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Austin Allegro now a rare bird

Austin Allegro now a rare bird

Ian Johnson, 2017-03-16

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THERE was a definite sense of déjà vu at the traffic lights recently when an Austin Allegro pulled up alongside me.

This product of the early 1970s is now not far from extinction with just 184 of the 642,350 examples made still on the road.

Some versions are on the brink with just one example of the upmarket Vanden Plas version remaining registered.

The Allegro was and still is a much-maligned car. Produced from 1973 to the early 1980s, it was designed as the replacement for the very successful Austin 1100 and 1300 models.

But to many eyes the Allegro seemed like the result of a committee effort and had little to commend it.

Itillustrated the difficulties facing its manufacturer British Leyland.

The major problem was that this giant corporation missed the trick because the Allegro saloon would have done much better as a hatchback.

Cars like the Renault 16 and the VW Golf were already demonstrating that the hatchback had tremendous popularity and would dominate the European market in years ahead.

The reason is that internal company politics at BL dictated that only the Austin Maxi should have a hatchback as a unique selling point in the range.

With hindsight it can be seen that this idea was totally stupid as it not only shot the Allegro in the foot but also the new wedge-shaped Austin Princess. Both cars would have made sensible hatchbacks.

Also the Allegro had a pumped-up, tubby styling that was far from elegant and the use of the almost square ‘quartic' steering wheel in early models prompted gasps of amazement and criticism that just would not go away.

The Allegro was similar to the 1100 in utilising front-wheel-drive and the then new Hydragas suspension. Under the bonnet was the familiar A-Series engine with a sump-mounted transmission.

The higher-specification models used the E-Series engine in 1,500cc and 1,750cc displacements.

But Brits are a faithful lot and as late as 1979, six years after its launch, it was the fifth-best-selling new car in Britain.

In my early days in motoring I drove a number of examples of this bulbous, buffoon of a car and came away with the impression that there was far more comic character to it than quality.

Like some other BL products of this time, the Allegro had the potential to be a world beater.

In theory it had everything going for it. But after a short time if you mentioned you were driving an Allegro you would get looks of sympathy from friends and howls of derision from Ford drivers.

It was a poor successor to the 1100, a car which we tend to forget fought and beat the Ford Cortina to sales success in the early 1960s.

The stories about Allegro's shortcomings are numerous. One notable one involved the rear windows popping out when the car was jacked up incorrectly and one example just bending when being filmed for an advert, leaping humps in a quarry.

There was also the far more serious problem of wheels dropping off due to a bearing problem. In connection with this, BL lost an unpleasant product liability court case in 1977. The press ripped this car up for its faults and it very soon was named All-Aggro by its detractors.

It just typified British Leyland.

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