1923 A.B.F. ALVIS RACECAR
The pages of automotive history are full of characters who dreamed big but came up short in their pursuit of automotive greatness. Since the late 1800s, hundreds of individuals and companies tried and failed at the automobile business. It is no wonder then, that the seminal reference work for automotive historians, The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, spans three generous volumes, with some entries struggling to reach past one paragraph. Studying the unsuccessful attempts can be just as absorbing as the success stories; with many factors contributing to failure, including poor management, bad ideas, or technology that was either outdated or too advanced for the time.
Every so often, we get to experience the product of a car company that couldn’t quite get off the ground. One such example is this fascinating one-off prototype built by the Canadian-born engineer Albert O. Ford. At the time of this creation in the early 1920s, Albert Ford lived in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England, and while he had no relation to the American Henry Ford, he was savvy enough to capitalize on the familiar name to promote his business which he called A.B.F. (All-British Ford). Albert Ford built just two cars in his brief foray into the world of motorcars, and incredibly, both survive today. This car is the first of the two, powered by a compact, one-of-a-kind 1,216 cc two-stroke V4 of Ford’s design. It had some clever engineering going on, with stepped pistons and combustion chambers fed by the power stroke of the adjoining piston. The three-speed gearbox mounted in-unit with the engine made for an extremely compact package. The unusual engine sat in a reasonably conventional ladder frame with worm-drive rear axle and solid beam front axle. Albert Ford did not have coachbuilding facilities, although he planned to clothe the light chassis with a 3-passenger body for production. Until that was finalized, however, Ford needed off-the-shelf coachwork to put on his running chassis for testing purposes.
The story took an interesting turn when Albert Ford went in search of a secondhand body for the prototype. He found one advertised by Maj. C.M. Harvey, which had just come off of his semi-works Alvis 10/30 racing car. The one-off streamlined body was built by Jacques T. Taylor Sports & Racing Bodybuilders, Bangor Street, Coventry for Maj. Harvey’s race car. Harvey raced his Alvis on several occasions at the legendary Brooklands circuit, running under the permanently-assigned number 26. Harvey and his Alvis competed in the 1921 Junior Car Club 200-mile race with the nickname Yodol Dodol Doh painted on the bonnet. It is believed that Harvey modified the body at least once with a more streamlined radiator cowling, as pictured in the comprehensive history file and the book History of the Brooklands Motor Course, 1906-1940 by the legendary motoring journalist William Boddy (Plate 20).
Albert Ford purchased the body from Major Harvey and proceeded to modify it slightly to fit his chassis. Little else is known of his testing efforts, and he may have abandoned the project to concentrate on the second car he built – which had a far more conventional four-stroke flat-twin and a standard-looking runabout roadster body. Neither of the cars made it to production, and Albert Ford quit the automobile business to design and manufacture hospital furniture.
It is quite remarkable then, to know that both of Albert Ford’s A.B.F. automobiles survive today, thanks to the efforts of some young and passionate car enthusiasts in England. An undated letter by Ivor Lindsell published in the Light Car & Edwardian section of the VSCC newsletter describes a quest by him and his mates to rescue some old cars from a garage that was scheduled for demolition. Following a trail of rumors, they found the site and were met by an older man who showed them around, claiming that he designed and built two of the cars himself. Met with skepticism from the lads, the man showed them his machine shop and the molds he used for casting the engine parts. It turned out they bought the cars directly from Albert Ford! Once rescued from the garage, both A.B.F. cars went to Lindsell’s friend Charles, who got both cars running before selling them off at a small profit. The flat-twin runabout went into hiding for some time and was thought to be lost, while our featured car was sold to Tom Potter in 1957. Original photographs show Potter towing the A.B.F. home behind his family car, with the large number 26 visible on the scuttle.
Mr. Potter restored the little A.B.F., repainting it white. He used it in a handful of VSCC events in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the 1961 Brighton Concours d’Elegance where it won the vintage car class. After several appearances, the car disappeared into storage again. In 1976 VSCC member Peter Russell discovered the A.B.F in Potter’s shed and soon made a deal to bring it home to Scotland. There, he set about restoring it to its original specification. After stripping off the white paint, Russell found bits of blue as well as evidence of the car’s Brooklands number roundel and “Alvis” markings on the body. He was able to confirm the body’s racing history, and after the restoration, the A.B.F. was invited to take part in the 1980 Brooklands Reunion. The history file includes several photos of Russell’s restoration process, pictures of it on the hallowed Brooklands banking during the reunion, photos of it with A.O. Ford’s son and daughter, and of the car in action on the VSCC Scottish Rally.
The car appeared in a short feature in Motor Sport magazine (November 1996) and would later come into the ownership of the renowned sculptor, painter, and noted motoring enthusiast Stanley Wanlass. Mr. Wanlass then sold the car to a friend and fellow collector, who kept the A.B.F. in his extensive collection for many years with the intent of restoring it. The project never came to be, as the owner sadly passed away. Someone disassembled the engine at some point for service. It is since been reassembled and it turns freely, but additional sorting is required to return it to running order. Today, this very special A.B.F. remains very much as-restored by Peter Russell in the late 1970s. It wears a light patina that suits the character of the car brilliantly.
The A.B.F. sports car is truly one of a kind, carrying exceptional provenance. It will surely be welcome in groups like the VSCC and is welcomed already by the Brooklands Society. Albert Ford’s unique prototype is a genuinely fascinating footnote in the annals of motoring history.
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