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Allard history - the world's first muscle car

A Lincoln Zephyr V-12 powered Allard Special completes a special stage
in a pre-World War II Trials in England. Note the attitude of the front wheels,
a by-product of Allard's infamous independent front suspension

The first car to be officially called an "Allard" was the result of a marriage of an English Ford V-8 Coupe and a Grand Prix Bugatti body. This fusion of components was purposely built to compete in that most English of all automobile competitions, The Trials.

For the uninitiated, an "Automobile Trials"  would remind one of a Jeep Rodeo, complete with boulders, mud, and impossible gradients with the occasional stream fording thrown in for good measure. Into this morass the intrepid competitor would urge his mechanical steed, and follow a course that cunningly takes advantage of the surroundings worst features in a series of stages. The object of the course designer would be to try and strand the vehicle and driver. The winner of the competition would be the team that completed the most stages with the fewest penalties.

Prior to the arrival of the "Allard Special" these events were the playground of diminutive Singers and MGs many of them supercharged, their tiny engines screaming at high RPM through substantial gear reduction and skinny tires to navigate the bogs and mountains. Sydney Allard had been competing with a modified Ford, but its size and weight distribution were against it. So when a brand new Ford was totalled near his garage (Adlards Motors) in 1935, he bought it, dragged it into the shop. When it re-emerged, complete with the body off of a Bugatti racing car, the purists swooned. CLK 5 as the car became known (that was it's English registration or "license number") became an instant hit.

It featured the tried and true Ford Flathead V8, essentially the same engine that Ford built in the US. Of huge displacement by English standards it only produced 85 horsepower in its stock configuration. But it did have torque in abundance. And torque, combined with a chassis that had most of it's weight concentrated on the rear axles, gave it TRACTION!!!! Now the most dreary of conditions seemed to be conquered with the greatest of ease. Other competitors took note, and some of the better-heeled ones began to inquire about the possibility of acquiring similar rigs. Almost by accident, Sydney found himself in the manufacturing business.

The cars were built to special order in the back of Sydney's Adlard's Motors (the name was pure co-incidence, an on-going enterprise that Sydney's father bought for his son in the early 1930s) which was becoming a thriving Ford Dealership. Allard used Ford parts to build the cars and at least two of the featured the Lincoln Zephyr V12 engine. It was during the pre-war period that Allard adopted a feature that was to haunt the drivers' of Allard's cars forever more. His own peculiar independent front suspension.

In 1936 independent front suspensions were rare. Allard had been experiencing loss of control as his front end would bob in the air, while climbing hills that no self-respecting billy goat would attempt. Also he felt that adding one would improve the handling. So Sydney engaged Leslie Bellamy, a suspension engineer, to assist in designing a simple rugged IFS system for CLK 5.

The result was a swing arm system that in the beginning was a straight axle that had been cut in the centre. The two pieces then had one end bracketed to the frame at the centre of the front cross member, and still used Ford's transverse leaf springs. It DID allow the front wheels to move up and down independently of each other. But as time and speed would tell, it would also allow the front wheels to move in other directions as well. This would result in Allard's developing a reputation for squirrelly handling, and a tendency to understeer under acceleration and oversteer under braking.

Subsequent "Allard Specials" (as all of the pre-war cars were known) and virtually all of the Allards built after the war would feature this set up. Sydney Allard remained convinced almost to the end of his car's production run of the merits of this design. Later on, another manufacturer, Colin Chapman and his Lotus cars would copy this system and with minor revisions  and would use it in a  very successful line of sports racers that are praised today for their handling!!! Coincidentally Lotus and Allard were the only two marques that started out as trials specialists that made the jump to becoming recognized, mainstream automobile marques.

Allard would build a total of 12 of his "Specials" by 1939. The cars were built in various configurations, but by 1939 he had built the prototypes for his first three models and had brochures printed and press releases prepared. But his plans were torpedoed by a petty tyrant known as Adolf Hitler . . .

During World War II; Allard concentrated on rebuilding Ford Army trucks. The end of the conflict found him with a factory full of machine tools, and a huge inventory of parts. He had toyed with the idea of serious production before the War. With no personal transportation being produced for 6 years, a huge pent up demand for new cars existed and a dearth of product to satisfy it. So three models were announced:  The J, a car designed for competition events, the slightly larger K, a classic two seat sports car and the L, a four passenger touring car. The cars featured striking coachwork and were heavily based on the Ford parts inventory that Sydney possessed. What the components lacked in sophistication, they gained in strength, reliability and were readily repaired by any Ford dealer in the world. This reliance on FOMOCO contents would remain an Allard selling point throughout the company's existence.

The cars were stylish, very fast for their time and rare. Thus they had a cachet that made them popular. Of course almost ANYTHING that passed for a new automobile was in great demand during the years immediately following W.W.II. But Allard was encouraged and brought out the M a 4/5 passenger drophead coupe in 1947. Then, came the P a saloon (coupe), in 1949. But while Allard was selling everything he could build, he knew that the situation would not last. And he felt that there was a huge potential market for his product in the US. But while the MG TC was selling in impressive numbers, there was little interest in America  in British cars, even the Allard.

Sydney got the idea that an upgraded version of the J type competition car would get the Yanks' attention. He overhauled the styling, put a De Dion style independent rear suspension under the car, and convinced his American agents to take a couple of the new model, called the J-2 in late 1949. At the same time, General Motors brought out the new Cadillac 331 cid V8. It was a match made in heaven. The Cadillac produced almost twice as much horsepower as the Ford V8, was higher revving and ran cooler. Allard had trouble importing engines into England to install in his cars, so he agreed to ship the cars sans powerplant and have the engines installed in New York. Several of the new J-2s were ordered with the Cadillac engine, and a legend was born.

This early J-2 Allard was originally the property of Zora Arkus Duntov and placed second
at Watkins Glen, NY. Engine is a Ford Flathead V-8 with Duntov's Ardun ohv head conversion.
This car was on display at the national Corvette Museum until recently. Brown car behind it is an Allard P-1.

The resulting sports car was a rocket. It still retained the archaic Allard front suspension, but because of the huge amount of suspension travel this arrangement provided, it had the ability to transfer weight backwards under acceleration. The IRS helped to transfer that power to the ground. It's weight at approx. 2500 lb. was light. Most of the weight was over the rear axles which assisted the search for traction, (if, to the detriment of handling) and thanks to the homegrown American performance industry, the bits and pieces were available inexpensively to provide even more horsepower. Even those Allards that utilized Flathead Fords could be made blindingly fast, even by today's standards. And the car was not expensive. A typical J-2 Allard with Cadillac engine installed cost $2995 in 1950. The equally new and exciting Jaguar XK-120 was approximately $3500. For the additional $500, the Allard owner could have an impressive amount of engine work done, and even stock, the Jaguar would be hard pressed to keep up.

Sydney Allard's personal car. Won the 1949
Hillclimb Championship

There was never really a Cadillac-Allard or later on, a Chrysler-Allard which implies that there was a formal arrangement between Allard and the engine providers. When you ordered an Allard, you specified what engine you were going to have installed at the dealership and the factory would ship the car with the correct adapters and engine mounts etc. installed. The author is aware of Packard, Lincoln, GMC 6 cyl, Oldsmobile and Buick powered Allards. If you wanted a Ford Flathead, Allard would provide an English built unit that differed only in detail from the ones built in the US. In fact, it should be pointed out that the Ford powered Allards were by far the most popular choice of buyers around the world.

In 1950 Sydney Allard and Tom Cole drove their Cadillac powered Allard J-2 to a third place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Only two Talbot-Lago Formula One racers, converted to sports cars for the race, beat it. And it raced much of the race with only 3rd gear in the transmission, the lower two ratios becoming the victim of the engine's torque. In the US it was hard to find something that could keep up.

A typical starting grid of a major US sports car race during the early fifties would find a host of Allards both J-2s and its larger brother, the K-2 at or near the front. During that time an ongoing argument raged in the pages of Road and Track Magazine about the alleged superiority of the Hot Rod vs. the Sports Car. And Allard was the primary evidence of BOTH sides! The Motor Magazine tested a stock Cadillac powered Allard J-2 in 1951 and measured the fastest acceleration figures the magazine had ever seen. 0-60 was achieved in 7.4 sec. from a stock engine rated by the magazine at 160 hp. The magazine was impressed, yet disappointed at the same time. They noted that the performance of Allards in North America was much higher!

The Motor article noted a 1/4 mile with an ET of 16.25 sec. Car and Driver noted that they had observed and were impressed with a 15 sec. ET in a Cadillac powered J-2X in 1954 (and noted that this time was faster than that of a "production" Cobra). Tom Carsten's wonderful J-2 posted a quarter mile in the 13-sec. range and 0-60 in approximately 5 sec. These times were achieved on 6.25 x 16 in. STREET TIRES!

Tom Carsten's Allard deserves closer attention. The car, serial no 1850 was purchased in 1950 and when it arrived in the US was dispatched to Vic Edelbrock's speed shop, in Los Angeles, CA. There Edelbrock installed a mildly modified Cadillac V8, the first Cadillac engine he had ever tuned. During the next two years this car would become a legend as it won 8 major races in a row. Wins included venues at Golden Gate Park, Torrey Pines, Reno and Pebble Beach. Tom has a sense of style and it showed in the car's presentation. The glossy black automobile was finished in red, including the interior, and all visible suspension parts. Mounted on custom made Borrianni wire wheels (red) with wide whitewall tires, including TWO side mounted spares (purloined from his company's supply for it's delivery vehicles) bumpers and a LUGGAGE RACK, the car looked more at home in front of the clubhouse at Pebble Beach than on the racecourse.  But during it's inaugural run at that track, in 1951, it lapped the entire field including the second place Allard TWICE!

LeMans in the early 50's

The J-2 was above all, a driver's car. The combination of large displacement V8, with s suspension of questionable geometry and brakes that were simultaneously state of the art and inadequate appealed to the fearless and the talented. A short list of notables who would drive Allards include: Carroll Shelby, Zora Arkus Duntov, John Fitch, Tommy Cole, Masten Gregory, and Bill Pollack. They also attracted the attentions of the famous including Clark Gable, Gen. Curtis Le May, Danny Kaye, Dirk Bogard and Steve McQueen.

The J-2s biggest failing, aside from its suspension and weight bias, was its lack of legroom, thanks to the rearward installation of the engine. This problem was addressed in an upgrade, the J-2X in 1951. The engine mounts were moved forward, the foot wells extended and the nose lengthened to accommodate the suspension location arms. The new look was somehow more aggressive than the J-2's and this is the Allard that continues to be the most sought after. Oddly, the J-2X was not as successful on the track as it is predecessor. Part of the reason might be attributed to it's slightly higher weight, another was the fact that the competition was getting faster, and third was that handling and braking was never a strong point of either car. In 1952 to conform to new Le Mans regulations, Allard brought out an envelope bodied variation of the J-2X as an alternative to the motorcycle fendered styling that had been the trademark of the competition cars from the beginning. Both the Le Mans and the conventional bodywork were offered simultaneously.

The other area where Allards excelled was rallying. We are not talking about the genteel Time Speed Distance Rallies that many of us have been exposed to. One of the most popular post war competitions in Europe were long endurance rallies, over war damaged roads, through inclimate weather. One of Allard's first post war successes was a win in the Paris to Lisbon Rally in 1946. During the new few years Allards would be among the forefront of rally competitors.

Allard's finest hour came in 1952 when Sydney Allard, driving one of his staid P-1 saloons won the Monte Carlo Rally after coming close in previous years. The weather that year was abysmal, and of the 328 cars that started the event only 15 would arrive in Monaco without incurring penalties en route. The next day a regularity test was conducted to determine the winner. Sydney took first in a car of his own manufacture, an accomplishment that will probably stand for all time. This victory in one of the most gruelling competition events of its day should have gained Allard a great deal of publicity. But the death of England's King George a week later, buried the accomplishment.

The demand for the J-2 series and the companion K-2s far outstripped the capability of the factory to deliver them. This coupled with some questionable business practices by some of the Allard distributors soured many potential purchasers. Studebaker, wishing to cash in on the burgeoning sports car market, talked with Allard about domestic production of the Js, but the talks came to naught. Because of Allard's reliance on foreign sources for his engines, the factory did little or no development work on them. The Ford Flathead was still the engine of choice from the factory, though now it could be equipped with Allard's own high compression heads and intake manifolds. The Ardun overhead valve conversion heads could be installed as well, (Arkus Zora Duntov was a consultant to Allard from 1950 -1953). But this option was hardly inspiring to someone interested in buying a real performance Allard.

Of the other original models, the L was discontinued in 1949, though there is evidence that one or two might have left the factory later, on a special order basis. The M and the P continued to be built but demand was beginning to wane.

In 1952 Allard realized that he needed to revamp his product line. The first concern revolved around bringing out an inexpensive sports car. This car, to be called the Palm Beach would be based on Ford of England's small cars the Zephyr and Consul. Prices would be kept down by utilizing as many parts from these cars as possible. The frame would be tubular steel, manufactured on jigs, and the choice of engines being limited to a 4 (Consul) or a 6 cylinder (Zephyr). The original body design was to feature disappearing headlights and a familial resemblance to the J-2X Le Mans mentioned earlier. The resulting design raised howls of protest from Allard's North American distributors and the design was rapidly changed. However there was interest in producing this car as originally designed in the US and Anchorage Plastics of Providence, Rhode Island actually built some bodies in fibreglass to prove the viability of the project.

The Palm Beach was an attractive little car, and had it been deliverable as planned in 1952 it could have been a huge success. But a year later, when it was finally ready, the Austin Healey 100-4 and the Triumph TR 2 were both available and were being produced in volume. The Allard on the other hand, was primarily built to order, was more expensive and because of it's reliance on a three-speed transmission, was slower.

Allard's next release was the K-3. This car can best be described as a grown up Palm Beach. It was built to accommodate the American V8s, and was projected as being a fast luxurious touring car. Several were ordered in a stripped down format for racing where they did moderately well. Road and Track magazine described the car as being ". . .the handsomest car the company has yet built." The example that Road and Track tested went from 0-60 in 8.6 sec. and the magazine commented that the location of the gear shift (on the left side of the driver's seat) probably caused a second's delay in that time). The car featured 4 wheel independent suspension and was ". . . the roomiest of all sports cars" with three abreast seating in the cockpit.

Allard K-3

Flaws were noted as well. Among the criticisms Road and Track labelled at the car were inadequate ventilation, small gas tanks, a windshield that was too short, doors that did not open far enough, a lack of owner's manual and tiny windshield wipers. The author went on to note that "...and one soon gains the impression that the cars were rushed out of the shop long before they were ready for the public."

The factory also brought out two other vehicles during this time period: The Safari Estate and the P-2 Monte Carlo Saloon. The Safari Estate has to rank as the most exotic "Woody" station wagon of all time. These unique automobiles with tilt forward front ends housing Allard's usual mix of V8s possessed seating for up to 8 passengers in three seats. Liberally adorned with Ash Wood on the outside, and possessing 4 wheel independent suspension, Allard tried to fill a niche that no one knew existed. The P-2 or Monte Carlo Saloon, was it's coupe counterpart. These cars were sumptuously appointed and expensive and did not sell well.

Allard also brought out his last interpretation of the J series competition cars in 1953, the fabulous JR. Smaller, than it's predecessors with a sleek body that could have been penned in Italy, and designed specifically for the Cadillac engine, the JR was a study in contrasts. It was the first racing car designed specifically to take an automatic transmission. It featured 4 wheel independent suspension when many of it's opponents still used live rear axles. It was fast, but still relied on the Allard split front axle that made all of his products "interesting" to drive. Jaguar had been utilizing disk brakes on the C type for a year, but they were not available to Allard who had to make do with drum brakes that were less than adequate. In its debut at Le Mans in 1953 the JR lead the first lap, but a broken rear axle soon took that car out of the race. The second JR driving at a slower pace retired from overheating and failing brakes later in the race.

The Allard Motor Company was in trouble. Sydney had always looked on his car company as a way to finance his competition efforts and as a combination of lark and hobby. His Adlards Motors had evolved into the largest Ford Dealership in England, but he was not a wealthy man, and did not have the resources to shore up Allard Motor Co. Ltd. when the new line of cars failed to excite the car buying public. Most of the product line was expensive, and even the relatively cheap Palm Beach cost more than the Triumph TR 2 that it matched in performance, and paled when compared to the Austin Healy which it matched in price.

But Allard was a competitor. In 1955, the Allard distributor in the US had talked to a number of Dodge dealers in the NorthEast, to see if there would be interest in a Chrysler powered Allard for their showrooms as a counter to the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford's Thunderbird. As a result of this survey, new bodywork was designed for the Palm Beach's chassis, and a Dodge Red Ram Hemi was installed in a regular production Palm Beach. The V8 powered Allard was a success.  It had outstanding performance and good handling. The new body promised a continuation of the Italian influence on Allard's styling that first became evident in the JR. But there was no backing from Chrysler, the Corvette was selling poorly and in 1956 Ford had announced that the 1958 Thunderbird would become a larger, personal luxury car, abandoning the sports car packaging that the model had been introduced with.

Allard went ahead with the Palm Beach MK II and later with a limited number of GT Coupes built on this new design.  The Palm Beach Mk II was the first production Allard to dispense with the Allard /Bellamy front suspension system, using instead, McPherson Struts. They were available with a choice of Ford Zephyr or Jaguar engines (the first instance of Jaguar allowing any other manufacturer to utilize their powerplants) and could be fitted with disc brakes.  They were gorgeous designs that suffered from some minor execution flaws. They were also expensive, and the factory, reduced to building cars only to special order, ceased manufacturing in 1959.

GT Coupe

In his later years, Allard's attentions turned to drag racing, building England's first "slingshot" dragster. Because English law required that all competition cars possess 4 wheel brakes and bodies, the Allard dragster did not look exactly like it's American counterpart. It was heavier, possibly better engineered, and had Lotus magnesium front wheels and a beefier front end to withstand the usage of its front disk brakes. Powered by a Chrysler Hemi the car became the focus of several trans-Atlantic Drag Festivals in England.

Such luminaries as Don Garlits, Danny Ongias, and Tommy Ivo took their steeds to England and compete before the amazed British crowds at various venues. Allard's dragster, operating under different rules was not competitive with its American cousins, but succeeded in upholding England's honour anyway. Allard then build a few Jaguar powered Allard Dragons for resale and promoted other drag racing events. Today Sydney is recognized as the "Father of British Drag Racing" as a result of his efforts.

Another late project for this inventive mind was a twin V-8 powered sprint car. Powered by 2 WWII era Steyr Air Cooled V-8s, mounted side by side in a wide chassis and possessing 4-wheel drive, it must have been a handful to drive. It utilized two throttles, two transmissions and would have required the utmost in concentration. In it's time it was a quite famous curiosity, but it was never successful as a competition car.

About 2,000 Allards were built in all. The exact number is in doubt. Of these approximately 180 of these were J-2s and J-2Xs. There were 7 JRs and 12 of the original J-1s.

The Allard Motor Co. would continue on as a manufacturer and marketer of performance equipment, and a limited number of Allardettes, modified English Fords were also built. On April 12, 1966 Sydney Allard died, and the same evening, a fire destroyed much of the factories records.

The building that the Allard factory resided in still stands. A few years ago the British Government erected a plaque in front of it to commemorate it's place in England's history. The current occupant is a Blockbuster Video store.