The cars : Austin Allegro 1750 Sport (twin carb) 1974-75

Chris Cowin looks at a rare and half-forgotten Austin Allegro: the twin-carb Allegro 1750 Sport which was only available for one year.

It’s the Allegro that ‘catches that sporting feeling’ said the brochure, but it didn’t hold it for long.

Sporting and special – the Allegro 1750 versions

Austin Allegro 1750 Sport 1974-75
Austin Allegro 1750 Sport 1974-75

When launched in May 1973, the Austin Allegro range received a decidedly ‘mixed’ reception. This was a vitally important car for British Leyland in the UK and Europe, and early press reports must have made uncomfortable reading at Longbridge or the Corporation’s new London headquarters, Leyland House, on Marylebone Road.

However, they didn’t sit on their hands. Some perceived failings of the Allegro could not be rectified quickly, and some (like the lack of a hatchback) never would. But in September 1974 two new range-topping models arrived which brought welcome improvements in a couple of areas.

New and Improved

The new models were the Allegro 1750HL and the revised Allegro 1750 Sport (as discussed here). The 1750 engine which, until now, had been allied to a single carb in the preceding Allegro 1750 Sport and luxury Allegro 1750SS (Sport Special) was now allied to twin carbs (as it had been since 1972 in the Austin Maxi HL).

This resulted in power rising from 76bhp to 90bhp, making the new Allegro 1750 Sport and Allegro 1750HL much more competitive as compact sports saloons. And the Quartic steering wheel was replaced by a round item, a welcome change which, within a year, would apply to the entire Austin Allegro range.

The new twin-carb Allegro 1750HL (left) and 1750 Sport models were announced in September 1974. Note "go-faster" stripes above the sills of the Sport. They replaced the previous (single carb) Allegro 1750SS (Sport Special) and Allegro 1750 Sport.
The new twin-carb Allegro 1750HL (left) and 1750 Sport models were announced in September 1974. Note go-faster stripes above the sills of the Sport. They replaced the previous (single-carb) Allegro 1750SS (Sport Special) and Allegro 1750 Sport

Austin Allegro 1750HL was a new name adopted for the top of the range ‘Hi-Line’ Allegro, and this model, still badged 1750HL, would live on in the Allegro 2 range introduced in the autumn of 1975. It popped up again in the Allegro 3 range of 1979, initially badged Allegro 1.7HL and later Allegro 1.7HLS.

But the revised twin-carb Allegro 1750 Sport introduced alongside in September 1974 would only exist for one year, for when the Allegro 2 range was introduced, there was no longer a Sport model.

An unhappy time

As explained above, the twin-carb Austin Allegro 1750 Sport in these pictures, available in four-door form only unlike its predecessor, had a mayfly-short existence, during a time the UK economy was anyway mired in recession.

Its life corresponded almost exactly with the depressed ‘N-registration’ year (1 Aug 1974-31 July 1975). During that period British Leyland was facing bankruptcy, before being ‘rescued’ by the Government in early 1975. That wasn’t good for sales in Britain, while the Sport wasn’t a car for export, with very few 1750cc Allegros being sold (or even marketed) outside the UK.

The distinctive rear badging of the 1974-75 Allegro 1750 Sport.
The distinctive rear badging of the 1974-75 Allegro 1750 Sport

Stand out from the crowd

Distinguishing features of the 1974-75 Sport included specific ‘Sport’ decals on the flanks and black boot panel, matt black wipers and some very Seventies ‘go faster stripes’ above the sills, which had not been seen on the preceding single-carb Allegro Sport. Were they going for the Mini 1275 GT look?

Metallic paint was an option, but automatic transmission was not offered on the Sport, nor the HL at that time. The Sport and HL were the only Allegros in that period to employ the four dial instrument cluster, incorporating a rev counter while, despite their sporty appearance, the wheels were merely pressed steel with press-on trims.

The Sport and HL were mechanically identical, with the same ratios in their five-speed gearbox, and servo-assisted disc brakes at the front.

1974 Austin Allegro 1750 Sport (twin carb). Distinctive wheel trims on pressed steel wheels. This car has the bonnet ajar - the shut lines were better than that : )
The 1974 Austin Allegro 1750 Sport (twin carb). Distinctive wheel trims on pressed steel wheels. This car has the bonnet ajar – the shut lines were better than that!

What you get, and what you don’t

It paid to read the specification sheets carefully if you were in the market for a 1750cc Allegro in 1974/75. The Sport came with head restraints, front fog lights, heated rear window and a simulated wood gearknob.

However, it lacked a lot of equipment seen on the HL including vinyl roof, tinted glass, reversing lights, boot light, boot carpet, centre console with clock, locking glovebox, simulated wood door trim, bright tread strips and a central rear armrest.

The absence of various other fancy trimmings like a stitched handbrake gaiter betrayed how the Sport’s specification was related to the middle of the range Allegro Super Deluxe package, while the HL was an evolution of the posher Allegro Special trim level.

Allegro announcements came thick and fast in 1974/75. The very same day the new Sport and HL were introduced (17 September 1974) also saw the public launch of the Vanden Plas 1500 (not officially classed as an Allegro). April 1975 saw the arrival of the Allegro Estate in 1300 and 1500 form while, as already mentioned, the autumn of 1975 saw the new Allegro 2 range introduced with a package of improvements across the board including more rear seat room. The Sport, though, was no more.

Out of step with the times?

Perhaps the days of the ‘GT’ models so popular in the early 1970s were seen as over. Or perhaps it was judged the Allegro, like the Princess, didn’t really suit blatantly ‘Sport’ trim. Would the 1974-75 Allegro 1750 Sport have been more popular if available as a two-door, as the preceding single-carb version was until early 1974?

It would be early 1979 before something similar appeared with the limited-edition Allegro Equipe two-door, which mechanically was essentially the same as the 1974-75 Allegro Sport. With its striking decals and trim the Equipe was clearly a sports model. But it was a limited edition which served to liven up the final days of the Allegro 2 range, and it did not reappear in the Allegro 3 range announced later in 1979.

Sportier than the Sport: Under the bonnet the limited edition Allegro Equipe of 1979 was essentially the same as the twin carb Allegro 1750 Sport of 1974. But it had the two-door body, alloys and a rather bolder cosmetic treatment.
Sportier than the Sport: Under the bonnet the limited edition Allegro Equipe of 1979 was essentially the same as the twin-carb Allegro 1750 Sport of 1974. But it had the two-door body, alloys and a rather bolder cosmetic treatment

With the exception of the limited edition Allegro Equipe, there was only ever one (manual) 1750cc Allegro available, at the top of the range, for most of the car’s life – from the deletion of the 1750 Sport in late 1975, when Allegro 2 was introduced, until the 1980s phasing out of the final Allegro 3 range including the 1.7 HLS as it was called by then.

(It gets complicated, as during the Allegro 3 period additional (single-carb) 1.7 automatic variants (saloon and estate) were offered, because automatic transmission was no longer available on the Allegro 1.5 models. The same issue explains the (automatic) Vanden Plas 1.7 of 1979-80).

The 1750cc E-Series engine accounted for a very small proportion of Allegro production, with very few 1750s being exported. The hope, voiced by (Austin-Morris boss) George Turnbull at launch in 1973 that Allegro could be ‘all things to all men’ had proved a little too ambitious.

These days you’ll be lucky to spot a 1974-75 Sport in the metal (though there is one in the new Derbyshire museum, The Great British Car Journey). With awareness of this version low, many people might assume the ‘Sport’ decals and striping result from a trip to Halfords , but no, they are ‘factory’.

The twin carb Austin Allegro 1750 Sport (1974-75)
The twin-carb Austin Allegro 1750 Sport (1974-75)
Chris Cowin
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  1. Don’t forget the TV advert
    ALLEGRO has vroom, lots and lots of Vroom
    Dancing and singing girls come to.mind!

    • Yes – that “Vroom” campaign was run in 1978/79 to help sales of the last Allegro 2 models (which is why the 1979 Allegro Equipe advert says “Now even Vroomier”). When the Allegro 3 range was introduced in late 1979 the slogan was changed to “SuperVroom” with (some) justification as, depending on model, the Allegro 3 cars were a bit faster than their Allegro 2 equivalents. The 1500 models now were twin carb as well as the manual 1750, and all models were fitted with a chin spoiler which reduced drag by 10% – benefiting fuel economy also. The twin carb Allegro 3 1.7HL (later called 1.7HLS) could manage 0-60 mph in 10 seconds and had a top speed of 100mph – the same as the preceding limited edition Allegro Equipe (which also had the chin spoiler).

  2. I love these ‘now’ virtually extinct models, i worked on them in 70s/80s +. I didnt realise there historic value as they are now, Brilliant!.

  3. It was a shame they didn’t do the Sport as a two door, with a more overt sporting flavour, such as a sports steering wheel like the 1300GT/Maxi HL and a firmer lowered suspension setting.

    A friend in New Zealand fitted a lightly tuned twin carb Maxi 1750 in a 4-door Allegro 1300 (only 1300 manual and 1500 auto were assembled in NZ), and found it was a very quick on B-roads with wider tyres.

  4. I had completely forgotten about this version. As you say, maybe the Allegro (and the Austin name?) just didn’t work as a Sport model

  5. The problem was that these cars hit the market to nicely coincide with the fuel crisis and recession in Europe so the market for a sporty 1750 compact car was limited. Whereas the Golf GTI hit the market just right for when the continental economies were recovering and the later recovery in the UK.

  6. One of the guy’s in my company had an Allegro 1750 (HL, I think). Another colleague had a 1500HL. Don’t remember much else but they did have the quartic steering wheel. To my eyes, the ADO 16 Austin / Morris 1300 GT looked much better

  7. Can see the point of an Allegro HL – bigger engine, better trimmed range-topper. But no, the words ‘Allegro’ and ‘Sport’ just don’t mix for me, certainly not in the way that ‘1300’ and ‘GT’ did.
    And the Equipe – those stripes – just what were they thinking??

    • The very late 70s and early 80s were boom time for car detailing specialists to add coloured stripes on many new cars leaving the showroom. One local Datsun dealer tended to put graphic stripes on most of their showroom cars to attract buyers?

      No doubt this applied to BL too for the Equipe?

      I confess to adding a couple of narrow coach line stripes on my Cherry coupe in 1982 which were discreet.

  8. Makes me want to scream at those in charge at BL. Launching the frumpy Allegro against a wall of more interesting rivals & then not even trying a little to give it some appeal? Like Bryan said, why wasn’t a sporty 2 door offered at the start? Why wasn’t the Sport available with the HL trimmings plus alloys etc.?
    Something like the Equipe should have been available at launch when the reputation of the car was more neutral in the market & could have given a bit of cachet that might sustain it, like the Mini with its basic to luxe versions & sporting kings in the mix too.
    Tragedy and blunder all the way with BL…

  9. Bad timing as well, the country entered an oil crisis and a recession that would linger on into 1976 and buyers wanted the 1300 Allegro far more than the 1750. I always wonder why there wasn’t a 1300 Sport or GT to bring back fond memories of the Austin 1300 GT.

  10. Ah yes, the Allegro Equipe. We sold a few from the dealership I worked in but they were trouble. Quite a few needed full resprays due to microblistering paintwork, then to add insult to injury, BL ran out of the stripes so quite a few ended up just plain silver (probably not a bad result in hind sight).

    Then there were the porous alloy wheels. Owners used to come out to their car and find al the tyres had gone down overnight !

    • I’ve not heard of Allegros having porous alloys before, but the high spec Maestros had a similar problem.

  11. The silver paint & stripes do improve the looks of the Allegro Equipe, certainly compared to the mostly frumpy paint colours BL used in the 1970s.

    The 1750 Sport’s wheels look like they had come of a mid 1970s Japanese car, with the alloy wheels on the Equipe being much better looking.

    • @ Richard 16378, the vivid and sometimes sickly paint schemes on early Allegros reflected the glam rock era, when purple, bright orange and bright blue were popular. By 1979, glam rock and cars in purple were as dead as Slade’s career at the time and there seemed to be a trend towards less garish colours, and silver was popular for cars with metallic paint. Also fashions had moved away from the typical seventies garish look to the more minimal look of the post punk era in 1979.

      • I’ve always thought the Allegro looked best in its original guise. Love the black rear panel between the light clusters. That was a must for cars with sporting pretensions in the early seventies. I recall my uncle respraying his Corsair in red, but the panel between the rear lamps had to be black!

  12. Being a child of the 70s shows in the very same manner on the Golf GTi: very (very!) similar go faster stripes, black face around the rear window, black wipers… And of course simple steel wheels missing the chrome hubcaps. The Audi 80 GTE, where the GTi’s engine came from, even had a matt black bonnet in addition (and steel wheels). So in terms of styling touches BL were actually on the money. And back in the day a torquey 90 PS engine in a car of size and weight of the Allegro were actually pretty strong figures. The problem may have been the lack of appeal of the Allegro to start with (incl. myself).

  13. That photo at the top. It looks like they’ve shot the poor aggro and are now going over to see if it’s dead yet.

  14. Just seen the one at the Great British Car Journey – Its currently tucked out of the way amongst other exhibits and difficult to get at – the museum write up on it just says that its rubbish – Given this is the only series 1 Allegro they have and the uniqueness of its specification and rarity, then surely it deserves more prominence?

  15. I always felt the the range topping Mk1 Allegros were the best looking and had the best colour options. Sadly the Allegro became more aesthetically dull as it iterated through to the Mk3.
    I remember the Allegro introduction in 73 and the range toppers were considered quite cool.

  16. @ Merlin Milner, do you recall the Allegro being available in quite a vivid shade of purple? There was an M reg Super near me that stood out as it was purple, certainly stood out more than another on the road that was in pale blue and belonged to a pensioner.

  17. I did hear of a problem with 1750 engines, if the manufacturing tolerances of the block, crankshaft, rods accumulated adversely, the engine had piston and ring problems, or was that the the Maxi?

  18. Another own-goal from the Leyland menagerie. Pragmatically, would you have bought a ‘sporty’ Allegro when you could have bought a Ford Escort 1300/1600/Mexico or the later ‘Harrier’ with the British-Gas-style blue stripes on its flanks?

    At least they had some significant sporting-heritage and basked in the glow of the RS2000.

    Or you could have bought an Alfasud!

    • Well the preceding Austin/Morris 1300GT sold very well. As did the Morris Marina 1.8TC. In 1973/74 they were more or less obliged to offer a “sporty” derivative of such a mainstream model as the Allegro … having said which – in the Allegro 2 range of 1975 – they did not do so explicitly.

  19. Apart from all the other comments, it beggars belief that the Sport came without basic equipment like reversing lights. I really think that BL treated its customers with disdain at times.

    • A lot of British Leyland cars were basic at the time and expensive for what they were, even the bigger cars. You bought a Maxi and you had the basic driving instruments, a demister, a two speed heater, some fake wood on the dasnboard, and that was all. Even the HL didn’t offer much more: a cigar lighter, a fake wood gearknob, tinted glass and fabric seats, and equipment that was standard on a Cortina 2000E like a radio, a rev counter, clock and a vinyl roof wasn’t standard on a Maxi.

  20. Ah, the MKIII Cortina 2000E with oblong headlamps, steel sports wheels and that nice trim + vinyl roof. Take me back to those days!

    • This was probably how Ford did so well in the seventies: they had a halo model in each range that came with a long list of standard equipment and items seventies car buyers wanted like sports wheels and vinyl roofs. Using the Ghia name with the fancy badges seemed to be a big success in the second half of the seventies.
      British Leyland seemed slower to catch on to this, particularly in the Austin Morris range of cars. It wasn’t until 1978/79 era that the HLS trim level was added to the Marina, Allegro and Maxi with standard equipment like push button radios, rev counters and velour seats that Ford buyers had as standard for several years.

  21. Agreed Glenn, I think it was 1973/4 that the Cortina 2000E replaced the GXL and 1976 when the MKIV Cortina Ghia arrived. Ford offered trim & engine levels to match the status of company car users.

  22. Agreed Glenn, I think it was 1973/4 that the Cortina 2000E replaced the GXL and 1976 when the MKIV Cortina Ghia arrived. Ford offered trim & engine levels to match the status of company car users.

  23. British Leyland didn’t have a uniform approach on denoting trim levels on its cars until it went over to L, HL and HLS on its Austin Morris cars at the end of the seventies. Also they introduced a trim level below L on the Metro called City, which was also used on the Mini, which was a very base level( vinyl seats, no demister, basic driving instruments only) equivalent to Popular on Fords.

  24. Yes times were tough with the oil crisis etc, but surely a sporty 1750 Allegro might have picked sales from larger more thirsty vehicles, if set up and marketed correctly?

  25. Cannot say am convinced by the 1750 twin-carb, at the same time do agree with the sentiment there was something salvageable that could have been better exploited to create a quick Allegro.

    Understand sales of the Allegro were low as a 1750cc, with sales coming from the A-Series powered models. At the same time how did the Allegro fare as a 1500 and would a quicker Allegro have had a better chance from a sales perspective had it been a 1600 like a better-developed R-Series, minus the task of adapting it to the Maestro as a stop-gap?

  26. If BMC had stuck with the original intention for the E-series engine to be a 1300 and 1600 four and 1950 and 2400 six, and had developed a lighter Cortina-sized 1300/1600 saloon to replace the Oxford, and a larger 2000/2400 saloon to replace the Westminster, then I think they would have been in a better position for the 70s.

    The Allegro then could have also been a 1300 and 1600, both with a 5-speed, which would have been ideal for the mid-70s oil shocks. And the Princess could have been a 2000 and 2400, also with a 5-speed (Lotus used the Maxi gearbox internals in the 160bhp Elite).

    If BL had followed Ford’s lead in having a company car trim range, and spent the Marina development budget on making the fwd mechanicals reliable, they would have been in a better position to weather the 70s imho.

  27. Agree to an extent, more so if it featured the envisaged cross-flow alloy cylinder head and rubber belt to both further reduce weight and height over the existing engine that entered production.

    The experimental engine however was essentially a small-block design, one closer to the 1981+ 1.0-1.6-litre Nissan E OHC before Issigonis pushed the design to serve as a compromised all-in-one replacement for BMC’s entire A, B and C Series engine range.

    It is the design’s small-block design which has me albeit reluctantly leaning towards pushing it downwards via a reduced bore of about 73mm to partially supplant 1.0-1.3 A-Series. Especially should the result prove to be significantly lighter then the A-Series or if there is little substantial improvement, retain the latter in some revised supplementary possibly long-stroke orientated form (e.g. A+ and A-OHC) above the 850cc engine until a lighter unit can be developed by the 1980s.

    Had BMC instead of going-ahead with the underdeveloped revised C-Series, decided to opt for an early O-Series 4/6-cylinder circa mid-to-late-1960s. Would the E6s have been worthwhile, even if improved as above and acting as a supplement in event of supply issues rather than an outright alternative to an early O6?

    That is not to say BMC couldn’t later upsize the Alt-BMC E-Series into a new design later on to act as a proper coherent big-block replacement for the Alt-O-Series, reminiscent of how Nissan simply upsized the E OHC to create the 1982 1.6-2.0-litre CA and CD engines. The same applies to when they did the opposite to create the MA engine, which serves as an idea to how the company could eventually replace the A-Series as have seen MA and CG engine swaps in the Mini as well as Spridget CG conversions.

    As for a successor to the O6, the company would have the option to either develop a V6 or stick to the modular inline-six approach as seen on the Volvo Modular and SI6 engines as well as the original plan for Td5 when it was known as Project Storm that used the L-Series as a base.

  28. With 90bhp this was a hot hatch in its day! – The original XR3 launched 6 years later only had 96. Surely properly equipped, styled and marketed this derivative could have done far better and acted as a halo for the Allegro. God knows it needed one.

    • They tried that with the Allegro Equipe in 1979 of course – and an Allegro 1750HL was always available with twin carbs (from September 1974 until the end of production in the 80s). But the number of buyers for a sporty Allegro in that price range was limited …. In March 1975 an Allegro Sport (twin-carb 4 door) would cost you £1760. For almost exactly the same money Ford could sell you a Capri 1600 (with 72 bhp) – which (at the time) had more “street-cred”. Even more so the Capri 1600GT with 88 bhp which was only a little more expensive.

      • The Allegro was a family car though, so not a direct rival to the Capri.

        Some decent wheels and stripes, and a bit of product placement in a “cool” TV series, then maybe a sporty Allegro could have boosted the image of the range…

  29. I got a late 1750 HL. Assembled in Belgium (believe it or not) it came with 50 faults on delivery, not least an odometer reading in Kilometres while the speedo read in MPH. It was delivered by the dealer in Barnstaple with mud halfway up the engine (they had washed the rest of the car) as a result I was told of it being left standing in a flooded field for weeks while I awaited delivery. The registration number was RUN386S and of course it rarely ran well. They loaned me an Austin Maxi while it was in for weeks for repairs. That had the registration YOB…T which at least ran well. My next car was an Alfasud which told me all I needed to know about what the Allegro could have been. Of course that car succumbed to rust within few years.

    • Supposedly Renault UK often stored cars in unsuitable places, like fields the flooded so badly the cars were submerged up to their axles!

      This might explain why Renault 14s rusted badly, though like the ADO16 the subframes were vulnerable to corrosion.

      • Ford at Dagenham used the old foundry site by the Thames to store cars in the 80s and 90s, and you regularly saw rust on the cars sitting there. My father’s mate had a job to change Sierra bonnets that had rust patches.

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