1950 Allard J2. Click image to enlarge
Story and photo by Bill Vance
The installation of large American engines in relatively lightweight English bodies and chassis has fascinated several small British automakers over the years. Reid Railton of land speed record fame, used six-and eight-cylinder Hudson engines in his 1930s Railton road cars. Jensen Motors used Ford V8 and Nash engines before the Second World War, and Chrysler V8s after the war until the 1970s.
Another Englishman who used American engines in his cars was Sydney Allard in the 1950s, including the 1950 to ’54 Allard J2 and J2X. Although only briefly on the scene, and produced in small numbers, they represented the epitome of the Anglo-American hot rod until the arrival of the AC Cobra.
Sydney Allard had a Ford dealership in London in the 1930s, and was a keen competitor who participated in a variety of motor-sports such as races, rallies and hill climbs. He was also a devotee of that peculiarly English pastime known as “trials” in which fiendish but good-natured competitors try to outrace each other’s cars up slimy, mud-covered hillsides. Allard soon discovered the advantage of the American Ford V8, which had been introduced to great fanfare in 1932.
He built a racing special in the mid-thirties using a wrecked Ford V8 chassis and a Bugatti body. Although it horrified the purists, it was successful enough in competition to encourage the production of Ford-powered Allard Specials as an adjunct to the garage business.
Following the Second World War, Allard established the Allard Motor Co. in Clapham, London, in 1946. Anticipating a better market for touring cars than for his prewar specials, he built a line of these in two-and four-passenger models.
Allard was anxious to export to North America, and a scouting trip across the Atlantic convinced him that his existing cars wouldn’t be popular over here, but that a sports car in the idiom of his prewar specials might be. His response, which he began building in late 1949, was the Allard J2. It was the most basic of cars, with a minimal aluminum roadster body and cycle fenders. The engine, suspension and body were attached to a straightforward ladder type frame.
The front suspension was the somewhat odd arrangement that he had used before the war. It was produced by cutting a Ford solid axle in half in the middle. Each half was then pivoted so that it provided an independent swing-axle front suspension using coil springs.
The most sophisticated feature of the J2 was its rear suspension, which was a de Dion axle which kept the wheels parallel to each other, but did not transmit power as a regular solid rear-drive axle does. Power went to the wheels through universal-jointed drive axles. Coil springs were used here, too, and to lower unsprung weight, the brakes were mounted in-board next to the quick-change differential. A Ford three-speed manual transmission was fitted.
In keeping with his penchant for large, powerful engines, Allard again looked to America. By this time, however, the Ford V8 was getting long in the tooth, although it was helped by an overhead valve conversion kit called the Ardun head.
By far the overwhelming favourites were the new Cadillac short-stroke, overhead valve V8s, and occasionally the Chrysler “Hemi” V8s and others. The cars were usually shipped to North America without engines, with buyers arranging to have them installed when they arrived.
As would be expected of a light roadster fitted with a powerful Cadillac engine, the Allard was quite fast, particularly in acceleration. Estimates put the zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time at seven seconds or less, and zero to 161 (100) in 23 second.
Even though the J2’s shape wasn’t very aerodynamically efficient, top speed was at least 193 km/h (120 mph), depending on gearing. Also, it took a brave soul to drive it extremely fast, as the unusual front suspension was quite erratic under acceleration and deceleration, and over uneven road surfaces.
In spite of its tricky handling, its prodigious power-to- weight ratio made the Allard J2 quite successful in competition for a brief period. It won several major American road races and finished third at the Le Mans, France, 24-hour endurance race in 1950, co-driven by Sydney Allard himself.
The J2 was succeeded by the J2X in 1952. The newer car had improved front suspension and steering, and the engine was moved forward for better handling and more leg room.
By this time, however, the more sophisticated Ferraris and Jaguars and their ilk had taken over road race superiority, leaving the crude Allard behind.
Production of the J2X ended in 1954. About 90 J2s and 83 J2Xs had been built when Sydney Allard turned to other projects, none of which would etch his name quite so deeply in automotive history as those 1950 to ’54 Anglo-American hot rods.