The Allard J2X Story

By Michael J. Fuller

On July 9th, 1992, the Allard J2X was shaken down at Pembrey in Wales (above and below). Costas Los was at the wheel. “The J2X felt very different to a regular Group C car. It had a different driving position to what I was used to, and an unusually small cockpit…I recall in particular how pointy the car could be made to be, and how it was possible to wind on an extraordinary amount of front-end grip with that wing. Contrary to most group C cars I had driven, it was a lot more tunable than I was accustomed to.” The J2X required tremendous physical effort to drive and Los re-affirmed the eventual need for power steering. It can’t be stressed enough how large a step the Allard was in terms of downforce.

“You go testing in a regular Group C or IMSA car, and in the morning you set a light aero setting and work on mechanical grip. With the light aero settings the car feels fast down the straights, it does a little side-to-side dance into the braking area and you fight the steering and throttle through the corner to get the best exit. You do this over and over in the morning while working on mechanical set-up, and it becomes comfortable. Now the engineer tells you he wants to work on the wings. Sometimes he might start with the maximum available downforce, balanced of course, which means getting the most out of the front and then balancing it with the rear. On all the Group C cars I drove, except the Allard, if you loaded both ends to the maximum you would get an understeering car.”

The Allard was decidedly different than any previous Group C car in terms of available grip and balance. Costas continues: “Imagine loading a Spice GTP with all the gizmos we developed for it on street tracks, and that's how it started off on the Allard, without having even attempted to get a street-circuit type of set up, no appendages or anything, wings set neutral. It was quite an eye-opener.”

Initial issues to come out of the test included an extreme high frequency vibration that was so severe as to cause Los difficulty in focusing on braking points. As a precaution, the car’s first few laps were turned with the bodywork removed, because there were concerns that the radiated heat from the engine would set fire to the tightly form fitting engine cover and rear bodywork. Those worries ended up being unfounded and nary a bubble in the composite bodywork was seen.

There never was any intention to race the Allard out of the factory; the J2X was always seen as a customer chassis. Though, according to Los, it became clear after initial testing that engines available to privateers probably wouldn’t do the car justice, because of the tremendous downforce (and drag). It was becoming obvious, given the decay of the 3.5 liter Sports Car World Championship, that a privateer with manufacturer backing was going to be essential in order to see the Allard actually race. And that entity would have to be found in IMSA.

In ‘91 Allard Holdings had acquired English Group C and GTP chassis builder Spice Engineering.  That led to Costas Los driving the second team car for Comptech’s Acura Spice Camel Lights team.  During the ’92 season, while at Comptech, Los developed a close relationship with Honda of North America. At that time Honda, was investigating a move into GTP for the 1993 season. 

Doug Peterson, founder of Comptech, picks up the story. “The plan was to use the Honda V10 F-1 engines in the car... It began with a trip to England in early April 1992 to look at the Lola, TWR, and Allard chassis.  Because the Allard concept looked intriguing and our team was already involved with Chris Humberstone and Costas Los with the Acura Spice Lights car, we closely followed the cars build and initial test at Pembrey.”

Comptech and Allard agreed terms and it was decided to test the chassis in the U.S. Three tests were carried out. The first test was conducted at Mid-Ohio over August 24-25 in 1992.  Johnny Dumfries was at the wheel for the first day of the tests, as he also had done some of the testing at Pembrey in the UK. The first day produced little in the form of results and things were looking bleak. 

Peterson: “The car was slow, visibly unstable and no progress was being made. In a meeting that evening we told Chris that if radical changes were not made for the second day we were not interested in continuing the test.” 

Parker Johnstone replaced Dumfries for day two. “With nothing to lose, we made some big changes in spring rate, ride height and alignment, along with reducing the size of the flaps between the fenders and nose to reduce drag and improved lap times by seven seconds. Our best time was two seconds off the GTP track record held by the XJR-14 Jaguar.” 

Considering that the Allard was giving up some 100 horsepower to the Jaguar and was running, according to John Iley, “BF Goodrich bricks”, the effort was indeed impressive, and gave a peek at the car’s potential. Costas Los adds that, “a few laps around Mid-Ohio in the Allard, and Parker, supposedly a fit guy, was panting so hard he couldn’t explain anything to us!” 

The test eventually came to a halt when an A-arm mounting insert detached from the rear sub-chassis. Despite these problems, it was clear from the test that the Allard was worthy of pursuing.

The second trial occurred September 9-10 at the Talladega Gran Prix circuit (above) in Talladega, Alabama (practically across the street from the Talladega NASCAR oval). Results were more constructive. David Tennyson’s Chevrolet powered Spice GTP with all the latest aerodynamic tweaks, was presented at the test to compare with the Allard J2X. According to reports, Parker Johnstone was within 2/10ths of a second of the Tennyson-piloted Spice and only a half a second off the overall lap record. 

Test three was at Road Atlanta, November 4-5. Once again a rear suspension-mounting insert failed, though overall it was a positive test. Reportedly Parker Johnstone had been able to take turn 1 flat out in 5th gear in the J2X, a remarkable feat.

Ultimately the testing by Comptech highlighted a few areas that would require attention. It was clear that the rear sub-chassis would need redesign to allow for ease of maintenance and to address the potentially dangerous suspension mounting point failures. It was also felt that the Allard carried too much drag, though this was also a function of the powerless Ford DFR. Surely a GTP version of the Honda 3.5 liter V10 would have been much more powerful. The IMSA GTP regulations were more open than the 3.5 liter Sports Car rules, and further modifications were planned to optimize the J2X to the IMSA code.

But it was not to be.  In late 1992 Honda made their decision to pursue Indy Car racing. The choice came when IMSA announced the World Sports Car formula starting for 1994. Honda, understandably, could not justify just one season of racing in GTP. Comptech continued during 1993, winning the IMSA Camel Lights Championship (again) in the Acura Spice AK93.

Shortly after the Comptech tests, Spice USA shipped a 6.5 liter Chevy V8 engine to Allard. The idea was to replace the 3.5 liter DFR and Leyton-House F1 gearbox for the Chevy motor and a Hewland DGB transmission with the intent to make the car even more attractive to IMSA competitors. But the design study never went beyond the mockup phase and all work ceased.

A second interested party was Gianpiero Moretti’s Momo team. “Moretti was a real believer in the car,” said Costas Los. Moretti purchased the original show car (the Momo liveried Allard J2X displayed at the 1992 Autosport show - below) and used it to promote the Momo brand. 

“He (Moretti) was the type of guy for whom the marketing impact of a car like the Allard was a big part of the attraction.” But delays in manufacturing and a lack of focus began to lengthen the project’s timeline. Regardless of the delays, it was becoming clear that this decade of sports prototype racing was approaching its end. In the end, the problem was simple for Moretti, the same as had been for Honda; there frankly was no place to race the Allard. “I think Moretti would have been a buyer, even despite the delays, had the formula continued.” 

The prospects were certainly grim without any potential customers - and really no hope of any, with the IMSA GTP series in its death throes. Allard quickly slid downhill as funding and prospects dried up. Allard lasted until the end of the first quarter of 1993.

Allard Holdings and all its assets were auctioned to pay the company’s debtors. John Iley: “I went to watch the auction of the car in London to close the chapter, £76,000 seemed a small price for all those hours of effort put in by the team.” Robs Lamplough was the purchaser of the car. 

The Allard, whose life was not quite over yet, was moved to Lamplough’s Hungerford UK estate. Gordon Friend, a former Allard prototype mechanic, looked after the car. “After he (Lamplough) bought the Allard and discovered how complicated it really was, he asked around who could prepare and run it for him.” Friend’s name came up, as obviously there was few qualified in the world to work on the J2X. Lamplough wanted to run the car at Le Mans and it was Friend’s task to make that happen. “Rob wanted to see what the car was like there…so it was really a, ‘let's go because we can’ deal.”

The first task was possibly the most daunting; getting ACO/FIA approval to run the car at the event, considering the J2X never had the requisite crash test. “I got together a ton of production drawings and then went to see Charlie Whiting in the FIA office in London,” says Friend. “I spent several hours there explaining how the car was built, etc., with both Charlie and Max Mosley, after which they agreed to give me an FIA pass certificate with no crash testing!”

The second issue to crop up was that the Allard didn’t have lights, front or rear! Friend purchased four BMW lamps from a local dealer and designed the headlight Perspex to be something befitting the Allard’s unique look. Similarly the rears were off of a donor vehicle and designed, as the front headlights, in situ.

The Le Mans Test Day simply verified the car’s lack of suitability for the high-speed circuit. Friend trimmed as much downforce out of the car as practical, but there was little that could be done without a major redesign. “The front flaps were run as low as was possible angle wise and, if I recall, we managed to get somewhere around 172 mph”. But when you consider that cars such as the Peugeot 905 were nearly reaching 220 mph into the first chicane, 172 mph is paltry. 

After the Test Days it was decided not to run at the race proper, given the obvious performance deficit. The Laguna Seca round of the IMSA GTP Championship came into the picture. At this point Lamplough simply wanted to race the car, even though IMSA GTP was on the way out. At Laguna the J2X qualified 12th and finished 9th overall.

Overall the J2X ran reliably in its outings at Le Mans and Laguna Seca, thankfully for its mechanic. Gordon Friend imparts that, “it was a very difficult car to work on from a race mechanic’s point of view…an engine change took around six hours, a gearbox about four, a starter motor change, with luck, a couple of hours...and don't even think about changing an alternator!” 

The Allard was shipped back to England following the Laguna race and the car’s racing history ended there.  Eventually Lamplough did sell the J2X and it went through a succession of owners during the 90s, eventually ending up in Deschambault, Quebec where it was restored by Rivard Competition and subsequently sold to Peter Kitchack of Toad Hall Racing. 

Ultimately the Allard J2X’s demise was tied directly to the failure of the 3.5 liter Group C Championship. Certainly there is evidence to suggest that the J2X could have been successful given proper development, but that can be said about many racecars that either never hit the track, or remained stymied by lack of funding. Perhaps more important than whether or not the Allard was capable of winning races was the direct influence it had on chassis design. Certainly the design brief for the Allard was no different than the design brief for any of its rivals. But as radical as the Allard seemed, it still was merely design evolution; nothing was particularly revolutionary about it.  In terms of aerodynamic performance it certainly was impressive, but even the much more conventional Toyota TS-010 was generating 9500+ lbs. of downforce with a lift-to-drag ratio also in the 6+ region.  Though Burvill admits that the Allard was far from optimized aerodynamically, there was more to come and more potential over conventional designs given the use of volumes on the Allard.  But ultimately many of the Allard’s competitors were flirting with the concept as well. 

Los offers this interesting encounter, “I once ran into Tony Southgate at Le Mans a few years after I retired, and he told me that all the major sportscar manufacturers had toyed with the concept of the Allard.”  Indeed, Tony Southgate confirms this conversation, “With an on going wind tunnel program that existed at TWR Jaguar I would investigate new directions to go in and the open front wheel layout was one of them.”

Graham Humphries, lead designer at Spice Engineering also indicated that the idea was also considered, “We developed a 40% wind tunnel model which initially showed promise.  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.  However with limited resources, it was decided to follow the more conventional route of further developing what we knew.”   Southgate came to similar conclusions, “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.”

So while many companies were working towards Allard-esque solutions, it all came down to who was willing to take the risk.  Says Costas Los, “For an independent designer being paid by a manufacturer to design a winning car for such a key race, it was risky to propose an Allard type car.”  Hayden Burvill relfects,  “I am sure many had considered it, perhaps even sketched, but no one had the guts to step up and design it.  I had nothing to loose, nobody knew who I was.”

 

John Iley, Allard J2X Aerodynamicist: “I think it was a very brave concept that had some really good design features and potential. It was also a superb opportunity for a small group of creative and inexperienced people to inject some fresh thinking to the formula. It was subsequently flattering that the Evo. 2 Peugeot and, particularly, the Toyota GT-One showed more than a passing resemblance in concept to the J2X, even though the Allard had long been gone by then.”

John Iley continued his motor sports career, moving into Formula One. He has worked for Jordan and Renault. In November 2003, Iley left Renault after being offered a position with Ferrari to head up their aero department.

Hayden Burvill, Allard J2X Chief Designer: “I think that the J2X was a watershed design that influenced most prototypes that have come since. I think the merit and potential of the J2X concept is reflected in the successes of the cars that have adopted some of the concepts and used sound planning, financing and competition preparation to prove the potential.”

Hayden Burvill left Allard in late ’92 to form his own motorsports and design consultant group, Windrush Evolutions. Apart from his activities with Windrush, Burvill has also since worked for outfits as various as Courage, Reynard, G-Force, and Panoz in a design and race engineering capacity, although these days Windrush, located in San Carlos, California, takes up most of his time. 

Costas Los, Director and financier Allard Holdings, test driver for Allard J2X: “Everything about this project spelled ‘manufacturer needed’. We had the idea, but not the infrastructure, nor the finance to do the job properly. Like lots of racecar projects, we almost got there but not quite, and a typical implosion ensued where the car went to auction and sold for 10% of its build cost. Mr. Lamplough was the lucky beneficiary. Still, with sportscar racing castrated, there was not a lot he could do with it. Instead of destroying Group C as he did, Mr. Eccelstone should have taken it over and replaced those dinky cars he runs in F1 with these magnificent prototype machines. What did I want from this project? The simplest thing of all: To be part of a successful project.”

Costas Los kept his toe in the driving waters only through Le Mans 1993, where he last drove Stephane Ratel's Venturi 500 LM GT car, “but once you had driven cars like the ones I had driven, it was difficult to appreciate anything else.” These days Costas works and lives in Monaco and is a successful realty and finance mogul.


 

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©Copyright 2008, Michael J. Fuller