Perhaps one of the more interesting Allard specials was the Dolphin, which was based on an Allard L-type. What made the Dolphin-Allard unique was its retractable hardtop, allowing the car to be either a closed saloon or open touring car. The retractable hardtop was designed and commissioned by Mr. John R.V. Dolphin of Dolphin Industrial Development.
Little is known about the Dolphin-Allard, but it appears as though work started in late 1947 and the finished car was ready for Autocar to feature in April of 1948. Autocar describes the retractable roof as:
“…consisting of two metal panels hinged together and interconnected by a loaded steel cable which results in the main roof panel assuming a more or less horizontal position when the panels are extracted from the boot to convert the open car into a two-door coupe’. The top section of the boot is hinged so that it can be opened to allow the head panels to swing down and lie snugly in the boot, the lid of the boot then being folded down again so that an open sports car with a clean top line results. The quarter panels hinge down to lie against the sides of the car and the quarter lights also hinge into the boot sides.
Operation of the roof is quite easy since the actuating arms and cable are spring-loaded, but they can also be operated electronically or hydraulically if preferred. Waterproofing has been carefully studied and when the roof is up, rain is carried away by a drainage system in the boot. The boot provides a very large luggage space when the car is being used as a coupe’, but when the head is down the luggage space is, of course, occupied by the roof. “
It’s known that at least two Dolphin-Allard cars were built, however neither is known to have survived. Apparently the weight of the retractable roof systems were too much for the chassis to bear and they soon collapsed. It is not known if the Dolphin retractable roof system was fitted to any other cars. The Dolphin-Allards were priced at £1,525 and were sold exclusively by Stormont Engineering in Tunbridge WellsPricing.
From a historical perspective, the Dolphin retractable roof was not the first, however it appears to be the first system designed and built in the UK. The first known production car with a retractable hardtop was the 1935 Peugeot 402 Éclipse Décapotable, which was built until WWII. The next car to appear with a retractable hardtop was the Chrysler Thunderbolt concept car in 1942. Cars with retractable hardtops have become commonplace today with almost every manufacturer offering a model combining the best of both worlds.
Mr. Dolphin was an accomplished engineer and inventor. Among his accomplishments include serving as the Commanding Officer of the top secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II where he invented a parachutable folding motor cycle and a mini one-man submarine. Upon leaving the SOE, Dolphin founded the Corgi motorcycle company and created the Allard based Dolphin among countless other inventions. Mr. Dolphin then moved on to serve as Engineer-in-Chief of the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority.
Sources: Autocar Magazine, April 1953; Wikipedia, Thanks to Dean Butler for the reference article and photos!