Sydney Allard was a Ford dealer who in the years before the Second World War produced his own ‘Allard Specials’ using the 1930s Ford Flathead V8 engine. The specials became a range of sports cars using Cadillac engines as well as Ford units and in these he had success in some extremely diverse motor racing events: he won the 1949 British Hillclimb Championship, was placed third at Le Mans in 1950 and won outright the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally. In the later 1950s, Sydney turned to the component business and fitted Shorrocks superchargers to a wide range of engines.
At the same time, he noted drag racing fever spreading in the US and as early as 1960, he imported a 354 Chrysler Hemi with a GMC 6-71 blower. Using American Chris Karamesines’ Chizler rail as his model, he presented Europe with its first dragster – a historic event that changed the shape of European motorsport. In truth he built it to add a ‘bit of jazz’ to the then ailing British sprint scene. He had to adapt the Chizler’s design to incorporate existing RAC sprint regulations, so the result is the unique Allard Chrysler. It’s iconic ‘Art-Deco’ streamline looks became the siren for all those enthusiasts looking for something a little bit more extreme from their motor sport in power terms.
The fuel was Methanol with a small percentage of Acetone and the theoretical maximum boost was 20 pounds. Weighing 1460 lbs (60% distributed to the rear wheels), the dragster produced 480 horsepower at 5000 rpm with a compression ratio of 8:1. The max torque was 550 lbs feet at 3000 rpm; so a pretty powerful machine in its day.
It was first fired up in front of an invited audience at Brands Hatch in the Spring of 1961. Sydney then held a press demonstration of the car on the old Club Straight at Silverstone. The first appearance of the dragster in front of the paying public was at the Brighton Speed Trials in 1961. During the rest of the year and through 1962 it could be seen at sprint meetings and shows throughout the UK, putting down mid 10-second standing start quarter mile times with estimated terminal speeds of around 150 mph. There were no official UK drag racing events back then.
But in July 1963 he received a telephone call from Dante Duce – a speed shop operator and drag racer in Las Vegas. He issued a challenge that he could beat the Allard Chrysler and Sydney accepted. Duce mentioned the project to one of his speed shop suppliers Dean Moon who offered to provide his 600 bhp 350 cubic inch Chevrolet V8 engined Mooneyes dragster for the trip.
Allard and Duce first appeared together on the Club Straight at Silverstone. Then at the 58th Brighton Speed Trials they were joined by another American, Mickey Thompson, who gate-crashed the meetings with his blown and injected V8 Ford powered dragster, the Harvey Aluminum Special. The next event in the Challenge series was held at RAF Church Lawford, followed by RAF Debden the next day. Even though it was not promoted as a spectator event around 5000 people blagged their way past astonished RAF Debden Police and lined the strip. The spectacles fired the imagination of hundreds of budding UK hot rodders and drag racers who wanted more the following year.
Hence, collaborating with Wally Parks of the National Hot Rod Association Sydney organised the 1964 International Drag Festival series of six meetings held over three consecutive weekends in different parts of the country – Blackbushe, RAF Chelveston, RAF Woodvale, RAF Church Fenton and RAF Kemble. He formed the British Drag Racing Association as the umbrella organising body and a star-studded American team consisted of Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, Bob Keith, Tony Nancy, George Montgomery, Keith Pittman, Ronnie Sox & Buddy Martin, Dave Strickler & Grumpy Jenkins, Dante Duce, Doug Church, Bill Woods and Don Hyland thrilled the fans. Sydney’s son Alan took the Allard Chrysler to a best time of 10.28 seconds at 150 mph. Things would never be the same again.
A handful of new UK built dragsters also attended the meeting, including the Allard Dragon, a blown four-cylinder Ford engined dragster sold in kit form by Allards to help people get started in drag racing. It was driven by his son Alan. But the old Allard Chrysler dragster was by now getting long in the tooth. So Allard commenced building a new dragster for 1965, this time one designed solely for drag racing and they used the engine and front mounted blower from the original Allard Chrysler.
1965 saw Sydney Allard organise another Drag Festival with more American stars – this time held at Blackbushe and Woodvale. Bob Keith captained the American team that included Tony Nancy, Danny Ongais, Gary Casady, Chuck Griffith, Nick Colbert, Buddy Cortines, Ben Griffin, Merek Chertcow, Jim Cook, Boris Murray, Bob Loux, Nira Johnson, Lawrence Perry, Dick Rios and Denis Manning. The drag racing trail had been well and truly blazed and the sport started to get established.
Sydney Allard died in 1966 (the year Santa Pod opened). The original 1961 Allard Chrysler rolling chassis remained under cover, eventually winding up with Allard Owners Club member Brian Golder in 1979 who carried out a part-restoration. After Brian’s death it was bequeathed to the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu – without its engine. It has since been restored to working order.
Sydney Allard can truly be described as the Father of British and indeed European drag racing. It is for this path-finding role that he has been inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.