2 March 2012

1967 Alvis Graber Coupé Super

Carrosserie Hermann Graber was a coachbuilder based in Wichtrach in central Switzerland. Between 1927 and 1970 the firm supplied coach-built bodies for various European and US car makers, but are probably best known for a particularly close relationship with Alvis, providing them with bespoke and elegant if expensive bodies for almost twenty years, mostly during the 1950s and 1960s.
The history of the business goes back to 1924 when Hermann Graber, then aged 21, took over his father’s wheel making business and changed its modus operandi to the production of car bodies.
The company’s first car, a two seater cabriolet-bodied Fiat 509 was produced in 1927; two years later a Graber-bodied Panhard & Levassor 20CV won the Concours d´Elegance at St. Moritz, as a result of which the Carrosserie Graber business became known across Europe. During the 1930s the company built a number of special bodies on a range of chassis from Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Duesenberg and Packard.

In the early 1930s France had lost to Britain its position as Europe’s largest car producer (a position they would retain until the early 1950s), so after the war Graber concentrated on special car bodies designed to complement some of the more exclusive chassis produced by Bentley, Lagonda, Rolls-Royce and Rover. In 1948 Graber acquired the Swiss distribution rights for Alvis Cars, and two years later in response to a customer order, they produced what would turn out to be the first Graber bodied car on an Alvis chassis. This turned out to be the start of a long a fruitful association between the two companies, with special bodied Alvis cars produced by Graber.

During the 1950s links between Graber and Alvis became close. After long-time Alvis designer G.T. Smith-Clarke left the company, Graber presented in 1955 his Graber bodied Alvis TC 21/100 "Grey Lady" which somehow combined classical elegance with a thoroughly model pontoon format body.
The new Alvis bodies went into series production, initially at Graber’s own premises. Later production was taken over by Park Ward and Willowbrook. Several sources state that the British firms produced the bodies under licence from Graber, but the Alvis Owners’ Club maintains that the resemblance between the Graber bodied cars and those bodied by the UK firms was only superficial. According to this source, Park Ward took the Swiss drawings and adapted them to produce a car with more interior space than the Graber original. All the subsequent Alvis T-series models, up to the very last T21, in any case followed Graber’s basic blueprint.

Meanwhile in central Switzerland Graber continued to build to order special bodied cars based on Alvis chassis at a rate of no more than ten per year. These included four seater coupé-bodied cars (sometimes described as saloons), cabriolets, and at least one four-door special. Graber’s bodies were lower than the standard bodied Alvis cars with more steeply raked A and C pillars. When customers requested improvements, Graber was happy not merely to produce special bodies but also to redesign or adapt aspects of the chassis and running gear.

Hermann Graber died in 1970 and the production of special bodied cars at Wichtrach came to an end; in total, about 800 Graber bodied vehicles had been produced from Alvis, Aston-Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Duesenberg, Lagonda, Packard, Rolls-Royce, Rover and others. The business continued to operate under the control of his widow, specialising now in restoration work. From 1980 until 1996 Graber was one of the official Swiss Ferrari Dealers and very active in the complete restoration of Italian and German sport cars. In 2001 Graber Sportgarage merged with the workshop of Markus Scharnhorst and moved all activities to Toffen, where the locality were bigger and more appropriate to the activities of the company. Today Graber Sportgarage is mainly focused on the service, maintenance, race preparation and trading of classic and historic sports cars.

Which brings us to our favourite Graber Alvis, the 1967 Coupé Super. We love Graber's work, but a lot of his cars do tend to look a little overbodied. Not this one though, this is up there with the best from Frua and Michelotti as far as we're concerned. Delicate but purposeful, lithe, poised and oozing class. Our favourite part is the tiny vestigial fins at the back and the way they curve down into the shape of the rear deck. Also, that glasshouse says 'Alvis' loud and proud, yet looks totally 60's-contemporary; look how slim the B-pillar is! Lovely stuff, and because it's Swiss you know it's all aluminium under the paint, not layers of thick Italian filler. Maybe it needs to lose the chromed wires and redline tyres, and we're not 100% sold on the mirrors, but otherwise its hard to find much to dislike about this.

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