One Of Just Eight Survivors And First Owned By One Of The Richest Men In The World - Hugh Grosvenor

1934 Alvis Speed 20SB Vanden Plas 'Flatback Saloon' £80,000 - £100,000

31/08/2022     General News

1934 Alvis Speed 20SB Vanden Plas 'Flatback Saloon' £80,000 - £100,000

The most original of the eight Vanden Plas 'Flatback' Saloons known to have survived (from just thirty-six built) and for many the best-looking enclosed Alvis ever made, this beauty will be sold by H&H Classics at the Imperial War Museum Duxford on October 19th for an estimate of £80,000 to £100,000.

Initially finished in Black with Brown leather upholstery and Cream coachlines that not only adorned the swage line but also extended to the trailing edge of the bonnet louvres, chassis 11288 was despatched from the Works on March 8th 1934. Issued with the London registration number ‘AYN 15’, the rakishly elegant ‘Flatback’ was supplied new to one of the world’s richest men, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, GCVO, DSO. Able to call upon a fleet of up to seventeen Rolls-Royces, it is thought that the Duke – known familiarly as Bend’Or - used the Alvis for personal transport (as a two-door it was not best suited to chauffeur duties). Memorably described by the politician and diarist Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon as ‘magnificent, courteous, a mixture of Henry VIII and Lorenzo Il Magnifico, he lived for pleasure—and women—for 74 years. His wealth was incalculable; his charm overwhelming; but he was restless, spoilt, irritable, and rather splendid in a very English way’, Grosvenor was used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it and could afford anything.

Representing Great Britain at the 1908 Olympics as a power boat racer, he privately funded the development of a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Armoured Car whilst on active service during World War One. A close friend of Sir Winston Churchill, Bend’Or had a private railway line for commuting between his fifty-four bedroom family seat, Eaton Hall in Cheshire, and the Grosvenor London property empire which encompassed much of Mayfair and Belgravia. The owner of a four-mast sailing ship ‘The Flying Cloud’ and an extravagant steam yacht ‘The Cutty Sark’, Grosvenor was a frequent visitor to Monte Carlo where he met Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel during 1923. The two embarked upon an affair which lasted into the next decade with the legendary fashion designer commenting thus: ‘wealth of such magnitude ceases to be vulgar. It is beyond all envy and assumes the proportions of a catastrophe. Moreover, I say it because wealth makes Westminster the last representative of a departed civilization’.

Just a drop in an ocean of playthings, the Speed 20SB was only retained for fifteen months. Thereafter, ‘AYN 15’ is known to have belonged to W.M. Anderson Esq of Rhysnant Hall, R.M.R. Davies Esq of Swansea, A. Davies Esq of Penrith and L.V. Halliwell Esq of New Earswick before entering the current family ownership in 1961 by which time its Black paintwork had been augmented with Green side panels. Renowned in Alvis Owners’ Club circles for the length of time he owned the ‘Flatback’, the vendor’s late father chose to conserve rather than restore it. To this end, the original BTH magneto was refurbished by D.H. Day (1973), the gearbox refreshed (1974) and the radiator renewed courtesy of Great Western Radiators / Motor Metalcraft (1980). Keith Taylor of Tectus Engineering thoroughly overhauled the factory-fitted straight-six engine using a brand-new crankshaft made by Farndon Engineering (1991-1993). Idle for a few years prior to being inherited by the seller, the Speed 20SB was entrusted to MCI Ltd of Blackburn for light recommissioning during 2020.

While, the next year saw Tudor Wheels Ltd recondition the rear wheels and fit new tyres; the clutch relined and the engine tuned (carburettors balanced, ignition timing adjusted etc) by former Crosthwaite & Gardiner engineer John Moore. Starting readily and running well during our recent photography session, this wonderful Post Vintage Thoroughbred is coming to market for the first time in sixty-one years because the vendor finds himself far too aware of its value, history and unique state of preservation whenever he drives it. The plan is to replace ‘AYN 15’ with a smaller, less precious, four- cylinder Alvis and transfer across the replica hare mascot which the seller bought his father as a birthday present many moons ago. Surely a worthy entrant in the preservation class of any world class concours event and, dare we say it, a ‘must have’ for the true Alvis aficionado, this most special of all the ‘Flatbacks’ is worthy of close inspection. Offered for sale with V5C Registration Document, continuation buff logbook, copy Alvis Car Record and numerous bills / invoices.