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…
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.
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.
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…
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’.
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.
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?
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