Brian Taylor – Chairman Allard Chrysler Action Group- sent us this great article about the resurrection of the Britain’s first ever dragster Allard Chrysler. To see the photos Brian also sent us go to: http://www.classicdigest.com/readers-stories/show-ad-detail/Classic+Digest+Crew/125/970
First let’s set the scene. Back in 1960/’61 Johnny Tillotson was high in the Bill Board 100 chart with ‘Poetry in Motion’. The Beatles were yet to be discovered and traditional jazz was popular in the UK with bands like Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball competing for chart success with the likes of Cliff Richard. It was the time when Jaguar launched their first E-Type. Drag racing and hot-rodding had already become part of the American automotive culture – particularly on the West Coast. Not so in the UK where sprinting, rallying and circuit racing reigned supreme.
But in a small workshop situated in Clapham, South London something else was taking place; something that would change the face of British motorsport forever. Basing his thoughts on pictures of a Chris Karamisenes’ dragster published in a Hot Rod book and with advice and help from Dean Moon in California, British sports car manufacturer and multi-motorsports champion Sydney Allard set his team the task to build Europe’s first dragster – the Mk I Allard Chrysler. Powered by a Potvin blown 354 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi engine, for several years it was Europe’s only dragster.
Nearly all Sydney’s sports cars featured American V8 engines and his original idea was to use American drag racing technology and put a bit of jazz into the existing UK sprinting scene that was suffering a bit of a decline at the time. There was no drag racing in Europe back then (apart from on the odd American airbase) and the car had to be built to suit Royal Automobile Club (RAC) sprint car build regulations; moving parts had to be covered, it had to have front and rear brakes plus a few other rules that restricted its drag racing potential. Sprint cars needed to be capable of going round corners and compete in hill climbs so the resulting dragster was a bit of a hybrid when compared to American dragsters of that period.
During 1961 and 1962 it appeared at different sprint events, inspiring a handful of other UK hot rod (specials) enthusiasts to build dragsters reflecting what they had also seen in Hot Rod Magazine. In 1963 Sydney was contacted by Las Vegas speed shop owner and local Nevada drag racer Dante Duce, and with the help of Dean Moon the Mooneyes dragster (driven by Duce) was brought across to demonstrate an American dragster at UK sprint meets. He was joined by Mickey Thompson with his blown Ford Harvey Aluminum Special fuel dragster. This led to further British International Drag Racing Festivals in 1964 and 1965 when the cream of American drag racing toured the UK. After watching the likes of Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy, Bob Keith, George Montgomery, Keith Pitman, Sox and Martin, Grumpy Jenkins and many more, increasing numbers of UK enthusiasts became hooked on drag racing. Things would never be the same again.
By 1964 the first set of UK drag racing regulations had been agreed so the Mark I Allard Chrysler was retired at the end of the year with the engine being used in a replacement dragster that more reflected the then current American lines. There was no way that the heavy Mark I Allard Chrysler dragster could be upgraded so the rolling chassis was stored in several workshops and barns, going through a partial restoration carried out by Allard Owners Club member Brian Golder in 1979. In 1992 following Brian’s death it was bequeathed to the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu – still without an engine and many key running gear components.
Early in 2008 a group of drag racing enthusiast got together and approached the National Motor Museum with a plan to complete Brian Golder’s restoration and turn the static exhibit into a dragster that could be fired up. The Allard Chrysler Action Group (ACAG) was formed, with Pink Floyd drummer (and National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Trustee) Nick Mason as its Patron and motoring writer Brian Taylor as its Chairman. Brian’s book ‘Crazy Horses – the history of British drag racing’ had just been released by Haynes Publishing.
In the USA several drag racing luminaries and businesses put their name down as supporters of the project such as Don Garlits, Carl Olson, Traci Hrudka and Linda Vaughn.
The first thing the ACAG needed to do was thoroughly inspect the car to check what level of restoration was possible and then set a rough budget so that they could start raising funds to carry out the work. This was done in 2009 in the museum workshops. The guestimate was that around £45,000 would be needed to restore the car to parade and fire-up (‘cackle and parade’) condition. It was decided not to take it back to full race condition because this would require many safety modifications that would destroy its unique ‘original’ status.
The rolling chassis was taken to shows, stories about the project were published, website and Facebook pages were created. ACAG shirts were sold along with other items such as a brilliant Paul Whitehouse painting of the car resulting in donations and low-level sponsorship being secured. Eventually the group had raised £10,000 – enough to get a 354 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi engine built to replicate that in the original dragster. Michigan based nostalgia engine builder Booth-Arons was commissioned to build it and by the Autosport International show at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre in January 2011 the ACAG was able to display the rolling chassis and new gleaming engine to the public. The dragster had its heart and the group could now refurbish or replace the rolling chassis components making it ready to accept the power from the recreated V8.
More money was raised during 2011 with the aim for that year being to build a basic working dragster before applying final finishes. The first engine fire up was in July of 2012. The car was completely stripped down again early in 2013 so that final chrome and paint finishes could be applied. By March 2013 the car was again ready for test fire-ups.
The progress has been reported in articles and videos published across the globe. In June 2013 the dragster was handed back to the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu to be put back on display.
Director of Collections, National Motor Museum Trust, Beaulieu, Andrea Bishop says,
“As far as I am aware, such a task has never been completed on an iconic exhibit in the UK, by a group of private individuals working in partnership with the museum who own it. The ACAG raised the funds, researched, promoted and publicised the project and provided the expertise and people to carry out the work. It truly is an amazing achievement and a fantastic model for other groups to follow”.
The dragster was nominated in two categories of the 2013 International Historic Motoring Awards and was one of four cars selected to appear outside the event venue. It has recently been nominated for another award to be announced in 2014.
The National Motor Museum, Beaulieu is keen that the dragster makes public appearances acting as an ambassador for their collection of historic vehicles. Final work on the clutch and a few other items is being carried out early in 2014. The hope is to take the dragster to the USA in 2014 for a short tour. This would be the best way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Sydney Allard’s first British International Drag Racing Festivals. Companies interested in supporting this contact email@example.com.
These links take you to 2013 public fire-ups of the dragster.
More videos can be found on www.allardchrysler.org
Full details of the restoration and the dragster’s racing story are included in issues of our on-line magazine ACAG Update. These can be found on the Latest News tab on the website. Regular updates can be found on the Allard Dragster Facebook Page.
Brian Taylor – Chairman
Allard Chrysler Action Group
Tel 01395 579733