Simanaitis Says

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“IF I were a rich man…,” mused Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Though my circumstances are decidedly different, my musings are the same as I look through the catalogs for Gooding & Company’s 2013 Pebble Beach auction of fabulous automobiles.


It’s a difficult decision, but my choice is the 1934 Alvis Speed 20 SB Four-Seat Sports Tourer. One of the classic British marques despite its small size, Alvis evolved from an earlier producer of stationary engines, carburetors and motorscooters.


The Alvis badge. This and other images from the auction catalogs of Gooding & Company, Pebble Beach, August 17-18, 2013.

The name Alvis is attributed to a company designer, Geoffrey de Freville, who later debunked tales of an aluminum connection or one with Norse mythology. He suggested the name purely for marketing reasons: Alvis is easily pronounced in many languages.


1934 Alvis Speed 20 SB Four-Seat Sports Tourer.

First shown at London’s 1933 Olympia Motor Show, the Speed 20 SB featured two innovations: Its front suspension is independent, whereas most cars of the era persisted with beam axles. And its four-speed gearbox is fully synchronized, including first gear, a feature missing even into the 1960s (the Morgan’s Moss four-speed comes to mind).

The Speed 20 SB has a 2511-cc overhead-valve inline 6, with triple SU carburetors. If these carbs don’t provide enough fiddle-factor, the car’s centralized lubrication system with a maze of pipework and a built-in jack system are likely to offer it.

What really appeals to me about the Speed 20 SB is its underslung chassis, its frame rails below the axle centerlines giving particularly rakish lines.

An elegant four-seat tourer.

An elegant four-seat tourer.

My own ties with the marque are tenuous, but securely in memory. A previous owner of this particular Alvis campaigned it in vintage events at Mid-Ohio (I’ve vintage-raced there). A recent refurbishing was performed by Tempero Coachworks in Oamaru, New Zealand (a South Island town I’ve visited). Last, a late colleague in the Vintage Sports Car Club of America was known for using his Alvis conveying us to race-weekend dinners—as it was a roomy four-seater.

Tenuous, yes; but more than enough to keep me interested in the bidding.

Gooding & Company’s 2013 Pebble Beach auction is on August 17-18, Saturday at 5 p.m. Pacific and Sunday at 6 p.m., as part of the Monterey Weekend. For more details, see

Come to think of it, my Alvis, estimated at $150,000-$225,000 without reserve, is far from the most pricey car to be auctioned. (Will that be the ex-Portago 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione? The ex-Gurney 1966 AAR Gurney-Westlake Eagle Mk 1? The 1997 McLaren F1?).

So, were I a rich man, I would have some pocket change left over for another purchase. I’d choose the 1950 Talbot Lago T26 Grand Prix Child’s Car ($50,000-$75,000 without reserve).


A child’s (or collector’s) delight. This 1950 Talbot Lago T26 Child’s Car was likely exhibited at the Paris Salon that year.

Believed to be a unique example of the T26 Grand Prix car in 1/3-scale, this little gem “has a gentle patina that is very fitting and highly desired as with any older toy.” Its details and verisimilitude are astounding.

Just the thing for grandson Carter, who’s about the age when a motorsports bug might bite. I do hope he’d let his sister Lily drive it too. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

One comment on “AN ALVIS SPEED 20 SB? A TALBOT LAGO T26?

  1. William Rabel
    August 9, 2013

    Dennis –
    The Alvis transmission used Synchromesh with rights purchased from General Motors. Alvis’ was the first four-speed so equipped. It is a stunning car. When Alvis was taken over, by Rover, I believe, all documents and spares were given to employees to allow the continued servicing of the marque. That company, Red Triangle, continues to this day. Rover wanted Alvis’ facility for their own expansion.

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