Car of the Week: 1954 Allard K3

Story and photos
by David W. Temple

Sports car popularity began increasing in the United States immediately after World War II. There were no U.S. manufacturers of sports cars for many years after the war ended, so those of foreign car makers were the only choices for enthusiasts. Almost all of the sports cars offered were European models such as the MG TD and the Jaguar XK-120, far and away the most popular examples in the United States. Despite their increasing popularity, though, the number of people in the United States who actually owned a sports car represented only a very small fractional percentage of automobile registrations. That’s why postwar U.S. auto manufacturers ignored this market niche until the early ’50s.

However, sports cars were sold in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s, as proven by the Stutz Bearcat and the Mercer 35R Raceabout, among others. The Great Depression had a lot to do with the disappearance of most of these cars and, of course, America’s entry into World War II put an end to automobile production altogether until the later part of 1945.

While the British MG TD and Jaguar XK-120 were the most purchased sports cars in the United States, there were a number of others available. Among them were those built by Allard Motor Co. in London. Sidney Allard founded his company in 1946, but he was no newcomer to the automobile business.

Building a reputation for speed

Sidney Allard’s interest in mechanical devices revealed itself during childhood and over time, this interest began to be focused on the automobile. In August 1929, he won his first race driving a three-wheel Grand Prix Morgan. In 1930, after an apprenticeship, he went into business with the financial help of his father, Arthur, who had recently purchased a roofing company named for its former owner, Robert Adlard. The similarity in the names Adlard and Allard resulted in Arthur naming his son’s new company Adlards Motors, Ltd.

In 1935, Sydney won his class for unlimited unsupercharged sports cars at the Brighton Speed Trials driving a V-8-powered Ford. He also won another race driving his Allard Special, the Grand Prix Morgan converted to four wheels. The Allard Special was put into limited production using both Ford V-8 and Lincoln V-12 engines. Sydney Allard continued competing until World War II interrupted his racing career. He operated under the Ministry of Supply for the Army Auxiliary repairing army vehicles which consisted of Fords, resulting in Sydney Allard building an inventory of Ford parts.

Not long after the end of the war, Sydney Allard was able to resume his racing career and restart his auto business, though under the name Allard Motor Co. He won several races including the British Hill Climb Championship in 1949 (a race in which he finished third the previous two years) with his Steyr-Allard powered by an air-cooled V-8. Also in 1949, Allard cars won the team prize of the Monte Carlo Rally. Sidney also competed in the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans in which he finished third with an Allard J2 despite a gearbox failure forcing him and his driving partner, Tom Cole, Jr., to drive for hours in top gear only. This won him respect from many fans and driving enthusiasts.

Also in 1950, Sydney’s Allard chassis were also being exported to the United States where they were fitted with engines from Ford, Mercury, Cadillac and Ardun (a contraction of the hyphenated last name of Zora Arkus-Duntov), among others.

The Allard J2, by the way, was the choice of a number of racers in Europe and the United States. Of the 313 documented starts in major races held between 1949 and 1957, J2 drivers accounted for 40 first-place finishes; 32 second-place; 30 third-place; 25 fourths; and 10 fifth-place finishes. Drivers of J2s included Zora Arkus-Duntov, who at one time worked for Allard before becoming an engineer for Chevrolet, and Carroll Shelby, who created the Cobra and developed the Shelby versions of Ford’s Mustang.

Sydney Allard’s efforts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951, 1952 and 1953 were far less successful. His cars failed to finish for a variety of reasons. Incidentally, his 1953 race car was an Allard J2X fitted with a Cadillac 331-cid V-8.

Allard won the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally in an Allard P1, but as time went on, he began to have less success. He failed to keep up with advancements in sports cars; his J2X was outclassed by the more advanced Jaguar C- and D-type. Not maintaining pace with advancements in sports cars was quite the opposite of Allard’s past. One of the more significant features for which Allard was known was the DeDion rear end. It was fabricated from light steel tubing and a Ford “banjo” center section resulting in a type of independent rear suspension considered at the time to be many years ahead of Allard’s competitors. However, Sydney Allard did not quit racing. He had a class victory at Shelsley Walsh and Prescott and two class wins at Stapleford in 1958.

His most notable achievement during the 1960s was with an Allard dragster built as a supercharged Chrysler-powered slingshot. It was Sydney’s first dragster and although it experienced some early failures, it finally set a record in the United Kingdom with a 10.48-second quarter-mile run at Debden, Essex, on April 14, 1962.

Allard became known as the father of British drag racing and founded the British Drag Racing Association in June 1964.

Enter the Allard K3

In addition to the J2 (the most successful Allard model), Allard models included the J2X, K1, K2, P1 and Palm Beach as well as the K3 built from 1952 to 1954. The K3 was an all-new car designed as a touring car with an aluminum body and a bench seat capable of seating up to three. Its chassis consisted of side rails built from a pair of vertically stacked chrome-moly tubes which were welded and reinforced with steel plates. It was stronger and lighter than any previous Allard chassis. The front suspension was a divided front axle and the rear was the DeDion type. The downside of this chassis was that it was expensive to produce. Its wheelbase spanned 100 inches while the front track measured 56.5 inches and the rear track width was 58.5 inches. Engine selections were Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Chrysler, Cadillac and Oldsmobile, though most were powered with the Cadillac 331 leading to them being dubbed as “Cad Allards.”

The K3 failed as a passenger car in multiple ways, thus tarnishing Allard’s image. Among the deficiencies was a limited steering lock resulting in a large turning circle that made parallel parking more difficult, and it lacked a heater and defroster. Additionally, its price, at approximately $5,300, was well beyond what most potential customers were willing and able to pay. By comparison, the J2 — a sports car that was competitive against Ferraris, Jaguars, and the like — was priced at about $2,100 and considered to be a bargain.

From 1952-’54, Allard Motor Co. explored the possibility of selling its cars through American dealerships. Studebaker had expressed interest, but in the end, a deal fell through. An earlier venture to partner with Joe Fraser (of Kaiser-Fraser) also fell apart. Since the J2s were powered with a Chrysler engine, Chrysler Corp. was approached and the initial discussions were positive. An Allard-Dodge arrangement seemed workable but concurrently, there was also an attempt by Allard’s sales manager to determine how to reduce the manufacturing costs of building the cars. He proposed replacing the complex chassis with a single-tube frame, improving the front suspension, abandoning the DeDion rear axle and replacing it with a conventional design. Changing to a single-tube frame alone would have reduced labor input by 50 percent. All of this transpired against a backdrop of Allard’s principle investors’ dissatisfaction with the “factory’s profusion of models, lack of perception of the U.S. auto market and the general lackadaisical attitude of the factory executives,” according to an early Old Cars article written by Robert Forsyth, Allard’s sales manager in 1953-’54, which was reprinted in the September/October 1973 issue of The Allard Register Sports Car Association. Furthermore, as written by Forsyth, “Around this time Allard Ltd. of England was in the throes of a financial pinch…”

Many months after Chrysler Corp. executives were approached by Allard’s representatives and a prototype Allard with a Dodge engine had been built, “there was still no Allard-Dodge from the factory. Sales of existing models was uninspiring, parts and service were virtually non-existent and the factory had shown a singular lack of interest in appointing responsible dealers. Allard, Inc. was losing money hand over fist and the principles, who had entered the venture strictly as investors, had been devoting immense amounts of their valuable time and financial resources to shoring up the company while neglecting their own enterprises,” as explained by Forsyth.

Forsyth outlined these problems and more in an August 1954 letter to Sydney Allard and also recommended at the next board meeting that Allard Motor Co. be dissolved, which is exactly what happened.

An Allard survivor

Only 62 Allard K3s were built (though another source claimed 63) during the production run with most going to the United States. Nearly three-fourths of them are known to exist today. One of those surviving cars, a 1954 Cadillac-powered example, is owned by Don Baron of Lansing, Mich. He bought the car at a 1978 Auburn, Ind., auction in which this car was a no-sale. After the auction, Don made a deal with the owner’s representative to purchase the car. At the time, he knew nothing about the history of Allard; Don simply liked the car, which was ready to drive. Along with the car came considerable documentation that also included the original owner’s name, original selling dealership and even the name of the shipping company and ship that imported the car to the United States.

This Allard’s original owner lived near Palm Springs, Calif., and had purchased the K3 from Knowel Kirk Motors of Los Angeles, one of several Allard dealers in the United States. It was delivered aboard the HMS Loch Avon.

Over the past four decades, Don has added only 5,000 miles to the K3, though a number of those miles were on trips to his Charlevoix weekend home, 200 miles from Lansing. For the most part, he has only needed to perform routine maintenance to keep the Allard running in top form. Don displayed his car at the 1998 Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance and has displayed it at other shows over the years.

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