With a smile as bright as June sunshine, Donna Gray took the wheel of her shamrock green 1952 Allard J2X the same way she has for 54 years. Her hands fell on the thin steering wheel with decades-old familiarity, and in a well-practiced move she deftly slipped the manual gearbox into first. She eased out the clutch, and the rumbling Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 pulled us into the street of her quiet neighborhood for a quick spin around the block.
By TOM STRONGMAN
With a squeak of the horn and a wave to a neighbor, we were off. I was treated to a ride in this iconic sports car, originally owned by Walt Gray, the brother of Donna’s late husband, Wayne. Walt and Wayne owned Gray Brothers Burial Vaults in Kansas City, Kan. Walt loved race cars, and Wayne was a national-level trap shooter.
Sports-car racing was just taking off in the early 1950s, and in 1953, Walt, Masten Gregory and Gregory’s brother-in-law, Dale Duncan, all owned Allards. The Allard J2 was a British chassis stuffed with a big American V-8, usually a Cadillac or Chrysler. About 90 J2s were made, and most came to America. It was unusual for three to be in Kansas City.
In 1953, Walt Gray and Dale Duncan drove this car in the 12 Hours of Sebring in Sebring, Fla. Masten Gregory drove a Chrysler Allard that he shared with fellow Kansas Citian Tom Newcomer. Gray and Duncan finished 30th overall. Gregory and Newcomer dropped out.
In 1954, Walt bought an Allard Le Mans and put the J2X in storage. He later traded it to his brother, Wayne.
Wayne and Donna were married in 1959. Donna, now 79, recalls that Wayne drove the Allard on their first date. She enjoyed the car even more than Wayne did. One night, she recalls, they hit 125 miles an hour.
“I can still remember excitedly looking through that little windshield,” she said.
Folklore in those days was that if the Allard’s high-mounted front cycle fenders ever flew off at high speed they would cut your head off, and that, no doubt, added even more excitement to their high-speed run.
Donna was a flight attendant for TWA and she taught at Fort Osage High School on her days off. She often drove the Allard, top down and hair blowing, instead of her “old blue bomb” 1951 Pontiac two-door. Students loved it. She and Wayne once drove it in the high-school parade to carry the queen.
“It’s a beautiful car,” she said.
After our ride and a few quick pictures, Donna put the Allard back in the garage, decades of memories intact. She doesn’t bring it out often, but she has agreed to show it Sunday at the Art of the Car Concours. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick.
Tom Strongman’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org