1949-1954 Allard J2 and J2-X

Seen here is a French Racing Blue ’52 J2-X, which carries its spare tire on the passenger’s side of the car. Note the minimalist roadster bodywork and the twin racing screens. See more classic car pictures.

The Allards most remembered by racing fans, particularly American sports car racing spectators, were the cycle-fendered J2 and J2-X. Who can forget one of those bellowing monsters accelerating out of a turn with hunkered-down rear end and uplifted prow, a stance brought on by the brute torque of the big American V-8 that muscled the J2 ahead of its competition. Allards weren't the most sophisticated cars on the track, and they weren't the best built, either, but they did what racing cars are supposed to do -- win races.

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Not only did the Allards win, they were also relatively inexpensive to buy and to maintain. The first was due to the many proprietary parts being used, the second because the Allards were relatively simple as race cars go. Any California hot rodder in the early Fifties would have recognized most of the components, and could easily have maintained or repaired one-indeed some did. Said California hot rodder would also have found a kindred soul in Sydney Allard, creator of the cars that bore his name.

It all started in 1929, when 19-year-old Allard was racing a three-wheeled Morgan Super Sports at Brooklands, with little success. Allard added a second wheel to the rear to create the first 'Allard Special" (though it wasn't called that). Some time after that came Allard's first connection with Ford. In 1932, he bought a new four-cylinder Model B and installed a highly modified Ford truck BB engine into its chassis. That car went so well that Allard began thinking of what he might be able to do with one of the new Ford V-8 engines, particularly if it were mounted in a strong, lightweight frame.

Allard was just getting underway with the J2 in 1949. As the racing numbers attest, the J2 was intended for serious competition.

As if by magic, Allard's attendance at the 1934 Tourist Trophy, in Ards, Ireland, brought him just the vehicle he'd been looking for. The Ards area Ford distributor, it turned out, had arrived at the race with two shiny new specials -- complete with the Ford flathead V-8. Allard bought one without a second thought. For two seasons he campaigned that car in races, rallies, hillclimbs, and even at that great British institution, the mud trials. Success in somebody else's car wasn't enough for Allard, however, for he wanted to build one of his own.

The opportunity presented itself in 1936, when Allard discovered a wrecked 1935 Ford V-8 coupe not too far from his shop in the London suburb of Putney. He towed the wreck home on a Friday, started dismantling and rebuilding it on Monday, and by the following Saturday had the first Allard Special (to carry the name) running. The frame had been shortened, significantly lightened, and fitted with a 1932 Ford front end, which weighed less than the 1935 assembly. For a body Allard used the ex-Lord Howe Type 51 Bugatti body, complete with its pointed tail!

Cynics winced at this sacrilege, but the Allard Special came up a winner. During the winter hiatus between racing seasons, suspension engineer Leslie Bellamy designed the now infamous split I-beam front axle, thereby creating an independent front suspension that was to become an Allard trademark. As one observer put it, "Allard's five-day marvel appeared for its second season with a predisposition for flapping its front wheels on a rough surface like a duck with loose wings."

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Design of the 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 Allard J2

The J2 cockpit was spartan, with the speedometer on this early right-hand-drive model placed on the passenger’s side.
The J2 cockpit was spartan, with the speedometer on this early right-hand-drive model placed on the passenger’s side.

Here we consider the design of the 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954 Allard J2. Pre-World War II Allard Specials (none were called simply Allard then) were primarily built for "mud plugging," as the British call that peculiar sport, but other uses were obviously on Allard's mind. The ultimate version featured a Lincoln-Zephyr V-12 engine. Only three were built, and sold for 570 pounds sterling, or $2850 at the prewar exchange rate.

By 1938, serious production was considered, particularly in light of the success of the Hudson-powered Railton in England. Allard therefore readied a V-12 roadster and a four-place V-8 for the 1939 London Auto Show. But war was imminent, and the show was cancelled-along with Allard's' production plans. In all, 11 Specials, mostly with Ford V-8s, were reportedly built before the war.

During the war, Allard made an attempt to sell the British War Office a modified version of his Special as a sort of jeep-type vehicle. When that approach was rejected, he kept his shop busy repairing Ford trucks for the military. After the war in Europe finally ended, Allard quickly got back to building his Specials, now in a new factory in Clapham, another London suburb. Though the world was ready for new cars again, England -- along with most of the rest of the world-faced shortages of steel and aluminum. Needless to say, both were badly needed by Allard. Like other manufacturers, Allard used what he could get, and he did somehow manage to get models into production.

In an age where longer, lower, and wider were becoming the norm, the Allard J2, here a 1951 model, was a styling anachronism with its free-standing headlights and cycle-style fenders.

The first postwar models were the K, L, and M. The first, with a 106-inch wheel-base, was just like Allard's prewar J1, but six inches longer overall. The L and M were another six inches longer, due to their four-seater bodies. All three models had what we would call convertible coupe bodywork, English-made flathead Ford V-8 engines, and Ford running gear with the Allard split front axle. Springs at both ends were transverse leaf, as on Henry Ford's cars. The three models were built through 1950. Since these cars were heavy, the stock Ford V-8 left them with anemic performance, at best. Alas, the next Allard -- the P-type, a luxury sedan first introduced in 1949 -- was even slower. In spite of its lackluster performance, however, Sydney Allard piloted one in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally, and he surprised everyone by taking first place. His trials experience obviously helped a great deal on the last stage of the "Monte," which was virtually all glare ice, for it was reported that Allard covered most of the distance motoring sideways!

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Design of the 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 Allard J2 and J2-X

This J2 was equipped with a Cadillac V-8 fitted with dual carburetors and is shifted via a 1937 LaSalle transmission.
This J2 was equipped with a Cadillac V-8 fitted with dual carburetors and is shifted via a 1937 LaSalle transmission.

Now let's consider the design of the 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954 Allard J2 and J2-X.

From 1950 on, Allards were available with either a Ford or Mercury V-8, the difference being displacement (3622 cc compared to 4375 cc, respectively) and horsepower (85 to 110). Many of the engines were army surplus units, rebuilt and modified at the Allard Clapham works. The Allard Mercury engine eventually received dual carburetors and high-compression cylinder heads, both copied from American speed-equipment manufacturers: the manifold from Eddie Meyer, the heads from Eddie Edmunds. Interestingly, a friend of the author bought a K3 Allard, and wanted to install Edelbrock equipment on the engine. The dual manifold was no problem, but the Edelbrock Mercury 24-stud heads wouldn't fit because the cylinder block was set up for 21-stud heads. The only U.S. Fords to use this type of block were the 1937 and early 1938 Fords -- no Mercury ever had 21-stud heads.

All of these automotive activities by Allard were taking place at a time when the British auto industry was still trying to get over the effects of war. Steel remained in short supply, and the car companies seemed to be seeking the most profit from a pound of steel rather than trying to develop new cars. How else can one explain the hapless Ford Pilot or Austin Sheerline?

As bad as this situation was for the general car-buying public, it was good for Allard's business. Fortunately, Allard was smart enough to realize that the seller's market wouldn't last forever, and he knew that he had better produce a new and better car before the existing conditions changed. Allard thus went to the United States on a research trip, returning to England having learned two things he hadn't known before: Americans wouldn't buy his existing models, but they might buy an updated version of his original model J.

The Allard J2 seen here was a successful racer, winning its first eight outings, including Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1952.

The result of this was the J2: the car that put the Allard name in the winner's circle in sports car racing, and on the map as far as racing fans were concerned. Retaining the 100-inch wheelbase of the original J, as well as the split I-beam front axle used on all models since the war, Allard replaced the transverse leaf springs with coil springs front and rear. In addition, a de Dion axle with a quick-change center section and inboard 12-inch Alfin brake drums were featured at the rear. The radius rods that had previously located the live rear axle now served as locating members for the de Dion dead axle beam.

Dry weight of the J2 could be as low as 2000 pounds, but never went over 2600, even when equipped with one of the big American overhead-valve V-8s.Production of the Allard J2 and J2-X never amounted to much, but their reputation over the years has been such that they're now very expensive collectibles.

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The Allard J2 Engine and the 1951 Allard J2-X

Though details often vary from one J2 or J2-X to another, the grille was always an Allard trademark.
Though details often vary from one J2 or J2-X to another, the grille was always an Allard trademark.

Now let's discuss the Allard J2 engine and the 1951 Allard J2-X.

In addition to improving the chassis, Allard knew he had to do something to dramatically increase the power. The flathead Ford V-8 was by then 18 years old and -- in spite of the enormous amount of available speed equipment -- was no longer suitable to power a serious competition car. By coincidence, an overhead-valve conversion for the flathead Ford/Mercury V-8 was being created in New York City by Zorro Arkus-Duntov, later of Corvette fame, in a loft he shared with Luigi Chinetti, who would soon become the Ferrari distributor for the U.S.

Duntov's design, which he called the Ardun conversion, was a pushrod and rocker-arm system working off the Ford camshaft in its stock location. The push-rods for the intake valves utilized short rocker arms located toward the inside of the engine's "V," while the exhaust valves were worked by long rocker arms (one of the few weak spots in the design) toward the outside of the engine. The result was inclined valves, 90 degrees apart, in hemispherical combustion chambers. If that sounds like the Chrysler Hemi V-8, you're right, but this was in 1950 -- before the Hemi's 1951 model year debut.

This Allard runs with a Caddy V-8, but with dual carbs.

No one in England, it seems, could make the Ardun engine perform reliably or well, so Allard wrote to Duntov to complain, with the result that Zora went to Clapham to take charge of the engine's development. Even so, Allard ultimately dropped the Ardun as an engine option after selling around 75 of them.

In 1950, Allard and American Tom Cole shared an Allard-Cadillac J2, driving it to third place overall in the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race, behind two Grand Prix Talbots fitted with two-seat sports car bodies. This victory was a primary reason for the survival of both the model, and of Allard Motor Car Company, although a new version, the J2-X was due to be announced in 1951.

The tachometer is placed directly in front of the driver, but it’s a long sideways glance to the speedometer, which is located in front of the passenger.

The "X" at the end of the name meant "extended." But it wasn't the wheelbase that had changed-it remained at 100 inches as on the J2. Rather, the alterations were found mainly in the chassis components. For example, the engine was moved forward 7.5 inches because legroom had been a sore point with J2 buyers. This helped cockpit space, but caused a problem of relocating the front suspension mounts. The mounting structure for the inner ends of the split front axle had to be moved in front of the axle, which necessitated a six-inch frame extension up front. In back, enlarging the fuel tank in the rear body section made it necessary to mount the spare tire on the side of the body rather than in the lower section at the rear of the body. Track, however, remained the same as on the J2: 56 inches front, 52 inches rear.

Somehow, all this shifting of components made the J2-X handle better than the 12, so the combination of handling plus improved driver comfort made the J2-X a more frequent race winner.

Meanwhile, the lack of a four-speed transmission was still a bother to many owners, so Allard tried to compensate for this by switching from a 3.54:1 to 3.27:1 axle ratio (both standard Ford gearsets). This was unsuccessful, however, so Allard engineers next attempted to make a suitable four-speed out of a Thames truck transmission produced by Ford of England. Four of these gearboxes were made in the shop for the streamlined J2-X team cars in early 1952, but these units were plagued by a major design flaw. Though they obtained a close ratio between first and second, and between third and fourth, it proved impossible to close the overly wide gap between second and third because the necessary gear size couldn't be squeezed into the available space. Another problem was that the truck gearbox was made of cast iron, and therefore heavier than desirable.

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The Introduction of the Allard J2-R

The J2-X differed little from the J2 externally. This 1951 model doesn’t sport the exterior spare tire, although it does have a large 50-gallon fuel tank.
The J2-X differed little from the J2 externally. This 1951 model doesn’t sport the exterior spare tire, although it does have a large 50-gallon fuel tank.

Now we consider the introduction of the Allard J2-R, the finest Allard.

During 1952 and 1953, Allard built both smaller and larger cars: the M2-X five-passenger cabriolet and the P2 five/six-passenger sedan, with a choice of Ford/Mercury or Cadillac V-8 engines, and the smaller 21-C Palm Beach with the inline four-cylinder ohv Consul engine or the 21-Z with the inline six-cylinder Zephyr powerplant (both Ford engines). And, finally, there was the K3, with a choice of Ford, Mercury, or Chrysler V-8s -- or the more exotic Jaguar inline dual-overhead-cam six. Whatever the engine, all of these models retained the coil springs, split front axle, and de Dion rear setup.

The final J model, the J2-R -- probably the best Allard ever made -- came in 1953. Its frame consisted of the four-tube assembly used for the Palm Beach model, but with a new de Dion layout at the rear that positioned the de Dion tube with twin A-brackets and parallel trailing arms on each side. The front axle assembly remained as before, with the split-I-beam Ford front axle and coil springs.

The Cadillac engine was modified to accommodate four twin-choke Solex carburetors, a high-lift cam with solid tappets, 9.0:1 compression ratio, and a special exhaust system, all of which combined to produce 270 horsepower at 4600 rpm. The mechanicals were complemented by an envelope body and a dry weight of 2200 pounds.

The J2-R was built solely as a sports/racing car, and Sydney Allard proved its performance potential when he led the first lap of the 1953 Le Mans race by a wide margin. He continued to lead for three laps before a broken brake line put the Allard out of the race. Only seven of these J2-R Allards were built, most of them going to the U.S. or Canada.

Note the racing-style fuel filler cap and mirrors, the “louvers” on the backside of the front fenders, and the row of small gauges on the passenger’s side of the dash.

Unfortunately, the J2-R was too much too late. By the time this relatively heavy machine got into competition, the Ferraris, Jaguars, Maseratis, and Aston Martins were becoming lighter, riding more sophisticated suspensions, and -- in some cases -- running with more power. The Jaguars also featured better brakes: Dunlop disc units from the C-Type model.

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The End of the Allards

An Allard with a streamlined envelope body? Yes, it’s the 1953 Le Mans racer. This one was first raced at Bridgehampton in May 1953.
An Allard with a streamlined envelope body? Yes, it’s the 1953 Le Mans racer. This one was first raced at Bridgehampton in May 1953.

The end of the Allards: during the 13 model years (1946-1959) Allards were produced, sales brought modest success to the company, but the firm never was a great moneymaker. In the end, the need for lighter and more sophisticated racing machinery was at odds with both Allard's financial condition and Sydney's philosophical attitude about car design and construction.

When the production of Allard cars for sale to the public ceased, the company turned to producing its de Dion rear axle (minus the quick-change gear feature) for London County Council ambulances. The poor citizens who needed ambulance travel probably didn't know or care that the vehicle had an Allard-built de Dion axle, but if they were in pain they may well have appreciated the improved ride.

However, race fans everywhere can all thank Sydney Allard for some of the great racing excitement he helped provide in the 1950s. For example, well-known race drivers such as Bill Pollack, Erwin Goldschmidt, Fred Wacker, Mike Graham, Sam Weiss, John Gordon Bennet, and John Fitch all drove Allards at one time or another.

This red 1952 J2-X has no “decklid.”

Perhaps Jeff Allison, writing in Vintage Motorsport magazine in 1990, summed it up best: "No matter what has been said about the Allard in the past, it is undeniable that the Allard J-Series cars were the right cars at the right time. They moved American racing from crude hot rods and specials to production-based sports cars. Not bad for a cycle-fendered ugly duckling with raw power, fierce acceleration, negligible braking, and sometimes very suspect handling-a mixed bag but still one of the most exciting cars on four wheels in its time."

Sydney Herbert Allard died in April 1966, shortly before his 56th birthday. And just as he died before his time, it can also be said of some geniuses that they were born before their time. In Allard's case, however, he may simply have been misplaced by 6,000 miles, an ocean, and a continent. With his knowledge and ability to extract performance from what was essentially a hot rod, and a not very sophisticated one at that, he should have been practicing his art in southern California. He would have felt right at home -- and very welcome as well.

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