Allard Sports Cars

Allard found a way to combine racing ingenuity and innovation to build a breed of sports cars that challenged the big boys. See more pictures of sports cars.

Allard sports cars demonstrated how good-old-fashioned gumption can sometimes trump the fancy products of big-name automakers. In this article, you will learn how Allard’s homegrown designs in the 1940s and 1950s gave giants such as Ferrari and Jaguar all they could handle in the wide-open world of international road racing.

Sydney Allard came on the scene as a smart and resourceful Brit who owned a garage that sold English Fords in the 1920s and ‘30s. Allard was also a racer and enjoyed track success with home-built cars that put Ford flathead V-8s in chassis he had modified for the purpose.

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He began with the Allard K1, a roadgoing Ford-powered convertible of 1946. See how it was perfected in 1950 with the Allard J2, a wild-looking racing roadster that combined the crude-but-effective Allard chassis with hearty V-8s from Ford, Chrysler, even Cadillac.

Along with the Allard J2X of 1952, these crazed crossbreeds finished ahead of pedigreed sports cars on courses from Watkins Glen to Pebble Beach. Allard also built some tamer street models, including the Allard K2 of 1950 and perhaps his best-looking car, the Allard K3 of 1952.

Allard’s operation eventually would succumb to the development dollars “real” automakers could throw behind their designs. But for a brief and wondrous moment in the 1950s, Allard’s backyard brutes stood up to virtually all comers.

Let's get started on the next page with the car that started it all -- the Allard K1.

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Allard K1

Unique “waterfall” grille was characteristic of Allard’s early-postwar roadgoing models.

Sydney Allard, developer of the Allard K1, was 19 years old in 1929, a member of a London family who owned a garage that sold British Ford cars. Sydney raced a three-wheel Morgan Super Sports at the Brooklands circuit that year, but with very little success. Deciding he needed an extra wheel, he added one to create the first Allard special.

Sydney’s first fling with a Ford, a relationship that would last as long as he built cars, came in 1932 when he bought a new four-cylinder Model B and installed a highly modified Model BB truck engine. That car went so well that he began to think of what he might do with one of Ford’s V-8s, particularly in a lightweight chassis.

Through an incredible coincidence, Allard found just the car he had been looking for at the Tourist Trophy race in Ards, Ireland, in 1934. The area Ford distributor had shown up with two shiny specials fitted with the American flathead engine, and Allard bought one without a second thought.

Allard campaigned the car for two seasons in track races, rallies, and hillclimbs. But success in somebody else’s car wasn’t enough. Allard wanted to build his own.

The opportunity came in 1936 when he bought a wrecked ’35 Ford coupe. After towing it home on a Friday, he started dismantling and rebuilding it on Monday. By Saturday, the first car to carry the name Allard Special was running. It followed a pattern that Sydney would continue to use in future years.

The frame was shortened, lightened, and fitted with a 1932 Ford front-axle assembly, which was lighter than the ’35 unit. Unlike later Allards though, this chassis was topped with a Bugatti Type 51 body. This oddball hybrid was a winner from the start. During the winter, suspension engineer Leslie Bellamy designed the now-infamous split-front-axle independent suspension that was to become a trademark of all early Allards.

World War II found the Allard garage repairing and maintaining British army trucks; as soon as hostilities were over, Sydney again turned to car building, but with a new seriousness. Like so many others in postwar England, his major problem was a lack of materials, particularly steel and aluminum. This was one of the many reasons why Allard relied so heavily on proprietary parts for his cars. His choice of Ford components rather than some other make’s stemmed from a combination of availability, cost, and his own familiarity with them.

Designated K1, Allard’s first postwar car was largely a carryover from the limited-production prewar J1 except for a six-inch-longer wheelbase. The engine (a British-built 221-cubic-inch Ford V-8 with 85 horsepower) was virtually stock. Transmission, driveshaft, rear axle, and brakes were also stock Ford, as was the front axle. However, the last was split in the center to create a swing-axle type independent front suspension.

A torque tube and beam axle located the rear wheels; front and rear springing was by Ford’s antiquated transverse leafs. The frame was made up from stamped-steel channel sections by Thomsons of Wolverton specially for Allard. Side rails and cross-members were designed to fit the existing Ford suspension pieces, because there was no thought at that time of using anything but Ford running gear and chassis components.

Most early Allards -- the K, L, and M two- and four-place models -- looked much the same. Some have compared them to the BMW 328, with the same sort of squarish “waterfall” grille and separate fenders front and rear. All were right-hand drive, of course. The four-place models had roll-up windows. Bodies, all built by Allard, employed a wood-frame overlaid with steel panels.

As far as we know, the Allard K1 was never offered for sale outside England, although company records show a few going to Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Australia, and possibly three to the U.S. As expected, the vast majority were sold in England and Scotland. Some Allard K1s carried Canadian Mercury V-8s instead of the British Ford unit.

The K-series was really a stepping-stone model for Allard, who would go on to even greater fame and success with the J2 competition model.

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Allard J2

The Allard J2 had a rough beginning. The postwar resurgence of England’s auto industry was hard on many. The car companies seemed to be seeking the most profit per pound of scarce materials rather than trying to develop new models, so buyers didn’t have a great choice of cars -- or many great ones either. As bad as this may have been for the public, it was good for Sydney Allard’s fledgling business and ultimately led to the development of the Allard J2.

Allard evaluated the situation and was smart enough to realize that it wouldn’t last forever, and that he’d better get cracking on a new and better car before things changed. Allard went to the U.S. on a research trip, and came home with an important fact he hadn’t known before: Americans wouldn’t buy his existing K, L, or M models, but they might buy an updated version of his original J. The result was the Allard J2, the car that put Allards in the winner’s circle and Sydney’s name on the sports-car racing map.

Retaining the J1’s 100-inch wheelbase and the split I-beam front axle used in all Allards since World War II, the Allard J2 featured coils instead of the old transverse leaf springs front and rear, plus a De Dion rear axle with quick-change center section and inboard 12-inch Alfin drum brakes. The radius rods that had previously helped locate a live rear axle now served as locating members for the De Dion dead-axle beam. Dry weight could be as low as 2000 pounds, but never went over 2600 even with one of the big new American V-8s such as Cadillac or Chrysler.

Having improved the chassis, Allard turned his attention to the powerplant. His “off-the-shelf” engine, the flathead Ford V-8, was 18 years old in 1950, and thus no longer suitable for a serious competition car despite an enormous amount of available speed equipment -- at least for U.S. buyers. (Import restrictions kept it from being sold in England.) By coincidence, an overhead-valve conversion for the flathead Ford/Mercury V-8 was being created in New York City by Zora Arkus-Duntov (in a loft he shared with Luigi Chinetti, soon to be U.S. Ferrari distributor).

Duntov’s design, a pushrod-and-rocker-arm system much like that of the first Chrysler hemi V-8 engines, worked well in some American hot rods at places like Bonneville and El Mirage Dry Lake, but nobody in England, it seemed, could make this Ardun engine produce reliable power for any length of time. Thus, the Allard J2 arrived with a choice of flathead Ford or Mercury, the Ardun ohv conversion, or the new ohv Cadillac or Chrysler V-8s. It soon became obvious that the last were the ones to have, and the Ardun engine was dropped from production after about 75 Allard J2s were so equipped.

For all its faults, the Allard J2 was a simple, reliable competition machine. As with his previous cars, Allard used as many proprietary parts as possible, most of which were understressed and seldom caused trouble. Those that broke were easily and cheaply replaced, so it was no great problem to maintain a racing schedule with this rugged, very dependable car. The frame remained a channel-section stamped-steel affair, with cross-members for supporting radiator, engine, transmission, front and rear axles, and the rudimentary body with its bolt-on rear fenders and cycle-type front fenders.

Cars were made with either left- or right-hand drive depending on the work order and ultimate destination. With their proprietary Ford axles, early Allard J2s naturally had the same 56-inch track dimensions as contemporary Fords, but rear track was reduced to 52 inches with the J2’s De Dion axle. This sometimes made the car look as though it “crab-tracked” when in fact it was going dead straight.

The Allard J2 was a very basic car for touring or racing, little more than a British hot rod. But it was fast (especially with Cadillac or Chrysler power), exciting (for race watchers as well as drivers) and, until overwhelmed by the more sophisticated and far costlier Ferraris, Maseratis, and Mercedes, was usually the car to beat at most any event.

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Allard K2

Buick-style portholes and rather odd proportioning marked the Allard K2. This example has been treated to a supercharger and protruding dual exhausts.

Nineteen-fifty brought out an improved version of Sydney Allard’s roadgoing K1 sports car. Logically designated the Allard K2, it retained a live rear axle with transverse leaf spring and a split front axle, now on twin coil springs instead of the single transverse leaf. Also new was a smoother, two/three-seat aluminum body with cut-down doors and a tail treatment not far removed from that of the Jaguar XK120.

From there forward, however, the K2 was its own car, sharing a style with nothing but other Allards. The front fenders were what some designers call the “clamshell” type and carried flush headlights. The front bodysides, with three portholes a la Buick, joined to a rounded nose with a squarish, vertical-bar grille. Set well back from this was a small flat hood panel. Typical of Allard practice to date, stamped-steel disc wheels were standard, and short bumperettes protected the easily dented body front and rear.

Inside, the Allard K2 was pretty stark but more “luxurious” than any previous two-seat Allards -- more like the four-passenger L, M, and P models -- with full instrumentation and a choice of right- or left-hand drive.

Underneath, frame rails and cross-members were stamped specially for Allard by Thomsons of Wolverhampton, not made up from Ford pieces, though engine, transmission, and both axles continued to come from Ford. Also retained was a front axle split in the center to create the now-famous Allard swing-axle ifs, while the rear axle was shortened to provide a narrower rear track.

The Allard K2 was offered with four engines, all based on the Ford/Mercury flathead V-8: a 221-inch version with 85 horsepower, the same with 90 bhp (presumably via high-compression heads and dual intake manifold), a 239-cid block with Ardun ohv heads and a rated 140 bhp, and a bored-out 266.8-cid Mercury unit with Allard aluminum heads and 110 bhp. Unlike the J2, no ohv American V-8s were available here.

Allard made his own speed equipment for the Ford engine because of England’s exorbitant import duty on U.S. parts, though he based them on the American items. His cylinder heads, for example, were copied from Eddie Edmunds, his dual intake manifold from Eddie Meyer.

Americans who bought an Allard with a “Mercury” engine soon found that it really had the 1937/early-’38 Ford 21-stud unit, with the water pump in the block and the water outlets in the center of the cylinder heads. Those who tried to put American speed equipment on the British-built V-8 often found things didn’t fit right, and a 24-stud Edelbrock head, for example, wouldn’t fit at all. The intake manifolds were interchangeable, so that was no problem.

Like the predecessor K1, most carried proprietary British and American flathead Ford V-8s.

Like so many other Allards, the Allard K2s were little more than British-style hot rods, modeled on the American concept but designed more for touring or road racing than sheer straight-line performance. American hot rodders bought ‘32 Ford roadsters and went to work; British hot rodders just bought Allards. Undoubtedly, Sydney Allard would have felt right at home in Los Angeles or on El Mirage Dry Lake, and Yankee speed demons would have found him a kindred spirit.

Allard built 119 Allard K2s through 1952, and a substantial number of them were sold in the United States. (Curiously, the first two, sold in February 1950, went to Uruguay.) This isn’t surprising given the Ford heritage of most Allards, many of which received extreme engine modifications after reaching these shores. The ready availability of flathead-Ford speed equipment and wide knowledge of how to use it made a lot of Allards a lot faster than Sydney ever dreamed.

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Allard K3

The Allard K3 was Sydney Allard’s first attempt at modern sports-car styling, which bore a passing resemblance to the contemporary Cunningham C2.
The Allard K3 was Sydney Allard’s first attempt at modern sports-car styling, which bore a passing resemblance to the contemporary Cunningham C2.

Having been very successful in building competition-oriented cars, Sydney Allard turned to the design and production of a more serious touring model in 1952. The result was the new Allard K3, generally offered with the buyer’s choice of engine, with engine mounts then fitted to suit. Allard kept his unique split-axle independent front suspension and borrowed his Allard J2’s wider De Dion rear axle.

Otherwise, the Allard K3 frame was totally new. Made with a pair of stacked chrome-moly tubes as side rails, heavily gusseted with steel plates, it was both lighter and stronger than the previous stamped-steel channel-section chassis.

Bodywork, too, was all-new, being a modern “envelope” type with integral rather than separate fenders. Inside was a bench seat that could accommodate three in relative comfort.

Though built on a wheelbase six inches shorter than the K2’s, the Allard K3 seemed bigger than it really was. It was too often compared with the contemporary MG, Triumph, Porsche, and Austin-Healey, all of which made the Allard K3 seem huge when, in fact, its main bulk was in width (tracks were 56.5 inches front, 58.5 inches rear) and weight (2580 pounds at the curb).

Road & Track magazine tested an Allard K3 in October 1954 and gave it high marks for acceleration, handling (weight distribution was 50/50), and steering. However, the editors complained that the wheels wouldn’t turn far enough in either direction and suggested that parallel parking was a definite problem, let alone running a gymkhana.

They also felt that the clutch and transmission were weak points and criticized the aluminum body’s susceptibility to damage from flying gravel. The cockpit came in for the most criticism despite its greater room. The doors didn’t open wide enough, there was no provision for heating or defrosting, and the windshield wipers were inadequate.

Worse, ventilation with the top and windows up was totally inadequate, and with top up and windows down, the car couldn’t be driven more than 35 miles per hour without the top flapping to the passengers’ distraction. So although Allard had intended this as a sporting, fast, and comfortable tourer that could be sold in all countries, it was apparent that the Allard K3 needed much more development. Not surprisingly, most Allard K3s came to the U.S. Two went to Mexico and Canada, and one each to Germany, Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Belgium, and England.

For its day, the Allard K3 was reasonably well finished, if still not as good as cars from the volume manufacturers. Allard had discovered, to his dismay, that what passed for good fit and finish in a competition car was a far cry from what was needed for a saleable road car.

This reflected a big problem. While Sydney Allard had many “better ideas,” his company was seriously undercapitalized, lacking both the facilities and manpower to develop his designs fully. This didn’t seem to matter with his competition cars, particularly in the early 1950s, when racing didn’t have anywhere near the sophistication it does today, but it made producing a competitive road car extremely difficult. When a customer paid well over $5000 for a car (the Allard K3 sold for about $5300 in the U.S.), he expected to get something he could proudly show off to his friends. In that respect, the Allard K3 was an embarrassment in many ways.

Many design flaws precluded high sales. Jaguar XK six and Chrysler hemi V-8 were available, delivered great go.

Early publicity had indicated that the Allard K3 was available with English Ford V-8, American Mercury V-8, Chrysler hemi V-8, or Jaguar XK dohc six. Yet even that choice of powerplants and Allard’s proven race record still weren’t enough to make this car the commercial success he thought it would be. The last Allard K3 left the Allard factory on October 8, 1954. Total production was just 61. Still, it would prove to be neither the most nor least successful of Sydney’s memorable hybrids.

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Allard J2X

Purposeful is the only way to describe the most famous of Allards, the J2X. Extended wheelbase, sidemount spare, and more forward engine made it a better racer than the J2.
Purposeful is the only way to describe the most famous of Allards, the J2X. Extended wheelbase, sidemount spare, and more forward engine made it a better racer than the J2.

As far as we know, Sydney Allard’s first Allard J2X carried chassis number 2138 and was delivered to a buyer in London on September 7, 1951. The second one went to America on November 21. Thus began a production run that would see just 83 cars. The last one left the factory on November 29, 1954, destined for the U.S.

The main visual difference between the Allard J2X and the earlier J2 was their spare tire location: hidden in a compartment low in the back on the J2, an exposed side-mount (just forward of the cockpit) on J2X. The differences were as few underneath, but far more important. Typical Allard suspension -- split I-beam front axle, De Dion rear with long radius rods to the chassis -- was retained, as were all-round coil springs and inboard rear brakes.

In front, the “trailing” radius rods had been moved from behind the axle to a position in front of the axle (“leading” rods), which necessitated a six-inch frame extension at the front. This explains the “X” designation (for extended) as wheelbase remained at 100 inches, as on the Allard J2. It also allowed the engine to be mounted 7.5 inches further forward, which added considerably to cockpit footroom and made the car handle much better at the same time.

As before, engine choices were L-head Mercury V-8, the same with Ardun overhead valves, and ohv Cadillac or Chrysler V-8s. The vast majority of Allard J2Xs were ordered with the last, since the Ford engine, with or without ohv, was no longer a viable contender in the horsepower race.

Most Allard J2Xs also seemed to have center-lock, knock-off wire wheels rather than the stamped-steel discs of the J2, though this is not a hard and fast identification point. The Allard J2X was conceived as a competition car that might be used for touring, while the J2 was the other way around (though more of them probably raced than toured).

At speed, an Allard J2 or J2X was a spectacular sight: rear end hunkered down from the torque of a big Cadillac V-8, front end in the air, the caster angle caused by the swing-axle ifs making the front wheels look “knock-kneed” as the car weaved and dodged its way along.

They may not have been as exciting to drive fast as they looked from the sidelines, but drivers we’ve talked to admit that while the De Dion rear axle kept the back end pretty much under control, the same thing couldn’t be said for the front. Staying on course in either of these beasts was often a matter of aim and hope.

Regardless, the Allard J2X won races, sometimes looking deceptively casual in the process. Spectators at early races from Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton to Torry Pines and Pebble Beach remember Fred Wacker, Mike Graham, and Bill Pollack as being the primary practitioners of the Allard driving art, the last at the wheel of Tom Carstens’ black number-14 J2X complete with chrome-plated luggage rack and whitewall tires!

The view from behind the wheel of the Allard J2X.

They were cars to root for, those Allards -- British hot rods with big American V-8s, something a great many racegoers could readily identify with. They were not “giant killers” because they were giants themselves, but they were the epitome of low-dollar racing in their day -- backyard challengers to the ever-increasing number of costly, multi-cylinder, high-technology Ferraris.

And unfortunately, Sydney Allard could no longer keep pace. By 1954, you either bought a Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati or Aston Martin if you wanted to win races, or you built your own cars with a lot of money and know-how, as Briggs Cunningham did.

The Allards’ days have passed, but they will be fondly remembered and missed. Racing was fun then.

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