Blog: Allegro: really Britain’s worst car?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

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SIGH. Yes, here we go – that appalling press release about the Allegro being voted ‘Britain’s Worst Car Ever’ has been picked up by various national news channels which are more than keen to run with the story.

I think it’s fair to say that, personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the Allegro – it was a hopeless effort at best when new and ended up being a major factor in why BL hemorrhaged so many sales during the bitter 1970s. I’ve been pilloried by enthusiasts for my anti-Allegro stance countless times so it might initially seem illogical for me to come across here as a bit of an apologist.

However, is it really the worst? Hmm… I’d bet a fair amount of money that a younger driver, unburdened by the tired old BL baggage that anyone over 25 seems to carry, would choose to drive an Allegro over, say, a Vauxhall Viva HC or a Renault 12. That’s simply because the front wheel drive handling is really quite capable, the steering sharp and the compliant suspension offers bags of comfort.

More than that, in terms of packaging, the Allegro’s not a million miles from the VW Golfs which are currently sitting on the drives of so many of the voters in the online poll which decided the country’s worst car.

During the past week or so, I’ve been contacted by a number of newspapers, websites and even radio shows, all wanting a quote, interview or whatever from me, regarding the old Aggro – and you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve turned them all down. Why? I don’t disagree with the outcome (although AROnline’s more enlightened readers do – by voting the Marina as the less desirable car back in 2004) but do have an issue with the apparently arbitrary way in which the cars chosen for inclusion in the poll were seemingly selected.

The original poll can be found here – as you can see, there are only ten choices available. The editorial staff at iMotor (the new online magazine behind the poll) had pre-decided what the top (or is that bottom?) ten were going to be. The choices in there are highly subjective – I’d argue that a fair few really don’t deserve to be there.

Horribly unreliable when new the Hillman Imp may have been, but that
was down to a rushed launch and being shipped up to Linwood for
production – a government decision based on social engineering rather
than sound commercial sense.Verdict: Good car, bad execution.
Misguided at best and the product of a company that had lost its way. Yes,
the Triumph TR7 was well-intentioned but it clearly shows that Europeans
should never have a crack at second-guessing what the Americans should
be thinking. As per usual, undercooked when launched and developed into
something half decent way too late in the day.Verdict: Not the right car, but developed into something good.
Clearly, the Austin Allegro missed its targets by a million miles and, as
brave as that styling was, it was too compromised to be a success. As for
the rest of the car – where exactly did it improve over the car it replaced,
the much-loved BMC 1100?Verdict: Designed to fail.
Developed from drawing board to showroom in just over two years, the
Sunbeam was a great example of make-do and mend. Not bad in
contemporary roadtests and it begat the Sunbeam Lotus.Verdict: Not bad, just flawed.
Being too clever for it’s own good was the 1800’s only crime – and it
ended up being an epitaph to the arrogance of Issigonis, who expected the
British public to upscale when they weren’t ready to and in a car with, at
best, questionable looks.Verdict: Wrong car, wrong time.
No way could the Acclaim be described as bad. Cramped it might be but,
other than that, this is a Faberge egg ofa car compared with Cowley’s
previous offerings, provingthat, given a well-engineered car, the British
could screw together something just as dependable as their
Japanese counterparts.Verdict: Honda quality, British factory.
Styled for its time and full of good ideas, the Rover 800 showed the rest
of the industry how not to conduct a Joint Venture. The quality on early
cars was a joke. Still,it sold in huge numbers in the UK for three glorious
years although, when the car was badged as a Sterling in the States, a
generation of Americans were put off buying British.Verdict: Good idea, badly executed.
Hopelessly outdated and miss-named, the Ital was a desperate product
born out of desperate times. There maybe excuses aplenty for its
existence and it beat all the sales and profit targets – but it was still a bad
car in contemporary terms.Verdict: Emergency facelift brought home the bacon.
Like the Acclaim, the Rover 200 was a car that sold well,kept Rover afloat
in the 1980s (when the Maestro andMontego failed) and failed to break
down. Not a great but how many of its intended customers cared?Verdict: Britain loved it – the saviour, albeit briefly, of ARG.
Grrr, what is an Austin Princess, because it certainly isn’t wedge shaped?
Was it a bad car? No – in the 2-litre class it was competitive with German
and French rivals. Sadly unreliability killed its chances when new – and it’s
only inrecent years that the Princess has started to emerge from those
dark days.Verdict: Class warrior, killed by the hype.

Which cars should have been in iMotor’s shortlist? What about the 1990 Ford Escort, the Vauxhall Victor FE, the Aston Martin Lagonda, the Triumph Mayflower, the Rover 400 HH-R, the CityRover, the Ford Classic, the Ford 100E, the MG Maestro 1600? I could go on…

Anyway, have your say. Nominations for bad cars are always welcome – but, for my part, I find the stories behind why cars end up being the way they are far more interesting.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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