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The Austin Allegro was a notoriously awful 70s / early-80s car by the giant, reviled British Leyland concern. It replaced the Austin Maxi, although it was slower, less reliable, and generally an inferior car. It has come to be a symbol of British Leyland and the 1970s in general. Compared to a contemporary Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Golf it appeared to be the product of the Soviet Bloc rather than that of an country which had produced Concorde - with French assistance - and Morcambe and Wise.

It was flimsy and underpowered, and had a blobby, curvacious body which looked as if it had gorged itself on Wimpy hamburgers. Despite looking like a hatchback, it had a conventional boot, and always came in burnt orange or brown, often with a vinyl roof. The very first model had a 'Quartic' steering wheel, i.e. it was rectangular.

When jacked up, the body flexed to such a degree that the rear window could fall out; rust was rampant; and shortly after launch, British Leyland were successfully sued by a driver whose Allegro had lost a wheel whilst in motion due to faulty engineering. There was an estate version which looked rather too close to a minature hearse for comfort.

The Allegro was replaced in 1982 by the Austin Maestro, which was neither particularly bad nor particularly good, although neither car is remembered fondly. The Allegro - which is latin for 'fast' - is nowadays a very rare sight, as rust has claimed those which were not junked. There was also a 'luxury' version, the 'Vanden Plas 1500' (it was not called the 'Allegro Vanden Plas', perhaps in shame), which added a Rolls Royce-style grille, more wood on the inside, and foldable picnic tables in the backs of the front seats. It is also a symbol of 70s Britain; rubbish, masquerading as high class.

Subsequently the car has gained something of a cult reputation, as it was at the very least distinctive, and everybody loves the underdog. It was for a time quite popular, if only because it was home-grown, and a generation now in their late-20s/early-30s are likely to remember it as their dad's car, or the car of the angry neighbour across the road, or their very first car, bought for £50 from a mate's uncle, and so forth.

It's 1973.

In America,a ceasefire agreement is finally reached over Vietnam. Tricky Dicky Nixon sweats over Watergate.

In Britain, we enter the EEC. The Austin Group had survived restructure upon restructure and emerged to become the symbol of stagnation and blunders that was...British Leyland.
The company that allowed the free-thinking genius of Alec Issigonis to create the brilliance of the Mini had swathed its decision-making behind layers of muddy corporate decision making, and the boardroom needed a big hit to allow it to go head-to-head with the emerging brilliance of their European competitors in the family sector.
The designers went to the wire and sketched out ADO67, the boardroom vacillated and gave the world...the Austin Allegro.

By no means a bad car, the Allegro was not without some merit. Built between 1973 and 1982,it was a box'n'boot design, had a bit of go, had (for the time) fairly advanced suspension, derived from Alex Moulton's designs for the Mini, a rust-proofed body and decent equipment as standard.
But it wasn't without its faults either: reviewers complained of noisy engines, poor build quality, and in some notable cases boots were found to be mysteriously full of rainwater. The faults were magnified by an indifferent public's preference for existing brands and a press salivating for boardroom blood after the desecration of a British success story.
And then there was that steering wheel. Available as an option on some models, the 'Quartic' wheel was squarish with rounded-off corners, and was just way too weird for conservative British tastes of the mid-70's.

The car underwent substantial revision over its lifespan, but, in fairness, the Allegro was...never a pretty car. Original design drawings for concept ADO67 show a fairly radical design for its time, with sweeping, attractive lines- it's difficult to say whether it would have been a bigger hit or not, but, in my opinion, it's certainly easier on the eye than the bulbous parody the Allegro eventually became. But it really didn't deserve the castigation it received as being responsible for the eventual demise of BL; the management and workers were doing a fine job of that with the materials at hand.

History has been a little kinder to the car; than its critics were; there are a number of sites dedicated to preserving it's memory, most of which have a bulletin board where trading goes on, suggesting that it's still being driven somewhere, and a newsletter, Quartic , is still appearing bi-monthly from the Allegro Club International.Its been a long time, though, since I saw one on the road, and a considerably longer time since PFS 727V, my Dad's white 1500L, got taken off to the scrapyard.

Viva Allegro!

The Allegro was by no means as bad as people make out.  A friend of mine used to run them as basic commuting transport (a 200 mile daily round commute), clocking up 50,000 miles per year. He would buy 50,000 mile trade ins for around £500 (early/ mid 1980s) and run them for 2 years (up to 150,000 miles).  The 3 he had all made the 150,000 mile mark, were reliable and didn't require any significant repair. The bodywork was actually quite durable compared with the earlier 1100/1300 range.

At the same time I ran 2 Mk I VW Golfs, which were supposedly oh so much superior.  The early ones suffered from problems with gearbox bearings (mine was no exception), water pump failure and the bodywork was actually quite rust prone. My 1976 P reg Golf at 4 years had rust holes in the sills, even though it was maintained and I did not live near the coast. This was a common experience for owners of the 1975 -1977 model years.  By 1977/8 the rust proofing treatment was improved and the later Mk I output seemed to fare better from the rust point of view. Too late for me to remain loyal to the marque.

British Leyland had a plant in Belgium at Seneffe -these were considered to be the ones to have for build quality.  I helped marketing the site, when the plant was closed down. It was rather sad.  In the 1980s Allegros were a fairly common sight in Belgium -they managed to attract buyers in the continental marketplace.

I remember seeing a French auto press review of the Allegro in the late 1970s -it was actually very favourably and its verdict was for French motorists to go out and buy one.  Some did.  The article had a terrible groan inducing pun for a title: "Allez Roulez Britannia".  So bad that I haven't forgotten it some 30 years on. 

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