copyright Martin Spetz, David Kelly Arhchives, Autsport
Text copyright Michael J. Fuller
in 2005, while I was researching the Allard J2X, I was informed that
Spice Engineering Limited had developed a radical Group C car concept
that was markedly similar to the Allard concept. This led to an email
exchange with Spice's former head engineer, Graham Humphrys, who
confirmed this was the case indeed. But it was only recently I
received an image of that design in the form of a concept rendering.|
The Allard J2X, the unapologetic paradigm of function driven design, is considered the touchstone of envelope pushing designs from the Group C era. At the time, the J2X, fueled by comparatively open chassis and aerodynamics regulations, developed the aerodynamic ideas that embodied a sports prototype further than most of its contemporaries. But the interesting thing is that the Allard wasn't exclusive in its ideas; we have tangible proof in the tested but unraced Allard contemporary Peugeot 905 Evo 2 Bis.
And over the years I've become aware that Tony Southgate, Tom Walkinshaw Racing's long time designer, also toyed with the idea of a podded or fendered concept during his years with the Jaguar program, “With an on going wind tunnel program that existed at TWR Jaguar I would investigate new possible new directions to go in and the open front wheel layout was one of them. I liked the layout, the TWR Jaguar looked great, but I finally rejected it because the drag was just too high for me to accept, the downforce was no problem.”
Naturally Humphry's confirmation of also exploring this route further indicates the design direction was evolutionary, and somewhat intuitive. Though in the end the boys at Allard actually pulled the trigger, getting to see their car in the flesh, and rightfully received all the recognition.
what's interesting about the Spice concept is the time line. Wind
tunnel studies for the Spice "F-15" began in late 1990. “Fedco
wanted a new race car,” says Spice designer Graham Humphrys. This
concept was being considered during the very brief time period when
Fedco, a Japanese company that had interests in real estate, but also
had a Group C2 racing team, owned Spice Engineering.|
“We developed a 40% wind tunnel model, which initially showed promise,” Humphrys continues. “The model had a high pointed nose, low front wing, and extremely low delta shaped pods to enclosed rear arches. It was extremely elegant, and whilst it produced the required down force, drag was too high.” And we can see other details here in the rendering, the side view mirrors are in pods sprouting from the trailing edge of the front fenders, brake cooling was formula style, ducts being mounted directly to the upright, which is open to airflow inboard, and the front suspension is shrouded. The front floor plan area is non-existent given the delta-shaped side pods. Also note the small horizontal lip, extending from the shadow plate splitter underneath the raised nose, running down the leading edge of the lower sidepod, surely good for vortex generation into the underfloor section (BLAT anyone?).
However, practicalities ruled the day “...plan B was to develop the car we knew. A decision had to be made and when we made some big gains developing the package we knew (the then-current Spice GTP/Group C car), it was obvious which route was logical. Whilst the (F-15) car worked well, it was not so good to win the day. However, it did look stunning. Also the state of Group C was not conducive to huge tooling costs and the market was shrinking.” Thus multiple issues conspired against the F-15 Spice, technical (drag), practical (costs to develop and tool a completely new car), and environmental (world economics).
into 1991 Fedco, dealing with their own financial uncertainty, sold
Spice to drivers Costas Los and Jean-Louis Ricci of Allard
Holdings. And shortly thereafter the Allard J2X began to
emerge. Though these were dire times in sportscar racing.
The Sportscar Word Championship would collapse completely by
1993. The J2X would have a very poor showing at the Le Mans test
days, and then a rather modest appearance at the Laguna Seca round of
the IMSA GTP championship.
The questions must be asked of course, could the work of Humphrys have inspired or influened the designers at Allard, given the timing? Costas Los concedes the Allard design team may not have seen the Humphrys concept, “It's possible the Allard employees did not know about that specific drawing, but I saw similar ideas circulating in the office since joining the team. I suggest John Iley was the pen behind most of the ideas, but its fair to say most of them originated from the J2X concept, which was an idea dreamed up collectively by Chris (Humberstone), Hayden (Burvill) and John (Iley)...the pioneering element of our effort was the audacity to try it. Graham, Tony (Southgate), and probably the whole Group C community bar Porsche, had experimented with the pod concept and dropped it.”
Oddly, others have suggested in fact the opposite was the case, that the guys at Spice were influenced by Allard. I think we can say that was unequivocally not the case at all given the time line. The F-15 Spice work was done and dusted before Allard came into the picture in any form, and well before any of Allard's ideas went public (January 2, 1992 Autosport article). Even 25 years later there still is a scramble to claim the originator position.
So who inspired who, and ultimately how influential was the Spice work on Allard J2X? It is possible the Spice R&D was insulated from Allard and was consigned to anonymity. But the rendering in the Autosport article is suspiciously similar to the Spice design, with the main identifying design detail being the keel that blends into delta shaped sidepods outboard to the rear wheels.
Don't get me wrong, the model concept in the same article is certainly a B-spec beyond both concepts. But at the risk of being controversial, I must admit I find it very unlikely that a company that had just taken over another wouldn't look into their fresh R&D when about to embark on a radical concept of their own, if only to take a look out of sheer curiosity. That might explain the similarity of the very initial artists rendering of the Allard to the concept rendering of the F-15 Spice. But, in complete fairness to the guys at Allard, the influence would have been fleeting, and there were still technical hurdles to overcome (drag). And the car that emerged in 1993, the Allard J2X, was certainly well and beyond the Spice F-15 concept from late 1990. Allard guys, you still get credit where credit is due.