12 March 2013

What's in a name? Everything — and then some

Roger Allard had always dreamt of one day owning an English vintage automobile. One would do, to start with. Nothing too fancy, maybe in British Racing Green, his favorite color. But little did Roger know that, through strange twists of fate, he would soon be plunged into a whole lot more than he had bargained for.

 

This uncanny adventure began in the summer of 1995, when he and wife Rosemary were visiting England to attend car events and museums on the occasion of Roger's 50th birthday. First stop: Bognor Regis, West Sussex, where with son Christien, they found themselves at a local concours checking out dad's favorite wheels: the Austin-Healey.  Also showcased were Aston Martins, MG's, Triumphs and other celebrated UK brands. Great stuff, but nothing buyable that day. So off they went. As they exited the field, Roger's eye unexpectedly caught the one-word title of a book sitting on a display shelf: “ALLARD.” Interesting, he thought, same name as his, and a marque he had never heard of. On the cover was a photo of the Allard Motor Company’s J2X competition roadster. Said book was purchased, the first “tipping point” of our story.

The second such tipping point happened on the next day, while the family trio was at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum in the South of England, where Roger now hoped to spot his first Allard. Surprisingly, none was to be seen amid the impressive collection. On their way out, a disappointed Roger asked an old gardener if he knew where an Allard could be found. “But right here, sir,” said the gardener. As it turned out, the Museum had just received not one, but two Allards — a J2X and a Dragon — though not shown them yet to the public. The visitors were ushered back inside to a holding room where, low and behold, the Allards had been parked right next to ... an Austin-Healey, Roger's original dream car. Pictures were taken of the new subjects.

Over the following weeks, Roger became increasingly taken by the life of Sydney Allard, the creator of the car, an outside-the-box genius and speed-junky, who loved American V-8's and narrowly escaped death more than once on the track. During WWII, he operated a large repair shop for army vehicles. When the conflict ended, loads of parts were left over from which he would assemble his unique motorcars. Many different road-friendly models followed, sold, or didn't, as the case may be. Sydney Allard at the time was already, and unknowingly, the consummate hot rodder. Born in London, the “Guv'nor”, as he was known, launched his racing career in 1929 with a Morgan three-wheeler, which was subsequently converted to a four-wheel vehicle: the Allard Special. His greatest victories were a third position finish at the 24-Hours of the 1950 LeMans in an Allard J2; and a first overall in the Monte Carlo Rally of 1952 in an Allard P1.

Recognized for having introduced drag racing to the UK by building his own slingshots, Allard founded both the International Drag Festival and British Drag Racing Association. Risk was his fuel, which may be why Roger, himself a racer, judo champion, parachutist and shark diver, felt a special connection to his namesake: “You can only experience the full beauty of the canyon floor if you are near the edge,” he said.

The thought crossed Roger's mind that it could be thrilling to own and, especially, drive an Allard. But where to find it. These are rare cars: some 1900 were made between 1936 and 1959; and his newfound predilection was for the J2X, of which only 83 were built. So he joined the Allard Owners Club and intensified his research. That same year, he was invited to speak in Los Angeles at a work-related conference of the International Association of Business Communicators. While in California, he looked up a chap who produced the car in kit form out of San Diego. The two men hit it off and Roger got the keys to his host’s J2X demonstrator sitting in the garage. Within minutes at the wheel, lightning struck: Roger was instantly, and irrevocably, smitten. The sound, the feel, the power of it all.... Oh, bliss!

A few weeks after returning home, he received a phone call from the man, now in failing health, who says he intends to sell out. If Roger can come up with the money — which he does — it's all his. That includes the moulds and jigs stored in a Phoenix warehouse, which are subsequently packed into an eighteen-wheeler and schlepped back to Montreal. The following week, another call: this time, it's from the manager of the warehouse saying that lightning—the real thing now— had hit the building, triggering a blaze that destroyed the entire structure and its contents. Were it not for the miraculous timing of that earlier retrieval operation, all of the Allard components would have otherwise been lost forever.

In honoring the legacy of Sydney Allard, Roger feels he's given new life to a glorious competition roadster which can now be enjoyed by collectors, on or off the track. His corporate slogan says it all: Rarely Seen - Never Forgotten. Operations have been set up in Champlain (New York) for all vehicles sold in the U.S., and in Montreal for overseas exports. Production is capped at 100 vehicles per year to preserve exclusivity and ensure owners an appreciating value over time. He's clear on one point: the J2X MkII is a professionally engineered automobile authenticated by the Allard Register, with a special serial number conferred upon each vehicle by this sanctioning body. From the first commemorative edition J2X delivered in November 2008 to this day, Roger has received numerous accolades — including by none other than Jay Leno — though his greatest satisfaction comes from the feedback of those who just love driving the modern J2X MkII.

Some car stories are rooted in legend or stem from odd beginnings. This one, in addition, seems to show no end in sight, which bodes well for the re-creator of the iconic Allard J2X.  Best news of all, though, is that through thick and thin on the edge of the cliff, Roger and Rosemary have stayed happily married for more than 43 years.  As the Chinese proverb says: May you live in interesting times!

For more info: allardj2x.com

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