A brief history of a unique man and his automobile company...
ALLARD, much like Ferrari and Porsche, began as a phenomenon of the Automotive Renaissance – those exciting, innocent years immediately following World War II. All three marques were race-bred lines fostered by charismatic genius, and all three earned immediate respect on the road as well as on the track.
But while Ferrari and Porsche pursued engineering and aesthetic finesse approaching artwork, Sydney Allard’s approach was the antithesis. His cars were pure utilitarian machines – crude products of a single-minded effort to harness brute torque and horsepower and most effectively apply it to the road.
The quality and finish on Allards was considered rough even in its heyday. Allard’s engineering and workmanship were sometimes described as the fruits of an inspired blacksmith. The frame cross members were fabricated from used water pipe, and the bodies were finished with an almost begrudging use of paint. Paint, after all, was added weight that did nothing to further speed or performance.
Sydney Allard was a racer, first and foremost. He got into commercial auto production mainly to provide a basis for his sports pursuits.
The first production Allards of 1946 were an offshoot of the few, but widely celebrated ‘Allard Specials’ of the late ‘30’s. Sydney pieced together the first of those ‘specials,’ (dubbed simply ‘CLK5’ for its registration number), from a wrecked Ford V8 passenger car and body parts cannibalized from a Type 51 Bugatti. Its trial and hill climb performance was so successful that his friends soon prevailed upon him to build up to ten more copies before hostilities put civilian auto production and motor sports on hold.
Allard was not alone in matching the monstrous American V8’s to stripped down British chassis in that era, but he was the most successful. While one often associates Allard with brute power, Sydney Allard’s real forte was in the suspension. An Allard trademark was the split front suspension of sorts, along with camber variations that served up an ample measure of entertainment for drivers and spectators alike.
A less noted, but more significant Allard feature was the deDion rear end. This system, fabricated from light steel tubing and a Ford ‘banjo’ center section, gave the sporting and competition Allards a form of independent rear suspension ten years ahead of the competition.
Allard made fewer than 200 of the famous ‘J’ models, which comprise only 10% of their total nine years’ production. Yet, the renown that they earned on the track was legion on both sides of the Atlantic. The early ‘50’s saw aluminum bodied Allards as consistent winners at Watkins Glen, Sebring, and Pebble Beach – frequently associated with such famous names as Bill Pollock, John Fitch, Maston Gregory, General Curtis LeMay, and Carroll Shelby. The strong Allard/Cobra family resemblance is more than just a coincidence.
Sydney Allard and Tom Cole brought a Cadillac powered J2 to a respectable third place finish at the 1950 LeMans – where they ran the last twelve hours in THIRD GEAR ONLY.
Their track accomplishments aside, the Allard works were also a perennial Monte Carlo Rallye contestant. Mr. Allard, teamed with Tom Lush and Guy Warburton, piloted a Ford powered P1 saloon to a first place finish in the 1952 ‘Monte.’ This mid-winter run from Glasgow to Monte Carlo was the first British win since Donald Healey’s 1931 victory, and was the only time in history that the winning driver was also the manufacturer. This triumph might well have been the big break for this fledgling company, but publicity was eclipsed by the death of King George VI a few days later.
Although the racing budget was limited, the works entered two Cadillac powered ‘JR’ models in the 1953 LeMans. This campaign was pitifully under financed and plagued with problems from the onset. One car’s engine was ruined in practice, and with no spares available, it had the makings of a single entry endeavor. This crisis, however, was resolved by the overnight delivery of a new engine via a US Air Force transport that just happened to be making a run from Michigan to a nearby air base in France.
So the race began with one car driven by Mr. Allard, and the second by Zora Arkus-Duntov of subsequent Corvette fame who was then an Allard works employee. Honors for leading the first lap went to none other than Sydney himself, but that glory was short lived. His car was forced to retire two laps later. The second car continued another six hours before a seized engine ended its day.
That LeMans race was perhaps symbolic of the Allard marque – a hard charging combination of ingenuity and inspiration, running full-bore on a shoestring budget. One wonders where Allard might be today if blessed with the capital, engineering, and manufacturing resources necessary to keep pace with the maturing automotive environment of the mid ‘50’s.
Mr. Allard continued to pursue his automotive interests for several years after commercial production ground to a halt in 1954. Among his post-production credits is the first rail dragster seen east of the Atlantic – powered by a Hillborn injected, blown Chrysler ‘hemi.’
Sydney Allard died of cancer in April, 1966 – only a few days after an office fire destroyed much of the firm’s archives.