Devoted to speed
Very few car builders have competed in as many different motorsport arenas as Sydney Allard. From trials to drag-racing, he did it all. Bill Boddy recalls a true enthusiast
Although Sydney Herbert Allard became a manufacturer of sportscars carrying his name, he was first and foremost an enthusiast who enjoyed all forms of competition driving. Born in 1910 in the London suburb of West Norwood, he was one of three brothers. His father owned various businesses, one of which was called Adlards Motors, causing some confusion when his son started to market Allard cars.
The boys had a lilting for fast vehicles, in which Sydney was joined by Guy Warburton, who drove a 30/98 Vauxhall in trials, Alan May, who also had a decidedly quick 30/98, Reg Canham, who later became the Allard company's works manager and a director, and Alan's sister Eleanor, whom Sydney eventually married. Aged 18, Sydney shook off his father's desire for him to enter the family business and was apprenticed to a local garage, which increased his knowledge of cars, especially American ones, reflected in the use of proprietary American engines in his Allards.
This must also have been why he abandoned a project for cutting-and-shutting a Talbot 105 and fitted a Model-B Ford tourer with a 24hp BB power unit Before this, Sydney Allard had sampled trials driving with Morgans, and from the side-car of brother Dennis's racing Brough Superior. His first event with his fast Super Aero Morgan-JAP was the 1929 Dartmoor trial, and at Brooklands he won the Novices' Handicap, at 73.37mph. Then among the elite of Morgan competitors, he was first at the New Cyclecar Club's 1930 meeting, at 83mph, and lapped at 96.71mph at a BMCRC meeting, belying his car's name 'Snail'.
Sydney now felt he needed a four-wheeler, which he contrived at his Putney works, using a BSA three-wheeler front-end as the back axle of his Morgan, thus obtaining all-round independent suspension. In my digs in West Norwood I used to hear this hybrid crackling past — no doubt Allard out on illicit tests round the quiet side roads.
This experiment proving unsuccessful, Allard bought a lightweight ex-TT modified 3.6-litre Ford V8. Making it lighter still, it proved a good investment Allard used it in the 1935 Brighton speed trials, winning his class. On the mud and gradients, Allard took, it has been calculated, 17 awards including team prizes in the company of private entrant Ken Hutchison and S L Chappell.
Finding the TT Ford not entirely suited to trials work, Allard now built a proper car for the job. The Model-48 Ford had just been introduced, with the marvellous V8 engine and a strengthened back axle. Buying a crashed coupe, Sydney used it as the basis of the first Allard Special, incorporating a GP Bugatti scuttle, tail and steering-assembly. In 18 days' and nights' toil the famous CLK 5 emerged, with an 8ft 4in wheelbase, just in time for the Coventry Cup Trial. Teething troubles there were, but it completed the course and won awards in later events. But now Sydney was eager for some racing. CLK 5 was driven from London to Southport for the 50-mile sand race. He was in his element on the damp course and won, at 61.7mph.
This charming but tough man sought a stiffer challenge — attempting the ascent of Ben Nevis. But the Allard encountered a deep cavity and slowly overturned, so it was back to trials. At Brooklands CLK 5 was stripped for the 1936 LCC Relay Race, but its engine boiled when asked to lap at 103mph. In 1938 Sydney shared Hutchison's 4.3-litre Lincoln V12-powered Allard Special Tailwagger 1 ' in the LCC 3-hour Sportscar Race, and was ninth out of 13 finishers, with many more successes.
Friends were now asking Allard to build cars for them. His father had acquired a business in Keswick Road SW15, where workshop space was available. Thus Adlards Motors began to sell Allard sportscars and a more sober version was built for Mr Allard. But his son being an enthusiast first, a manufacturer second, the competition side was both hobby and publicity. Warburton persuaded Allard to sell him CLK 5 and Hutchison ordered a car with a Lincoln V12 engine. The Tailwaggers' team was thus formed, of Sydney's FGP 750, Hutchison's FGF 290 and Warburton's CLK 5. Trials awards accumulated in such numbers that! have to refrain from listing them.
Allard overturned on Colley in the 1936 Experts' Trial, he and Eleanor being pinned beneath CLK 5. They eventually got out, Sydney amused that he had sold the car and wouldn't the owner be cross! (I rode with Hutchison the following year and he just managed not to invert us!).
Apart from mud-storming, Allard was a regular Prescott hillclimb exponent. For the opening meeting there in 1938 he borrowed Hutchison's V12 and on a steady first run set a sportscar record of 54.35sec, beating a 57S Bugatti and a s/c 4.9 Bugatti. Reg Canham was now the Allard sales manager, the smart example in which he had arrived attracting much attention. Hutchison improved on Allard's record, Sydney having a mild accident; having gone through a hedge he continued down the field back to the paddock while first-aiders were seeking him. The spot where he departed became known as Allard's Gap'.
SHA had not deserted trials. In 1939, winning the Coventry Trial and Colmore Trophy event, the `Tailwaggers' took the Ford E C Committee Team Trophy (Allard, Hutchison and Johnson). The Ford E Chad occurred to me as a club for a neglected but prolific make and Sydney joined me as joint secretary; we ran trials, and even a speed trial until the war killed it, and had a 1912 Ford-T landaulette as mascot. Collecting this with Allard's old Armstrong Siddeley tow-car photographer, James Brymer was driving when we were stopped for going a bit briskly through Clapham. The policeman told me to get out and asked me to warn "my driver" to be more careful — he presumably thought I was 'the Guv'nor!"
At Shelsley Walsh, Allard's sportscar was beaten easily by Ian Connell's 4-litre Darracq but was quicker than three 4.5-litre Invictas and an Atalanta, but he was fastest at Backwell where he won four classes in a sports Allard, on tour with his wife. New Allards had been built for Hutch and Sydney, but an experimental 10hp trials job, built in secret by Tom Lush, was a war casualty. At Weatherby in 1939 SHA set a course record, he broke his own record at Prescott (51.33sec) and then in the wet VSCC event achieved 56.37sec. Finding Eleanor too light in practice and Lush too heavy, I went on this climb, when the late braking and skid control was most impressive.
The year ended with the Homdean hillclimb. I passengered Sydney; he lost it and we were both neatly deposited on our bottoms as the car rolled, with crushed cockpit. I got up and went to see if Allard was OK, but a policeman stopped me saying "Get back, you, there's been an accident!"
During the war Sydney Allard was in a reserved occupation, repairing Service vehicles in the Keswick Road works. Afterwards he moved into premises in Clapham High Street, as Allards were now a saleable proposition (1900 sold in 11 years), liked especially by Americans who appreciated large, lazy US engines in light chassis. I thought Allards the most refined of such hybrids (the straight-eight Railton was in a different category). There were also Sydney's friends who wanted competition Allards.
To improve road-holding Sydney adopted the LMB divided front axle and later improved it — possibly it did not then incur patent fees. Coil springs came later. In his new position SHA told me he was not happy in a suit behind a desk, and was glad when he could retreat to the basement workshop and work on his own cars, with Tom Lush his personal assistant The standard Allard models L, M and P and the competition model-K were in demand, and 'proven' drivers could have a Special with 95bhp Ford Mercury power in place of the 85bhp Ford V8.
SHA was third in the Filton speed trials, and continued in 1946, winning the Bather Cup in the Fedden with a four-speed Allard (LMG 192) and with it took a First in the Lawrence Cup trial. He then won the Experts' Trial.In speed events he made FTD at West Court using crude ohv conversion heads on HLF 601 and won a sportscar class at Prescott. At Homdean he got his second run down to 20sec, and at Bouley Bay he won both sports and racing classes. He was now about to build a proper racing car.
He bought two war-reparations hemi-head V8 air-cooled Steyr engines, and one was prepared for a single-seater, its scuttle formed round a domestic dustbin! This Steyr-Allard became a potent car, of some 3.6-litres, sometimes with twin rear wheels. It broke the Prescott record on its first appearance, and made FTD at Craigantlet and Bo'ness. In 1948 the Steyr-Allard, now with de Dion back axle, made second-FTD at Prescott, Bo'ness and Bouley Bay, and was second fastest over the Brighton kilo (28.61sec). At Prescott again there was another second quickest to Walker's ERA.
There were many bad times as well, but the Steyr was developed and by 1949 had big-bore Alfin cylinder barrels, new heads based on those of JAP speedway engines and eight Amal carburettors. This resulted in a new Prescott record of 46.12sec, reduced to 45.02sec at the next meeting, second at Bo'ness to Poore's Alfa, third at the July Prescott climb, and FTD again at Bouky Bay and Craigantlet .The season ended with yet another new Prescott record (44.26sec).
This established Allard as the RAC Hillclimb Champion, four places ahead of Poore, 10 in front of newcomer Moss. In addition many class wins had been gained with sports Allards, and Eleanor had more than once made Ladies' F 11). It was a great accomplishment, for Sydney himself had developed and built the Steyr. (Archie Butterworth also used a Steyr engine in his 4WD Special; I have not forgotten being towed fast in it from Camberley to Brighton in the dark, and back next day, behind his vintage Bentley, after he had made Flu on Madeira Drive.)
Allard was a popular driver, well over 6ft tall, broad-shouldered, with an engaging grin, his brusque approach to strangers hiding an element of shyness. He had several amusing habits, one being to refer to anyone he didn't know or had forgotten as jumbo'. He had defective sight in one eye, so his driving skill and judgement were all the more commendable.
The Steyr-Allard was transported in £225 Canadian Air Air Crew coach on an LHD Ford truck chassis with Mercury engine, in the charge of Jim Mac. This provided accommodation away from hotels, as Jim was adept at finding food supplies at any venue for Tom Lush and himself.
Allard was now seeking wider fields. He had already done the 1949 Monte Carlo Rally with Lush, in an M-type coupe, but they were too fast in the regularity tests. In 1950 he tried again, with his wife, in another 4.3 coupe; they got eighth place. Tom Cole had been winning races in America, and he and Allard drove a 5.4-litre Cadillac-Allard at Le Mans, after a drive in the Tour de Sicily with Lush had ended in a prang when the Allard caught fire. He won two Goodwood races in a Caddy-J2 and the Steyr made FTD at Prescott and Craigantlet again.
At Le Mans only top gear was left for most of the 24 hours but they were placed a meritorious third behind two Talbots, the best British performance. Cole visited us and after tea insisted on helping — a Le Mans driver doing the washing up! A nice guy, destined to be killed at Le Mans in a Ferrari in 1953. The Leinster Trophy and Ulster Trophy races ended in Allard's retirement but SHA did the usual sprints and at Blandford he and Mrs Allard were first and second in their class. The Silverstone Production car race saw Allard third behind the Jaguars. At the very wet Dundrod TT, won by Moss, gearbox problems gave Sydney only a 27th placing.
In the 1951 Tour de Sicily the Ardun-head engine broke a piston, while in the Mille Miglia, Allard and Lush went over an embankment. Sydney got a third at Goodwood, the now 4WD Steyr beat Butterworth's Steyr-powered Jeep to a second at Prescott, and there had been enjoyable club races. At Le Mans there were multiple troubles and after 13 hours the Allard's clutch gave out. The Steyr was third at Bo'ness behind a Cooper and an ERA.
Peter Collins now had a Cadillac-Allard, and in the USA these and Chrysler hemi-head 5.4 engines had made the marque popular. Cole tried Chrysler power in the Leinster race and made fastest lap but Sydney retired when the Ford gearbox resented the extra torque. Allard won his class at Goodwood and Ibsley, the Steyr made FTD at Craigantlet, and there were good wins at the next Goodwood Meeting. At Brighton Butterworth and Allard were paired, the former making FTD, but Sydney broke the sportscar record and Mrs Allard set Ladies FTD.
If this is becoming catalogue-like, I need to show what a versatile driver Sydney was. If his performances were good business publicity this was simply a bonus; he said he never intended to become a manufacturing tycoon, racing only for pleasure. How many others can claim this?
After further respectable results at Prescott, Shelsley and Castle Combe, Allard did another TT, but the prototype Chrysler-J2X broke a driveshaft and Collins's Cadillac-Allard broke its crown-wheel.
It was in 1952 that SHA gained one of his greatest achievements, with a P-type saloon, in the Monte Carlo Rally. He had recce'd some of the route with Eleanor and checked the odometers etc. at MIRA. Starting from Glasgow with Warburton and Lush, Europe was like a skating-rink, conditions in which Sydney excelled. Tom told me that, cramped in the back with the maps and watches, Sydney yelling for directions while driving like fury, it was not easy! On one hill where many cars had failed, some sticking out into the road, Allard yelled to the crews to stand back, as he was coming up. Cannoning off projections, he made it. Mrs Allard and her two sisters were also competing in another Allard, which they ditched. "Syd'll be here soon," Eleanor said. But hearing they were OK, he quickly restarted, calling "see you in Monte".
It was a close-run thing but, driving flat out in his shirt-sleeves, Allard was the only Glasgow starter to finish, and the first British driver to win since Donald Healey in 1931. There were only 14 dean sheets. On their return home a mayoral welcome was staged in Clapham and Sydney was invited to address an assembly of PR men. "I suppose your victory sold lots of cars?" he was asked afterwards. "Not that I've noticed" he replied, "but it was great fun".
This remarkable man went on as before — Le Mans (retired, big-ends); Monte Carlo Rally, ninth; 1953 Le Mans (retired, duff mounting), 1955 Lisbon Rally, 14th in a works Ford Zephyr, ditto RAC Rally, FTD in Allard JR at Gosport, the Liege Rally, sprints etc.
Consider the ingenuity of his cars. The Steyr, its engine later in a sports Allard, the Special with two such engines side-by-side and the little Dragon dragster, the 1961 Monte Carlo Rally Allardette, and the 400bhp s/c Chrysler Dragster, 0-150mph in 9.5sec — I enjoyed its stub-exhausts setting fire to some straw bales at the Brighton start-line — apart from the production cars ranging from the three-wheeled Clipper to J2 sports Allards. Dragsters fascinated SHA; he was President of the BDRA. Few car makers have been so consistently keen or such 'press-on' drivers as Sydney Allard. He died of cancer in 1966.