Chassis # 2091 | Engine # 2454EX | Registration # HP6161
For the avoidance of doubt and simply put; HP 6161 is the very first Alvis 12/50 OHV ever built. This was the very car that changed the fortunes of Alvis and placed the company firmly on the map in the pre-war era. The crank case, still fitted to the car, is marked ‘Ex’. With an extraordinary high degree of originality, this car is a touch point in history and a truly exceptional machine.
HP 6161 is the only surviving example of three prototype racing Alvis cars produced by the works in the winter of 1922/3. No 1, HP 6161 was tested by Maurice Harvey in secret early morning runs in the spring of 1923 and had been designed for sprints and freak hill climbs. No 1 was followed shortly by No 2 and No 3, which, with their solid back axle set-ups, were designed for high speed track work. They were entered into the Brooklands 200-mile race in 1923 – and they returned with the victory. After a period of use by the Works Team however, No 2 and No 3 were returned to the factory and dismantled as they were too specialised for general road use; HP 6161 was a different story. The new 12/50 OHV engine – which was a rare concept in those days – performed well and the car was distinguishing itself on hills and tracks in the hands of Harvey, gaining FTD and First in Class repeatedly through the season. At the end of the 1923, the decision was made to release the car to the hands of privateers who would continue to use the machine and draw crowds; the iconic 12/50 engine was moving into general production and went on to become the first car to have front wheel drive.
HP 6161 was sold to a Mr Tom Simister, who was an Alvis dealer. Simister competed in the car but also allowed Harvey to continue in his endeavours, and track and hill climb successes remained frequent.
In 1924, Mr Jack Linnell of Northampton and founder of the Sywell Aerodrome in 1927, acquired HP 6161 for a figure of £250, and was the first private owner, remaining so for 50 years. Linnell entered the car in occasional events, and in 1929 the car appeared on the grid at Brooklands for the Alvis Day, of which it was one of 52 entered. Someone apparently was shocked at the entry of an ‘old wreck’ and commented as such; Linnell went on the win the race by two lengths. The car was also often used at the aerodrome and on surrounding roads – and a young local boy, Robert Wicksteed, paid close attention.
In 1930 Jack was on the way to Brooklands, looking for an encore to the victory in 1929. It was not to be: the cylinder head cracked en-route and HP 6161 was returned to the Alvis Works. The original bronze head was deemed beyond repair and was replaced with a new steel one, but machined by Alvis to the same specifications as the original.
Jack served in the home guard during the war, and although the economical little Alvis was initially used to serve his purposes on patrol, he was instructed to use a bigger vehicle with more presence by his superiors. The result was that HP 6161 was placed in a field, and by 1945 it was so swamped with nettles and grass a mine detector was used to help to recover it! Robert Wicksteed, who was now a young man and had just returned from his war duties, assisted Jack Linnell to bring the car back to a usable condition, all be it in true ‘make do and mend’ style.
Jack and Robert proceeded to share and use the car for many years, and had many adventures. Robert recalled avoiding a bus load of children on one occasion and rolling the car into a field, squashing the body flat. In another incident HP 6161, which was frequently ‘on duty’ at the aerodrome, met with an unfortunate encounter; it was quietly parked in a corner when a Proctor Aircraft pilot became crossed-up on landing, bounced off the hanger, wrote off a Rover and clipped the Alvis, breaking the half shaft.
The two men had more adventures with the car than can be detailed here, and the history file is vast. Jack and Robert clearly had a close relationship – because in 1974, Jack gifted HP 6161 to his friend. Robert continued to own and use the car up until his passing in 2002, whereby the car was placed in the hands of his daughter and her husband, who are the current custodians.
For simplicity’s sake please observe the list of mechanicals below as provided by the vendor.
Crankcase: Original, carrying the number EX (for Experimental) 2425
Cylinder Block: a 1931 block is currently fitted with the original available and usable.
Cylinder Head: Alvis machined replacement for the bronze head which cracked.
Crankshaft and Conrods: special Phoenix replacement (the crankshaft is some 4kgs lighter than the standard Phoenix offering with the conrods proportionally lightened. The originals have been retained.
Camshaft: A replica is currently installed but the original is usable if a little worn.
Sump and other items: all original. Because the engine is a (racing) dry sump setup, the oil pump gears (double pump) have been replaced to improve oil pressure – which is now exceptionally good. The old gears have been retained.
Radiator: Original, re-cored during the rebuild as it was partially blocked. Original core present.
Gearbox: Original, although internals replaced in the 1950’s with the originals retained.
Rear Axle: Original
Body: Copy of original but returned to the 1923 sprint specification (i.e. when it was first driven by Harvey), with a small inboard petrol tank. Original body parts have been retained and come with the car.