Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Vintage Thing No.45 - Candidi Provocatore Allard J-type

This picture of a splendid old war horse basking in the sunshine at Wiscombe Park hillclimb back in 2008 defines the concept of Vintage Thing. The ghosts of many competition successes hang heavy on this Allard J1. Not many cars have been haunted by so many benign (petroleum) spirits.

It started life as Geoffrey Imhof's works team car and he campaigned it vigorously in trails, rallies, hillclimbs and races until the powers that be decided Allards were a bit too successful. Never knowingly over-restored but extremely sympathetically maintained, it bears its history proudly and although some people may turn their noses up at its allegedly scruffy appearance, to me it is a thing of great and brutal appeal. To learn more about this car's illustrious history visit the Candidi Provacatore site here.

For some years it's belonged to Roger Ugalde who still campaigns it in classic trials whenever he gets the chance. With a 3917cc (81mm x 98mm) Ford side-valve V8 the performance can hardly be described as peaky or temperamental. An Allard J1 weighed only sixteen and a half hundred weight (that’s about 840kg) and if the engine is putting out about 120bhp (roughly 90kW) that’s a power to weight ratio of 9.9kg/kW – that’s on a par with a BMW 318. As for torque, let’s just say it’s of the steam locomotive variety.

In short, this car is a 1946 version of a Caterham 7.

When new, it would have looked something like this and it wills rakish lines were enough to win a concourse d’elegance on the continent where Maurice Chevalier (no less) tried to buy it for two and a half times the price of a new J1. Bear in mind the fact that most sports cars of the era still had vertical grilles and you can imagine the impact that this would have made on M. Chevalier.

Gradually, the rigours of competition took its toll and after many scrapes and bangs, and constant reconstruction to keep ahead of the opposition, this wonderful trials car evolved into its present form.

They only ever made 12 Allard J1s but quite a few replicas reconstructed over the years from the longer wheelbase L types. Sydney Allard "... decided the new trials J model was to be sold only to 'proven' drivers who would use them in competitions. It was not to be publicly advertised as this would draw too much attention, to the possible detriment of sales of the standard range."

One of my friends, who you will have heard of before on this blog, is in the process of creating a J1 replica in addition to restoring an L type. Rob Robinson-Collins, as well as being my scrap buddy, is lurking in the background of this picture of a blue J1 replica owned by Nigel Brown and entered in the 1998 Land's End Trial, when Rob was competing on a Greeves 250 trials bike.

Anyone who owns an Allard of any description becomes Rob's new best friend and, needless to say, he knows Roger Ugalde very well, so well in fact that Rob has borrowed the Candidi Provacatore team car for the 2009 Land's End Trial.

Initially, his co-driver, navigator and bouncer (for when the going gets rough)for the 2009 LET was to have been Robert Hall, one of his relatives, but he's out of the country for Easter. Some say he's fled the country and emigrated to Canada or somewhere without an extradition treaty, allegedly out of sheer terror at the prospect of riding shotgun in such a device during a religious festival. Consequently, I have stepped heroically into the breach and will be masquerading as Robert Hall, although my true identity will be our little secret. This means that the Team Robert sidecar crew (aka Binky and Ginger) are re-united and will be riding again in a classic trial.

We have a less than illustrious history with this car already. We borrowed it off Roger once before, for the 2004 Exeter Trial but we broke it even before we got to the start. The engine started making terrible rattling and knocking noise and we couldn't bear to proceed any further.

It was a good thing we didn't.

One of the big ends had let go, sending its piston and conrod on a one way suicide mission to the top of the cylinder bore. The piston hit the head and swelled a bit with the impact, seizing in the bore. Well, the top part did. The lower section of the piston around the gudgeon pin got dragged back down the bore by the rattly crank and big end.

We had to return to Roger's house on the back of an AA lorry. When Rob phoned Green Flag, they’d never heard of an Allard and when they asked what year it was and he said that it was made in 1946 they said they were terribly sorry but they only cover cars under 12 years old. One of the advantages of AA membership is that, even as a passenger, you're still covered so we came home on my membership. And Rob has been a member of the AA ever since.

Roger was very kind about the breakdown. He said something along the lines that it had been making a funny noise for ages and it was just our bad luck that it went when it did. We felt terrible but he was just as disappointing for us. The car's been fixed now and Roger took the opportunity to make some upgrades such as an alternator that looks just like an original dynamo. He used it to successfully complete the 2009 Exeter Trial earlier this year and now it's our turn as Roger is Clerk of the Course for these year's Land's End Trial, the 87th LET no less and 101 years since the event was first held.

As you can imagine, I am extremely excited about the prospect of riding in this magnificent car again. We'll be running in Class 7 and starting from Popham airfield on the evening of Good Friday, running as number 156. Come along and say hello if you see us. We'll be the guys with the wall-to-wall grins. (Photo by Derek Hibbert)

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