Blog : Never work with animals, children or Austin Allegros…

Craig Cheetham

I’ve had a fair few Allegros over the years… Back when I passed my test, in 1994, my first car was a 1979 Allegro 1.1 and that was the very reason for me recently spending the day as the chief custodian of such a vehicle…

Brown Fury. The star of the show...
Brown Fury. The star of the show…

In my day job, I work for a company that aggregates and distributes news to the automotive media, from major manufacturers through to small suppliers.

The company I work for also sponsors a number of industry events, one of which is the annual SMMT Media Test Day, which is held on the ex-Vauxhall proving ground in Millbrook, Bedfordshire. There, selected journalists get to spend the day driving all manner of new cars, some of which are worth several hundred thousand of pounds. Some of which, as you’re about to discover, aren’t.

Our theme for this year (given that we can’t show allegiance to any one company or another) was to gather together, via a survey, the four most popular ‘first cars’ owned by the UK’s motoring media. In first place was the Ford Fiesta, closely followed by the Vauxhall Nova and then the Nissan Micra. Fourth place, much to my satisfaction, went to the humble Allegro. We’ll come back to ‘humble’ later… As such, I was given with the task of finding all four vehicles.

The Fiesta, Nova and Micra were relatively easy as Ford, Vauxhall and Nissan all keep good examples on their heritage fleets. The Allegro, on the other hand, was a bigger ask. There’s no longer an Austin, or an MG Rover, to pursue for heritage vehicles, so the only option was to source one externally.

How's this for a line-up?
How’s this for a line-up?

Fortunately, Graham Eason of Great Escape Classic Car Hire, came to the rescue. Graham runs an Allegro on the fleet and has been featured on AROnline before, recounting his experience as the responsible guardian of Brown Fury, a 1980 Allegro 1.1L in white with (very) brown nylon interior.

I’m pleased to report that, despite the fact the nation’s motoring journalists could have taken to Millbrook’s test tracks in all manner of cars, from brand new Porsche 911s right through to a Mercedes Actros HGV, the Allegro ended the day as the car most driven by the assembled journalists.

AROnline's editor under the bonnet of an Allegro. Like being 17 again...
AROnline’s Editor under the bonnet of an Allegro. Like being 17 again…

Indeed, it only had two periods of rest. In time-honoured fashion, both were due to failures to proceed. The first happened in the middle of Millbrook’s City Course, when I received a call from a marshal to say that the Allegro was squirting petrol all over the test track. The driver was driven back to base, and I was shipped out to have a look. A big up, then, to Dave, the Millbrook marshal, who had already diagnosed a split fuel pipe to be the issue, and also a sigh of relief that, in a last minute decision, I’d decided to leave the modern company car at home and rock up to Millbrook in my Rover 820, which conveniently had my emergency toolkit in the boot.

One Stanley knife and a cable tie (to replace the jiggered jubilee clip) later, and the Allegro was back in action. Well, at least, for a short while…

Repair number one...
Repair number one…

An hour or so later, returning from my lunch break, I was greeted by the sound of a Bendix starter motor trying its best, but failing to deliver on its call to action. The culprit could only have been the Allegro… Initially suspecting a fuel feed problem, due to my previous bodgery, I set to work sucking, blowing and squeezing at the feed pipe. Not, I hasten to add, a pleasant experience.

Nothing happened. That meant the problem was not fuel, but spark related and that, of course, is the beauty of old engines. No OBD equipment. No laptop. Just a simple diagnosis of ‘if it’s not one, it’s the other’.


Turn key, pump pedal, turn again, give up, call Mike...
Turn key, pump pedal, turn again, give up, call Mike…

At which point, I decided to call AROnline‘s technical guru, Mike Humble, for confirmation. Mike, a guest at the event, was at the time drooling over a line-up of Maseratis. He’d heard the starter motor churning over a few times and was in the process of telling the Maserati Press Officer that he anticipated that his ‘phone would ring any second when, you guessed it, it rang. It was me.

“I know, I can hear it, I’ll be right over,” was his response and, to his credit, he was. The fault in question was, as I suspected, that the points had closed up, so with no feeler gauge in my 820e (after all, it has single-point injection, don’t you know?) the guru resorted to keen eyes, ears and a flat blade screwdriver to get the Allegro running again. And you know what? It ran better than it had all day.

Who you gonna call?
Who you gonna call?

Cheers Mike. You made a lot of motoring journalists very happy – and gave the humble Allegro (or should that be the Humble Allegro?) its much deserved moment in the sun. Whoever would have thought that an Allegro would have been the star turn at any motoring media driving event?

Motoring writers Chris Rees, Peter Cracknell and Dave Randle, clearly enjoying the revived Allegro
Motoring writers Chris Rees, Peter Cracknell and Dave Randle, clearly enjoying the revived Allegro



Craig Cheetham


  1. One that was made properly in the first place is a decent little car. I have a series 3 1.3 Allegro, it feels like a slightly grown up metro to drive, nothing like as dire as everyone likes to think.

  2. That was just the ticket for me on the day – Trying to put on a happy face while nursing a nasty back injury and stooping into the bonnet of an Allegro.

    A fun day 🙂

  3. Has the 1.1 been subsequently shoehorned into the Allegro as 3s came with 1.0 litre engines in place of the 1100?

  4. Looks like a cracking little car, they’ve aged surprisingly well (Allegros that is!), and are a real antidote to modern overly-aggressive cars.

    • Yes, I think they’ve aged well too. Dared I say it, but a high spec one in the right colour actually looks rather good.

      Likewise, the Maestro has aged very well.

    • I thinks it’s of case of the styling being so wrong, the whole front end is a mess of different lines and the roof line is so clumsy looking that the features that age it likes it wheels size, glass line, steel bumpers, lights etc are lost to the eye.

      I would love to have been at the meeting when they signed it off for production.

  5. Allegro antics eh? I’ve only driven two… my employers Sales Rep’s mid 70’s Teal blue Allegro 1.3 and a hired Allegro in the Isle of Man. Both drove okay but I was never tempted to buy one myself. I much preferred the previous ADO16 range. Will’s right though, they have more “character” than modern cars…

  6. The Series 3 was actually quite well sorted, enough may be to have overcome the styling issues if had been.

    The trouble was, it was all too late, the market was moving on with Horizon, Ritmo / Strada, Escort Mk3 etc

    The thing is there is no new technology (like electronic ignition as we can see from the article) since its launch, it had just received the development and build quality it should have had in the first place.

      • To clear up any confusion, the Allegro3 didn’t get the A+ engine at launch. The 1.1 was replaced by the 1.0 A+ in late 1980 so the Allegro engine had commonality with the Metro. Most Allegro3 1.1s were on V-plates, but a W-reg example isn’t an anomaly.

  7. The Allegro looks very wide in those shots, emphasised by the way the sides flare out, which makes it look more modern than many other cars from that era. With modern pedestrian safety rules a lot of cars seem to have curved, bulbous bonnets and a short upright grill too!

    • I still maintain that the Audi A1 was designed using a photo of an Austin Allegro, some tracing paper and a subtle use of Photoshop.

  8. @ Graham, if you thought the Allegro was supposedly outclassed by the Fiat Strade, think again. It looked like a golf ball, rusted almost as soon as it left the showroom, fell apart inside, wasn’t very inspiring to drive and its only saving graces were it was cheap to run and came with an FM radio when most other cars still had MW and LW. I do know someone who bought one new in 1980 and the interior rattled constantly, the ride was extremely bouncy in the back and they flogged it at a big loss after six months because it was rusting.
    By this time the Allegro, while not perfect, was reasonably sorted, was actually quite good at resisting tinworm, in 1.3 form was cheap to run and went reasonably well, and since the market misunderstood them, you could get a decent discount on a new Allegro.

    • As I said the Allegro was sorted, but the Ritmo /Strada was for all its faults what the market wanted in that it had the right number of doors in a smart set of clothes.

      The Allegro 3 while it may have appealed to the few people who wanted another Allegro I doubt many non Allegro owners would have crossed the road in 1980 to buy one.

      • FIAT’s Ritmo/Strada was very similar to the Allegro in that overall it was not as popular nor good as the car it was meant to replace, (the great FIAT 128 in the Strada’s case.)

        Also like the Allegro it had alot of it’s faults sorted when the Mk.2 version came along and again all a bit too late…

  9. My Dad had a succession of Allegros.

    N-reg mk1 1.3 Super (harvest gold)
    S-reg mk2 1.3L (brown)
    W-reg mk3 1.3L (champagne)
    X-reg mk3 1.3L with A+ engine (ember glow)

    I was only young at the time, but for some reason nothing else was ever considered! He passed away before the X-reg one was sold.

    I used to love them too! I’m tempted to hire one a I’d love to have a drive in one (or even sit in one) for a bit of nostalgia

  10. I always liked the Allegro, though it’s big failing was that BLMC didn’t launch it as a hatchback from the outset.
    Its shape lent itself to hatchback treatment and as well as being able to distinguish itself more so from the Marina, it would have given it a great advantage over its main UK rival, the Escort Mk1, as well as, design wise, stealing a march on the later to be released, and much acclaimed, VW Golf.

    • It would have added a little more appeal, but at that time the UK market still did not care about hatchbacks and certainly not enough to forgive bad styling, lack of development and poor build quality as BL proved with the Maxi.

      The Golf sold all over the world, including in markets such as UK and US that were not really bothered about a 5th door because it looked good and was a well sorted out package from a trusted brand, although it had its problems like most cars of the time.

  11. This brings back many happy memories! I passed my test in March 1990, and my first car was a 1980 1.3L series 3 Allegro. Taught me a lot about basic mechanics, and I can confirm that setting the points with or without feeler gauges was a doddle! The car was comfy, good to drive, economical, quicker than a lot of people thought (although never fast!) and served me well, even taking me to and from Solihull on a weekly basis. I also remember that Press event at Millbrook, and when we were running high speed test cars there, I dreaded having to visit the place on that particular day!

  12. By 1980 the Austin range of cars was largely sorted quality wise. In particular the Princess had overcome a very bad start with faults to become a refined cruiser with bags of space. I would much rather have a 1.7 Princess over a 1.6 Cortina as it rode far better, had masses of space, looked distinctive and was more economical, even if it was a bigger car. Also a five speed 1500 Allegro would prove more refined and economical on a longer journey than a 1.6 Escort.
    I’m not knocking Ford totally, as cars like the Capri and Granada were stylish and sold well, but in basic form their cars were austere and unpleasant and you had to really shell out to get a better engine and better equipment. A basic 1.3 Cortina wasn’t a fun place to be, with plastic seats and no performance, while a basic 1.7 Princess came with cloth seats, radio, a clcok and a lighter.

  13. I had a 1500 cc estate in which I did 150,000 miles before it’s gearbox finally gave up. It had twin 1 3/4 SUs, HL cam, +60 thou pistons and a skimmed head with 9.5/1 c/r. Electronic ignition, lightened flywheel, a custom manifold and straight through s/s exhaust and alloys from the equipe. It produced 80hp at the wheels and was good for 105 on a good day with a following wind and went around corners on rails! It’s a shame it rusted to bits underneath, and that driveshafts, clutch release bearings and the constant need to re-shim ball joints drove me to despair, as it would still return 37 mpg, much better than my mates escorts.

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