EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 16, 2012

Driving an ornery old car is a valuable experience

By Larry Printz
The Virginian-Pilot

---- — If you’re not the sort of person who enjoys old cars, you might wonder why someone would want something that is, by today’s standards, an anachronism.

You might assume that car collectors buy a particular old car or truck because it’s associated with a happy memory. But it’s just as likely that the vehicle’s lack of modernity is part of the appeal.

The thought came to mind as I found myself in my friend’s 1951 Allard, a car created by Sydney Allard, a Brit who, shortly after World War II, decided to stuff big American V-8 engines into English coachwork. The same pattern was followed by others, including Carroll Shelby, nearly a decade later.

While Allard offered different models, it’s the two- seat roadsters that garnered the most sales — and racing victories. Ford V-8s and three-speed manual transmissions were standard; Cadillac V-8s and Chrysler Hemi V-8s were available as options.

The car that I rode in, a 1951 K2 roadster, had just over 6,100 original miles and was one of 118 built that year. It had a Cadillac 5.4-liter V-8, good for 160 horsepower.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is. The Allard weighs less than 2,800 pounds. In other words, this is an engine with seats and a small trunk attached.

Climbing into the car, you’ll notice all of the things this car doesn’t have. It has snap-on side curtains, rather than roll-up windows. Door locks? Nope. Grab handles? Nope. Sun visors? Nah. Radio? Nada. Arm rest? Don’t see one. Seat belts? Negative. And you can forget power steering, power brakes or climate control.

The Allard lacks the boatload of electronics that enhance the modern driver’s abilities. There are no traction aids, stability control or blind-spot monitors. You can’t drive it while talking on a mobile phone or eating a burrito.

Consider the Allard’s instrument panel. It’s made of metal. No padding, no airbags (aside from the one in the seat) and no seat belts. A crash can’t end happily. You get the bare essentials: seats, carpet, instrument panel, windshield, lights, skinny tires and a massive V-8.

The cabin is short, not only in length, but in height. Being 6-foot-3, my knees were positioned behind the instrument panel, commingling with its wiring.

Once under way, the Allard proves to be a burly beast of a car, like a pit bull that you can barely contain. Cornering causes the passenger to slide across the flat leather seats; there’s nothing to hang onto. And you can’t lean against the door; it’s liable to pop open.

This lack of civility is something that true sports car purists embrace. A true sports car challenges the driver’s skill every step of the way, lending scant comfort. It hasn’t been beaten into submission by safety experts and trial lawyers.

It’s dangerous, it’s ornery and it’s a lot of fun.

To some degree, every car more than 45 years old has a primal quality that’s more than a road to yesteryear. They are a true test of skill and something every driver should try at least once.

Put it on your bucket list.

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com.