Motor Sport and How It Helps To Sell British Cars Overseas
Before a considerable, mixed audience at the Waldorf Hotel on November 2nd, Sydney Allard, Managing Director of the Allard Motor Co., Ltd., addressed the Publicity Club of London on the subject of "Motor Sport and How It Helps to Sell British Cars Overseas."
Briefly outlining his career as a competition motorist, Mr. Allard said he commenced in 1928 with a Morgan three-wheeler, which he ran at Brooklands and elsewhere, and in 1936 he built his first Allard Special from Ford components, he decided to sell a few of these cars to friends and in all sold between one and two dozen before the war.
After the war he was told he must export three-quarters of his total output, this representing a severe problem to a small firm, to whom daily press advertising was out of reach financially. Consequently, he relied on advertisements in the less-expensive motoring press. He also realised the publicity value of entering for competition events, although entering primarily for the love of the sport. He believed that Editorial "mentions" are worth far more than paid advertising.
He explained that before the war British car manufacturers paid very little attention to exporting their products. People overseas liked a British car and ordered it and off it went, but no great attempt was made to foster exports. The war altered all that and whereas about 20 per cent. of our car output was exported pre-war, said Mr. Allard, today the figure is about 60 per cent. and our very existence depends on maintaining it.
With this in mind he entered for Continental events, although at first S.M.M.T. control, since relaxed, was hampering. Indeed, the S.M.M.T. today has a sub-committee which considers this aspect of competition motoring.
Speaking of his interest in the sport, Mr. Allard said when he was young his greatest ambition was to serve in a sweetshop, but today that would nauseate him ! It is much the same with races and rallies; as you get older the thrill diminishes. A schoolboy at Earls Court had told him he must have the most enviable job in the world, but Mr. Allard told his audience of several tough experiences to disprove this ! "The thrill," he said, "is diminishing with advancing years."
Of publicity, he had found B.B.C. references brought in lots of inquiries and he felt that results from such publicity built up to a peak over the years, as witness the fact that fewer inquiries came in after he had won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1952 than when the B.B.C. had mentioned his less successful efforts in earlier rallies. He paid tribute to Editorial publicity in getting his cars known in many countries in which he couldn't possibly advertise, this reflecting the real value of competition motoring. He has sold cars to 45 different countries as a result, although mostly only one or two here and there, as the U.S.A. are the only real export market for the Allard.
Rallies seem to bring the best results, particularly the Monte Carlo Rally. Mr. Allard said he reduces costs by taking relatives as his crew, as they pay for themselves, and by encouraging private owners to enter their Allards.
On the question of whether failure offsets the advantage which success brings, Mr. Allard thought the main thing was to compete as some publicity results whatever the outcome, as Henry Ford found by the jokes about his immortal model-T. He referred to the interest now shown in Continental competitions by British firms, either directly or under the cloak of subsidised private-owner entries and expects to see increasing interest in the future.
His victory in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally was largely due to having a spare car at Monte Carlo with which to learn the regularity course and taking pains to do so; next year Mr. Allard feels no one will stand a remote chance of success unless they go out first and practise the new final tests. Ford practised extensively prior to this year's Lisbon Rally and, costly as this is, it is essential. Mr. Allard described his own experiences in rallies and races, from towing two cars across Europe behind a third when short of petrol-coupons after the war, to crashing in the Targa -"I don't know why my passenger continues to come with me and all I can do is to insure his life for greater and greater sums of money each year."
Repeatedly Mr. Allard said it was almost impossible to assess the results of advertising and publicity on sales. Even after his 1952 Monte Carlo Rally victory and its resultant world-wide publicity he couldn't tell how many sales resulted from it, and he found this to be the case with other manufacturers. But sports-car racing results in America were of vital importance to selling cars in their best export market - France was virtually a closed shop as far as sales were concerned.
He felt the wording of advertisements needed supervision by the S.M.M.T.. such as when a company announces in huge headlines that its car is FIRST IN THE MONTE CARLO and adds underneath. in very small type,"in the coachwork section, 1,100 c.c. class."
(I heartily agree; after a recent tiff over who makes the World's fastest production car, one protagonist adds "up to 3.000 c.c.."but in very small letters ! - Ed.)
Holding up a copy of the American magazine. Life, Mr. Allard said a full-page colour picture of an Allard appeared therein. He is told the magazine has a circulation of 5 1/2 million readers so he was naturally delighted, but again he could not trace any sales directly to this. The effect of good publicity is obviously cumulative. Competition motoring could be expensive, as when he covered some 7,000 miles in a fortnight to the Mille Miglia only to crash and have his car burn out - all he gained on that occasion was - "a little more experience." But other well-publicised concerns have failures too, as witness the fearful delays Mr. Allard experienced at the hands of B.O.A.C., when anxious to reach Rome in a hurry.
When asked whether he feared competition from American manufacturers themselves, Mr. Allard said America was watching the sports-car market, but would only find it worth while to build such cars at the rate of 20,000 minimum per annum, whereas he was selling in a very specialised market, absorbing only about 100 cars a year.
In answer to a question as to whether the attacking of production car speed records improved the breed of sports cars as used by ordinary enthusiasts, Mr. Allard said probably some useful lessons resulted, but he thought the aim was mainly that of having something concrete to put in the hands of advertisement copywriters. Thus, Jaguar had exceeded 170 m.p.h. with the type of car which, as sold generally to America, would do about 115 m.p.h. ; it was nice to know that this car could be made to do such a speed, but the main value was that of useful publicity, certainly far better than the U.S. trend to think-up fictitious horse-power figures for advertising purposes. - W. B.