From Clapham to Calcutta… and back. With a career encompassing the 1951 Festival of Britain, Irish hillclimbs and racing in India, this Allard J2 has really lived. James Mitchell unravels its tale. Photography James Lipman/Klemantaski collection. In a country struggling to recover from such a grim, damaging war, the 1951 Festival of Britain was a masterstroke that brought steam train-loads of visitors flooding into London’s Southbank from every corner of the British Isles. Its focus was on the future and creative skills that had been hijacked by the hostilities – such as architecture, engineering, literature, theatre and music – were joyfully reclaimed.
Just 173 J2s and J2Xs were built from 1949-1954. Below: Mercury V8 awaits return of Ardun heads – most US cars had Caddy power; drilled drums.
In Ireland, a young racing driver was also looking to the future. Desmond Titterington, born into a wealthy family of flax and yarn merchants, was in the early stages of building a career in motor sport. While studying at St Andrews University, he had shared digs with Archie Scott Brown and his housemate’s insatiable enthusiasm for racing inevitably seeped into Titterington’s own life. After returning to the family home in Cultra, near Belfast, in 1950, Titterington immediately bought a modified MG J2 in which he started competing, swiftly selling it for a more competitive Fiat Balilla.
His uncle noticed the youngster’s talent and agreed to help by buying Titterington a suitable mount with which to progress his burgeoning racing career. In the spirit of the times, one of the new post-war manufacturers was chosen: Allard. Like Jaguar, the marque did have some pre-war history. Sydney Allard, a hugely talented engineer and a true motor sport enthusiast, had built many Ford-based specials under his own name before the war, most of which were powered by the phenomenally successful Ford flathead V8. Allard’s contribution to the war effort was running a repair shop for military vehicles and by 1945 he had amassed a large quantity of Ford spares, thus seamlessly progressing from military work to the manufacture of civilian cars.
The J-type Allard arrived in 1949 and was instrumental in building the competition reputation of the young company; a class victory at LeMans in 1950 was just one of many successes. The chassis was clothed in a narrow two-seater factory-built body. Underneath, the J2 differed from its predecessors: it retained the accepted split-axle front suspension, but working in union with coil springs and large telescopic dampers. The gearbox was a Ford three-speed, delivering the engine’s power via an elegant de Dion axle, and the drum brakes slowed what was a fairly lightweight machine with relative ease. While people tend to associate the J2 and J2X with Cadillac V8s, most of the UK-market cars had either Ford or Mercury engines and, as in Titterington’s car, an Ardun flathead that in effect turned the V8 into an overhead-valve motor.
And so it was that, in the autumn of 1951, these three worlds, all part of the bright future of a recovering nation, collided.
From top: cycle-winged J2 was raciest Allard model; Titterington at speed in 1952 Champions Trophy, Dundrod; exposed gear and handbrake mechanisms.
The Festival of Britain was divided into several themed areas, one of which was the Transport Pavilion. Here, all kinds of machinery were represented, from the bicycle to the Schneider Trophy-winning Supermarine S6B aeroplane hanging from the pavilion’s ceiling. Various motor manufacturers were invited to exhibit, including Allard. With the order books full, the factory was in no position to supply a works car because removing one from the production line would have interrupted precious cash flow. Keen not to forgo such an opportunity, however, the company tentatively approached Titterington as the owner of a car that had yet to be delivered. He gladly agreed to lend his Allard – after all, there was plenty of time before his first race in mid-September.
The new J2, finished in bright red with contrasting white wire wheels, was specially prepared to exhibition standards and proudly displayed in the firm’s Clapham showroom before making the short journey to Southbank.
In two full seasons, the Allard bagged 14 podium places from just 24 starts.
The day before it was due to be dispatched, however, a site visit revealed that the J2 was to be raised from the floor next to an open staircase, its underside completely visible. The car was rushed back into the workshop and overnight it was transformed beneath into something more befitting of such an exhibition.
Not that the J2 was destined for a quiet life of showroom glitz. Following its Festival excursion, the Allard headed to Ireland. Titterington used the car on the road, but his first and only race of 1951 was the Wakefield Trophy at The Curragh, where he finished sixth before he began to compete in earnest the following year.
The 1952 season for Titterington and his Allard was one of circuit racing and hillclimbs. Driving the J2 all over Ireland, he began to build his reputation as a very capable driver. The high-light of the season, and the race that established him not only as a leading Irish ace but an inter-national driver of real note, was outright victory in the Leinster Trophy at Wicklow in July. This was one of the biggest events in the Irish motor sport calendar, drawing an international entry – the winner the previous year having been England’s own Mike Hawthorn.
Titterington and the Allard almost didn’t start the race, because the J2 developed a severe radiator leak about 15 mins before the off. An urgent appeal was put out over the public address system for some sealing compound, but none could be found. Someone suggested the age-old remedy of using egg whites so, in desperation, eggs were found and the whites duly slopped into the radiator. Unbelievably, it worked!
Allards were developed from Sydney’s pre-war trials special, with split IFS. Below: details reveal a superb finish, but the J2 isn’t over-restored.
It is worth noting that Titterington’s average speed in that race was 78.36mph. A meaningless statistic, until you look at the lap times that he achieved two years later in identical conditions at the same circuit, only this time driving an Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguar: only a smidgen more than a second faster, at 79.44mph. So, just as the 1952 victory establishes Titterington’s credentials as a quick driver, the times also demonstrate that an Ardun-engined Allard J2 was, in the right hands, a very competitive sports car.
Titterington completed two full seasons in the Allard, bagging 14 podium places from just 24 starts. By the end of 1953, the Irishman had already caught the eye of Ecurie Ecosse and, leaving the Allard at home, he went on to drive for the team on numerous occasions. He also appeared in a 300SLR for the Mercedes-Benz works team alongside Moss, Fangio, Collins, Fitch and Kling on the Targa Florio, as well as Formula 1 drives with both Vanwall and Connaught. It was a huge surprise when, in 1956, he retired from top-level competition.
By that stage the Allard was already long gone, having been sold to Jimmy Braid in the summer of 1954. The expat Scotsman was running a jute mill in India for a Dundee-based company. Braid was a keen amateur competitor in the Calcutta Motor Sports Club (CMSC), an organisation in which everything from Land-Rover specials to Alfa Romeo 8Cs went up against each other. Hoping to catch the tail end of the season, Braid immediately put the Allard on a boat to India – but it was touch-and-go whether the J2 would reach the Alipore docks in time for his first race. Legend has it that Braid was waiting, hurrying the dock workers along, so that only three hours after the boat landed he was at the startline.
From top: flyweight Allard has storming pace; still on Belfast plates, J2 arrives at Alipore circuit in 1954 with new owner Jimmy Braid; pride of Clapham.
It was the car’s subsequent owner, however, who would change the status of the Allard in India from race entrant to race winner, as Allan Ramsay claimed overall victory in the Calcutta Grands Prixof 1958 and 1960. Racing continued over the next 10 years with a string of owners, but unfortunately their enthusiasm for competition was not matched by an enthusiasm for keeping the Allard in good shape. After 25 years of hard, eventful competition, theJ2 was looking forlorn and in desperate need of repair.
Fast-forward to 1980 and a letter appeared in Old Motor from Peter Cowper. The joint owner of the Allard after Ramsay, Cowper had kept tabs on its whereabouts. He explained that he had met the owner of the J2 one evening and, quite unexpectedly, ended up as its new keeper for the cost of a beer and the promise to pay the road tax arrears. Fortunately, as Cowper was to discover, the car was remarkably complete and original despite its warrior history. A few UK enthusiasts then tried to buy the car, but nothing reached fruition and the story goes quiet until 1999.
The Allard arrived as a Meccano kit, but unfortunately came without a body.
It is at this point that the Allard’s current owner, Chris Pring, enters the picture. As with so many great discoveries, it all came down to chance. An old friend of Cowper’s was staying at a B&B not far from Pring’s Dorset home, and casually told the owners a story about how Cowper had stripped the Allard in preparation for a restoration, but had sadly died before he could start work. He wondered whether they knew of anyone in the UK who might be interested in buying it? Pring – at the time a regular historic racer in his Chevrolet Camaro – found out about the project and, after initial concerns about India’s export laws, he satisfied himself that bringing the Allard home was all above board and a deal was struck. The J2 duly arrived, largely complete but in component form, at restorer Leiter Motor Co’s Dorset premises.
It has taken just over a decade to painstakingly rebuild the Allard. Both Pring and Paul Weldon of Leiter shared the same vision as to how to restore the J2 – not as a race car with trick suspension and a fire-spitting Cadillac V8, but rather as a sports-racing Allard, much as it would have been delivered new to Titterington.
And they have succeeded. The Meccano-style kit that arrived unfortunately came without a body, which had been stolen during Cowper’s restoration preparations leaving only the doors. Recreating it was a challenge because each car was unique, but Weldon knew that the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu had an exceptionally original example on display, and he was able to take measurements from it. Starting with the doors, he worked out from the centre and, thanks to his unwavering attention to detail, the result is a very correct-looking J2. Once completed, it was sprayed in its original red, matched to the colour found on the doors.
We meet Pring and Weldon in the Cotswolds on one of the last days of summer. No one can deny that the Allard is distinctive; the long, cigar bonnet, the dinky cycle wings: it’s like a Frazer Nash Le Mans Rep that has been at the gym, working on its muscle tone. You’re immediately struck by details such as the chipped Bluemel’s steering wheel, the pockmarked chassis frame and the oddly sized doors: despite its hard life, so much of this car is how it left the factory in 1951.
Entry into the little red seats is inelegant, but once ensconced you know you are there for one reason: to drive. Everything around you is sparse, simple and in no way designed for safety. The aluminium dash is clear – a delight. Sadly, the original Ardun V8 engine has gone and for now the car runs a regular Mercury flathead until the pair of Ardun heads sitting in the Leiter workshop can be built up into an engine in the coming months. The other change from standard is the gearbox. Still a three-speed, it is not the Ford transmission that was fitted when the car was new but a stronger and smoother LaSalle unit – a popular upgrade in period.
The flathead V8 crackles into life with just a single churn of the starter, but the first couple of miles are a bit confusing. The Allard feels… loose – surely that can’t be correct? So you begin press on, pushing the J2 along, quicker through the corners, carrying speed and taking control. And that is when it comes to life. It is by no means stressful to drive: it just feels ‘right’. The flathead, one of the most recognised engines in existence, delivers effortless power. Sydney Allard’s tremendous knowledge of working with Ford components soon reveals itself in a spectacular manner: what could have been a real hotchpotch of components in fact proves to be a well-designed sports-racing car.
While many of the Festival of Britain’s landmark buildings have gone, and Titterington’s frontline career ended just as it seemed to be taking off, this Allard has outlived them all. And what a magnificent tribute it represents to the future of Britain circa 1951.