4 Cylinder Models

Alvis in the 1930's

Alvis’ reputation was made in the 1920s with the 12/50, a rugged four cylinder “light car” of advanced conventional design and superior performance, construction and finish. The same basic chassis, engine and running gear were developed to address various segments of the high quality light car market with coachwork ranging from 2-seater sports to formal 6-light saloons from a small number of contract suppliers. The early six cylinder cars followed a similar pattern until 1932, which for Alvis marked the watershed between the fundamentally Vintage designs and those which carried the company through the rest of the decade.

Alvis did not concentrate on one segment of the quality car market but continued to produce models ranging from medium sized saloons and tourers with economical four cylinder engines through slightly larger six cylinder cars to high performance sporting models with larger six cylinder engines. Generally three body styles were offered in each range: an open tourer, a drophead coupé and a saloon, all outsourced from contract suppliers. The company was able to bring out such a wide variety of cars produced in relatively small numbers without going bankrupt by adopting a ‘parts bin’ approach to manufacture whereby many mechanical components were common to different models. Engines, gearboxes, rear axles and brakes appeared with minimal or no changes across quite different cars. Four and six cylinder engines shared common components and design features, the same rear axle might contain different final drive ratios and so on. A high proportion of the mechanical parts were made by Alvis themselves. Later, as the 1930s drew to a close, some models began to display more ‘bought-in’ assemblies to keep Alvis competitive in some keenly fought sectors. No doubt the glamour and prestige of the more spectacular models helped to sell the rather more mundane vehicles built from many of the same parts. To quote David Scott-Moncrieff in “The Thoroughbred Motor Car 1930-40” (1963), “Above all, the soundness of their products enabled this small firm to continue selling in that most uncertain of markets – that for luxury and sports cars, where so many others had failed".

The Four Cylinder Cars

Alvis came into the 1930s with the four cylinder 12/50 and 12/60 cars, plus the six cylinder Silver Eagle models, little changed from the later 1920s. The first new designs in both ranges appeared in 1932 and were developed for the rest of the decade.

Three models, the Firefly (1932 – 1934), Firebird (1934 – 1936) and 12/70 (1937 – 1940) comprised the four cylinder Alvises of the ‘30s, though the first two were of very similar design. Each was offered in three basic body types: saloon, drophead coupé and open tourer, with saloons accounting for most of the sales. A smattering carried special one-off or short series coachwork. These were not inexpensive cars with saloon prices ranging from £435 to £510 when an average working man might earn £200 per annum.  Top speeds were in the range 70 – 80 mph, well above those of the average mass-produced cars of the era, most of which would struggle to exceed 50 mph. Alvis made a total of 2,077 of these three models, whilst a total of 3,603 of the contemporary six cylinder cars were produced, covering no fewer than ten models.

Firefly Firebird 12/70
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