T.G.John and his Alvis Products
T.G John was born in Pembroke in 1880 to a father who was a shipwright in the Royal Naval Dockyard, in which John was apprenticed, becoming an outstandingly well qualified naval architect and naval constructor.
Lord of the Admiralty Sir John Fisher was modernising the navy when it was faced with the new dangers of the submarine and the rigid airship.
In 1911 John was appointed Ship Building Manager at Barrow in Furness, the youngest man to hold this position, to speed deliveries of ocean going submarines now fitted with diesel engines and radio telegraphy giving contact with Room 40 in the Admiralty with access to foreign codes.
At this time as well Vickers built its first rigid airship at Barrow Lacking the necessary stress experience it failed.
To maintain Britain's world lead at sea, the need for even larger and faster submarines led to the introduction of the K class and it was one of this class that John is credited with designing as the Ml a submersible monitor fitted with a warship size gun capable of attacking ships and coastlines from 10 miles.
Following Fisher's lead, an order was placed by the Government in 1916 with Vickers at Barrow in Furness and construction was started in the greatest secrecy known only to those directly involved.
Like Lord Fisher, all the Sea Lords saw the Ml as a terrible weapon and doubts grew as to whether it was wise to keep ahead of a threat which might not arise. The work was then covered over and the plans hidden.
The crisis in the Munitions Ministry in 1916 was a major event, with Sir Arthur Lowes Dickinson acting as financial advisor to the Government and who later entered the Alvis story.
Winston Churchill succeeded Fisher on the outbreak of war when there was no aero engine industry and French designs were manufactured by the car companies until Siddeley-Deasy in Coventry was given a large order for a British designed engine and John was appointed Chief Engineer and Works Manager.
Siddeley-Deasy changed the design and production did not start until 1917 while John registered his own company and purchased a Coventry engineering company.
Using the surname Alvis for his products, John acquired the advanced design of the French D.F.P. 1.5 litre engine.
The Alvis was very successful in competitions, competing at Le Mans and Brooklands, and by 1922 900 had been sold here and abroad.
An Alvis 12/50 won the Brooklands 200 miles race at 93mph. In 1925 John restructured his company to meet demand for the 12/50 and Sir Arthur Lowes Dickinson became Chairman. It appears that John had long considered the acquisition of Government contracts.
Also in 1925, the Alvis 12/50 entries for the 200 miles race were supercharged while front wheel drive was used for the first time to give faster cornering on the course now with artificial bends.
For the British Grand Prix at Brooklands in 1926 and 1927, John entered front wheel drive cars with eight cylinder 1.5 litre supercharged engines.
Up to 1930, John entered four and eight cylinder cars at Le Mans and in the Ulster Tourist Trophy race to gain class victories, to take records and make sales to the Public.
In 1932 John announced the Speed 20 model with outstanding performance for the price and then added the world's first all-synchro mesh gearbox and independent front suspension.
The company's excellent financial position in 1934 and events in Europe, together with a growing civil aviation industry and the mechanisation of warfare, caused John to meet with the War Office and the Ministry of Aviation, the result of which was a new factory equipped with the latest machinery was built in Coventry.
John was assured that the French-designed aero engines, one more powerful than anything manufactured here, would be considered on their merits. In fact, two years later the Government changed its long-standing policy to one of only considering British designs.
Alvis then designed its Leonides radial-engine and received development contracts from the Government.
Alvis advances in drive, suspension and gearing systems caused the British and Dutch Governments to give Alvis contracts for building armoured vehicles to be driven by the 4.3 litre engine introduced in 1936.
Before war broke out, the Alvis Board sanctioned the building of a substantial number of 4.3 litre cars the six cylinder engine of which was possibly the most powerful British one in existence.
On the outbreak of war Alvis became the manager of 20 production sites engaged primarily in aero engine work. During the war the original car factory was destroyed and in 1944 John's health started to break down but his intention of becoming a Government contractor had been achieved. Before he died in 1946 he wrote on the future of the British car industry.
Post-war and under the Chairmanship of J J Parkes, the Leonides engine was built especially for use in services helicopters.
Cars were built until 1967 – Alvis being one of only two manufacturers left from those established in the 1920s. Armoured vehicle manufacture led to Alvis Vickers pic becoming a leader in this field when an American bid for the company resulted in its purchase by British Aerospace in 2004 for £355,000,000.
In retirement, the Chief Engineer of the company's Aero Engine Division wrote of T.G John as follows.: “T.G John was outstanding in his determination, foresight and business courage. It was he who laid the foundations of every activity in which the company was subsequently engaged. Without his contribution it would have ceased to exist long ago.”
John's outstanding contributions to this country in peace and war were not officially recognised and should not be forgotten.
Today, the outstanding 4.3 litre sports car, production of which was sanctioned by the board before war broke out, is now in production to the original specifications with modifications as required by current legislation by the Alvis Car Co. Ltd.