coachwork. The car was delivered new to Mrs W.M.Pullan of Cookham, Berkshire.from the dealer Dunham & Haines on 25th March 1959. The three litre straight six power unit gives 115bhp through the four speed manual gearbox with a top speed of 100mph. This car is in very good condition and offers classic motoring at a competitive price.

TD21 Drophead

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TD21 Graber

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