As we mark the return of the Allard name to car-making with the JR Continuation Series it seems appropriate that this is the next item in our ongoing DSC Retro series. This was something of an offshoot of the Allard family story, which ended as a ‘what might have been’ cul-de-sac but, as Mike Fuller explains below, it was quite a ride!
Mike Fuller, www.mulsannescorner.com, tells the complete story of the stunning Group C car that never did fulfil the high hopes many had for it. Mike has researched this material in amazing depth: he really is a unique character in our branch of the sport.
Some of the most advanced sports prototypes ever designed were born out of the 3.5-litre Group C Championship. The two short years of that series saw some of the largest evolutionary jumps in prototype design, brought about by competition among car manufacturers such as Jaguar, Peugeot, and Toyota.
It was into this environment that the independently designed Allard J2X was born, to much fanfare. By 1991, mainstream sports car design bore little resemblance to the Porsche 956s and Lancia LC2s that first debuted some 10 years earlier. The Allard J2X suddenly accelerated the pace of thinking at a time when the development graph was already quite steep.
But the Allard was a veritable flash in the pan and followed the fate of many racecars by failing to realize its potential. So what happened to this car and who was behind it?
Chris Humberstone was a designer with a flair for tackling and managing complex engineering projects. Over the years he had worked at various racing teams and manufacturers, accumulating an interesting resume; Beatrice / Force F1, Benetton, and Brun Technics. In the late 80s, Humberstone approached Alan Allard, the son of Sidney Allard, about licensing the family name for a future road car project.
Though delayed a number of years, in the early 90s Humberstone finally formed Allard Holdings with the intent of moving forward. The Allard name would imply credibility and history to the effort and open doors that may have otherwise remained closed. Costas Los and Jean-Luis Ricci would eventually come on board with investment capital, also bringing along their own racing contacts, besides the money to help move the project ahead.
Costas Los’ professional background was in business, property, and shipping. Given his professional racing resume, that can almost be considered his side career. Los has driven everything from the ubiquitous Porsche 962 to the Aston Martin AMR-1 and the Gebhardt Audi.
“Right after my season in Japan, I took a year off and ran into Jean-Louis Ricci who persuaded me to get involved in the Allard project”, says Los. He, along with Ricci, put up a percentage of the initial startup monies. Los would then spend the next 24 months concentrating on tracking down additional funding as well as an interested manufacturer.
The Allard team’s intent was to build a customer racecar and also have a road car tie-in, an Allard designed supercar. The Allard J2 supercar was to have been loosely based upon the J2X Group C chassis, and use a detuned Allard-badged Cosworth DFR.
Though the J2 was a future project to be completed after the J2X was successfully on the track, two Lexus LS400s were modified by Allard (mainly styling, aerodynamics, and interior) and used as lures for potential manufacturer backing for the J2X. The LS400s were presented to Toyota in hopes that they would be interested in the Allard tie-in, to sell a low-volume exclusive, the Allard LS400.
In fact, Toyota did show interest, but confusion amongst the Allard partners led to them being unable to present a clear marketing proposal. Toyota quickly lost interest.
In the meantime, Humberstone began to bring together a group of young, enthusiastic, if somewhat inexperienced, designers and engineers. Humberstone approached Hayden Burvill and began forming the core of the design staff, starting in late 1990. The Australian Burvill became Chief Designer for the J2X: his background was Industrial Design. Burvill: “ID people bring depth of conceptualization, relative freedom from initial technical or material hurdles, a can-do attitude and confidence towards the creation of ground breaking solutions. Ultimately the real strength of the J2X project was the ability to move forward without hefty pre-conceptions.”
Burvill’s ID background would play from strength to strength, given the wide-open nature of the Allard’s design brief.
John Iley, the J2X’s aerodynamicist, joined Allard from Brun Technics in early ‘91. Iley had a hand in the aerodynamic development of the Brun C91 when he was fresh out of university. “During my final year (of university) I spent a large proportion of my time doing wind tunnel testing and data analysis of a sports prototype. I was lucky that Chris Humberstone saw this work. At that stage, he was in charge of Brun Technics design in England and he offered me my first job. I joined as a designer, with emphasis on using my recent aerodynamic studies on their latest 3.5-litre car.” Humberstone soon left Brun to pursue the Allard project and contacted Iley as things developed.
Both Burvill and Iley were relatively inexperienced when considering the task at hand, but, as Burvill puts it, “Chris Humberstone would not have been able to create this project in the way we did if he had used a more experienced or named designer. When you consider the time period and the J2X peers, having a highly conceptual novice was kind of prerequisite to achieving what we did with the Allard.”
Not wasting any time, conceptualization for the J2X began in the late months of 1990. “We had seen people do maximum cross-section for chassis stiffness (Brun C91) and we knew about the XJR-14 being very low profile. Our approach was to optimize the package to allow maximum volumes for investigating the aero solution,” says Burvill. John Iley adds, “you always look for targets, areas for improvement, areas of strength with existing designs, ways to get the most from the category’s regulations…there is also the difficulty of striking the right balance during the development of very original new concepts, versus iterative steps”.
The primary goal was a minimal frontal area, and the J2X’s radical look was the result. 1/10 scale study models were built to evaluate ideas (1/3 scale model, above), with Burvill and Humberstone contributing; Iley joined the project a few months later.
What began to emerge combined the best of all elements, narrow tub (above) and bubble canopy, detached front fenders, front wing, and very low profile rear bodywork. Two 1/3 scale wind tunnel model spines were used to evaluate as many ideas as possible. It would have been preferred to use the Imperial College wind tunnel in London, but McLaren was the favoured customer and there wasn’t any tunnel time available for the Allard group. Clearly the J2X concepts were unlike anything that was racing, and there was some question if they would produce results in the wind tunnel. The MIRA wind tunnel in Warwickshire, England, was chosen and testing began in earnest.
Iley: “We tested in regular short and intensive three-day test sessions, starting from the very first test with the radical minimal layout, to see if we could get it to work. It showed sufficient promise to persevere, with gradual improvements being made test by test, to produce a strong, distinctive and legal aero platform.”
Sports cars have historically been hampered by a lack of front grip. The design goal has always been to dial in as much front grip as possible to reduce or eliminate the car’s understeer without affecting airflow to the rear wing. In the past, front wings were tried on sports cars with the results being less than satisfactory. Typically the front wing element spoiled the airflow to the rear wing, which, ironically, produced the desired result, a forward balance shift, but was ultimately detrimental to overall downforce, but especially at the rear. The J2X’s complex front wing, with its large secondary flaps situated between the front fenders, was squarely aimed at eliminating the historical sportscar understeer condition.
Both Iley and Burvill indicate that the front wing of the Allard J2X functioned in and of itself and had little impact on the continuing airflow to the rear wing. Burvill: “The front wing definitely worked in isolation. The impressive L/D figure would not have been achievable otherwise. What you cannot see is some quite sophisticated air management under the nose.” The J2X featured a raised front nose section that allowed for air to flow onto the top surfaces of the floor just aft of the front wheels. Burvill continues: “This air was then managed rearward over the extremely low profile rear deck. This was to make the rear wing work harder, not suffer.”
Additionally, the front wing flaps performed a rules compliance function by masking the suspension components, as seen from the front. John Iley says, “the launch version of the car, which was in a maximum downforce configuration, had probably about ten settings, the problem being to keep the suspension covered in elevation at the same time.” The rules function of the front wing flap did limit its amount of travel somewhat, in that at lower flap angles it would have been possible for suspension components to be seen (hence, rendering the car illegal), but within the practical range of flap angle vs. balance, it was not an immediate issue.
Interestingly enough, additional front downforce could have been dialled in by adjustments made at the rear of the car. The twin-tier rear wing, with one double element wing running low and in conjunction with the tunnel exit, and the other running high at cockpit height or better, was found to be a powerful device to tune aerodynamic balance front and rear. Iley: “With a wheelbase of 2850mm and the mandated Group C 900mm flat floor area forward within this, the onset point for the diffuser, its main load centre, was in the forward portion of the wheelbase. The interaction of the lower wing with the diffuser was such, thanks to a very low rear deck, that increasing the flap angle on this lower wing improved the diffuser performance and actually gave more front aero balance.” The J2X could carry a maximum of 43% front aero load.
As mentioned, the achievement of the ultra-low rear deck height of the Allard was driven by the desire to feed the rear wings with airflow as unobstructed as possible. Additionally, the exhaust gas was piped into the trailing edge of the tunnel exit, but for a purpose other than aerodynamic.
Iley: “As a rule, I am not a supporter of such a system (exhaust activated diffuser) as it makes the car’s performance too throttle dependant, which does not provide the basis for a stable platform. However, the location on the J2X Allard was far enough rearward that its effect was greatly reduced. The main drive to route the exhausts this way on J2X was just to achieve an incredibly low and tidy rear deck for the lower rear wing, not to utilize a blown diffuser principle.” Ultimately the designers were able to achieve a rear deck height only some 10 mm above the rear tunnel exit.
According to John Iley, the J2X developed approximately 5500 lbs. of downforce for 916 lbs. of drag at 150 mph (L/D 6.0:1). “Yes our loads were huge and what little correlation work we did to the tunnel numbers seemed to agree with them well.” Fifty-five hundred pounds equates to a theoretical 9778 lbs. of downforce at 200 mph. Peak downforce was achieved at a 35mm front ride height and a 48mm rear ride height, with good high ride height performance and low overall pitch sensitivity. With only some 560-580 horsepower on tap from its 3.5 litre Ford DFR, a low downforce package would have eventually been developed, though it was clear that a more powerful engine would have greatly benefited the project.
With such high aerodynamic downforce, a power steering system was also deemed a necessity, though never developed or installed. Eventually, the front suspension would have required reworking to allow for the fitment of such a system so it became a future project. A simple active suspension system was installed for the J2X’s testing, though never optimized.
The Allard’s monocoque was a unique, full-length structure, incorporating a rear composite chassis that housed the gearbox. The rear chassis was designed so that the gearbox could be swivelled within the structure to allow for easy change of the gear cluster. The entire tub, minus the gearbox substructure, but including the FIA mandated steel roll-over hoop, weighed around 85 kgs. The full-length tub allowed for the potential installation of various customer engines, which were anticipated to be used by IMSA competitors. Additionally, it was extremely stiff, some 80,000 lbs./deg.
Burvill: “The chassis comprised a closed box section 100mm wide on each side, running the full length of the foot box and sills. The roll hoop could not be fully integrated or made of anything but certified diameter and wall thickness steel unless we had subjected the tub to a potentially destructive crash test. We had the roll hoop inspected and then bolted and bonded it into the chassis before the top section of the chassis was bonded, so it did become fully integrated.”
Unfortunately, the rear composite chassis turned out to be a potential liability, compromised by the use of an off the shelf gearbox (Leyton-March). According to Paul Burgess, detail designer engineer for the J2X’s rear chassis, the design was, “constrained by using an existing single-seat gearbox with integral rocker and suspension mounts, it was complicated to mount and access the gearbox internals. A much neater solution would have been to design and build a separate and easily changed gearbox, without any suspension mounts on it.” On-track testing would later bear out the need to rethink the gearbox housing, if not the need to redesign it.
Interestingly enough, the entire Allard J2X was drawn by hand. Hayden Burvill again: “The car was drawn on a five-metre drawing board, and all the body sections were faired by traditional lofting techniques. The pattern makers had a real challenge with some of the parts, particularly as the drawings were often quite Spartan and allowed for ‘PMB’, Pattern Makers Blend.”
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.”
With the Allard, from the outset, it 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 litre 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 Spice USA. 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, the 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 a 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 litre V10 would have been much more powerful. The IMSA GTP regulations were more open than the 3.5 litre Sports Car rules, and further modifications were planned to optimize the J2X to the IMSA code.
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 litre Chevy V8 engine to Allard. The idea was to replace the 3.5-litre 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.”
In early ’92 Hayden Burvill decided to leave Allard, but stayed long enough to work on the AK93 Spice GTP/Lights chassis. The Allard J2X’s bloodlines are tied closely to the Spice AK93 in the windscreen and the twin tier rear wing. “In those two weeks, I instigated the Allard windscreen (for the AK93) and worked on the design of the high chassis sides that made the high door sill and also went on to make the filler panel in the WSC Spice chassis too.”
The Allard windscreen and rear wing certainly helped impart a more purposeful look to the Spice chassis. Burvill continues: “We had become very familiar with how the rear deck impacted the use of the tunnel and floor to move the C of P (Center of Pressure) forward, although the packaging of the Spice chassis did not allow much freedom. I am sure there were efforts in that direction, hence the lower rear deck and the lower rear wing in some configurations.” In the long run, according to Doug Peterson, only three sets of AK93 bodywork were made, one for Comptech, one for Brix, and one for Spice USA. The Allard’s genes were passed, albeit in limited availability.
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! A 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 (above) 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 Montreal, Quebec. The J2X is presently undergoing a complete restoration, including the installation of a new Ford DFR engine.
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 spelt ‘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.
Obviously the Allard J2X’s demise was ultimately tied directly to the failure of the 3.5-litre 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 is 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 in the case of the J2X, the car’s design and execution showed divergent thinking and caused other rival design groups to look up from their CAD screens and re-evaluate what they themselves were doing. So while the J2X never had the opportunity to validate its design, its success can be judged solely on the subtle emulation that occurred after it faded from the scene.