Inspired By Chance: The Story of Allard's Revival

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Written by The Staff of Motorsport Marketing

From the March 2017 issue

Posted in Features

Story by John Webber, black and white photo by Ozzie Lyons

Bill King, who often tootles around an Atlanta suburb in his gleaming Allard, says that he has learned two things in the process.

First, he now knows that a planned five-minute stop can easily stretch into half an hour, because curious crowds always seem to materialize around his car.

“What is it?” gets a simple answer, and so does “Is it restored?” The “Who makes it?” takes a bit longer, though. And when King opens the hood in response to frequent requests, folks often launch another round of questions when they catch sight of the car’s fuel-injected V8.

That modernized drivetrain is responsible for Bill’s other nugget of learning: After plenty of time on his back under old British cars, he doesn’t worry about getting stuck in traffic and spewing coolant all over his Brooklands windscreens. He also doesn’t fret about fried wires or lost brakes.

That’s because Bill drives an Allard J2X MKII, a time machine that serves up a leather-helmet-and-goggles rush of the 1950s in a 21st century package. Under this Allard’s classic skin sits a refined chassis, drivetrain and suspension that combine to deliver sensory overload without the vintage hassles. It’s fast, reliable and (dare we say it?) almost comfortable.

Spotting a Familiar Name

What’s an Allard J2X MKII? Call it a car inspired by chance.

Roger Allard, the MKII’s creator-who, oddly enough, is no relation to 1950s British automaker Sydney Allard–puts it this way: “I’d have never become a car builder if my name was Smith.”

But his name is Allard, and his company keeps the J2X flame alive today.

Twenty-two years ago, this lifelong auto enthusiast and his wife made a trip to England to celebrate a birthday and also look for his dream car, an Austin-Healey 100S. His search didn’t yield a Healey, but he discovered an obscure book with his surname on the cover: “Allard: The Inside Story.”

“I was amazed that as an avid sports car fan,” Roger recalls, “I was completely unaware of the Allard and its distinguished racing career in the 1950s. I became hooked on the remarkable Allard story and in particular, the J2X.”

Soon thereafter, Roger saw his first J2X at England’s Beaulieu Museum. By then, moved by the unexpected convergence of his name, the book and the car, he sensed cosmic forces at work. The 100S was forgotten. Allard the man was to become consumed by Allard the car.

Back home in Montreal, Roger dove into J2X research. The more he learned, the more he became convinced that the story of this important competition roadster was slipping away. He felt compelled (there are those cosmic forces again) to recreate–as closely as possible–a period-correct J2X based on a modern, high-performance platform.

He became a man on a mission, launching Allard Motor Works in 1999 and beginning a costly, decade-long, setback-filled development and prototype process. Maintaining the classic J-series look outside and in, he started from the ground up, computer-designing the body and a tube-frame chassis that featured today’s suspension components and incorporated appropriate safety, handling and comfort features. In keeping with his namesake’s original hotrod concept, Roger offered customers their choice of several heavy-breathing V8s, ranging from 350 to 700 horsepower.

The official Allard Registry considers these hand-built cars to be so authentic that they classify them as continuation models; each receives a numbered nameplate and listing in the registry. Starting at around $175,000, the modern J2Xs are aimed at upscale enthusiasts who seek an exclusive, classic sports car that delivers a safe, fast and reliable ride.

After 16 years of development and production in Canada, AMW moved to Southern California last June to gain better exposure in the American market. There the company now builds the J2X MKIII, which features emission-compliant engines and incorporates several customer-suggested refinements, including a full windshield and wipers, a removable hard top, tilt steering wheel and, yes, even air conditioning.

Allard’s cars have been featured at vintage races and concours around the country. They have also appeared in several publications as well as a segment of Jay Leno’s Garage, in which the man in the blue shirt described the MKII as “what a sports car should be.” (You can watch it right here.)

Keeping It in the Family

Bill King inherited this car from his father, a fighter pilot during the Korean War as well as a lifelong car collector who never lost his passion for speed or gave up his pursuit of adrenaline. “Dad loved special, one-off type cars,” Bill says, “and he thought that the performance and looks of this car set it apart from anything else on the road. He also said that a true British sports car should be British Racing Green, so this car is definitely a keeper.”

Bill’s dad took delivery of the Allard, which wears serial number 9, early in 2011. It was the favorite in his stable, as it is today in Bill’s.

Bill started out with a 1946 MG TC, and says his taste in cars ranges from classic hot rods to a late-model Aston Martin. He and his wife enjoy the Allard’s hey-look-at-me vibe, which Bill describes this way: “When you drive the car, all you can do is smile. You know everyone is looking at you, and you know you won’t see another one like it around.”

The Kings experience a variety of reactions, including cellphones poking from windows and drivers honking and slowing down, motioning them over, or tucking in behind to get a closer look. Bill explains that “regular people,” struck by the car’s vintage lines and gleaming chrome, tell him it’s gorgeous.

Folks of a certain age remember the 1950s Allards with a fondness that also recalls their fearsome reputation. “The ones who were really paying attention,” Bill says, “remember the shortcomings of the original cars’ suspension. They know that the V8 power was what made the Allards stand out.”

Some ask him if it’s a kit car, so he explains that it is recognized by the Allard Registry as a continuation model and invites them to examine the way the car is put together. “The fit and finish of this car is as good as anything we have in the garage, including the Mercedes and the Aston Martin,” he notes. He believes that the Allard is also as fast as anything in his garage except the 500-horsepower rat rod.

It’s been more than 60 years since Sydney Allard built his last bad-boy J2X. We’re sure he’d be pleased to learn that another guy named Allard is now carrying the torch, building a car that has spent just enough time in reform school to smooth out the rough edges.

Yeah, it’s been civilized, but it’s still enough of a hooligan to get you into trouble if you’re not careful. When Sydney first stuffed a thumping V8 in a tiny car, that’s what he was looking for, right?

“I’d have never become a car builder if my name was Smith.”

“V8 power was what made the Allards stand out.”

Behind the Wheel

Roger Allard says that no less a personage than Sir Stirling Moss remarked of the J-series Allards, “The only people I know that would dare drive an Allard on the track were Sydney Allard and fools.”

Despite that warning, we were anxious to give this MKII a go. Besides, we planned to limit the drive to the streets. So we wiggled into the supportive leather seat, surveyed the vintage instruments spread across the glittering, engine-turned dash, and admired the vintage view down the long bonnet. The cut-down door snicks shut nicely, and if you choose, you can drop your arm and drag your knuckles (not recommended at speed). Behind the wheel, there’s plenty of leg room for a six-footer, and the pedals are nicely spaced with enough width for size 12s.

Touch the starter button, and the engine bellows to life. There’s no question about this, since the right-side exhaust exits three feet below your ear. The clutch, which doesn’t require a lot of muscle, engages with a smooth, linear feel, and the long-throw Tremec shifts easily.

The steering is a bit heavy at low speeds-power steering is standard on the MKIII–but lightens up at speed. The ride is firm, but not punishing.

The V8 pulls like a train through the gears, and we soon run out of room. We’ll need a track to truly test this car’s capability. Bill tells us that at 80 mph in fifth gear, the engine loafs at less than 2000 rpm. He adds that the car is stable and predictable at triple-digit speeds.

The non-boosted brakes require a firm push, but prove to be plenty strong. The car begs to be driven fast, but with gobs of torque, chugs through traffic without protest.

We get to test the Allard’s reflexes (they’re plenty quick) as cars swerve in close for cellphone photos. Does this machine enable distracted drivers? Probably. Wherever we drive, we leave a crowd of admirers in our wake. If you’re self-conscious, this is not the ride for you. There’s no sneaking around in this car.

There’s nothing halfway about it, either. When you drive–or ride in–this Allard, you’re fully immersed. The original J2X was called “a motorcycle on four wheels,” and as its spiritual successor, the MKII is a swaggering way-back machine that launches a glorious assault on the senses.

Jab the gas, feel the punch, and hang onto the wheel. The whistle of the Ramjet’s intake joins the wind’s blast and the melodious bellow from the side pipes. Goggles aren’t a bad idea, and for an all-day trip, earplugs might come in handy. If you choose to wear a derby for period effect, better bring the superglue.

Of course, time travel like this doesn’t come cheap. Think about it, though: Do those kids really need to go to college?

Sydney Allard: Pioneering British Hot Rods

We Yanks like to think that swapping a big engine into a small car is an American thing, but in the mid-1930s London-born mechanic and racer Sydney Allard started creating his “specials” by cramming flathead Ford V8s–and later V12 Lincolns–into tiny open bodies for the so-very-British competitions called trials. These events (also known as “mud-plucking”) sent spindly looking rides off into the countryside to challenge hills, mud, boulders and trees, traversing terrain that would strand today’s Jeeps.

Since an Allard special often won these contests, other competitors wanted one, too, and before long Allard found himself in the car-building business. After World War II, his tiny company introduced three street models, including one called the J, which was a roadster aimed at customers who liked to race. Allard introduced the tube-framed, aluminum-bodied J2 in 1949 and the J2X, which featured chassis improvements and more cockpit legroom, in 1951.

Bare-boned, brutal, raucous and fast, J-series Allards appealed to hardy drivers who sought the challenge of herding a real hot rod. Engines were scarce in postwar Britain, so Allard shipped J models to America without engines. Many owners specified Ford and Mercury flathead V8s, but others opted for the bigger-is-better 331 Cadillac or 551 Chrysler engines.

Parked next to a Ferrari or Jaguar, the J2 looked like a home-built bulldog, but it won races on both sides of the Atlantic, and in 1950 Sydney Allard and Tom Cole drove their Cadillac-powered Allard to a stellar third-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Notable J2 racers included Carroll Shelby (who no doubt picked up an idea or two about the potential of Anglo-American hybrids), Zora Duntov, John Fitch, Masten Gregory, Phil Hill, Steve McQueen and Ken Miles.

The car’s infamous split-axle front suspension (think Ford truck Twin-I-Beam suspension stuffed under a sports car) worked well for bashing across the English countryside, but produced unnerving camber changes in high-speed corners. It was said that a driver needed robust arms and an educated throttle foot to keep an Allard on the track. The company was quick to defend against criticism, though, as demonstrated in this chippy response from technical assistant H.L. Biggs in the January/February 1951 issue of Sports Car:

In a recent regional newsletter, the cornering powers of our J2 are compared with another make and the fact that the J2 holds the road like a leech up to certain speeds when it slides without warning, is mentioned.

“Mr. Allard asks me to say that this is well known, but the speed at which this sliding occurs is greatly above the speed at which the other make mentioned starts to break away. At the speed where this breakaway occurs on other makes, the J2 is rock steady and, if it is desired to corner at the maximum speed possible with our car, this must be done in the usual Grand Prix manner, in a four-wheel drift. The required angle of drift being maintained by conjunctive manipulation of steering and throttle. When this technique is mastered we doubt if there is a faster sports car though corners extant than the J2 Allard.”

Other explanations of the Allard’s handling shortcomings were not as positive. Automotive editor Don Vorderman wrote this about the J2: “…surely one of the best possible ways to compensate for a poor suspension design is to keep the car at least several inches above the road.”

Despite the J2’s handling reputation–or perhaps because of it–the car became a desired and formidable competitor that amassed an enviable record on the track. According to the Allard registry, 90 J2s and 83 J2Xs were built from 1949 through 1953.

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Reader comments:

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
July 12, 2017 2:22 p.m.

If you haven't seen these cars in person, you need to. Roger Allard's re-creations are true works of art. From the detailing to the engineering, these are nothing like "kit cars", they are more like bespoke machines crafted by artisans. They are very much a high-quality pro-touring sports car---- a classic design, thoughtfully re-engineered to modern standards.

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