Cutting Edge - 1992 Allard J2X-C

Downforce is a drag

4y ago

British firm Allard was a small sportscar manufacturer which came to life in 1945. The firm eventually specialized in building light cars with big American V8-engines, long before Carroll Shelby. In 1949 they introduced a light sportscar by the name of J2, commonly powered by 331 (5.4L) Cadillac engines. The car would make a name for itself in the racing scene, scoring 40 wins between 1949 and 1957. In 1958 the company went bankrupt, failing to keep up with the ever changing car market.

The J2 was the car to beat in the early post-war years.

The J2 was the car to beat in the early post-war years.

In the late 1980’s, F1-designer Chris Humberstone licensed the rights to the Allard name from Alan Allard, son of founder Sidney. After some years the new company finally got going by hiring Hayden Burvill from Brun Technics to design a sportscar for the Group C category.

Aerodynamicist John Iley was also taken on to develop a radically different design. Traditionally, Group C prototypes featured smooth bodies to generate as little drag as possible. As the cars were mainly designed for the long straights of Le Mans, downforce was not a priority. Instead the cars relied on massive power to fire them down the straights. The ground effect underbody in turn ensured the cars stayed on the track, further negating the need for a high downforce body design.

For the J2X-C Iley envisioned a vastly different strategy. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was just a single race on the calendar, so he devised a car that would excel at every other track. Seeking to create massive levels of downforce, Iley created a sharp edged and dramatically angular car.

The unusual bodywork gave the futuristic car a truly unique look. It was a big departure from the curvaceous and flowing bodies common in sportscar racing at the time. The car looked much more like the rolling physics lessons we know today.

Initial plans suggested a development of the Chevrolet smallblock V8 as an engine, but with the FIA’s shift to F1-derived units in 1992 a change needed to be made. Instead the car was fitted with a 3.5L Cosworth DFR V8 rated at a lackluster 580 horsepower.

The engine provided its power to the rear wheels via an experimental sequential-shift gearbox built by Leyton House-March Engineering. The experimental nature of the gearbox would hamper the car on more than one occasion.

The J2X-C’s suspension consisted of double wishbones all round, with push rod activated coilovers, a system also taken directly from Formula 1. The car’s knife-edge bodywork produced an enormous amount of downforce. John Iley calculated 5500 pounds (2494 kg ) of downforce at just 150 mph (241 kph). He then extrapolated to 200 mph (322 kph) and reached a total of 9778 pounds (4435 kg) of downforce.

These were immense figures, considering the entire car weighed just 1896 pounds (860 kg). The only other Group C car that could match these levels was Toyota’s TS010 with a claimed total of 9,500 lb (4,309 kg) of downforce. Provided the underwhelming Cosworth DFR could get the J2X-C up to these speeds, the numbers looked promising.

Costas Los testing the J2X-C at Pembrey Circuit, 1992.

Costas Los testing the J2X-C at Pembrey Circuit, 1992.

Rather optimistically the team entered the car in the 1992 500 km of Suzuka, but it was not ready in time and missed the event. In July the J2X-C finally got its first testing session at Pembrey Circuit in the hands of Greek driver Costas Los. Los found the car a unique driving experience compared to conventional Group C cars. The Allard was way more tuneable, instead of being a simple blunt force instrument. A feature he disliked was the lack of power steering, which made life in the J2X-C pretty harsh

Having finished initial testing on the car, Allard Holdings would find it hard to get the car sold. Interest in sportscar racing was waning as Group C was slowly being destroyed by the FIA’s expensive new 3.5L formula, and an economic downturn had made funds scarce. This made the company unsure of its future, as its debt was building relentlessly. The inevitable happened in early 1993, when Allard Holdings was finally liquidated. Still far from the completion of its development, the lone J2X-C chassis was sold to Englishman Robs Lamplough for the sum of 76,000 pounds.

The J2X-C at the Le Mans testing day, 1993.

The J2X-C at the Le Mans testing day, 1993.

Lamplough entered his new toy in the testing day for the 1993 edition of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving the car himself, he managed a best positioning of 19th. This left the J2X-C dead last in class and slower still than the top 4 of the GT-class. The car’s lack of power and extreme levels of downforce made it totally unsuitable to the lengthy straights of Le Mans, as there were virtually no corners to make the lost time up on. A meager top speed of just 172 mph (277 kph) meant the car was dangerously sluggish. Robs Lamplough wisely decided not to race the car in the actual event.

After seeking some assistance from Bob Pond Racing, Lamplough entered the plagued car into the 9th round of the IMSA GTP Championship at Laguna Seca. There he would qualify the car a dismal 12th, again slowest in class. Due to several cars not finishing, the car eventually crossed the line in 9th and last place. The American adventure proved to be the cars second and final outing. It never raced again.

Laguna Seca, IMSA GTP Championship 1993.

Laguna Seca, IMSA GTP Championship 1993.

The Allard J2X-C was a spark of premature genius. It's high downforce design was far ahead of its time, but faced numerous problems. The hastily introduced 3.5L formula caused it to be fitted with a ridiculously underpowered engine, which made it horrendously slow. It was clear that the car's concept had been compromised by the lack of grunt.

A tight budget and a drastic change of plans might have killed the J2X-C in a very short time, but the futuristic design had a great impact on the sportscar scene. Because Allard Holdings had gone bust far before the car had actually been developed fully, it had a lot of unexplored potential. If the machine's innovative aerodynamics could have been partnered with a more powerful engine, it might have set speed records across the board.

Various other firms had considered following in the J2X-C’s shaky footsteps, but deemed designing such a radical car too great a risk. Instead they remained careful and conservative, focusing on developing what they already knew.

The J2X-C’s innovative design principles would later be seen in various degrees in the LMP’s of the early 2000’s and beyond. The Lola B01/60 and B05/40, as well as the infamously dominant Audi R8 have all been said to have used ideas originally conceived for the Allard J2X-C.

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