by Paul Sweeney
Say hello to the latest addition to the British Car Museum collection: a stunning original 1955 Alvis TC21/100 'Grey Lady'.
First things first: I was lucky enough to drive this original unrestored beauty today! 4 forward gears, lovely smooth gear change and a sweet, quiet but powerful straight six 3 litre engine. It also boasts a fully operational sun roof, sun blind in the rear window, full leather seating, walnut dash and door trims - it even has a heater! Luxury indeed - for this car was no 'everyman's motor'. The Alvis is firmly in Rolls Royce-class territory, albeit more compact and practical for those crowded British towns and roads.
Power is produced by an overhead valve, 3 litre naturally aspirated 6 cylinder engine, with twin SU carburettors and 2 valves per cylinder that provides power and torque figures of 104 bhp (105 PS/78 kW) at 4000 rpm and 221 N·m (163 lb·ft/22.5 kgm) at 2500 rpm respectively.
The car was available in four-door saloon and drophead versions essentially the same as the TA 21. The doors now had chrome-plated window surrounds and swivelling quarter-lights were fitted to the rear doors. The saloon bodies were made for Alvis by Mulliners (Birmingham) and the dropheads by Tickford. A sunshine roof remained standard as did "separately adjustable front seats; heater and air-conditioning unit; Trico windscreen washers" drawing the comment from Autocar "In detail fittings . . . this car leaves little to be desired".
TC.21/100 Grey Lady
The TC.21/100 or Grey Lady announced on 20 October 1953 came with a guarantee of a speed of 100 mph resulting from an improved exhaust system and an engine compression ratio raised from 7:1 to 8:1 to take advantage of the availability of better petrol. The final drive ratio was raised from 4.09:1 to 3.77:1.
A paired front fog lamp and matching driving lamp became a standard fitting. The bonnet gained air scoops and wire wheels were fitted to try to enliven the car's image. A heater was fitted as standard but a radio remained an expensive option.
A saloon version tested by The Motor magazine in 1954 had a top speed of 100.1 mph (161.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 15.4 seconds. A fuel consumption of 20.6 miles per imperial gallon (13.7 L/100 km; 17.2 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1,821 including taxes.
Nevertheless just 18 months later the Times' Motoring Correspondent tested and reported on the Grey Lady under the headline "Few Concessions to Fashion Trends". His opening gambit was that this Alvis was now one of the few British cars that did not look American and, he said, there was little concession to the cult of streamlining beyond the two air scoops in the bonnet.
He wrote that spacious internal headroom and wire wheels completed that picture. It was noted the instruments were not in front of the driver but in the centre of the dashboard (instrument panel) and so the speedometer was apt to be masked by the driver's left hand. However the front seats were comfortable and rear seat passengers received padding on the wheel arches surmounted by armrests.
Leather upholstery, pile carpets and walnut facings for the dashboard and lower parts of the window frames completed the traditional picture. He did however say that "the driver who is sensitive to the "feel" of his car will enjoy every moment of his motoring irrespective of the traffic" and reported the car's behaviour on corners was extremely stable though potholes like those caused by recessed manhole covers proved very heavy going for the springing.
The Graber body would be displayed at the 1955 Earls Court Motor Show
Finally, enjoy this short video I found on YouTube. It was filmed and posted by an awed Aussie who saw a Grey Lady in the street and had never heard of Alvis before ... clearly it had quite an impact on him! Interesting that one doesn't have the wire wheels that our is sporting.