The Mud-Plugger



Sydney Herbert Allard was born in Streatham in 1910, the son of a builder and developer. There were five Allard offspring in all. The eldest, Jack, was followed by Sydney, then by twins Leslie and Dennis and finally by Mary.

The boys were all educated at Ardingly College, and wasted no time in developing a healthy interest in cars and motorcycles, perhaps to the detriment of their commitment to the more scholarly pursuits encouraged by the school. This enthusiasm was to colour their adolescent years, although Sydney was the only young Allard to avoid joining the building profession, and it wasn’t long before the four brothers managed to get their hands on real machinery, rather than having to remain content with copies of The Motorcycle, and The Autocar. Jack was naturally the first to acquire a motorised device, and this happened to be a 1924 Douglas. It was soon followed by a Grand Prix Morgan, which was much more to Sydney’s taste, and he would readily spend the majority of his time indulging in the necessary maintainance of the machine. Such magnanimous behaviour was soon rewarded when Jack gave him the Morgan, and moved on to a shining Morris Cowley, that was deemed more respectable by his father, and appallingly slow by Sydney.

Sydney christened his first car ‘Minnie the Moocher’, after the famous song, a hit record of the time, and with Leslie and Dennis who had by this time both acquired motorcycles, indulged in some fairly hair-raising motoring antics. One of Sydney’s more subtle modifications to the Morgan was a wooden lever that extended through the floor of the car, on the end of which was attached a section of tyre. As the car sped through towns at unabated speed, the passenger would pull sharply on the lever, forcing the tyre on to the road. The ensuing screech would scatter pedestrians in all directions in an attempt to escape from the path of the ‘out of control’ vehicle.

Sydney’s parents were understandably keen for him to channel his motoring interests in a more serious direction, and at the age of 18 he entered the garage business, working for a Buick and Daimler agency. This early work was to influence the engineering priorities of his later life; while he could appreciate the fine quality of the machined British products, he felt that if a pressed American equivalent would do the job as efficiently, the sacrifice of beauty was certainly worth the economy, both financially and also in terms of weight.

On his 25th birthday, with a cheque for £100, ‘to be wisely invested’, from his parents, and £35 of his own money, he managed to acquire a V8 TT Ford Special that had first fired his imagination when he saw it compete in the 1934 Tourist Trophy race on the Ards circuit in Ireland. He immediately removed all items that were not absolutely functional, and was rewarded by setting new class records in the Brighton Speed Trial, and a hill-climb at Aston-Clinton. With the approach of Autumn in 1935 the motoring scene moved to trials driving, which was at the time immensely popular, with virtually every motor club organizing at least one annual event. Sydney soon developed a taste for pitting his skill against mud, gradient, and the British countryside and he gained the best novice cup in his first trial, the Knott Trophy.

By the time he competed in his third trial he was equalling the times the expert McDermid was achieving in a supercharged MG. It has been said that Sydney Allard proved to be one of the best truly all-round drivers of his day, his record of success ranging from serious mud plugging to a third place at Le Mans.

The winter of 1935/36 had fired Sydney’s interest in trialing and 1936 saw him looking for a replacement for his Ford Special. He had by this time developed an affinity and respect for the robustly reliable Ford products, and he thought that a Ford 48 with its strong rear axle would provide an excellent basis for a conversion. He soon found a crashed 48 Coupé, and within 18 days had modified it into the first truly Allard Special, the famous CLK 5, a car on which the reputation of all his subsequent machines was built.

He had entered for the Coventry Cup Trial long before the car was completed, but nevertheless made the event, and picked up a Souvenir Award. He then entered the Southport Car Club’s annual race meeting, which he duly won. He also received numerous awards at Trials meetings during the year, and at the end of the season The Motor carried a cartoon of Sydney Allard in CLK 5 leaping through the air, with the caption “S H Allard climbing almost any hill, in almost any trial.”

During the next few years preceding the war, Sydney built up numerous specials and a considerable reputation, and by 1945 he was supplying cars to order, to fulfil the clamorous demand of the connoisseurs. In 1946 he formed the Allard Motor Co Ltd and a white two-seater and a red four-seater, with new radiator grilles and low alligator bonnets appeared in the London cavalcade that year, driven by Imhof and Hutchinson.

Godfrey Imhof was the styling consultant on early post-war Allards, and rather drew his inspiration from Delages and Delahayes, although his designs could be said to possess rather more functional beauty than pure elegance. The J1, for which Imhof was partly responsible, was really built as a special competition trials car. Production was set at the proverbial baker’s dozen, and these cars were supplied between 1947 and 49 only to nominated and proven drivers. Sydney regarded the package as rather too potent for the average amateur enthusiast, and consequently the car was not even advertised.

The J1 was built under the premise that a properly designed car should be able to run in trials without damage, and still be as smart as anything on the road. The two-seater body was designed to combine smartness with comfort, and as if to add weight to the argument that it was genuinely a dual purpose car the cubby hole accommodated a removable radio receiver.

The chassis was basically unmodified from that of the standard Allard, although it was shortened to 100 inches. The car sat high on the divided front axle and Ford rear end with transverse suspension. The independent front suspension was modified with telecontrol adjustable shock absorbers. The car thus had high ground clearance, and robust suspension. The second priority in a trials car is to get as much weight as possible over the rear axle, and the J1 was clearly laid out with this objective in mind, although at the same time this did endow the car with properties that made it less than fully appropriate as a comfortable tourer. The engine and gearbox were crammed as far back as possible, and consequently so was the firewall. There was very little between the drivers feet and the V8 engine; whilst overheating of the engine had always been a problem, so now, was overheating of the driver.

The seats were also as far back as the chassis would allow, but this unfortunately was not far enough, and so the driver had to remain content with being jammed between the more than upright seat back and wheel arch, and the dashboard and steering wheel. It would be a masterpiece of understatement to say that the car was uncomfortable, but then again its attraction was that it was also uncompromising. Few customers would have complained.

Suspended out over the back of the car was a vast fuel tank, not for range but for weight, and two spare wheels. These were made from pressed steel and like many of the car’s components came from the Ford Pilot’s parts bin. However, the Ford Pilot 3.6-litre side-valve V8 engine, that had powered previous post-war Allards, was considered too docile for this special, and so it was replaced by the 95 bhp 3.9-litre side-valve Mercury engine. These engines were stripped down in the Allard works, the cylinder blocks were bored out to 4-litres, and the heads were machined in an attempt to raise the pitifully low compression ratio. Even so the highest that could be achieved was 7:1. The heads were copperised to give a slightly improved performance on the poor quality pool petrol, but beyond this little could be done to coax more life out of these lumbering V8s. Strict import regulations meant that all the go-faster parts in the highly developed American market for flathead V8 modifications, remained mouth wateringly unobtainable, and one had to rest content with the available catalogues and one’s own imagination.

One modification to become available at a later date was the Ardun conversion kit, designed in 1950 by Zora Arkus-Duntov. It consisted of alloy cylinder heads, new valves, a down-draught induction system with Solex carburettors, and an aluminium exhaust system. This offered about 140 bhp, but it usually didn’t offer it for long before something went wrong.

Alternative routes to greater performance were either to bolt on a supercharger, as was the case with Imhof’s own J1, a car that achieved 0-50 mph in 5.4 secs when tested by The Motor in 1948, or of course to remove the Mercury unit, and shoehorn something more potent into its place. This was exactly what happened to the J1 pictured here in its rather battle-scarred red paintwork.

This car, KBP 242, now owned by Roger and Sylvia Hayes, was the last J1 off the original production line of twelve, and it built a considerable reputation for itself in the early Sixties when it was owned by Robin Sadler, and powered by a 5.3-litre Oldsmobile engine. It became a familiar sight at races, sprints and hill-climbs, and must have been a formidable car for a man in his early twenties to own. Sadler later wrote “It was the most fabulous car I shall ever own for so little money (he bought it for £170). The performance was out of this world with a 0-60 time of six seconds and an easy maximum of 120 mph!” Even allowing for the motoring equivalent of a fisherman’s descriptive licence, such a machine must have been fairly awe inspiring. Sadler had bought the J1 from a milkman who had been scared stiff by the car’s ferocious performance, and unpredictable handling. Whether this was because the Allard stood in stark contrast to his working transport, or because all four tyres had different treads we shall never know. However, Sadler used it fairly extensively before eventually selling the machine to an Allard enthusiast in Hemel Hempstead. It was here that Roger Hayes managed to scrounge his first ride in the car, and when the enthusiast lost his enthusiasm and the car was confined to the elements and the undergrowth, Roger embarked on a lengthy purchasing campaign. He was eventually successful in 1983 when he bought the car for £1500.

On the same day that the bushes were cleared away, and the tyres were inflated so that the Allard could be towed home, Roger managed to track down an old Mercury engine in a military stock lorry pound near Luton. According to the old chap who sold him the engine, it had last been used in a military half-track in the Fifties and had a low mileage. Little was done to the engine before it was inserted in place of the Oldsmobile block, and apart from one or two holed pistons, it has kept the Allard going ever since.

The condition of the car in 1983 meant that a thorough restoration was needed. Roger did all the work himself including the construction of the ash frame, and the bodywork, and the car was on the road by early 1985. It has been used extensively ever since, and it is refreshing to find such enthusiastic owners who are prepared to overlook the value of the machine and still bury it up to the axle in mud, or assault a pot-holed hill-climb. When I first asked Sylvia if I could write an article on their Allard she had just spent the day thrashing it around the Silverstone Club Circuit and was irreverently bashing a hub cap on to the spare wheel. Roger simply states, “It was built for trials driving, it would be a shame not to use it for that.”

The hottest day in August didn’t wilt their enthusiasm either. Roger warned me that the car tended to overheat, but I’d never seen a temperature gauge start its second lap of the dial before. As we sped along the Northamptonshire lanes at speeds of up to 80 mph you could feel the waves of heat surge upwards through the footwell. Fairly soon it became uncomfortable to put your feet on the floor, and soon after that you could hear the front of the car beginning to hiss and whistle like an old fashioned kettle. I was busy worrying about the fate of the engine while Roger and Sylvia were scouring the roadside for a suitable wood to plough through. Eventually we yomped up and down a very overgrown dirt track before heading rapidly for home before the water ran out.

The Allard would take corners in small sections, the back forever twitching nervously, as you would expect from a short wheelbase chassis with 60% of the weight over the rear axle. But it never actually threatened to do anything genuinely unpredictable. Oversteer is certainly there, but it comes in very progressively. The front wheels moved up and down exhibiting weird and wonderful suspension geometry, and fantastic angles of toe-in, but for all the incongruous industry at all four corners of the car she was really surprisingly stable. The steering was light, the brakes tolerable if you stood on them with all your might, and the visibility, because of the height at which one sat, helped one maintain impressive average speeds.

But these are road impressions of a car meant for serious mud-plugging, and it would be here that Sydney Allard’s insistence on uncompromising functionalism, and robust engineering would really show its advantages.

The J1 was born of Sydney’s years of enthusiastic trials driving, and experimentation with various unconventional specials, and in it one can genuinely sense the character of the young man fascinated by anything fast, and enjoyable. As we came to a rest under the shade of a tree the Allard was making the most extraordinary wheezes and whistles at its front end. Steam spouted out for five minutes, and it was a quarter of an hour before we could fill it with water. It eagerly drank a full watering can before we spun the friendly old Mercury V8 into life again, and sped off down the drive. This J1 is trangely addictive . . . CSRW.

MOTOR SPORT would like to thank Roger and Sylvia Hayes for a marvellous day out, and for allowing us to drive and photograph their Allard.