Why you’d want an Alvis TD-TF
The TD-TF range is a throwback to a gentler, more civilised era.
That doesn’t mean that the cars are slow or uncomfortable – just the opposite, in fact. But the way they were built, with a separate chassis, coachbuilt wood, steel and aluminium bodyshell and luxurious cabin full of Connolly hide and burr walnut, was no longer viable in an age of mass-production steel monocoques.
These Alvises were built by Park Ward, alongside special Royces and Bentleys: no wonder their finish was outstanding. But even those great names were embracing new methods to survive whereas Alvis – finding itself acquired by Rover in 1965, with a 15-year-old chassis and a body that was 10 – had nowhere to go.
An all-new car was too costly to develop and, if its saloons were to be volume-built, they would compete too closely with Rover. After Alvis became part of BL in ’68, the firm decided, unusually, to officially transfer all car production records and parts stock to a private company, Red Triangle. It remains the source of a vast range of Alvis components and expertise, 43 years later – and is now even producing Continuation models.
Thanks to this forethought and owners’ continued respect for the exceptional durability of Alvis cars, the TD-TF range has an amazing survival rate. Of 1565 built (including the TC108G), 1031 are known to survive – 66%, including an amazing 90% of the run-out TF.
An Alvis has an interesting effect on observers: they admire its gracious lines and respect its excellence and exclusivity, but without the envy or sarcasm that a more pretentious marque can induce.
Prices are gently rising and good convertibles have been fetching big money for several years now, in recognition of their quality and usability. The well-made, fully lined hood should be checked carefully when buying, because it is costly to rebuild to original spec. And cost of restoration is the major issue when buying, as with any car crafted laboriously by hand: it can be rebuilt the same way, though the process is inevitably expensive.
While many prefer the looks of the first of these models, being closest to the original Swiss Graber design, in other ways the later cars are the best. The long, heavy doors tended to droop on new TDs – many have been repanelled in alloy instead of steel to alleviate this problem. Cars from the Series II on have all-aluminium doors, plus later cars also have stronger engines, better brakes and increased rear headroom.
Images: Tony Baker
Alvis TD-TF: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Simple and durable, the Alvis engine responds well to regular maintenance, clocking up high mileages. The much-improved ’59 head has individual ports, not siamesed, so is not a simple swap. The earlier engine has a poorer water pump and oil filter. Thrashing down motorways has a detrimental effect on engine life.
Regular greasing keeps front set-up supple; neglect brings rapid wear, so check for service signs. Early TDs had overworked drums; discs much better.
BW auto brings relaxed cruising; change-up point can be varied. Five-speed ZF manual more popular now and long-lived, but parts are pricey.
All of the brightwork is available but at a price, especially where it’s exclusive to Alvis or, like the rear lights, to a few other exotic models.
Driven off the back of the dynamo, the ZF power steering transformed the car; without it, steering is heavy and slow. Rebuild is costly, though.
Quality burr walnut with paper-thin panel gaps looks fabulous, but there’s plenty to restore if you buy one with poor woodwork so haggle on price.
Connolly leather seats can easily be restored to perfection by craftsmen if needed, yet there’s a lot of hide to pay for if the interior is worn out.
Alvis TD-TF: on the road
A good Alvis is a magnificent touring car, relaxed at speed with a near-silent engine, but don’t expect sports-car handling. Spirited driving can unsettle it and considerable understeer will soon put you off. Treat it with respect, and the car should feel comfortable and handle predictably with no untoward clonks or waywardness, which may result from worn bushes.
Performance from the engine isn’t sparkling – though a manual TF should be lively – but it should be super-smooth and quiet. Driven with decorum, they go on for ever, but hard driving brings engine life down and may precipitate valve-seat recession, too.
The first TDs had Austin-Healey manual gearboxes that were unrefined and unpopular, though improved when overdrive was specified. The ZF all-synchro five-speed was a huge advance, giving a much more modern feel. ZF gearboxes were well made and durable, but are commensurately costly to overhaul. Borg Warner autos aren’t that expensive to rebuild.
Drum brakes on the first TDs were barely adequate and the disc front arrangement on later TDs was not popular. So Alvis fitted an excellent all-disc set-up from 1962 that shares calipers with contemporary Jaguars and others.
Alvis generally over-engineered its cars, but they were built to expect frequent maintenance, especially greasing of the suspension and so on, now often neglected: when buying, ask about the car’s maintenance schedule. Worn suspension and other parts are all replaceable but can seriously detract from the pleasure of driving the car and its reliability until all have been changed.
Alvis TD-TF price guide
- Show/rebuilt TF convertible £95,000
- Average TF saloon £30,000
- Average TD Series I saloon £20,000
- Restoration TD SI saloon £9000
Alvis TD-TF history
1955 Oct: TC108G Graber-designed body shown at Paris and Earls Court; Willowbrook to build for the UK, Graber for Europe
1958 Oct: TD21 launched, body by Park Ward
1959 Revised head and carbs, front discs added
1960 Larger sidelights, overdrive optional
1962 Apr: TD21 Series II with disc brakes all round, built-in foglamps
1962 Oct: five-speed ZF gearbox added
1963 TE21 with ‘stacked’ twin headlights
1965 Alvis bought by Rover (then independent)
1966 TF21 (Series IV) with triple carbs
1967 Aug: last TF built; Alvis car division closed
The owner’s view
“I was looking for a Daimler,” recalls former Daimler apprentice Roger Pulham, “but I tried an Alvis and liked it. I bought a TE and started rebuilding it, then this car came up in 1990. It had been stored for many years and I think the 28,000 miles may be genuine. The body was poor, with holes where the roof joins the rear wings, so it had a bare-metal respray at Hightone Restorations.
“I’m competitive and started doing concours as well as organising club runs. I really enjoy using the car – except for the fuel consumption, which is about 15mpg, I could drive it all day long. I had the brakes uprated by Coopercraft, using their Jaguar upgrade. The most we’ve done in a day was about 390 miles, to a show and back.”
With its pre-war BMW-derived ‘six’ at full 2216cc stretch, the 406 could barely keep up with the TD and was much costlier. It’s an eccentric choice for lovers of exclusivity, and satisfying to drive despite its measured pace.
Sold 1958-’61 • No. built 292 • Mpg 18-24 • 0-60mph 13.9 secs • Top speed 104mph • Price new £4244 (1959) • Price now £15,000
MERCEDES 220S/SE COUPÉ/CABRIO
UK Purchase Tax put 220 at Bristol prices, but elsewhere it was closer to the Alvis, offering the Teutonic take on quality and comfort. Refined and capable, rot and rarity are its main enemies; Cabrios expensive.
Sold 1956-’59 No. built 7345 • Mpg 16-20 • 0-60mph 14 secs • Top speed 107mph • Price new £4133 (SE Coupé ’59) • Price now £22,000+
Alvis TD-TF: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
If you want a quiet, distinctive gentleman’s carriage that is a pleasure to use over long journeys, look no further – but beware of poorly restored examples or projects that could be hideously costly to get right. Condition is far more important than model or specification, because they can all be uprated to TF spec or higher.
- Exceptional quality
- Refined and relaxed in modern traffic
- Good parts availability
- Inspires respect and not envy
- Construction makes restoration expensive
- Exclusivity means high cost for some parts
- High fuel consumption
Alvis TD-TF specifications
- Sold/number built 1955-’67/1565 inc 108G
- Construction steel chassis, with steel/aluminium body on wood frame
- Engine front-mounted, all-iron, overhead-valve 2993cc ‘six’, with twin/triple SU carburettors
- Max power 104bhp @ 4000rpm-150bhp @ 4750rpm
- Max torque 152lb ft @ 2500rpm-185lb ft @ 3750rpm
- Transmission four/five-speed manual or three-speed automatic, driving rear wheels; optional o/d on four-speed
- Suspension: front double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers front/rear
- Steering Burman-Douglas recirculating ball, 3.3 turns lock-lock; ZF power optional from ’64, 2.75
- Brakes Lockheed 11in drums on TD, optional front discs with servo; all Dunlop discs (11.5in front, 11in rear) from Series II
- Length 15ft 81/2in (4790mm)
- Width 5ft 6in (1675mm)
- Height 5ft (saloon, 1525mm), 4ft 11in (convertible, 1500mm)
- Wheelbase 9ft 31/2in (2830mm)
- Weight 3248lb (1476kg)
- Mpg 14-20
- 0-60mph 16.6-10.5 secs
- Top speed 102-115mph
- Price new £2827 (TD, 1959)