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A New Alvis 1/43 Scale Model - The TA14

This article, written by Rob Smith, appeared a number of years ago when the TA14 model was first produced.  It is reproduced here because it will be of interest to TA14 owners and model collectors in general.  The article gives details of the process of making a model, the history of the Alvis TA14 and a review of the J & M Classics TA14 model.

Some of you will have seen the first examples of a new Alvis model from J & M Classics - a TAI4 Saloon.  Mike Rogers of J & M Classics purchased the rights to produce the beautiful Alvis models previously marketed by Top Marques.  The range includes several 3 litres, the TC21 Grey Lady and the Charlesworth Speed 25.  Mike has plans to increase this range of Alvis models and the TA14 has been chosen to be his first new commission.

What most people won’t realise is the phenomenal amount of work involved to take a new model from idea to reality.  Lorraine and I recently sat down to lunch with Mike to review what has been happening in the last 12 months since the project began.  The story started in October 1999 when Mike contacted me looking for information and some introductions to owners who might be helpful.

Consideration of the range of TA14 coachwork available indicated that a Mulliners Saloon, a Carbodies Drophead and, of course, a Shooting Brake were in order!  The model making process begins with the research and so Mike needed to inspect some real cars.  Willing helpers were not hard to find and on a grey Saturday morning we convened at the home of David Jobson Scott to view David’s well-known Carbodies Drophead.  Jim Tatchell joined us - with his smart Mulliners Saloon and also his Duncan for good measure.

Photographs of the saloon and Drophead were taken from every angle together with notes of the most important dimensions.  In reducing the scale to 1/43rd it is not the absolute dimensions that are of greatest importance, but the proportions.  To make a model look right it must contain all of the most important details that give the real car its character.  These must include both external and internal features as J & M Classics are proud of their attention to detail.

With photography and measurement completed we adjourned for a good lunch.  Afterwards it was back to my TA14 literature collection to plunder the library for more photos, brochures, chassis diagrams, colour schemes, etc, etc, etc - the list was endless.  Mike then went off to consider the information and begin the next stage of the process.

Mike sorts this research to select the details that the pattern maker must include in the finished model.  He uses a pattern maker in the West Country - a skill that is becoming hard to find.  The pattern maker scales all dimensions down to 1/43rd and sculpts the body from a block of resin using small craft tools.  This gives a solid shape but containing all of the detail needed.  The process is repeated for the other components - chassis, door panels, seats, dashboard, bumpers, lights, wheels, etc. - again the list is endless.  There are over 50 individual pieces to the TA14 model.

Smaller parts are carved from Styrene Plastic using needle files and fine sand paper to shape and add detail.

The hand carved parts are then used to create a mould from latex rubber.  From this the white metal master is made.  This is cold cured to make it hard and it is from this master that a new mould is made and production can begin.  The TA14 master proved so good that no modifications were required - a testament to the pattern makers skill.  It took the pattern maker 250 hours over a six week period to get to this stage.

Another expert in the West Country then takes these masters and creates a new mould and casts the first 50 sets of parts.  He uses cellulose paint mixed to the original Glasso numbers to spray the bodies.  The bodies are prepared, primed and then finished with three coats of topcoat followed by one of lacquer.  Many bodies are sprayed together but it still takes a week to complete the task.

The smaller parts are hand painted by Mike with Humbrol enamel paints and the chassis sprayed with a silk black finish.  Brightwork is cleaned and nickel plated and then the parts are polished prior to assembly.  Windows are created from clear plastic sheet and the headlight glasses from blobs of clear epoxy resin.

Mike is then ready to start assembly.  Each car takes a full day to complete and is built in several sub-assemblies before the body is attached to the chassis.  Number plates are added from water-slide transfer to complete the effect.  The results of all this hard work must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The cars are carefully packed in boxes made especially for J&M Classics and lined in foam rubber.  Details such as wing mirrors and door and bonnet catches are extremely fragile and must be handled very carefully.  Each car has a chassis number painted on the base and comes complete with a certificate of authenticity.  Chassis number 1 of the saloon is going to Jim Tatchell for providing the original subject.

The saloon is available in black, maroon, black over grey and black over maroon but bespoke colours can be produced for a small extra consideration.  Sales are already going well, with supplies shipped to Australia & America and great reviews from the model press.

With the saloon finished work is now progressing on the Carbodies Drophead and the first chassis should be available before Christmas.  Now can I get that Shooting Brake on the road before Mikes model is finished?

Mike Rogers, the proprietor, used to work with Top Marques, producers of some of the finest 1/43 handbuilts in the world, and with prices to match the quality.  Mike used to specialise, among other things, in painting the interiors of the Top Marques models, and anyone who has seen one of their models will have been impressed with the quality of the interior finish especially.  When Top Marques decided to rationalise their production to Rolls-Royce and Bentley models, Mike Rogers took over their range of Alvis models and continued production of these, under the name “J & M Classics”.

Production is one model from the range at a time, on a cyclical basis, and a recent production has been the TA 14 saloon, not in fact a model ever made by Top Marques.

Behind the development of the Alvis TA 14 lies a remarkable story.  As Alvis were a principal supplier of military vehicles for the British Army during World War Two, their factories were a major target for German bombers, and in 1940-41, their production facilities had been bombed almost into oblivion.  This setback spoiled plans for the proposed post-war range, and to add further to their problems, Alvis was refused government assistance to re-tool for production after the War, though other larger manufacturers were given great help.

Luckily, one of the factory managers before the War, Arthur Varney, had set up a virtually independent project with post-war production in mind, and he had persuaded suppliers to make a few parts to his design.  These were assembled by two fitters, literally in a shed behind one of the Alvis factories, which fortunately remained unscathed.  The work had to be carried out in secret, even from Alvis’ directors, who would not have allowed such a project, though it was discovered eventually by the General Manager, fortunately at a time when it could be seen as a fortuitous solution to the post-war car-production problem.

The car used as a basis for the project was the pre-war 12/70 model, a good choice as it was the less expensive model from the pre-war range.  A further piece of good luck was that the tools for the pre-war body panels had been buried in local gun-quenching water pits, and these were able to be rescued, restored, modified and fitted to the 12/70 to form the prototype for the TA14.  The Board of Trade finally gave approval for resumption of car production in 1944, but whilst Alvis could produce the chassis and mechanicals of the new car, they had no facilities for production of the bodywork.  Before the war, their cars were clothed by independent coachbuilders, and most of these were now working flat-out for other manufacturers.  Alvis had by now taken some 1100 orders for the new car, and eventually solved their problem by having some coachbuilders produce the saloons, and others the drophead versions, (also modelled in the J & M range).

The first production TA14 was finished in November 1946 and the Alvis traditions of overall quality, wood and leather interiors, and the like, were incorporated in the new car; more roomy than its predecessor, though with a performance best described as respectable.  The engine was the pre-war four-cylinder unit, increased to 1892 cc to give 65bhp.  Though performance was nothing startling, roadholding and handling of the new car was very good. The TA 14 then, thanks to the foresight of one man, was the car which enabled Alvis to survive the early post-war years, and gave the company time to develop the later 3-litre models.

The J & M model does the car full justice.  Casting is very good, with all the body details, and it catches the lines and stance of the original very well.  The plated parts include the grille, bumpers, wheel trims, lights (the headlights have clear lenses), door, bonnet and boot handles, kick-plates, filler cap and exhaust tailpipe.  The bonnet trim looks to have been solvers, and the windscreen surround and wipers are photo- etched.

Finish is very good, and I have seen the model in single-colour maroon, or two-tone black / dark grey or black / maroon, and it has also been made in single-colour black.  Interior detail is very good indeed, with correct seats, 4-spoke steering wheel, very well-detailed dashboard, and internal door detail and fittings all incorporated.  Underbody detail includes the engine and drivetrain, chassis members, axles, suspension and exhaust system, cast into the baseplate.

An excellent model and a must for collectors of cars of this era. Good value at around £120-130.00, and available from selected stockists.

Next model to come is the Speed 25 Charlesworth drophead, followed by the last car that Alvis made, the TF21, in saloon and drophead versions.


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