1953: Allard Prepares For Le Mans
We’ve talked about Sidney Allard before. He was an England based hot rodder with an absolute knack for creating speed, power, and performance. He first proved himself in the mid-1930s by building and campaigning a series of successful trial machines constructed from a collection of Bugatti and Ford parts. After the war, he took a v8 Steyr tank engine, mounted it in a bare chassis, and then won the National British Hill Climb Championship. The Allard Motor Company was founded soon afterwards.
And to me, this is the most interesting period of Allard’s life. See, he started in the mechanical world at a shop called Adlard’s Motors. At Adlards (A British Ford Dealership) Sydney was responsible for preparing race cars for international competition. This exposure to American powerplants became the foundation for his own motor company in 1946.
His first contraption to leave the shop was the Allard J1. The J1 was a Ford flathead powered roadster that was prone to overheating and was largely criticized for being under powered. Before giving up on the J1, Sydney produced 12 examples.
Needing capital to continue his effort, Sydney decided to build and produce a two-seat sports car. The Allard K1 shared all of the common and well-proven Ford parts as featured on the J1, but the car was “de-tuned” for street duty. Larger quantities were produced and Allard saw his first profits.
With cash in hand and still dreaming of checkered flags, Allard produced the J2 in 1950. The J2 was similar to the J1, but the motor was moved further back and the Ford suspension system was ditched in favor of coils and a De Dion setup. Again, the Ford Flathead was the primary engine of choice, but other motors were used as well including the overhead Cad and Chrysler’s Hemi.
In fact, Sydney’s greatest moment in auto racing came in 1950 when he and Tom Cole drove a Cad powered J2 to a first in class and third overall finish at the 24 hours of Le Mans. It was a huge accomplishment considering their limited budget and their incredibly stiff competition.
Back in the states, hot rodders picked up J2 cars as quickly as they could find them and success followed. In fact, in a 1957 article Road & Track Magazine called the Allard J2 the most battle tested and rewarding race car chassis ever built. Those are huge words…
Even so, my favorite Allard is the JR. The Allard JR was produced in 1953 to race at Le Mans. It was very similar to the J2, but was streamlined with the addition of a full aerodynamic body. Seven were produced and two were raced at Le Mans in 1953. One was driven by Zora Arkus-Duntov. Zora’s Cad powered entry was clocked at well over 145 mph on the Mulsanne Straight, but finally failed shortly after midnight due to engine problems. The other car was driven by Sydney Allard. Sydney led the first lap of the race and all things pointed to a glorious outcome until a broken brake drum forced him to park his JR.
The video below is a rare glimpse into the preparation of these cars for the 1953 event. You can almost see the optimism in the crew’s eyes as they warm the cars up and stretch their legs on city streets. That optimism is almost as beautiful as the cars themselves.