SOLD – 1933 Alvis Speed 20 SB

  • 1933 Alvis Speed 20 SB
  • Original Vanden Plas tourer bodywork
  • Class winner on the 1934 RAC Rally
  • Exceptional preserved condition
  • Continuous history from new

On 27 March 1934, an advert for London-based Alvis dealer Charles Follett appeared in The Motor, heralding the success of the Coventry marque’s cars on the recent RAC Rally. Pictured in that advert was this very Alvis Speed 20, which had won its class on that event in the hands of its first owner, WEC Watkinson.

The Vanden Plas tourer was originally registered on 1 December 1933, having been acquired by Watkinson, who lived in Malvern. He was a keen rally enthusiast who competed in various MGs and intended to use the Alvis in the same way – as well as being his daily transport.

Watkinson drove the Speed 20 on the RAC Rally for four consecutive years, starting in 1934, and by the time he sold it in 1938 he had covered 45,784 miles – all carefully logged in his notebook.

As well as competition use, Watkinson also took the car on four trips to the continent. In early 1934 he drove to Grindelwald in Switzerland for a skiing and winter sports holiday, and photographs show the Alvis negotiating snow-packed roads at the foot of the Eiger and at Zweilütschinen on the way home.

That summer, he also visited the First World War battlefields in France and Belgium with his old history don from Oxford University, d’Arcy Dalton.

Watkinson noted each time that he drove the Alvis more than 100 miles in one day, and on no fewer than 37 occasions he recorded more than 200 miles. He also once clocked up 96 miles giving people lifts to the Polling Office so that they could vote in the General Election.

Watkinson owned the Alvis until June 1938, when it was advertised in The Autocar and sold to its next owner – Commander Marshall of Saltash in Cornwall. He later became Sir Douglas Marshall and kept the Speed 20 all the way through the Second World War and into the 1950s.

In January 1953, WP 608 was sold by Elliot & Sons of Bideford to Eric Cleaton-Hart. He took the car with him when he moved to the Midlands and in 1956 sold it to an airline pilot who flew out of Birmingham Airport. It was then owned by Gordon Butler between 1957 and 1968, when it was sold to Don Jones.

As well as being a motoring enthusiast, Shropshire-based Jones was a fine cricketer. He had the Alvis restored during his long ownership and started to research the car’s history. That process involved getting in touch with Suzanne Moodie, who was the daughter of WEC Watkinson. That contact led to Suzanne and her husband David acquiring the Alvis when Don Jones sadly passed away in July 2000.

In 2010, the Speed 20’s engine was rebuilt at a cost of just over £18,000, and the car is presented in its original colour combination.

Now sporting a beautiful patina, this Alvis is being offered for sale with a copy of its original factory car record, a wonderful selection of period photographs, commemorative tankards from the 1934 London-Edinburgh Trial and 1936 Torquay Rally, and a silver salver in honour of its class win in the coachwork competition on the 1934 Bournemouth Rally.

Model history

Founded in 1919 by Thomas George John, Alvis soon became known for its small, well-engineered and sporting cars. Based in Holyhead Road, Coventry, the company achieved great success in motor racing and was unafraid to innovate – during the mid-1920s, for example, it developed competition cars that featured front-wheel drive, all-independent suspension, and a 1.5-litre twin-overhead-camshaft engine.

As the 1930s dawned, Alvis began to move upmarket and in 1932 it introduced the Speed 20. A new low-slung chassis enabled coachbuilders to design a range of handsome, well-proportioned bodies, and the Speed 20 was enthusiastically received by the motoring press.

The original SA model used a 2511cc six-cylinder engine, which produced 87bhp and was carried over to the SB. First unveiled at the 1933 Motor Show, the SB was fitted with independent front suspension and an all-synchromesh gearbox – the latter representing a major step forward when compared to the ‘crash’ gearboxes then in widespread use. It was said that the development of this new unit was at least partly due to the fact that Alvis engineer AF Varney used to struggle with double-declutching…

The Speed 20 sold well and played a crucial role in enabling Alvis to cope with the difficult economic conditions of the early 1930s. In fact, so well regarded was this new model that Rolls-Royce considered the Speed 20 to be the benchmark in the 20hp class.

After being updated into the 2762cc SC and finally the SD, production came to an end in 1936. By then, Alvis had introduced the 3.5-litre model, which was based on the Speed 20 and was soon developed into the Speed 25. Some owners subsequently fitted the more powerful Speed 25 engine – which produced 106bhp – to their Speed 20.

As war clouds gathered, Alvis moved into the production of aero engines and military vehicles – but continued to build cars as well. ‘An aristocrat among automobiles’ as a 1938 advertisement put it. ‘An exclusive car for exclusive people who will have nothing but the best’.

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