Drag Act

John Hume on the left. Image Source: National Motor Museum.

If you want a good example of vehicular brute force then the dragster is probably it.

Designed to go very fast in a straight line, these gaudy, noisy projectiles originated in America, with the first British example, the quaintly named Allard Chrysler, not being made until 1961.

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Brian Hume, who died just before Christmas, was the Allard Chrysler’s chief engineer, and helped to build this supercharged, V8-engined device in a Clapham workshop. This was a venue far removed from the sun drenched Californian garages traditionally associated with drag, and to an extent, hot rod and custom cars. These were made by guys called Brad, people who resembled missing members of the Beach Boys, rather than blokes called Brian, and of course Sydney Allard, a big man whose penchant for suits, sensible glasses and ties was very English indeed.

Image Source: Julian Hunt

Allard, who would probably only have been seen on a beach in the company of a deck chair, was an engineer and keen competition driver, good enough to beat Stirling Moss, who had from the late 1940s designed and built some very capable, and sometimes rather leery competition and road cars, powered by big American V8 engines. The dragster was a logical extension of this formula, and Sydney Allard decided it would be a catalyst for bringing drag racing to the UK.

To help this he took the car to Silverstone racing circuit for a press demonstration, un-officially taking 9.5 sec to reach 160mph, and covering a quarter of a mile in the process. Allard invited American drag racers to Britain, and interest in them, and his home grown car, essentially kick started what has become the modern UK drag racing scene.

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Sydney’s first dragster was followed by a delightfully British creation, the Allard Dragon, a dragster kit car powered by a shrieking, supercharged 1,500cc Ford Anglia engine, that allowed blokes with a set of tools and a sense of adventure to go eye wateringly quickly too.

The Dragon’s predecessor hasn’t turned a wheel since 1964, spending years gathering dust in a barn and latterly as a static display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, but thanks to the efforts of its fans, many of whom seem to be gents of a certain age, who wear white overalls and have pencils stuck behind their ears, its being brought back to life and is set to run for the first time in decades this spring.

It’s a shame that Brian Hume won’t be there to see it, but its return will be a nice legacy for his family to have. The car apparently sounds like an aircraft and would still go like stink given the chance. So welcome back Allard Chrysler dragster, a piece of unashamed, nostalgic fun, that might reasonably be described as being as American as bangers and mash.