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Add your own patina--Canadian firm delivers new 1951 Allard J2X Mk II

Rafay Ansar

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The new Allards are here, the new Allards are here!

That cry hasn't been heard--if it ever was--for most of 50 years, but eight fortunate buyers are slated to take delivery by December on a remarkably well sorted-out machine with the authentic looks of a 1951 Allard J2X and the performance of a modern car.

We got an exclusive chance to drive the first of these new cars Oct. 10 when it passed through the Detroit area en route to its owner, a Kansan who winters in Sedona, Ariz. Allard Motor Works president Roger Allard was taking it there in person, and we met with him for a cup of coffee and a brief test drive.

It was four years ago at Watkins Glen that we first met with Allard and drove a prototype car. You can read about that encounter at www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041018/FREE/410180713.

To recap briefly: Roger Allard knows of no familial relationship beyond the surname between himself and Englishman Sydney Allard, the sports-car manufacturer who built fewer than 2,000 cars between 1946 and 1959 and saw his creations make their mark in world motorsports.

Original plan called for F cars

A dyed-in-the-wool car buff, Allard was inspired by the coincidence of names to do some research and that's how, in 1999, he saw an opportunity and seized it. From a U.S. firm that had planned a replica but never quite got off the ground, he purchased trademark rights to the name and some fiberglass body molds taken from one of the original cars. With these, he established Allard Motor Works in Montreal. His first plan called for the use of components from General Motors' F-body pony cars (then built in nearby Ste. Therese, Quebec) with engineering assistance from SLP Engineering. When GM canceled the Camaro/Firebird and SLP went belly up, Allard suffered the first of many setbacks, but he is nothing if not persistent.

Making the best of things, he took the opportunity to engineer a proper tube-frame chassis and Allard-unique suspension components. As long as he was at it, he lengthened the wheelbase to 106 inches (versus 100 for the originals and 102 in his 2001 design) to improve legroom and foot room in the cockpit, making for better ride quality and stability in the process.

The engine sits well back in the chassis, yielding a 50-50 weight distribution. Allard incorporated several safety features, including rigid rollover protection--most obvious are the chromed rollbars behind the seats, which are gusseted into the chassis proper, but there's also a protective cage built into the car under the cowl and another around the fuel tank behind the seats, plus 5-mph bumpers at both ends, side-impact bars in the doors and integrated crumple zones. No, it's probably not as safe as a modern sedan from a major car company, but it's far, far beyond what you'd get in an authentic sports or racing car with a design 20 years newer than the original edition.

An aluminum hood with real louvers and proper metal portholes improved the looks over the plastic panels used at first, and that provided Allard Motor Works a market for parts among restorers of the originals. The company does its own engine-turned dashboard with properly sized and styled--but electronically operated--gauges that also were welcomed by restorers fed up with finicky rebuilds of old Smiths mechanical units.

The original Allard J2X, of which only 83 were built, was designed to use American V8 engines. Initially, this was the flathead Ford or Mercury, then the lightweight Cadillac (160 hp gross) and Chrysler Hemi OHV (180 hp gross) designs. Hot-rodders could get 230 hp out of these engines. The original cars often were shipped to the United States from the English factory sans engine, so it's appropriate that the new edition is technically an "assembled" car. The buyer has Allard Motor Works build the chassis/body at its assembly plant in Champlain, N.Y., then chooses from a list of approved engine builder/ installers. You get a choice of modern powerplants with all the electronic injection and controls, but dressed out with a circular air cleaner over the throttle body to give it the right look.

Crate motors under the hood

The base engine is the modern GM RamJet crate motor, a 350-cubic-inch small block rated at 360 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, and that would be entertaining and quick (as we found four years ago). One step up is the RamJet making 400 hp. The Chevy is not quite authentic, in that the original Allard J2 production run predates the 1955 arrival of the Chevy small block. Given that the Chevy pretty much supplanted the flathead Ford as the hot-rodder's first choice, it's a good call. Heck, the subsequent ubiquity of the engine in all GM brands means you wouldn't be stretching too far if you used valve covers that said "Cadillac" on them.

The car we drove had a rip-snorting modern 6.1-liter Chrysler Hemi that measured 600 hp on the dyno. With the side pipes (also optional) that the owner ordered, it probably wasn't realizing all of that thrust as installed, but there was more than plenty in a car that weighs a truck scale-certified 2,760 pounds (as tested), and the sound was an awesome, guttural roar that stops short of the pain threshold.

Allard Motor Works estimates that the base drivetrain is good for 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, and that seems like plenty of fun for the road in a car such as this. The more powerful engines might be preferred by those who'd like to enter their cars in track-day events or wheel-to-wheel vintage club racing (such replicars are more commonly seen in European vintage races than U.S. ones, though). The car's nature is a true expression of the term sports car--one that you could drive to the track, race and drive home.

Of the eight cars being delivered before the end of the year, four have Hemis (the standard 5.7-liter makes 365 hp, and there are three other states of tune between that and the full-on 600-hp edition). Allard says he often gets requests for a kit version or completed rolling chassis, but says he'd only deliver the latter and only to a buyer who could show he had a period-correct 1950s Cadillac or Hemi (both 331 cid) to install. At least one owner has opted for 1950s-correct narrow, bias-ply tires rather than the standard 60-section, 16-inch Z-rated Dunlop radials.

The modern engines couple to a Tremec TKO five-speed manual or optional GM700R four-speed automatic. The Tremec is suitable and though the lever is long--topped with a wood knob that Allard Motor Works makes itself--the action is crisp enough. The wood steering wheel with its thin rim and four metal spokes may not excite proponents of steering wheels that resemble a ring of bologna, but it is period-authentic and the large diameter eases effort on the unassisted steering. The pedals are arranged properly for heel-toe shifting. The brakes--Wilwood discs all around--take a strong push, but they bring the car to halt in a way that would astound those old Allard racers.

Obsessed with doing things right

It all works tremendously well, rattle-free and feeling all of a piece. This is a solid car, with no evident chassis twist even when you get into the Hemi's torque band in low gears. For all its spot-on looks, it's a far more refined and polished car than anything Sydney Allard ever produced, with nary a rough edge to be found.

Roger Allard seems to be obsessed with doing this thing right, with proper, modern engineering and an attention to detail you have to see to appreciate, right down to the fabric wrapping on the wiring harness. The leather-lined cockpit is a treat, the bucket seats much more comfortable and supportive than the bench in the original, and the parts of the body that are plastic are cleverly disguised in places that others neglect.

Overall, the J2X is up to the standards of the best replicars we've seen, and it's a bunch of fun to drive.

Allard has had his prototype in steady circulation at vintage races and collector car shows all over the map, and it has generated excitement among the car-smart at those venues. He got some investors to keep the dream alive these past four years, and finally delivering cars is a major step forward. He'd like to get ramped up to a production level of 100 cars max a year, or at least enough volume to get a better price break on parts. He hopes to sell cars in Europe as well as in the United States.

With a starting price of $128,500 for a car with no roof, this clearly is an expensive plaything for the rich, arriving at an unfortunate period in the economy--even for the people who could afford it. For those who can consider expanding their stables, though, an Allard J2X Mk II is cheaper than many of the alternatives and provides a unique choice worth considering. It's authentic enough that the Allard Register has agreed to issue serial numbers in sequence from the end of production of original cars, so Allard Motor Works's 001 wears "J2X 9020" on its number plate. The originals are rare and increasingly expensive, so an excellent replicar--even for those who own one of the real Allards--has strong appeal. More details about the new car and company can be found at www.allardj2x.com.
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