The car in the picture below is not a Bentley, though it has an English chassis. And though the frontal design scheme may remind you of a Facel Vega, the body did not come from France. It’s a 3 liter Alvis, bodied in Switzerland by Hermann Graber Carrosserie. In the mid-fiftties Graber became the Alvis importer for Switzerland, and the cars were bodied under an arrangment that allowed duty-free imports of foreign chassis (there were no Swiss makes by then) as long as they were bodied by one of the several Swiss coachbuilders. Graber, active from 1925 until 1970, was the best known and arguably the most successful of these, and also applied his talents to Aston Martin, Packard, Duesenberg, Bentley, Delahaye, and Talbot-Lago chassis.
Designer and critic Robert Cumberford, writing recently in Automobile, commented that no inspired car designs had ever emerged from the Swiss coachbuilding houses. Based on the work Graber did before the war on a Duesenberg chassis and after the war on nearly a hundred Alvis chassis, I’d suggest that this is a rare case where the esteemed Mr. C. has gotten it wrong. Perhaps the Duesenberg body pictured below was not a game-changer like Gordon Buehrig's Cord 810 from the year before, but in my view it was the only Duesenberg ever (out of scores of different custom designs, including 3 by Graber) on which the body looked as modern as the Duesy’s engine. Note the way the tapered slope of the grille harmonizes with the teardrop fenders and the deftly tapered tail section. The teardrop spare tire cover enclosing the similarly shaped license plate recess is also a deft touch. Graber shortened the chassis of a 1934 Model J to give it more sporting proportions during this rebody performed in 1937. In the last year of Duesenberg production, Graber succeeded in pulling the noble beast into the modern era.
After the war, he performed a similar service for England’s Alvis and France's Talbot-Lago, taking on Swiss distribution rights for both makes, dragging both into the midcentury automotive mainstream in terms of packaging, and beyond the mainstream in terms of craftsmanship and attention to detail. Note the similarity of the black ‘55 Alvis below to the red '53 Talbot-Lago directly above it. Decoration is limited; Graber relies on control of proportions and contours, along with the exposed wire wheels, to convey a sense of the machinery beneath the shell. The nearly vertical chrome strip at the beginning of the rear fender forms seems a simplified version of that era's Cadillac, but unlike on the Caddy, the trim leans forward where it joins the sill trim, leading the eye ahead to those long hoods. Only the grille shape, fog light vents and more subdued fender curvature differentiate the English car from the French one.
Graber designed a coupe with wraparound rear window during the same period and built two dozen of this TC108G model, shown below. Willowbrook produced bodies to the same design in England, but these were costly and troublesome to build, so Alvis switched English body production to Park Ward after only 13 of these were completed. Graber's design on the blue TC108G below it served as the template for the TD through TF series produced in about 1,500 copies in coupe and convertible form by Park Ward from 1959-67; these were big numbers for a specialist like Alvis.
Graber continued to produce up to ten special bodies a year during this period. Later efforts provided a bit more identity to the Alvis, including the reverse slope rear window on the 1959 Panoramic TD21 cabriolet above, and lower stance emphasized by the broad grille and stacked headlights of the 1965 Super cabrio below. The 1967 Graber Super Coupe, the last of the line, seemed a perfect modern GT with its tall glassy cabin and Mercedes-like proportions, except for the somewhat leisurely 150 hp provided by the sturdy but aging 3 liter inline 6. By then, Alvis had been acquired by Rover, which, after toying with the idea of using its then-new aluminum ex-Buick V8 in a replacement model, decided to halt Alvis production altogether. After bodying a couple of prototype Rover P6-based sport coupes, Graber Coachworks suspended its coachbuilding operations in 1970, the year that Herman Graber died.
2nd from top: hemmings.com
10th & 11th: alvisarchives.com