It’s just like they say: There’s little new under the sun. This Allard with a retractable metal top was developed in Britain back in 1948. Here’s the story behind it and a brief film featuring the top in action.
John R.V. Dolphin CBE (1905-1973) was a creative guy. As Commanding Officer of Britain’s top-secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II, he originated the Welbike, a folding motorcycle built by the thousands that could be dropped by parachute, and a one-man submarine as well. Later he invented an improved forklift truck and an early mobility scooter, was awarded 16 patents, and ultimately he became Engineer-in-Chief of the Atomic Energy Authority. In between all that, he developed this novel creation: a 1948 Allard L-Type coupe/convertible with a folding metal top.
Of course, all-metal convertibles were nothing new even then. In 1935, Peugeot introduced the 402 Éclipse Décapotable, and we can find stirrings of the concept even before that. But unlike the Peugeot, the top of Mr. Dolphin’s Alllard is articulated and folds as it retracts into the body, foreshadowing the Ford Skyliners of 1957-1959.
Two Allard Dolphins were reportedly constructed, but the elaborate metal top mechanism was too heavy for the Allard’s lightweight sports car chassis, it is said, and neither example has survived. Fortunately, we have this wonderful newsreel item that neatly illustrates the top’s operation, which is totally manual but appears to be nicely counterbalanced. We don’t know this, but we believe that’s Mr. Dolphin performing the demonstration. Video below.