Lifestyle

Beautiful and Brutal British Classic


Although only seven were made, the 1952 Allard Cadillac JR "Le Mans" Roadster were the epitome of early '50s sports car design

If hot rods had been invented in England, Sidney Allard would have been their originator. The first postwar production models of the Allard Motor Company featured American Ford flathead V8s, more often than not fitted with Sidney's own alloy speed parts such as intake manifolds and cylinder heads.

By the early 1950s, larger American OHV V8s like Cadillac and Chrysler Hemis became available, so, in true hot rod fashion, Sidney wasted no time shoehorning these into his J2X and JR sports racing models.

Beautiful or brutal -- take your choice -- these Allards were the epitome of early '50s sports car design, with their slim alloy bodywork and huge, throbbing power plants. Cornering at speed was a challenge as a result of Sidney's affection for a semi-independent front suspension created by chopping a Ford solid axle in half before mounting the two pieces in a swing arm fashion, which gave the front end a radical and unusual positive camber appearance.

Allard's J2X cycle-fendered sports cars looked both beautiful and brutal, but Sidney knew they were aerodynamically disadvantaged on longer circuits such as Le Mans. Accordingly, the new envelope-bodied and streamlined JR model was introduced for 1953. These were essentially identical mechanically to the J2X, though seriously modified for circuit racing.

Only seven JRs were built, with two cars serving as factory entries at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953. This historic Allard JR, #NLN 650, was one of the two, driven by none other than Zora Arkus-Duntov. The sister car, NLN 652, was driven by Sidney himself and led the first lap of the race, only to retire after three-quarters of an hour. Duntov's JR survived until 1 am, before it too was withdrawn with engine problems.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $341,000 at RM's Monterey auction on Saturday, August 18, 2007.

There were two significant Allards in the Monterey auctions this year -- this one and a J2X LM that ran Le Mans in 1952, which was offered by Bonhams & Butterfields on Friday night. RM sold this JR, while the Bonhams LM, though apparently bid to something close to twice what the JR sold for, didn't make reserve. This profile is officially about the JR, but the real story here is about both cars.

Sidney Allard, like Carroll Shelby a decade later, was an iconoclast, a maverick, and a hot-rodder at heart. He cheerfully defied the conventions of the era and followed his convictions that horsepower was far more important than chassis design, and that American V8s were the most cost-effective way of acquiring such horsepower. His cars were the sledgehammers of their day, crude but remarkably effective.

To be fair, they probably weren't more or less crude than most of the competition in the late '40s and early '50s. With the exception of C-type Jags and 300SL Mercedes, all the chassis were pretty elementary. Allard's insistence on using what was essentially a "Twin I-beam" front suspension set the image for the cars; it gave them an in-your-face crudeness the rest of the car really didn't deserve. The deDion rear suspension with inboard brakes was in fact very current racing technology.

Light, fast, and uncivilized

In the Allard line, the "J" cars were the competition-oriented series, starting with the original J in 1946. In 1949, what became known as the J2 showed up and made quite an impact. With a minimal body and cycle fenders at the front, it was light, powerful, and fast, if not very civilized. In 1951, this was succeeded by the J2X, which, among other things, moved the engine forward by seven inches, allowing adequate leg room for American-sized drivers to fit comfortably. It also made provision for fitting the new Chrysler Firepower (Hemi) 331-ci engine, which made more horsepower than the Cadillac but weighed an extra 150 lbs.

The new J2X looked pretty much the same as the J2, but there was trouble brewing. The FIA changed the rules in 1952 so that cycle fenders were no longer acceptable in major European events like Le Mans. Allard responded with the "LM" version, which was a completely standard J2X, but with revised bonnet, scuttle, and doors to create a full envelope body (the rear body section was standard J2X). I recollect that 13 cars were built with the LM bodywork. The car offered at Bonhams was the LM entered and driven by Sidney Allard in the 1952 Le Mans with a Chrysler engine. It retired with engine problems in the 13th hour.

For the 1953 season, Allard decided to build a completely new racing version of the J series, primarily for Le Mans, to be called the JR. The new chassis used a more sophisticated frame composed of multiple smaller diameter tubes, though it was still fundamentally a ladder-frame concept. Presumably, it was a bit lighter and stiffer than the old twin boxed-channel design. The mechanical package, including front and rear suspension, was derived from the J2X with detail improvements like spring and shock location to allow a more compliant ride and handling.

The JR was designed to use the more compact and lighter Cadillac engine, and the all-new bodywork was wrapped tightly around the components to produce a notably more compact and angular body shape. The first two cars, including the subject car, were constructed specifically for Le Mans and included an additional fuel tank on the passenger side of the cockpit, which resulted in there being no door on that side. They were entered and started with great hopes, but it was not to be. Sidney led the first lap in the sister car but was out within 45 minutes (a differential mounting lug broke), while this one made it for nine hours before the engine gave up.

The JR should be worth the same as the LM

So here's the collector's pop quiz of the month: How do you explain the differing values these cars seemed to have? They are both factory team cars driven at Le Mans in successive years with equally famous drivers and very similar results (both broke at roughly half distance). Both were constructed specifically for the race, though the LM is really just a special-bodied J2X (of which 83 were built), while the JR was a unique chassis and body (they built seven). It would seem to me that the JR should be worth at least as much as the LM, but Bonhams offered the LM with an estimate of $850,000-$950,000, while RM offered the JR with a published estimate of $350,000-$450,000.

The JR sold, of course, while the LM didn't, but I'm told the LM got bid to somewhere around $700,000 before failing. Something seems wrong here. Though officially original and thus more collectible, the LM was marred by some very inappropriate paint and upholstery work. (Have you ever seen a four-page catalog spread with not one current photo of the car, as the B&B book had?) My inclination is to believe that the JR sold for what the Allard market is today, and that the valuation on the LM was quite optimistic.

Overall value is the other question. Allards have never commanded the values of the "great marques" they raced against, but you have to wonder about the discount. The JR was capable of contending for the lead anywhere in 1953, yet it sold for a tenth or less of what you'd have to spend for any other top-rank Le Mans entry of that time (Jag XKC, Aston DB3S, and Ferrari 375 MM come to mind).

Why should it be worth relatively so little? I've been around Allards a long time and have watched their values, so part of me thinks $350,000 or so was a little on the low side of what you'd expect, but the other part of me looks at what the competition is selling for and thinks the JR was actually very cheap. If the world figures out what a unique and special car the JR is and what it is equivalent to, it may prove to be very well bought indeed.

Details

Years Produced: 1953-55

Number Produced: 7

Original List Price: $12,000

SCM Valuation: $350,000-$450,000

Chassis # Location: Tag on frame, left side under headers

Engine # Location: Left lower side of engine block

Club Info: Allard Owners Club

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1950-53 Jaguar C-type, 1953-54 Ferrari 375 MM, 1953-56 Aston Martin DB3S

Investment Grade: A


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