Car profiles

Driving a £325,000 Alvis Turned Me into Mr. Toad

by Nik Berg
9 April 2024 4 min read
Driving a £325,000 Alvis Turned Me into Mr. Toad
Photos courtesy Alvis

“In an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch. It was on them! The “Poop-poop” rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.”

Obviously we’re supposed to feel sorry for poor Mole and Ratty in their first encounter with Mr. Toad on the road in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, but reading this as a child it was Toad’s thrill ride that enthralled me.

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“The motor-car went Poop-poop-poop, as it raced along the road,” he wrote and, right now I can’t think of a better way to describe what’s going on. I am every bit the amphibian automobilist behind the wheel of a no-less magnificent motorcar – an Alvis Vanden Plas Tourer continuation.

Alvis Vanden Plas Tourer continuation

Only 25 of these £325,000 specials are to be built, with four other Alvis models also offered as continuation models, using a three-liter motor or the fabulous 4.3-litre inline six engine that’s responsible for those splendid poop-poop-poop sounds. It’s perhaps a little noisier than normal today as the car hasn’t had an outing for a few months, but those part-throttle poops add to the charming steampunk experience.

To meet modern emissions requirements the engine has electronic ignition and fuel injection, with a trio of throttle bodies replacing the original carbs. A six-speed Tremec manual transmission is fitted and there are servo-operated Brembo disc brakes in lieu of the cable operated stoppers that would have originally been fitted. Rack-and-pinion replaces a steering box, but without any form of assistance.

All these modern touches serve to make this Alvis accessible – a reliable and, easy to drive alternative to the dozens of original cars that are also for sale in the company showroom in Kenilworth, near Coventry.

Alvis has been based here since 1968 and, when owner Alan Stote acquired the business and trademark, he also got a warehouse of 400,000 parts, 50,000 engineering drawings, and the records of 22,000 cars. Offering service and sales, the facility is also where the continuation cars are hand built.

“I bought the company in ‘94 after selling my original business in 1988.” says Stote. “My main interest wasn’t restoring cars, it was the documentation. They documented every car they ever built. I’m not a mechanical engineer, my real passion is the industrial history.”

Alvis Original Drawings 2

You can read more about exactly how Alvis goes about keeping its history alive in Ronan Glon’s excellent story, but it’s the sensations of the past in the present that is my focus today.

Just looking at the fabulous aluminium bodywork, draped over its ash frame, is like donning a pair of rose-tinted spectacles. Road works, speed cameras, these irritants of modern motoring matter not a jot as one is transported back to a time when every automobile journey was still an adventure.

The wide-opening suicide doors make it easy to step up and into a driving position that’s somehow both high off the ground, yet relatively low in the car. Another contradiction: the Vanden Plas Tourer is undeniably large, yet the cabin is compact and quite where rear seat travellers are expected to put their legs is unclear as the whole space is taken up with a squishy leather bench. Being open-sided and with the canvas topped stowed away it’s never claustrophobic, but it might be wise to warn your co-pilot that any knee fondling is purely down to the proximity of the gear lever.

Alvis Vanden Plas Tourer continuation

The shifter itself is a delight, with a solid mechanical heft to it, combined with easy accuracy. Meanwhile the clutch is light and the brakes have both great feel and stopping power. The accelerator’s a little stiff and has a long action, but suits the torque-rich nature of the engine.

The big six will rev to 4500 rpm, yet pulls strongly from little more than idle. It’s almost diesel-like in its luggability so there’s no real need to keep an eye on the rev counter. That’s a good thing as it’s positioned, in the lovely walnut dash, directly ahead of the passenger seat and impossible for the driver to see. The speedometer is also mostly obscured by the large, thin-rimmed, four-spoke steering wheel, but you’ll be gauging your velocity directly by the rush of wind through your hair anyway.

Alvis Vanden Plas Tourer continuation

Although unassisted, once rolling there’s not too much effort needed. It doesn’t self-centre, but it does track every imperfection in the road surface and there’s an initial temptation to correct every little wiggle. Relax the hands, let the front wheels do their dance, and then it all starts to come together.

The chassis is essentially the same as it was in 1937, albeit with modern dampers. There’s flex and scuttle shake, but it absorbs the bumps of British country roads that look like they haven’t been maintained since then.

It’s quite an achievement to maintain so much of the character of a prewar car, while making it useable day-to-day.

Bravo! And poop-poop!

Nik in Alvis
Photo: Nik Berg

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  • Nigel+Griffiths says:

    Alvis certainly make beautiful cars. But honestly how many of us have this sort of money to invest in a toy like this. £325k can buy you a house, though not toad hall.

  • ian says:

    Presumably they won’t be up to UK standards for registration as a new car?

    • Nik Berg says:

      It’s road legal and can be registered as new – hence the incongruous yellow number plates

  • Mark Oldfield says:

    What a great article,and more importantly,what a great machine. Trouble is I’m about £320,000 short!

  • Michael Eatough says:

    Just one question, is the Alvis road legal? Some remade or limited edition cars from the past with past designs don’t always conform to modern safety standards if the car is classed as new. I may be wrong but I think the remade DB5 suffered from this problem and buyers bought them for a track or private land. I think a company in Switzerland for an extra £1M actually made the DB5 road legal. It would be a tragedy if this lovely Alvis cannot be used on the road. In which case better to buy the best original you can find for less money. Hope someone will answer my question. I may be completely wrong, hope I am.

  • Michael Whitehead says:

    Beautiful. Will it fit into a modern garage?

  • Matty B says:

    I love this thinking, old cars reborn with modern accoutrements to make them more of a daily driver but with that old fashioned charm and romance. We need more new old cars like this but not with such a hefty price tag.

  • Michael says:

    Your lack of a mere £320k puts you like me in a very large but exclusive club, sadly!!

  • Brian Coleman says:

    Just drive a relatively old normal car like my 74 Dolomite that was also made in or near Coventry. Plenty of Recent British made classics around . Meets the 2 requirements of economically patriotic and interesting motoring at a reasonable price .

    Well done to Alvis for continuing quality production in the Midlands

  • Michael Pearce says:

    It looks like a very beautiful motor good on you for bringing back a top-class British car but far to expensive for me

  • A.MacGregor says:

    When I was a youngster our Family Doctor who played Rugby for Wales before WW2 used one of the original Alvis’s as his daily driver. Great memories I still have a Dinky Toys model of the car.

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