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Coachwork by Cross & Ellis
*Please note that this car is titled by the Alvis car number 16394.
The Speed 20 SB
Though Bentley and Rolls-Royce are typically considered the vanguard of 1930s British automobile engineering, it was Alvis that set the new standard at the 1933 Olympia Motor Show. The small company put the competition on notice with the debut of its second-generation Speed 20 model, utilizing the company’s SB series chassis.
The Speed 20 SB introduced two innovations in particular that raised the model’s status in the market: front independent suspension (one of the first such cars in Britain) and a fully synchromesh gearbox. The latter feature was the first such gearbox ever fitted on a production automobile, making the SB a true groundbreaker in the annals of automotive design. Alvis promoted the new car as delivering “vivid acceleration without a tremor of vibration, speed in smoothness and silence, perfect suspension and ease of control.”
In total, just 375 SB chassis were produced in three series over the course of 1934. Most of these were bodied with closed coachwork, with only 41 examples wearing Cross & Ellis’ sporty open touring body. With a low profile, smooth road manners, and a spirited straight six, the Speed 20 SB proved to be a popular rally car and remains a fantastic choice for historic driving events.
According to a copy of an original chassis record from the Alvis Car & Engineering Co., Ltd., chassis no. 11337 was bodied as a four-seat sports tourer with a two-tone paint scheme of green wheels and fenders, offset with a black hood. The car was also equipped with the later version of the SB engine, which featured higher performance SS4 carburetors.
On June 6, 1934, the Speed 20 was dispatched for Mann, Egerton & Company, an automotive and aviation concern in Norwich, England, which retailed new cars. There, the Alvis was purchased new by Martin Hodson of Ridlington, Norfolk, who eventually sold the car to G.B. Pearce of Southampton. By 1961, the SB was imported to the US by Al Chambers of Powell, Ohio.
During the 1960s, Mr. Chambers sold 11337 to Roy Taush, a mechanical engineer for the Ford Motor Company who actively raced in the SCCA. Mr. Taush occasionally campaigned the Alvis in vintage events during the early 1970s on circuits such as Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and Nelson Ledges. As Mr. Taush’s health declined over the decade, the Speed 20 saw increasingly little use, and remained in his wife’s possession for many years after his passing in 1982. In 2006, Mrs. Taush finally agreed to part ways with the car. It was then acquired by the consignor, a marque connoisseur who has been a member of Alvis clubs in the UK and New Zealand since the 1990s, and also owns a later TA14 model.
Considering the SB’s careful upkeep prior to its long period of storage, 11337 made a fantastic starting point for restoration, and the consignor soon commissioned a comprehensive five-year refurbishment by Tempero Coachworks in Oamaru, New Zealand, one of the country’s specialists in British sports cars. The matchingnumbers engine was completely rebuilt and fine-tuned to factory specifications, while every effort was made to properly and authentically restore the chassis and body.
One exception in originality was the choice to change the interior to the beautiful shade of fawn rather than the original green, wonderfully offsetting the livery. Currently displaying just over 24,000 miles, which are believed to be original, this beautifully restored and modestly used Speed 20 SB is an outstanding example of one of the most groundbreaking British automobiles of the Classic Era. It is being publicly offered for the first time since the 1960s, and would make a unique presence at finer concours and a capable driver on vintage rallies.