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
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.
‘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, intially 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.
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.
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.
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’.