The Allard J2 and J2X, rakish British sports cars stuffed with high-performance American V-8 engines, terrorized racetracks on both sides of the Atlantic from 1949 into the 1950s. Memories of the marque have faded with time, but it was a precursor to the hugely popular AC Cobra designed by Carroll Shelby.
Modern versions of the Allard J2X, made by a man named Roger Allard, are now cruising American roads, but they’re rare sights, because few have been made, and many of their owners don’t drive them often.
This would be a heartwarming story of family perseverance were it not for one fact: Mr. Allard, 72, is Canadian, and no relation to Sydney Allard, the British racer who produced the original J2X and other fast cars (and who died in 1966). In fact, Sydney Allard’s descendants are working to produce their own cars, and they take exception to Roger Allard’s creations.
Roger Allard’s path to building Allard cars is the result of a happy accident. A plan to buy an Austin-Healey 3000 when he was 50 fell through when the owner crashed it on the night before delivery, Mr. Allard said. On a vacation to England in 1995, he visited a car show and started leafing through literature at one stall. He came upon a book titled “Allard: The Inside Story.”
He’d had no idea that a car had been built bearing his name, so he bought the book. Shortly before he returned home, he saw two original Allards at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire.
“A couple of years went by, and I realized there might be a niche market for a version of the J2X, if it was done properly with a modern chassis,” Mr. Allard said. “I contacted the Allard family and the owners club. We built two prototypes and did everything we could to break them.”
Mr. Allard is very determined. He located a kit-car builder in San Diego who was going out of business, and bought the jigs and molds for his fiberglass-bodied version of the J2X. He then set upon a 10-year odyssey to make over that car into something that closely resembled the original.
Along the way, Mr. Allard prepared the composite-bodied car to accept a range of modern V-8 engines, mated to a Tremec five-speed manual transmission, independent front and rear suspension, and a Ford nine-inch differential to handle the power. He added inches to the wheelbase to make the cockpit more livable, widened the pedal box to accommodate American feet, installed adjustable bucket seats instead of the original’s fixed bench, and added a trunk.
The company was incorporated in 1999, and the first car was sold to Ted Uihlein of Sedona, Ariz., now 76, in 2009. It’s not a volume business — only 20 have been built so far. The owners are enthusiastic, but the future for Roger Allard’s enterprise is clouded by a growing clash with the descendants of Sydney Allard.
Born in London in 1910, Sydney Allard began racing at a young age. In 1929, he raced his Morgan three-wheeler at the Brooklands track and — in a hint of what was to come — converted the car to four wheels. Soon he was installing Ford and Lincoln V-8 engines in “specials” that he sold in limited production.
His racing success after World War II helped sell cars, and the principal market for the J2 and its successor, the J2X, was the United States. Many cars were exported without motors or gearboxes, which were installed on arrival.
Just 94 Allard J2 cars were produced between 1949 and 1952, according to the Allard Register, based in Fresno, Calif. And 85 J2Xs were produced between 1951 and 1954.
The family business today is Allard Sports Cars, based in Gloucester. There’s apparently no love lost across the Atlantic. In an email, Lloyd Allard, Sydney’s grandson, described Roger Allard as an “interloper” who “has no right to use our Allard name.” He described the American entry as “a kit car.”
Lloyd Allard said Allard Sports Cars would be offering “genuine J2X and J2 models,” as well as a new J3 with modern equipment, and all will be sold with “continuation chassis numbers” to indicate their heritage with the older cars.
He also said the company would appear in the United States next year, and would most likely court the same customers as Roger Allard.
Although there’s no Allard-related litigation, car enthusiasts who see a variety of companies building their own versions of the AC Cobra and other cars may wonder about the legal status of such enterprises. Allan Gabriel, an intellectual property lawyer with Dykema Gossett in Los Angeles, said in an interview that a trademark could lose its protected status if “complete abandonment” has been proved, something that might be hard to do in this case since the Allard family is still active in the car business.
In 2012, Lloyd Allard trademarked the Allard name in the United States, for the production of cars and parts. In an email, he said his company had sold Allard parts to the United States and Canada since 1980, and “all feature the Allard logo/badge, so considerable use of the Allard marque.”
For his part, Roger Allard said in an email that he was the registered owner of the J2X trademark in North America, and the owner of the Allard name in a number of other countries. He added, “My corporate name, Allard Motor Works, with the logo and U.K. flag, has been registered in Canada since 1999 and 2014 in the U.S.”
Mr. Gabriel said a legal tenet known as laches might apply. “According to the law,” he said, “a defendant accused of trademark infringement might say, ‘You knew about me, or should have known about me for a long time, so why didn’t you take action earlier? I’ve made investments, and a ruling against me would be prejudicial.’” It’s by no means an assured strategy, but it sometimes succeeds.
Owners of Roger Allard’s cars speak highly of them. Mr. Uihlein, now semiretired from the oil business, has owned many fast cars, including a Shelby GT350, Ford GT40, Maserati Ghibli Spyder and 427 Cobra. “I get more thumbs up driving this car than if I were driving a Ferrari,” Mr. Uihlein said.
Since the stock Allard weighs 2,750 pounds, the cars are quite quick. The car I tested, with a 370-horsepower General Motors Ram Jet 350 engine, achieves a zero-to-60-m.p.h. time of 3.5 seconds, Mr. Allard said.
In a drive on the back roads of Connecticut, the J2X is exhilarating. The exhaust is perfectly tuned to produce a snarl that turns into musical banging and popping on the overrun. The driver sits so low in the car that it feels as if a dime could be picked up off the roadway. There’s a sense of being “on” the car rather than “in” it. In the place of a standard windshield (coming as an option) are a pair of Brooklands screens — tiny half-moon pieces of glass that do little to prevent the onrush of air.
For all this, the J2X — with its modern drivetrain and suspension — is relatively easy to drive. The suspension settings are spot-on — firm, but not jarring. The shifter and clutch are light, with no double declutching needed, and the steering, while relatively heavy, is precise. Power steering is another option that’s on the way, along with — necessary in the modern era, though it makes purists blanch — automatic transmission.
On the highway, the wind buffeting wasn’t too bad, though a long drive — with just windscreens and no provision for a top — would be tiring. That’s one reason even long-term owners haven’t put many miles on their cars. Mr. Uihlein has driven his only 4,000 miles, and another owner — Jim Mackay of Gold Canyon, Ariz. — bought his car in 2011 and has only 3,000 miles on the odometer.
“I drive it somewhere every week, but for the most part only short distances,” Mr. Mackay said. “Arizona is the perfect place for it, because we don’t get much rain, but I don’t drive it in the summer heat.”
The original Allards would have been a handful for larger drivers. Even though it has a widened pedal box, the new car still challenges size-12 feet trying to use the brakes without goosing the gas pedal. Mr. Mackay dons racing shoes that solve the problem.
The price of original Allard J2Xs has been steadily climbing, and Hagerty rates the average value of a 1953 J2X at $310,000. Colin Warnes owns an original 1953 J2X in Le Mans specification, which added such creature comforts as a windshield, windshield wipers and a top. “The build quality of Roger’s cars is first-rate, and they are great fun to drive,” he said.
The modern version starts at $179,500. The first cars were built in Canada, where Mr. Allard lives, but production is now in Valencia, Calif. Four J2X cars — known as Mark IIIs for their newly expanded options list — are in various stages of completion.
The market for new versions of the vintage Allard is vanishingly small, so it’s unfortunate that conflicts have arisen. For Roger Allard, building the cars that bear his name has been a labor of love, and hardly a financial windfall. His customers — who often become friends — say he is a perfectionist and entirely devoted to getting the details of the J2X right. “I have no interest in any other model,” he said.