Blog : Time heals old wounds

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Allegro

I had a brief run in an Austin Allegro today. The car in question is owned by Calum Brown and, it has to be said, he was very keen to get my views on his pride and joy. He’s a nice chap – 24-years old, a car nutter and the owner of a very interesting and diverse range of cars. He’ll go far in our industry. Anyway, I digress – he handed me the keys to his 1979 Allegro 3 1.3L and told me to enjoy myself.

Little did he know that I’ve plenty of history with the Allegro. Back in 2005, I took Richard Gunn’s old 1500 Special on the 2005 Staples2Naples Rally, which saw Alexander Boucke, Declan Berridge and me take this Harvest Gold pudding to Naples – often at high speed – across the Alps and on to Naples. It was a trip that left me confused and upset by the Allegro. I wanted to love the car, be impressed by its grown-up Mini dynamics and smooth-riding Hydragas suspension – but, in the end, I simply wanted to kill it with fire.

However, when I turned the key and its A-Series engine skipped into life after the merest flick of the starter, I was transported back to a happier time. Not Staples2Naples, but before. It reminded me of the 1980 1.3L I bought back in 2000, one of the first ‘classic’ cars I’d owned (perhaps before it was considered a classic in the wider sense of the word). But as we started to roll and head for the country, I was reminded how potent a crutch to nostalgia old cars can be.

Allegro (2)

With the benefit of more than 15-years’ driving experience, the same feelings came back loud and clear. The unburstable A-Series engine is both willing and eager while performance is more than adequate, given that it’ll roll along happily at 60-70mph. The steering is well-weighted, positive and brimming with feel. Then there’s the Hydragas suspension, which is superbly comfortable for such a small car – damping might be a little chaotic at times, but the overall ride will shame many more modern luxury cars.

As the miles rolled by in the idyllic Cambridgeshire countryside, I felt all of my deep-seated distaste and prejudices for the Allegro melt away. It’s genuinely good to drive. OK, I’ve defended the Allegro many, many times over the years, even getting published in The Independent saying it was perhaps the ideal starter classic and that it was way more cool than people gave it credit for. Deep down, though, I said this through gritted teeth.

However, as a result of Calum’s generosity in lending me his car, I have shifted my Staples2Naples opinion and gone back to the year 2000 version of me that loved this little thing – before it was cool to do so. Yes, back then, I loved the Allegro and, although I might not readily admit it now in polite conversation, I think I might do again. I won’t buy another one, but at least I can encourage other people to do so with real sincerity.

Thanks, Calum!

Allegro (3)

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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17 Comments

  1. Glad that you have been re-acquainted with the better side of Allegros, I love them and have for many years and owned many examples over the last 25 years and currently have two. With regards to your Staples2Naples car it was Harvest gold and not Sandglow, sorry to point that out Keith

  2. We never got the 3 here, and I wonder how it would have fared in the market-place. Certainly it looked more up-to-date than the 2 and it was ready for the 1980s, and BL wouldn’t have been alone in facelifting an older car back in those days (how advanced was a rear-wheel-drive Corolla, which was beating the Allegro in the sales’ charts, mechanically?). But by then, NZMC had grown sick of it, and it was shifting all the Honda Civics it could make, so we never found out. Once the five-door Civic was launched, that was the end of the Allegro. Today, they’re a rare beast.

  3. Keith drove an A+ engined example here. Back in the day my family owned a Mark 2 Allegro with the regular 1275cc A series engine. It really struggled to reach 70 mph and was never happy even at 65 mph on the motorway. 55mph was its natural cruising speed and provided you didn’t want to go faster it was pleasing to drive. My first drive in a 1275cc A+ engined Metro was a revelation. It flew and was happy at 65 mph on the motorway. Even 75 mph was do-able when speed was needed although it was a bit strained.

    The engineers who developed the A+ did a really fine job. The difference compared to the A was very marked.

  4. There was obviously something wrong with your Allegro. Every one I drove ( I used to buy a new one for my mother in law every two years or so ) was a good crisp performer even if a bit noisy at speed ( as were most other cars of the era ). It is an unfairly derided car ( like the Marina which also figures in comments today ) which served its purpose well, as did the A series engine with something like 10 million made !

  5. The sad thing about the 3 (many of which although not all benefited from having an A+ engine) is that it was a well sorted car, I recall Car magazine upgraded the car out of the unacceptable (Ugly) section (which we should note contained the Cortina and Escort Mk2) into its Good section when it was launched, but nothing (may be the electronic ignition on the A+ versions) could not and should not have been delivered on the Mk1 in the first place, when it was launched and simply highlighted the failure of British Leyland to properly develop their cars.

  6. I remember one of my Aunts had a series 3 Allegro for many years & thought it was better than the C reg Maestro it replaced.

    A few BL / ARG cars seemed to come good a few years after they were launched.

  7. Yes the creator of AROnline, who could have guessed that that man would have a history with the Austin Allegro?

  8. Wonder if this a British or Belgian Allegro as I’m sure several thousand in 1978/79 on a certain spec were imported from Seneffe, although British Leyland were always keen to point out that the Belgian Allegros were assembled out of kits made in Britain.

  9. Back in the dim and distant when the Allegro was launched I worked for a B.L.dealer.when we received our first Allegro in “lovely” Limeflower we thought we might get some good publicity by displaying it at a local race meeting.Having suitably adorned it with publicity stickers proclaiming it’s novelty and virtues, I headed off full of enthusiasm.Five minutes and two miles later it started to steam.I struggled back to base and exchanged it for an unliveried version which rather defeated the purpose of the exercise.It turned out that casting flash was blocking the exit of the thermostat housing.Some time later I took one for my holidays,got as far as Amsterdam where I had to strip the carburettor on the side of a street as the float was sticking.Given that I’m no mechanic I was quite pleased with myself but very peeved with the car.A couple of days later I was in Austria and while climbing a mountain the Allegro stopped and would not restart,eventually I got it turned round and began to coast down hill.It then restarted so I turned round and headed back up the mountain got about a quarter mile when it cut out again.I turned round and it started again.Eventually I got to the the top of the mountain in quarter mile stages.Downhill and on the flat it seemed to work perfectly but there are rather a lot of mountains in Austria.I took it to the B.L depot in Linz where the service manager didn’t really believe my description of the symptoms however a quick test drive showed him I was right.Given my previous problem I assumed it was some sort of carburettor problem but it turned out that a spacer had not been fitted between the block and the fuel pump resulting in the lever arm of the pump punching a hole in it’s housing.That allowed the pump to suck air as well as petrol which meant that it could supply enough fuel on the flat but it couldn’t cope with the extra demand going up a steep hill.That car was an Allegro 1300 in bright red (Flame,Vermillion?)I thought it was a very comfortable car,economical by the standards of the time,but the build quality was appalling the boot lids never fitted properly for example.The extra under bonnet and boot space was welcome after ADO16 but the lack of space in the back,the amorphous blob looks and the light weight low quality feel really put customers off

  10. Has anyone ever seen an Innocente Regente, the short lived Italian built version,are there any examples in the UK?

  11. @ dubliner, this is one of the reasons the Allegro never achieved the huge sales British Leyland predicted it would achieve, reliability and build quality on early cars was awful. It’s a shame as the car improved as time went by and by the end of the seventies was reasonably sorted, but buyers had moved on. Also its gawky styling, which was worse on cheaper models, and dubious colour schemes like the Leyland Limeflower you mention and the legendary s!”£ brown, put people off.
    In its defence, the Allegro was actually quite immune to rust by seventies standards, bigger engined cars with five speed gearboxes were more economical and better on longer journeys than their four speed rivals, and once quality issues were sorted and the Allegro 3 was launched with better styling, the car came good. I would definitely at the time, wanting to buy British, consider buying an Allegro 3 1.5 HL, with a five speed gearbox and better economy, than a 1.6 litre Mark 2 Escort.

    • It was a lesson BL / AR were ver slow to learn that using the first few years of customers as quality control inspectors was a good way to keep sales below estimates.

      Certainly from what I’ve been able to piece together the series 3 was a lot better than the earlier ones.

      I did hear someone claim the floor of their Allegro rusted out after 6 years, either it was an early one or a “Friday afternoon special”.

  12. @ Richard 16378, it was the same story with all BL cars from the Maxi up to the Montego, they all got off to a bad start with the quality and never really recovered. In spite of its styling and weird colour schemes, the Allegro was fundamentally a good car, it was fwd, cheap to run, quite spacious and bigger engined cars had a then rare five speed gearbox, which cut down on engine noise and reduced fuel consumption. By 1979, when the much improved Allegro 3 was launched( very nice in top of the range form with velour seats and four headlights), the car had come right and dealers were offering hefty discounts to sell them due to earlier problems.
    Same story affected the Allegro’s replacement, the Maestro, even worse reliability issues on Austin badged cars ruined the chances of what was quite a good car and by the time the car was improved in 1988/89, with diesel options and better interiors, sales had fallen away.

  13. You can even argue that the Allegro was ahead of its time in some areas.

    Look at the Audi A1 or Audi Q3. Not far removed in shape and outline.

  14. Looking at the interior of the Allegro, it seems logically laid out, with the radio to the left of the driver, a plain and simple instrument binnacle with the warning lights in between the speedometer and the clock, and the fuel and temperature gauges to the left and the right of the binnacle. It seems a lot more legible than the small and not very clear instrument binnacle on the 1973 Allegro, which also had the warning lights on cheaper models sandwiched between the fuel and temperature gauges.
    I think the 1979 cars were the big leap forward for the Allegro, when a light restyle, a new dashboard and better equipment levels gave it a fighting chance. Of course, by then, Ford were dominating this class, the Japanese had made big inroads, and the Golf set the standard, but there was still a reasonable market for the Allegro and the improvements made to it were welcomed by buyers.

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