The cars : Austin Allegro (ADO67) development story

What’s left to be said about the Austin Allegro? It never met sales predictions, earned a terrible reputation in the press and with buyers, and its fame far exceeded its influence in the automotive industry.

British Leyland threw everything into making it a success, and yet failed dismally…

Austin Allegro: Goodbye market share

The cars : Austin Allegro development history

What is so very sad about this chapter of our story is that the Austin Allegro could have been a world beater. It had front-wheel drive, was the right size, came at the right time, was technically advanced and, most importantly of all, it replaced one of Britain’s most-loved and most-popular post-War cars: the BMC 1100/1300.

The development and conception of the Allegro, ADO67, was not seriously instigated until 1968. Today, such is the pace of progress that it would be unthinkable to leave a car in production for six years before thinking about its replacement.

However, BMC in the 1960s was guilty of neglect – work was underway on a revision of the ADO16 suspension system in order to improve its rather bouncy ride, combined with heavily revised bodywork by new Stylist Roy Haynes and his team of Ford imports operating out of a new studio in the Pressed Steel Fisher factory at Cowley.

Hatching out the BMC 1100/1300

This design exercise was given the codename ADO22. Concurrent with this was the YDO9 project, which became the Australian only Morris 1500 and Nomad, the latter having a full opening tailgate. The YDO9 used the new overhead camshaft E-Series engine that had just gone into production at Cofton Hackett near Longbridge. The 1100 was easily BMC’s biggest-selling car and had won the hearts of countless British, European and Colonial motorists – it had become a national institution.

ADO22 was swept aside as the BLMC new broom took charge at Longbridge

It is entirely reasonable to assume that a combination of the ADO22 and YDO9 design could have kept the basic ADO16 at the top of the sales charts with minimal outlay while BMC designed a replacement for both the Mini and 1100/1300 using the same floorpan design as envisaged under Roy Haynes’ masterplan.

Merger plans scupper ADO16 development

What did for this plan was the adverse media coverage BMC received during the credit squeeze that began in July 1966 and the subsequent merger with Leyland that became official in May 1968. In January 1967 BMC declared a £7.5 million half-year loss, mainly because of strikes, both internal and external, the depressed market resulting from the credit squeeze and the fact that BMC’s high-technology range depended on high volume to pay its way – in other words, the company had a low profit margin.

The pundits and analysts were soon in full flow on their typewriters, including those with the ear of the interventionist Labour Government of the day. According to the analysts and pundits, the problem with BMC was its lack of new models – note the emphasis on the word new. The analysts eulogised Ford’s methods at a time when the new Mk2 version of the Cortina had toppled the BMC 1100 from the top of the sales charts.

Industry watchers waited for the Ford surge in the sales charts to overtake BMC, but it never came. Ford’s range still lacked the all-round appeal it would have a decade later, and the Mk4 Zephyr/Zodiac executive car was not one of Dagenham’s finest cars. Of course, what the analysts conveniently ignored was that mechanically, the new Cortina was a facelift of the Mk1 introduced in 1962; just as the BMC ADO22 was intended to be.

A new sense of optimism

Paul Hughes design sketch: There's some Allegro in there somewhere in this drawing that was produced after the car was signed-off for production...(Picture: Autocar)
Paul Hughes’ design sketch: there’s some Allegro in there somewhere in this drawing that was produced after the car was signed-off for production… (Picture: Autocar)

Following the Leyland takeover in May 1968, Donald Stokes claimed there were no new future models in development. He quickly identified the 1100/1300 range’s star was on the wane and, along with Harry Webster and George Turnbull, formulated a plan to replace ADO16 with separate, independently engineered Austin and Morris cars. This was in line with his plans for the two marques.

The Morris Marina was conceived and brought into production in the double-quick time of less than three years, and the conventional car fitted comfortably with Stokes’ notion that Morris cars should be straightforward Ford-fighters. Whereas Austin should be special – a producer of technologically advanced, tour-de-force cars. Initial small Austin thoughts by Harry Webster involved an ADO16 facelift – using a body styled by Michelotti. However, this agreeable idea was soon dropped in favour of an entirely new car.

On 12 June 1968, 500 BMC distributors crowded into the exhibition hall at Longbridge, for a question and answer session on their future with Sir Donald Stokes. He promised them a completely new model policy for the next five years under the direction of Harry Webster. Clearly, any hope of a rehash of the ADO16 design had faded away by this point – in the mind-set of the time, new meant better.

BLMC: Failing to appreciate what’s already there

In hindsight, we can see that British Leyland failed to appreciate that the ADO16 had what we now call ‘brand values’. For all its faults, such as its propensity to rust into horse droppings in the slightest rain shower, the ADO16 just kept on selling, with 1968 and 1969 being the peak years of production.

The new 1300 version sent sales rocketing to new levels, demoting the Cortina to second place, demonstrating that what customers really wanted was a better version of a tried and tested product. The ADO22 could have fitted the bill. To present those customers with something completely new was a risky strategy.

Harry Webster, interviewed in 1973, takes up the story. ‘When I arrived here from Triumph in May 1968, there was no sign of an eventual successor to any of the Issigonis-designed front-drive cars, unless you count Alec’s clever little ultra-simple Mini for Italy which, alas, had to be dropped because the market wouldn’t justify it. So the styling boys had a completely clean sheet of paper to start with, and I had a good deal of freedom on the engineering side.

‘On the other hand, the Maxi was about to go into production, with a brand new factory at Cofton Hackett ready to churn out the new overhead cam engine in quantity, and the old A-Series power unit still had a lot of life left in it. So there was no question of any major revision on the mechanical side. That left suspension, which I felt was a priority as the original Moulton concept had been overtaken in certain areas by more conventional designs, and of course the package itself.

Cold weather testing the ADO67 in Finland in January 1972. Looking on are senior engineers Ray Bates and Tom Penny.
Cold weather testing the ADO67 in Finland in January 1972. Looking on are Senior Engineers Ray Bates and Tom Penny

‘I had some pretty firm ideas about what was wanted here. I was very keen on Sir Alec Issigonis’s original theory of compactness, but I wanted to see more of the cars overall length fully utilised instead of being taken up by air at the front and fins at the back.’

‘I’ve no fault to find with Issigonis’s ideas of interior habitability, nor with his theory that a stiff body is a safe one.’ – Harry Webster

He continued: ‘And of course my people had to think of the safety regulations, both actual and proposed. In our new car the length from toe board to rear seat is exactly the same as in a 1300: the extra few inches have gone partly into the boot and partly, together with the radiator, into the nose, so as to provide just that extra bit of crushability in an accident. The extra width, similarly, is in the doors, leaving room for some more side-impact protection. I’ve no fault to find with Issigonis’s ideas of interior habitability, nor with his theory that a stiff body is a safe one. The Allegro’s torsional stiffness is about 6000 lb/ft degree – one of the highest in the industry.’

In the light of this, the Allegro’s development progressed rapidly. Prior to the setting-up the enlarged Styling Department at the Elephant House at Longbridge, Harris Mann and Paul Hughes produced rival designs at Cowley for the ADO67, but Mann’s design was chosen for further work. Mann would become Austin Morris’ Chief Stylist following the departure of Roy Haynes – who did not want to move from Cowley to Longbridge. Mann closely followed the design brief laid out by Harry Webster – the Allegro should have durable styling, and not be a follower of fashion. Avant-garde cars never followed fashion.

Video: Austin Allegro development

Part One:

Part Two:

Nailing the Austin Allegro styling: Harris Mann

In 1973, Austin Morris Chief Body Engineer Tom Penny gave the following version of the evolution of the Allegro’s styling. ‘The Allegro’s looks are the work of one man – Harris Mann, to be precise. Harris is our Chief Stylist. He came to us from Ford, and before that he was with, of all people, Duple the bus builders.

‘His proposal for the new car was one of four or five that we presented to the Board early in 1969. They walked into the big round building where the full-size mock ups were displayed, and immediately they fell for Harris’s car. After that they just left him to get on with it. The production version you see today is hardly altered in appearance from the original.’

The initial designs for the Allegro were rakish, curvy and stylish. However, the need for the car use existing engine/gearbox packages, as well as larger components from the BL parts-bin, resulted in design compromises being introduced.

In 2002, Harris Mann explained the process: ‘We wanted to make a far more modern version of the 1100/1300, keeping the long, sleek look. Then a lot of other things affected it. A heater was developed at astronomical cost which was very deep. That had to go in. Then we had to put in the E-Series engine, which was more suitable for putting in a Leyland truck.’

Packaging compromises kill sleekness

This forced the bonnet line to be raised, making the glass-house shallower. The gentle curves of the initial design were also exaggerated, as it was felt by the Engineers lessons learned in packaging and panel-strength from the pre-ADO74-supermini concept known as Ant and nicknamed the Barrel-car could be incorporated. The wheelbase was only slightly lengthened over the 1100, but overhangs were increased in order to improve under-bonnet access and boot space, two major criticisms of the ADO16.

Allegro in clay - looking remarkably similar to the finished product.
Allegro in clay – looking remarkably similar to the finished product
That quad headlamp arrangement could have made all the difference.
That quad headlamp arrangement could have made all the difference

With the packaging and style compromised, the ADO67 was mutating into a caricature of Mann’s original design, ‘…so the whole car gained in height. That made it look shorter and stumpier. Thicker seats were added inside, which cut down on interior space. It was getting bulkier inside and out, and lost the original sleekness. That was what happened unfortunately.’

The body design was finalised by the BLMC Board on 19 September 1969 (at a cost of £21m) and this final incarnation was accompanied by a sense of unease, certainly by Harris Mann, who felt that his design had been corrupted too much by the Production Engineers. However, the Allegro’s design was okayed for production by George Turnbull and it was felt the offbeat styling was exactly what the Austin needed to be: a flag-bearer for the go-it-alone spirit that was prevalent in the company at the time.

Allegro suspension: From ‘lastic to ‘gas…

On the engineering front, Alex Moulton had developed the Hydragas to replace Hydrolastic. This system was an improvement over Hydrolastic, which used rubber as its springing medium; a more inconsistent material. Hydragas, however, relied on Gas and Nitrogen spring units, an advantage in terms of consistency.

Continuing the Hydrolastic tradition, Hydragas was interconnected front to rear, meaning roadholding was unaffected by the softer ride the new system afforded. In comparison with Hydrolastic suspension, the suspension units are smaller and cheaper to produce, damping is more adjustable, depending on the application and noise insulation is far better.

Who would have guessed that such was the soundness of this suspension system that it would be in use until 2002?

Existing power units used

The engine range was widened to encompass the new E-Series, complementing the venerable A-Series. Like the Maxi, the Allegro would be available in 1485cc and 1748cc forms, running the same in-sump five-speed gearbox – employing the rod linkage that had been introduced to replace the cable-operated linkage that hampered the Maxi in its early life.

News the Allegro was to use the E-Series was greeted with sighs of relief from the workers at Cofton Hackett. The new engine factory had been built to machine and assemble the E- and E6-Series engines, the expense deemed necessary in order to meet inflated expectations management had for the Austin Maxi. Unfortunately, the Maxi missed its sales targets and Cofton Hackett ran hideously under-capacity. The anticipated sales targets for the Allegro were generous and would make up the shortfall caused by the Maxi’s failure.

As the Allegro neared production, the Quartic steering wheel was added. Jeff Daniels recalled in his excellent book, BL: The Truth about The Cars: ‘…in Spring 1972, George Turnbull brought back to the Austin Drawing Office one of David Bache’s more way-out design ideas, a steering wheel comprising of four curves joined together by four straight lines, similar to the shape of a television screen. It was something that had been incorporated on the aborted Rover P8 with good reason, but Turnbull felt that it was just the thing for the Allegro. Avant-garde and hi-tech was what the ADO67 design was all about.’

Quartic dreams in the run-up to launch

Back in 1973, Vic Hammond, Austin Morris’ Chief Designer, Interiors, defended the quartic steering wheel. ‘For a start, it’s far from square. The usual circular form of the steering wheel is simply flattened out a little. We did it because we knew most drivers preferred a relatively small wheel, yet we wanted them to be able to see the instruments.’

In the summer of 1972, senior technical writers from the British motoring press were invited along to Longbridge to see the Allegro and offer their opinions on the new car. As this exercise was held pretty much at the end of the Allegro design process, there was very little that the assembled journalists could suggest to Austin which would effect a great change to the car. They were unanimous in their distaste for the Quartic steering wheel. To say that they were also underwhelmed by the ADO67’s design, would be an understatement, principle criticism being it lacked style.

‘We did the Quartic wheel because we knew most drivers preferred a relatively small wheel, yet we wanted them to be able to see the instruments.’ – Vic Hammond, Austin Morris’ Chief Designer, Interiors

Austin management intended to win approval from the motoring press by offering journalists an inside track on the development of the Allegro. Unfortunately, as a PR exercise this backfired, because even a small change, such as the removal of the quartic wheel, could not be implemented.

The managers who let journalists into BLMC before the launch of the car must have known that it would have been difficult to implement suggestions so late in the day – which makes their decision seem all the more curious. The result: the press felt their suggestions had been ignored (which was not true, even though their wishes could not be met) and any goodwill this event may have generated was lost.

Allegro impresses… for about three minutes

Allegro at the 1973 Earls Court Motor Show... (Picture: Kevin Davis)
Allegro at the 1973 Earls Court Motor Show… (Picture: Kevin Davis)

The Allegro was launched in May 1973, and the new small family car’s launch timing was perfect. Maxi had failed to make an impact on the market and ADO16 sales were fading (Morris versions had been discontinued to make way for the Marina). The Ford Cortina, once a rival to the ADO16, had grown significantly in size and the new Mk3 was having teething troubles – so the new car was launched with an air of optimism. The Allegro had been developed thoroughly and BL management believed it would be a great success.

At launch, Longbridge was producing around 1100 to 1200 Allegros per week, giving what BL management claimed was the best launch of any of the company’s cars to date. BLMC claimed it had built up a stockpile of 10,000 cars ready for sale to the public, and hoped for an eight to ten per cent UK market penetration.

Also at launch, one of the two ADO16 production lines had been switched over to Allegro assembly and, when the weekly production rate reached 2500, the other line would be switched over to the Allegro.

By early 1974, BLMC hoped to produce in excess of 4000 ADO67s per week. The company claimed that buyers wanted more refinement and 1500cc engines and that the ADO16 1100/1300 could no longer satisfy this market. George Turnbull said: ‘We have tried with the Allegro to be all things to all men. That is a tremendous brief for our Engineers but we believe we have succeeded. The C-sector is expanding all the time and with this approach we are spanning the widest area of that sector with the minimum investment.’

‘I’ve driven the Austin Allegro at all the stages of its development and I’m absolutely convinced that they’ve got a car here which is quite outstanding in its class and its type. The car, we believe, will appeal to European tastes as a whole.’ – Lord Stokes

Lord Stokes stressed to the BBC the importance of the Allegro to British Leyland in May 1973: ‘It’s very important because this covers the middle range between the 1100 and 1750 where the bulk of the business is, and it’s also a car which we think will appeal not only to the sophisticated British public but to the sophisticated European public, which of course is very much greater now that we’re in the Common Market. The car, we believe, will appeal to European tastes as a whole.’

Defending the quartic steering wheel

His Lordship stated elsewhere: ‘We set our Engineers, our Designers, a challenge. I’ve watched it from all stages of development. I’ve driven it at all the stages of its development and I’m absolutely convinced that they’ve got a car here which is quite outstanding in its class and its type.’

And Harry Webster defended the quartic steering wheel yet again: ‘It really is the technically correct shape for this particular car because the instruments are so positioned that you can view them straight through the steering wheel. It’s a very comfortable wheel to hold and the angle of the wheel has now been flattened out so that it comes down to the natural way. It seems to have fitted into the vehicle as an interesting shape.’

A week after launch BLMC was already claiming they had sold the first two years of Allegro production. Was this really true or a public relations exercise?

But the testers weren’t convinced

Road tests were not unkind, but it could not be ignored that the 1100 and 1300 Allegros were 10 per cent more expensive and, in terms of performance, it was also slower due to greater weight. Autocar magazine generously summed up the 1300 Super: ‘There is no doubt that a lot of thought and development has gone into the design of the Austin Allegro and it is bound to be a very popular new model.

‘Compared with the much older Austin 1300 it is a big step forward in all respects and we would like to think that much of our criticism stems from the test car being a very early example to move down the line at Longbridge. Apart from its advanced engineering, the Allegro comes with a very complete list of standard equipment and in 1300 Super form offers very good value for money.’

You could never accuse the Allegro of not having a very wide range... (Picture: Autocar)
You could never accuse the Allegro of not having a very large range… (Picture: Autocar)

If this sounds like a ringing endorsement of the product, it must be remembered road tests were more circumspect in their criticism of new cars back in 1973, but disappointment at the 1750 Sports Special model was more obvious.

‘British Leyland have done well not to give the SS a phoney GT label because its performance for a small car with close to 2.0-litre engine is not particularly sporting or special, and certainly not in the category of a Grand Tourer. We were particularly disappointed that the 1750 could not match the acceleration and top speed of cars like the Fiat 124 Special T, the Datsun 180B, the Hillman Hunter GLS, the Renault 16TS, the Triumph Dolomite and especially the Ford Cortina 2000 and Vauxhall VX 4/90, which must surely be its real competitors. Whilst it offers other things to offset the performance deficit, we wonder whether sporting buyers will reckon they are getting enough.’

Principal criticisms were levelled at the lack of rear seat legroom (it was no better than the ADO16) and weak performance and brakes on the A-Series models. The gearchange action in the E-Series version was vague and notchy (one wag likened it to stirring a bag of marbles with a knitting needle). The quartic steering wheel was overlooked as a marketing gimmick, and the styling was politely consigned to the ‘make your own mind-up’ school of thought.

Styling – love it or loathe it?

Impressive photography at launched added glamour, but fuelled disappointment in the following months... (Picture: Richard Gunn)
Impressive photography at launched added glamour, but fuelled disappointment in the following months… (Picture: Richard Gunn)

Actually, the issue of the styling cannot be left at that. The looks of a car and the image it conveys are utmost in the eyes of prospective purchasers – if a car looks right, faults can be overlooked but, if it looks wrong, then its customer appeal is undermined. Which ever way you look at the Allegro, it is ugly – the nose is undefined and the grille/headlight treatment is so much narrower than the width of the car it consigns to make it look over-inflated, especially from the front.

Spen King described it eloquently: ‘I remember when I first saw the clay of the Allegro – I was horrified and wanted to look away! It looked like a caricature of Henry VIII, with little features and a big, bulging face.’

The sides of the car, so convexly curved, serve to heighten the impression that the Allegro looks pregnant. Wheels that failed to fill the arches adding to the overall impression it was a blob of a car. It is easy to criticise the styling, and looks are always subjective, but in terms of a mass-market car with serious sales ambitions, it is impossible to think of a post-War car so universally condemned on its styling alone. What is more distressing about this situation is it could have been so different.

It could have been rescued…

As seen in early styling sketches of the ADO67, its design could have ended up sharp and attractive – someone who wielded enough influence should have stopped the development juggernaut at Longbridge and said, ‘Hey guys, have you seen what is happening to this car?’

In fact, people did try: ‘Myself, and one or two others, tried but John Bacchus, thought I was being too fussy,’ said one insider. ‘In fact, part of the problem stemmed from misjudged ‘spring’ in the panel pressings – because the final pressing tends to deviate a little from the designed shape because of a small amount of ‘spring’ after being released from the die, the tool designer may try to compensate for this by altering the shape of the die. But if he over-compensates, it can have the opposite effect to what was intended. Hence the slight “cottage-bun” re-entrant curve effect on the rear quarters. Also, the waist rails on the doors tended to hump a bit, instead of being a flowing straight line. The attitude was “it will have to do.”

‘On the Princess, probably as a reaction to Allegro, the opposite happened – panels that should have had a subtle curve on came out too flat, giving a ‘tinny’ and insubstantial look.’

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

What confounds this even more is that the 1100, as styled by Pininfarina, had pre-empted small car fashion by a decade, and cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Alfa Romeo Alfasud had shown crisp, angular styling by a big-name Italian Designer was what buyers wanted. The only thing to be said in favour of the Allegro’s styling was that it couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

Striking and very '70s, but many buyers were put off by that steering wheel, which soon became an object of derision. (Picture: Richard Gunn)
Striking and very 1970s, but many buyers were put off by that steering wheel, which soon became an object of derision (Picture: Richard Gunn)

The quartic wheel helped alienate customers further and, although Austin quoted sound reasoning behind the choice of such an offbeat item, the truth was people didn’t like it – it may have enabled unhindered visibility of the instruments, but unless you were sat in an Allegro 1750 Sports Special, there were never enough dials to fill the binnacle.

Her Majesty’s Police force placed an order for 657 Allegros to be used as Metropolitan and Panda cars around the time of the car’s launch. The police Allegros replaced the Morris Minor and, in the role of Panda car, were judged very successful. It was noted by the press quartic wheels were being removed – it wasn’t as if the quartic wheel was bad, just that it didn’t suit the Police way of driving (so it was explained by embarrassed officers). Thankfully, this butt of many jokes lasted less than two years before being consigned to the gimmick bin.

Goodbye quartic wheel, hello estate and VP 1500

The following year heralded the Estate version. If people thought that the saloon version ugly, the Allegro Estate came as an even greater shock. Practicality was never in doubt, with its flat load-floor and large luggage area. Unfortunately, it displayed the same tail sagging behaviour under load as the ADO16 estate. But if people thought they had seen the pinnacle of quirky with the Allegro and its estate variation, they had not counted on the Vanden Plas 1500.

The Allegro was treated to the same Vanden Plas make-over given to the ADO16: a leather interior, wooden dashboard, sumptuous interior fittings were added throughout (including polished walnut picnic trays being added to the front seat backs), and the traditional VP radiator grille. Vanden Plas’ Managing Director, Roland Fox, actually styled the front end after seeing a prototype of the ADO67 in the early 1970s, citing the Daimler Double-Six as an influence.

Given the design constraints he worked under, there was little room for experimentation, but when asked why a lower grille arrangement could not be used, Fox insisted the protruding snout afforded a ‘proper view’ from the driver’s seat and that was what his customers wanted. However, while the ADO16 had an attractive shape which lent itself perfectly to badge engineering, the Allegro did not, and the final arrangement was almost universally criticised.

So, in 1974, and against all better judgment, Leyland wheeled out the Vanden Plas 1500 (it was never called an Allegro).

The Vanden Plas was even more ugly than its more humble brethren, quite a feat in itself. The Vanden Plas version sported a round steering wheel – British Leyland said the quartic steering wheel was something Vanden Plas customers did not want. In the end, the Vanden Plas 1500 was bought by a small number of loyal customers, although it always made a handsome profit. Today, it remains a cult car, and most still survive.

Selling the Austin Allegro to Europe

The Allegro finally went on sale in continental Europe in March 1974. Quite when the penny dropped and BLMC realised that the Allegro was not going to sell in the numbers expected of it is difficult to ascertain. The Energy Crisis of 1973/74 had depressed the car market, but on 28 April 1974, came the announcement that BLMC was pruning the Allegro range of three of its 12 models. These were the two-door models of the 1300 De Luxe, 1500 De Luxe and 1750 Sport. Contrary to BLMC’s expectations, it was the smaller-engined 1100 and 1300 models that were proving more popular with the public.

In the first three months of 1974, it came seventh in the list of best-selling cars in Britain – that was a modest performance compared with its predecessor, the 1100/1300. Production at this time was running at only just over half the weekly capacity at Longbridge of 4500 to 5000 units. In May 1975, British Leyland announced it was to close their largest and most modern car painting plant at Trentham, Longbridge, Birmingham, as the £1.5m facility was operating at only one tenth of its installed capacity. It was completed just two years previously to handle up to 4500 Allegros a week.

It was reported at the time that Allegro production had peaked at 2500 per week, and was by now down to 2000 per week. By this time, production of the Volkswagen Golf was running at 10,000 per week. By November 1978, the weekly production of the Allegro had dropped further to 1000 per week when BL announced a further 25 per cent cutback in output.

Fixing the bugs: Allegro Series 2

Series 2 Allegros were launched in 1975. The main improvement found in the series 2 models, was the improved rear leg room, but most newsworthy for the tabloid press was the loss of the quartic steering wheel. (Picture: Rene Winters)
Series 2 Allegros were launched in 1975. The main improvement found in the Series 2 models was the improved rear leg room, but most newsworthy for the tabloid press was the loss of the quartic steering wheel (Picture: Rene Winters)

Problems which became evident in the first couple of years resulted in a hasty facelift, announced in October 1975. The interior was upgraded, and more equipment added. A shuffling of rear panels released more rear passenger legroom, and adjustments to the Hydragas suspension improved the ride quality (stiffer suspension was used at the front in tandem with softer spring rates at the rear). Criticism of the Allegro’s driveline snatchiness were also partially rectified by replacing the synthetic engine mounts with rubber ones, and adding two vertical dampers to the front mountings.

Autocar magazine summed-up after its test of the Series 2 1750HL: ‘Perhaps the handling inadequacies would not be so noticeable were the Allegro to fulfil some other role with distinction. Its performance and ride could make it an ideal small luxury car, but here, too, it falls down, thanks to poor seating and rather insipid interior styling. So it is a car without a role; cars like the VW Golf LS and Alfasud Ti outsmart it as small sports saloons, while others such as the Citroën GS have the style and comfort the Allegro lacks.’

Still the Allegro sold sufficiently well, but the major obstacle to sales was the styling, and there was by then no more money left in British Leyland’s coffers for a re-body. Crisis in the Corporation meant taxpayers’ money was being used sparingly, and any meaningful development of the Allegro was further down the list priorities than it ought to have been. From June 1978 the Allegro was also assembled at BL’s plant at Seneffe in Belgium and many were imported into the UK, but it continued to be sold throughout the 1970s and into the ’80s, its styling resolutely unchanged.

… and Series 3

This picture of an Allegro 3 shows perfectly, just how much of an improvement can be made with a few cosmetic modifications. The quad-headlamp arrangement (also found on European series 2 Allegros) addressed the biggest criticism of the the car's styling: its bland headlamp/grille arrangement.
This picture of an Allegro 3 shows perfectly just how much of an improvement can be made with a few cosmetic modifications. The quad-headlamp arrangement (also found on European Series 2 Allegros) addressed the biggest criticism of the the car’s styling: its bland headlamp/grille arrangement
The Allegro 3 benefited from many engineering improvements, but the new dashboard and interior increased the Allegro's appeal massively.
The Allegro 3 benefited from many engineering improvements, but the new dashboard and interior increased the Allegro’s appeal massively

The Austin Allegro 3 was launched in 1979. Again, the styling was titivated by a wide range of new colours, new lights, plastic wheel trims, new radiator grilles, wraparound plastic bumpers and a natty front airdam. This model incorporated some very real technical improvements, especially in the area of fuel consumption – a factor very relevant in 1979. It also received a stylish new dashboard and uprated interiors.

The result was a pleasant-to-drive Allegro, all models were well-equipped and well-and-truly sorted: in other words, it developed into a capable car. If nothing else, the competence of the Allegro 3 proved the Development Engineers at BL had earned their money. Disappointingly, sales continued their downward spiral until it it was replaced, unmourned, by the Maestro in 1983.

Topping and tailing the range

Striking? Yes. Interesting? Perhaps. Saleable? Never. The Equipe taught Austin-Morris an important lesson about how not to devise a family car with a sporting twist. You still want one, though, don't you? (Picture: Peter Wood)
Striking? Yes. Interesting? Perhaps. Saleable? Never. The Equipe taught Austin Morris an important lesson about how not to devise a family car with a sporting twist. You still want one, though, don’t you? (Picture: Peter Wood)

Interestingly, it was towards the end of the Austin Allegro’s production run that the two most bizarre versions saw the light of day. The first was the Equipe model, which appeared in July 1979. This was a two-door version of the 1750HL, painted boldly in bright Silver with day-glo orange Starsky & Hutch stripes and porous alloy wheels – guaranteed to leave the unsuspecting owner with four flat tyres in the morning.

Austin Morris touted the Equipe as a rival to the Alfasud Ti and the Golf GTi. In some ways, it was a vastly underrated car, but the styling additions and colour choices were somewhat misjudged – even though today, it’s a highly prized slice of retro. The Allegro Equipe never became a permanent addition to the Allegro range but, then again, it was never intended to – acting as a car to generate much-needed showroom traffic during the dark years.

There was also the Austin Allegro 1.0. This version came about as a result of model and engine rationalisation in the BL range following the launch of the Austin Metro. When the Mini Clubman was dropped, so was the 1100cc A-Series. Austin decided to drop the 1.0-litre version of the engine into the Allegro, rather than make the 1275cc version the base model. Quite why this was done is unfathomable, but needless to say it offered no economy advantage over the 1275cc version.

The end for the Austin Allegro finally came in March 1982, a full year before its successor, the Austin Maestro reached the showrooms. Sadly, the Maestro was also stylistically challenged, showing that BL had learned nothing from the Allegro.

The bad Austin Allegro urban myths begin

So, the Allegro bombed on the market. Very quickly, it became the focal point for the sad national sport of ‘Leyland Bashing’, scare stories quickly circulated around the press about shortcomings in the Allegro. Most famously, the Allegro’s lack of structural integrity led in extreme cases to the rear window popping out when the car was jacked-up.

Of course this made good copy, but this only happened as a result of injudicious use of a trolley jack – Engineers, in their panic, marked these areas underneath the Allegro with high visibility tape, but the damage had been done – and the story went national. Austin should have seen this coming – during filming for its launch advertisement in a quarry, one Allegro was badly bent when enthusiastically ‘yumped’.

There was the far more serious problem of wheels dropping off the car, due to a design of wheel bearing that, although superficially similar to the ADO16, was in fact totally different, requiring significantly less tightening of the bearing nuts (i.e., the bolts had to have zero pre-load, which any Engineer will tell you involves the practice of ‘nip up and back off’).

Austin Engineers quickly addressed this potentially lethal problem, by fitting a plastic collar with a printed warning not to tighten the hub nut without referring to the manual. However, accidents ensued, and although BL was not considered at fault for them, it lost an unpleasant product liability court case in 1977 – adding heartbreak to the widespread adverse publicity the company were receiving.

Leyland bashing steps up with All-aggro mania

It seemed the tabloid media gleefully reported every failing and, very rapidly, people found they had more and more reason not to buy this car. Not many cars reach the public level of awareness that the Allegro did in its day; it even managed to pick up its own nickname: ‘All Aggro’.

Fortunately for British Leyland, the relative failure of the Allegro on the British market was propped-up by the success of the Marina, but it is true to say that the contraction of Leyland’s market share coincided with the increased popularity of imported cars and the rise of Ford in the UK. In Europe, the Allegro sunk without a trace.

Innocenti, once happy partners of BMC in Italy, built its own Allegro (as they did with the Mini and ADO16), called the Regent, but found it so unsaleable to the car-loving Italians that it was dropped after barely 18 months.

Innocenti Regent was not a hit with the car-loving Italians...
Innocenti Regent was not a hit with the car-loving Italians…

In conclusion… such promise, never realised

Had the Allegro been more appealing, properly built and sold in the numbers expected by Leyland management, the story might have been very different. But to succeed in doing that, Austin would have needed clearer and more focused leadership. What actually happened was planners concluded the Corporation needed a bigger and better ADO16, without actually understanding how the game was moving on.

Unfortunately for British Leyland, a policy of go-it-alone resulted in a car diametrically opposed to what the market wanted. The Allegro possessed no hatchback, because the 1100 did not have one. But why is this so? It would appear there was a blinkered approach to car design in the Corporation at the time and no one was able (or prepared) to accept that, between 1970 and 1975, there would be a wholesale shift in the buying patterns. Small cars were getting more sophisticated, and buyers demanded style, class and… the practicality of a hatchback.

The Allegro had none of these.

Thrashed by the opposition

The Austin Allegro also failed to compete in the more traditional centre ground of the UK market. Part of the reason was the centre of gravity had shifted upwards with the launch of the Cortina Mk3. The signs had been there for some time: each subsequent Cortina grew over predecessor – and, with this enlargement, came increased success. Ford had been successfully predicting the increased affluence of its buyers and built cars tailored to their needs… By the time Vauxhall had introduced its new (1.3- to 2.0-litre) Cavalier in 1975, the standard for this market was set.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see why the Allegro did not continue the immense momentum built up by the ADO16 juggernaut – it was less desirable. It is not so easy to say whether its failure resulted in the collapse of British Leyland. Had it been a success, then maybe the inevitable disintegration might have been postponed, but the cold hard facts are the rot from the 1960s was too far advanced for a collapse not to have happened. Mini made little money, ADO16 was never developed fully, Maxi missed its targets, and the Dealer Network was a messy, shambling organization unchanged from the BMC era.

The Allegro cannot be held solely culpable, despite what the media likes to say – there were far too many other issues within the company that needed addressing. But it is now seen as a symbol of all that was wrong with British Leyland in the early- to mid-1970s. The Allegro may have caused a sales collapse, but the disintegration of its maker was already inevitable.

That this collapse happened at all is a major British tragedy…

Keith Adams


  1. Had one of these for about a year 1997/98by which time was probably last survivors and a conversation piece with other people in petrol stations etc. 1500HL. Generally liked it for its seats/interior and the way it went. Bumpy ride though. Was a T reg and I thought it was an alright car – felt v. grown up to me. Not particularly rusty. Certainly not the joke I thought it was going to be.

  2. My dad bought one in 1975 – his first new car. I have really fond memories of bouncing around as a child on the back seat as dad enthusiastically went round corners. Other abiding memory is the rust and the crumbling sills and wheel arches. Still, great memories.

  3. I bought a chocolate brown mk3 estate second-hand with 20,000 miles on in 1982 and ran it as a company car for less than a year.

    It was catastrophically unreliable; almost daily mechanical failures – and serious ones, too. By 40,000 it was completely worn out and spending days and days off road. The dealers seemed never to have the spares, either. I am afraid everything unkind said about the Allegro is generally true. We switched to Fiat, Vauxhall and Ford after that.

  4. Managed to bag a ride in one today, the inside very seventies brown velour and all that but i was impressed by the ride quality and also the comfort level. Its a running joke the Allegro is crap, but after today on a very rough road i was impressed indeed

  5. I remember my Dad having a 1750SS in 1974; it was the first car I drove. It had it’s reliability issues (stuck in 3rd gear anyone?) but as a drive it compared well with contemporaries (RWD Escort; Viva). More comfortable, predictable handling and stable. You could drive it for hours on the motorway at 85mph on a breezy day without feeling loss of control was imminent (something Ford Escorts did not manage until the Mk3, Cortinas never and Sierras only if 4 wheel drive.) Perhaps my Ford experiences were unlucky but I would choose a Allegro over any as a tool rather than a toy. Although to be honest none of these would be my choice of classic now!

  6. Without doubt, the worse car I have ever owned. The build quality was shocking; the doors didn’t fit and it leaked like sieve. The gearbox ground itself to bits, the suspension was too high at the back, and its unreliability meant that AA patrols were frequent companions. I think the end was probably inevitable for a company that could bring a product like that to market. What were those guys thinking of.

  7. A very misunderstood car poorly developed.

    Had the original Ben more like the allegro 3 it would have been success. I keep dreaming about buying a 3 and modernising it with perhaps a turbo engine to prove a point to our friend mr clarkson.


  8. My dad ran an Allegro for a few years and I remember it for two things in the main: the embarrassment when I started becoming conscious of other dads having Peugeots and VWs (beside which the Allegro looked alarmingly gauche) and a lack of power. We were holidaying in Scotland and found ourselves backing down several uphill roads when the dear old thing ran out of puff – and I’m not talking about dramatic mountain passes, it failed to climb a 200 yard side street in Anstruther.

    Still, time has lent it a nostalgic glow and I crack a smile on the rare occasions I see one pootling about the roads.

  9. I don’t think it was really appreciated by BLMC back in 1973 that the outgoing 1100/1300 had high brand values and replacing it with the dumpy , out of kilter looking Allegro when cars were adopting an angular look was a ghastly mistake. What was needed was an ADO22 or Bertone restyle like the Innocenti 90/120 Mini based on ADO16 mechanicals and the Australian Morris 1500 .

  10. @8 Not all All-agros were gutless, I distinctly remember passing a flat out Escort RS1600 in a dog poo brown 1750 Allegro equipe during a impromptu road race down the legendary mad-mile near Loughton, giving the disbelieving driver a little wave on the way past.

  11. @ Steve Lee

    Hmm an RS 1600 in standard form developed 120 bhp, unless the Webers or timing was out I can’t image a 1750 Allegro leaving it for dust. The Allegro was a truly awful motor…

  12. Funny thing about BLs (and Allegros in particular) is that sometimes, just occasionally, they accidentally produced a good one that would run and run with no fuss whatsoever. I knew of a couple like that still going in the mid 1990’s. And an old lady near me has a V reg turd brown Marina 1.3 Coupe, very far from concourse, that has lasted her for decades with little more than routine servicing.

  13. i recently bough a austin allegro vanden plas with a 1500 engine / verry good condition and i put it in for an mot and passed. i taxed it and the insurance only cost 90 pounds for the year and i get great enjoyment out of driving it at weekends it has done 35000 miles and what a change to get out of nissan quashque .the pleasure of people coming up saying my dad had one of them.and the women saying its lovely/ the car that is.

  14. my son and i have a 1750 equipe that we have restored back to better than showroom condition

    it has all the original pannels and no rust ? yes thats right no rust the car is almost complete and is genertating a lot of interest / the car has had a complete rolling shell respray inside and out / the coloured strips have been lasor copied from an original unused set / all internal trim ie door cards seat trim material have all been specialy commisioned and manifactured ( age and sun plays havoc with the seats and trim ) the alloys have been shot blasted and re powder coated with a good set of brand new tyres / complete brake overhaul with new discs and pads with shoes on the rear
    the engine and transmision have also had a major strip with all new internals / the list goes on , some people say why spend so much money on a car that that has such a bad history , well that is the point its history and this car will now last many years

  15. Thanks for this well-written and informative text.

    I was looking for some info regarding the Allegro 1300 Special. I saw one last month in Switzerland (four round headlights, vinyl roof).
    Was this version exclusively based upon the series 2 Allegro? Was this an non-UK export version (LHD)? When was it built? Any info apreciated.

  16. @14 – Surely this is worth a feature on AR online – I’d love to see an Equipe in detail – I vaguely remember them on the roads, then, nothing – rarer than hen’s teeth! Keith – any chance of an article?? Please??

  17. Congrats on an utterly superb article on a much maligned (justified) car. Nostalgia in any form is always good, even when it’s a metallic (metallic!) brown allegro. Resembling a wheeled portion of chocolate flavoured Angel Delight, my dad taught me to drive in his and I suspect I was responsible for the demise of the CV joints and the clutch, but then that wouldn’t have been difficult. Giving up on the Allegro, I moved onto a driving instructyors twin cam Fiat thing…heeeellllp!
    That allegro was also responsible for my relationship with motorcycles as a week after passing my test I managed to drive dad’s beloved brown bomber into the back of a Mk3 Cortina… Enter Mr.Kawasaki…Ahh happy days.

  18. Good article, only read bits of it though.

    Decided to search for the equipe whilst reading a chapter in The Forth Bear by Jasper Fforde dedicated to purchasing one. To replace an estate version.

    Intro reads…. Feeblest British car of the 70’s; it was a close thing between the Morris Marinated and the Austin Allegro. Originally designed as Sharp and sports, the Allegro was a victim of design and manufacturing compromises that compromised to dilute the original concept instill the resultant car utterly appeal. There were tantalizing plans in the design office for a 430bhp V12 “muscle” Allegro a stretch Allegrosine RB-211 turbofan powered version which was proposed to break the land speed record.

    Good writer if you like humor of the Douglas Adams variety!!

  19. I wonder if the Allegro would have been more successful if it had been built from launch with a traditional round steering wheel, and not the horrid quartic – probably not. I only drove a couple of Allegro hire cars, with round steering wheel’s thankfully!

    • Yet today, most modern ‘sporty’ cars have small quartic steering wheels, and it’s now considered cool!

      • Yes, but these modern cut off and squared off wheels look funky and purposeful whereas the the Allegro wheel simply looks like a round wheel that just has not been made properly, an unfortunate factor given the reputation the car soon earned.

        However did it reduce Allegro sales, no, the awful styling, awful reputation for reliability and that the Ado16 it replaced was better at being an 1100 and 1300cc car where the markets centre of gravity was, was what did for it in the market.

  20. I think the passage of time has served the Allegro well.
    I think I’m developing a rather keen interest in them, having spent a long time this evening viewing various images on the internet!

  21. Douglas Bader owned an Equipe complete with a chrome Hurricane bonnet mascot. I worked on it when it was returned to Longbridge for repairs.
    I went on to build the 1500 manual and 1750 auto mk3 Vanden Plas prototypes, personally collecting the woodwork from the about to be closed Vanden Plas in Kingsbury.
    The 1500 was an exhibit in the Heritage motor museum at Gaydon for many years, before being sold off a few years ago.

    • Was Bader’s Equipe the only automatic Equipe made? I myself am now disabled and like Douglas Bader, ‘no leg, no problem’.

  22. I owned two allegro a 1300 estate and a 1300 saloon purchased in 1978. when fitted with winter tyres provided cheap transport all year.THE only problem was oil leaks in the a series engine My father-in-law in norway also ran a 1300 saloon with no problems

  23. Call me weird but found the car attractive in a cuddly way when it came out. Had a 1750 ss and a 1750 HL in later life and hated them both. The estate still looks good though. Are there any left?

  24. Someone speak to John Beacham (comment #14) nicely and see if he will agree to his restored Equipe being featured on this site. There will be huge interest from ARO readers in this much maligned variant of a much maligned car.

  25. Let me see now. More aerodynamic going backwards than forwards. A criticism often leveled at the Allegro. Any car with a grille in the front will follow that pattern. But a pattern of ridicule quickly built up around the undeserving Allegro.
    I once asked an AA guy if the Allegro was his most common call out. He said no. In fact he said “they all break down”. And there’s the truth.
    The quadratic steering wheel was much lauded by at least one of the national driving schools. Apparently it provided the correct holding position – uncompromisingly. BL dropped it because of constant bad press. Pity.
    It was also said that had that wheel been on a French car, then “ooh, la, la” it would have been oh-so stylish and modern. I believe that assessment to be correct.
    I’ve been in Allegros with a driver who delighted in burning off BMW and XR boys and it couldn’t half nip round bends, loved chicanes and screamed round roundabouts. Great days, great fun.
    If only Allegro 3 had been the launch model.

  26. francis brett – October 1, 2012 – What a load of bull! You have got caught up in the garbage that used to be put out by the people who did not actually own the cars and who were usually into Ford or some other make.

    Funny I had an Equipe for years OGB 477V and it was an excellent, reliable car – I never woke up to flat tyres ever or any of the other rubbish said about the car. The only reason I do not have this car any more is because it was written off in an accident and I would have another just now if I could get a hold of one.

    All cars back then had pretty much the same 1970’s problems – we had Escorts, Cortina’s and Capri’s as company cars and they were terrible – they seemed to go through engines and gearboxes as if they were wear and tear items and that is why we did not buy Ford later when we bought our own cars. All cars back then were probably as reliable or not as each other and they certainly all rusted the same – the same goes for today – that is why they all disappear from the roads about the same time as their contempories.

  27. My Father began driving in about 1952, he was always near to the bottom of the food chain with regard to motoring, like many manual workers he struggled to make decent living so it was always the most basic cars he bought, ie leaf springs / sidevalve engines, a starting handle for when the battery was giving up, remould tyres, major parts such as a complete back axle from a breakers yard for £5.

    That usually meant a Ford, the 100E 1172 sidevalve engine, etc. produced from 1930 to about 1960 you could always find parts in breakers yards for those.

    Cars by BL, FWD, hydragas, CV joints, Minis with subframes, were all too much for him, too much risk of expense to keep it on the road.

    The mechanic skills of his generation were limited too, if something went wrong under the bonnet, half of the neighbourhood would be consulted, few of them really understood how to change points in the distributor or set the valve clearances on an engine.

    A car such as the Cortina or Anglia were as far as he could stretch in his later years, relatively high-tech cars such as the Allegro were simply beyond the comprehension of him and his contempories

  28. The Mark III Cortina, Ford omitted the anti-roll bar on the rear axle on the 1300 and 1600, the cornering was a joke, the stance of the car on sharp turns mimicking a dog saluting a lamppost. The Allegro was a polite and well-brought up child compared to the Dagenham Dustbin

  29. @31 I covered many problem-free, happy miles in a 1972 Cortina 1600OHV XL and can’t say I ever experienced the handling characteristics you have mentioned here.

    In fact it was a far more enjoyable and civilised drive than a bouncy, choppy Allegro Super I also owned around that time (although you would hard pushed to achieve dangerous speeds in either of the OHV engined cars).

    Perhaps you have read something from initial Cortina release as I know they were plagued with problems, as many manufacturers had at the time (more so with the Cortina due to poor industrial relations) which Ford quickly remedied.

    As for ‘Dagenham Dustbin’, Cortina managed to be exactly what the buying public wanted in every one of its incarnations, and British Leyland must have been very envious. It was handsome, easy to maintain and available in a trim to suit every budget and taste, and is still an excellent, usable classic daily driver today.

    I will take a Dagenham Dustbin every time.

  30. The Govt policy of pay freezes in the 70’s played into the hands of Ford, companies would hand over fully-expensed perks of company cars in lieu of pay rises.

    The Mark III Cortina was the perfect car for the permed-hair, flared-trouser wide-lapelled thirty-bob millionaires of Sales Reps and middle-management of that era

  31. @30 – Good point – my Granddad learnt to drive in the army, and also learnt to maintain very basic military vehicles. He later became a bus driver. He didn’t own a car for many years, but used to hire Minis and Anglias when he took the family on holiday. When he finally bought his own car he chose a 2nd hand 105E Anglia. He kept that car for over 10 years, carrying out all of his own maintenance – he even re-painted it himself. He understood the simple mechanical layout and engine, and could service the car with a standard toolkit. When it was time to change his car he bought a HC Viva – for the same reason – it was simple, and easy to maintain for the DIYer. What BMC and subsequently BL failed to grasp in the late 60s/early 70s was that some motorists liked to service their cars themselves, thus saving a few bob. Ok, so they had the Marina for that kind of motorist, but perhaps for some it was too big. The Allegro was up against the Escort and Viva – cars simple enough to be serviced by a DIYer. The Allegro and Maxi must have put a lot of motorists off due to their tech. Ironic then that in some instances, modern cars are in some ways inferior!

  32. What rot from the people commenting on here that the Allegro was too high tech for most people to work on. The Allegro was just as easy as other cars to work on. The only difference was the suspension and all you had to do with that is get that deflated by a garage etc if you wanted to work on that. I did all the work on my own cars and it was just as easy to work on the Allegro. In fact even with the 1750 engine in my Equipe as mentioned above there was still loads of room in the engine bay. The Allegro should have had a hatchback which would probably have made a difference to its sales.

  33. I drove 1100 Allegro panda cars in the met police .The worst fault with them was the windscreen washer pump which died every couple of months.the car had very good handling and braking,and surviveability in a crash ‘One quirk on the mk one if you had 2 heavy people get into the back seat the handbrake would not release.The job decided to buy the Mark 2 Ford escort popular to supplement the agros.For those of you fortunate enough not to have driven this heap of effluent they had drum brakes and cross ply tyres.The brakes did not work well in reverse, braking to a stop going uphill the car could roll downhill on you. I had near misses in allegros that would have been fatal in mk2 and 3 escorts.I liked the car very much and prefferred it to the metro which was too light and if you jumped the clutch could lurch sideways.

  34. the quadratic wheel was removed from police allegros after a driver reversed one in the yard to allow a rover out on an emmergency call.He claimed the reason he hit the wall was that his hand missed the wheel due to its odd shape. Traffic obviously didnt believe him but no one else was going to have that excuse

  35. Just been out to a show in mine 1980 series 3 , I’ve owned it for 22 years, starting to get a little surface rust on door edges, but apart from that it’s still strong. It starts first time everytime ( A,1300 ) keeps up with modern day traffic is comfortable and really drives well. It’s amazing how many people comment on how nice it is to see one. What a pity the original build quality was so poor and also how it was seen as ugly, yet today’s cars are seen as fashionable and chic!

  36. There was an interesting collection of Allegros at the Classic Car Show yesterday. It reminded me that my mother in law had 3 of them in succession, all secondhand perhaps 18 months old, and over a period of about 7 years I don’t recall her ever having any trouble. I thought they were a perfectly adequate if unexciting small car with a good level of comfort, and vastly superior to the new Fiat Uno which replaced them , and which was a real dog of a car to drive. If ever a reputation was unjustified it was that of the Allegro

  37. Tabloid rags were very good at dogging any car from the Leyland stable, it wasnt always justified either.

    The Allegro was never my cup of tea, i bought a L reg 1300 when i was a kid, i was amazed how well it handled and it was quite quick!

  38. A good article. A lot of nonsense after it though, with one or two rays of light. The Allegro was, like all BL cars rather mediocre; like many cars at the time! However with the correct maintenance it would have made a reliable, cost effective runabout.
    The reasons for the lack of success of BL and it’s products are many. In the case of the Allegro the chasm in understanding between designer, manufacturer and buyer is the most relevant.

  39. I had seen this Allegro 1500 estate parked in a garden for months.I changed jobs and needed a car quickly so went and bought the Allegro for 25 pounds, this was about 15 years ago.
    The trip to the training centre was 170 miles which I did every week I eventually did several thousand miles without ever calling out recovery. best 25 quid I ever spent
    The car design was on a par with other of its day. The build quality was crap because Leyland workers were always on strike
    and look what happened to the brothers and every other uk car

    • The allegro 1500 estate me and my brother learnt to drive in ended up like this, with a bloke buying it off the front drive, where it had stood for a couple years.
      That car had a really tough life, yet with a new battery it started and was back on the roads of Exeter for a few years more.

  40. The only British Leyland car that went down the Ford and Vauxhall route of topping up domestic production with imports. In 1978/79 several thousand Belgian Allegros, assembled from kits produced in Longbridge, were imported. However, union pressure kept this to a minimum and in 1981 Seneffe was closed, meaning any more imports were impossible.

  41. I brought the Estate new and it was a really great car. It took a Silver Cross pram in the back and was really a hatchback before hatchbacks were invented. Quirky design but it went well and was always noticed.

    The press love to use the Allegro as a butt of jokes but this is easy journalism from people too young too have ever owned one.

  42. I own one..a 1300hl estate. It’s not bad at all and pulls strongly for a small car.
    Lazy BL bashers are keen to call it the worst car of the 70s..however I seem to remember far,far worse available back then. (Alfasud,moskvitch,lancia beta)The Allegro was, at least, fit for purpose.
    The Allegro didn’t really become such a whipping boy until long after it left production, it was always just a slightly dull car that your grandfather would drive when it was current. For something supposedly so bad they sure sold a lot of them.

    • A lot of the problem in my opinion came from BL not really bothering to style their workaday Everyman cars at first. They tended to start with the mechanicals and just loosely assemble a generic car around them. Maxi allegro and marina were all affected by this..
      Ford tended to follow what Detroit was doing on a smaller scale, realising that cheap glitz and glamour was what joe public wanted. The Escort and Cortina may have been uninspiring technically but they did look good. Or at least “right” for the time.
      People apparently, very much did care what it looked like, as well as that it worked.

  43. Good point OL, you could argue all day about whether an Allegro was better or worse technically than it contemporaries from Ford or Vauxhall, but fact is it completely lacked the style or image that sold Ford’s in particular in their millions. If Leyland could have developed the car retaining its platform – just as Ford would have done – rather than giving up and leaving it to fester then history would probably view the Allegro differently. You could say much the same thing about every car produced by Leyland.

  44. @ Paul H, Leyland’s problem was it didn’t have the money to develop their cars, hence MG was left to fade away with a dated model range and volume cars like the Maxi and the Marina had become very dated by the end of the seventies. However, since most of the cars they launched in the seventies started badly and sales fell through the decade, they didn’t have the money to update their range.
    Really when Labour bailed them out in 1974, one of the conditions should have been that the money was to be used to replace the Marina and the Maxi by 1978, as these were volume cars and a decent replacement could have done well.

  45. I should have mentioned, the Allegro Vanden Plas 1500 vs Ford Orion 1600E vs Vauxhall Astra Belmont CDi road test is the most biased piece of journalism I have ever read.

    I dont know what BL paid Motor Magazine, but they even manage to make the fact that the Allegro is slow….slow….slow to seem like an advantage, they call its speed ‘gentlemanly’.

    And who would have thought that the old VP Allegro was to inspire the front end styling of the Jag XJ40, after all the Allegro was the ‘seminal British car design’. Now you now there talking Bo*****s

  46. Interestingly, in James Mays’ most recent ‘Cars Of The People’ programme, he blamed the Allegro for single handedly killing the UK car industry in the 1970s..

  47. The Allegro was a sales flop, 640,000 cars in contrast to the 2.1 million of the sales league winning Ado16 1100/1300 over the similar 8 to 9 year production run.
    From my boyhood recollections, the 1100/1300 in my neighbourhood were typically owned by “white collar” lower middle class such as the local librarian and teachers. The Ford competitor the Anglia 105 owners were very much “blue collar”. The sales figures say to me that the Allegro must have lost favour with the former 1100 /1300 buyer, so what went wrong and what exactly were the middle classes choosing over the Allegro?

    • I remember a few secondary school teachers had Allegros and two had Marinas, but the car park was dominated by Fords, in particular upmarket Escorts seemed popular, and a few had drifted over to Datsun and Vauxhall. I suppose, teachers living in middle class areas but not being the best paid and not having company cars, wanted something like an Escort with a vinyl roof to impress the neighbours.

      • Ah… the days of the vinyl roof, usually in black but other colours were available. My Dad had a green Toyota Corolla with a light cream roof (actually looked quite good in those days).

    • The Mark 1 Volkswagen Golf, which was around for the same length of time, sold 5 million worldwide( the Allegro sold 700,000 if you include the 60,000 that were exported), while in Britain, the Mark 2 Escort, the Allegro’s biggest rival, sold nearly a million in five and a half years.
      The Mark 2 Escort, if you ignore the basic 1100 models that didn’t go, was a decent enough car in 1.3 and 1.6 form, and in Ghia form, with its wood and velour, was like a latter day Vanden Plas 1300. Add in reasonable reliability, good styling, better rustproofing than the Mark 1 and some very desirable sporting models and there was little to fault the Escort.

      • Two of my friends had Escort MK2’s a some point. One was a 1.1 POP (really basic)and the other a Ghia (totally better inside & out). Overall they were still better than Allegros. My experience with Escorts has been with 3 company cars (MKIV & V). For any faults, they did do the job and were pretty reliable despite high mileage.

        • The Escort Ghia really was a nice car, with its wood, velour, centre console and radio. I wonder if Ford was muscling in on Vanden Plas territory by making what was a drab car in basic form into something quite desirable. Also ex company cars could be picked up quite cheaply at 3 years old.

  48. The Allegro might have been an unusual looking car and had its problems at launch, but was no worse than most of its rivals when the Mark 2 was launched in 1975 and actually fared quite well for rust protection, economy, ease of repair and interior space. Also they’ve been cult items for decades now and many owners say they were actually quite dependable, so the Allagro nickname is unfair.
    Now if you want Allagro, I’d say a car that was launched during the Allegro’s later life and was supposed to be the next big thing and had the same love it or hate it styling. The Fiat Strada, either regarded by Fiat as a futuristic design that was assembled by robots or a golf ball on wheels by its critics, was supposed to be ailing Fiat’s saviour in 1979. Instead the Strada rapidly developed a reputation for serious rust and terrible build quality and sales fell off a cliff. Makes the Allegro BMW like in comparison.

  49. Did You Know?

    The Allegro was not a Hatchback, Sir Alec Issigonis (It’s Designer and who Also designed the Mini) hated Hatchbacks and the Design was Plain, Boring and Stupid and the reason why was because The Rear Window and Trunk were Separated.

  50. Though there was no money available to re-body the Austin Allegro, it would be interesting to see whether any sketches exist for such re-body proposals. Perhaps a re-bodied Allegro could have worked with downscaled Princess styling and of course a hatchback, along with handling-focused Hydragas suspension and Downton-tuned E-Series engines.

    Otherwise agree with the notion of that ADO16 should have been properly updated into a combination of ADO22 and the YDO9 Morris Nomad.

    The Vanden Plas 1500/1750 would have been better off on a stretched Austin Apache / Victoria 3-box saloon style version of the Austin Allegro platform or utilized on the Morris Marina.

  51. Despite its modernity, after all these years I still think the earlier ADO16 was a better looking car than the Allegro (particularly the Austin/Morris 1300GT). The series 2 & 3 Allegro’s were a bit better and with the twin round headlamps though.

    My least favourite was the Vanden Plas Allegro, nowhere near as classy as the old VP1100 / ADO16

    • I completely agree, they should have just updated the existing car’s styling theme rather than allowing Harris Mann anywhere near it. I know some will say that his original sketch was low and sleek but he must have knowm, or he should have known, that the engines available were not compatable with that style

  52. We spotted an Allegro estate in a supermarket car park on holiday in Falmouth last week. My other half’s always liked them since she drove one fairly regularly 40-odd years ago.
    I went to look at one for her intending it as a surprise over 20 years ago and it was as rotten as a pear then so the one we saw is presumably a rare survivor.
    I agree with a previous comment about the quad headlight versions looking better, but that’s possibly because I don’t like oblong headlights anyway.
    I also agree that it’s not the most stylish of cars, especially compared to Harris Mann’s initial concept, but I never thought it was as bad as made out. The stripe, rubbing strip, whatever, down the side of the sporty version had the effect of lengthening the car and that looked a lot better to me.
    The VdP would have looked better if they’d fitted the grille 4″ lower and used quarter bumpers.
    Last thought on the styling… the Peugot 205 came out in the 80s (?) and was raved about. To me, there’s not a huge difference between the two.

  53. I think you need to consider the style of the Allegro in context. The car it was replacing included the 1100 but also the minor and I think they tried to capture some of the rounded cuteness of the minor. Also consider the GS and the Sud which are not a million miles away from the basic shape. Personally I always liked the allegro’s styling and I don’t think that is what held it back. The truth is increased competition from firstly EU and then Japanese cars was always going to erode market share. What the Allegro needed to do and failed to was sell in Europe where the minor was not really a part of the car consciousness. It had some good points and did most things fairly well but lacked a USP. If they had got Hydrogas right at the start upped the equipment level and sold it as a GS competitor then it might have worked. In my fantasy BL alternative universe it would also have1.2, 1.4 and 1.6 E series engines and possible 1.8, 2.0 small E6 and since this is now complete fantasy, couple that with a hydrostatic automatic drive (similar to the one fitted to A4 for testing) that drove all four wheels. Then maybe a “Street rover” Soft off roader version.

    • Surely the article contradicts this? Harris Mann’s rather modernist design was accepted, then compromised so as to accommodate certain components. The Sud and particularly the GS have fairly stylish frontal treatments, but the Allegro’s is undeniably porcine.

  54. Guessing the Michelotti styled ADO16 facelift proposal initially considered by Harry Webster was what eventually became the Austin Victoria / Apache 4-door saloon.

    Would be interesting to find out whether a hatchback version of the Michelotti ADO16 proposal was considered, particularly whether the rear-end would have resembled the Triumph Stag fastback or the Triumph 1300-based Project Sherpa prototypes.

  55. No mention in the article of the automatic only Vanden Plas 1750, which I’d imagine would be a refined and pleasant car to drive with its Maxi engine and automatic transmission. This to me would probably be the ultimate Allegro, fitted out in wood and leather with a three speed auto to make driving less of a chore and the 1750 E series engine making it a quiet motorway cruiser. Also nothing else looked as distinctive as a Vanden Plas Allegro.

  56. When I met my late partner in 1978 he had a company S-reg basic 1100, plastic seating with fixed back rests, four speed gearbox, which was noisy and harsh, although it handled well in spite of the suspension collapsing twice at low speed on the same roundabout. We always used my Alpine GLS but then enjoyed his next car, a V-reg 1300HL with cloth seats, adjustable back rests and five speeds, a comfortable car a world apart from the 1100. We also had an Equipe as a roundabout some years later and had great fun with it.

    • @ Terry, a basic 1100 cc Escort was just as basic and crude and didn’t handle as well. You bought the base model of any smaller British car 40 years and they came with absolutely no luxuries, even a rear demister wasn’t fitted, and often had the weakest engine in the ranfe. For slightly less, though, your local Datsun or Toyota dealer would sell you a ” basic” model with cloth seats, a rear demister, a push button radio, tinted glass, clock, and a lighter. No wonder private buyers were going Japanese in droves.

      • It wasn’t only the base models or the smaller cars. My late ’72 2.0 XL Mk3 Cortina didn’t have a heated rear window, or a radio as I recall. It did have a lighter and I think a clock.
        I think the early ’72 2.0 GT I bought to replace it after it was stolen was the first car I ever had with a heated rear window and that was 1985!

      • I can confirm that Glenn. Ford & others base models just had vinyl seats and rubberised floors, without radios etc. It wasn’t till you got to XL/GL trim that specs improved. Datsuns & Toyotas were better equipped for the UK market, however Middle East market versions of those were less well equipped.

        Having said that I still enjoyed my motoring more in those days!

        • @ Hilton D, this is where the Japanese cashed in, you got a lot of car for the money. However, they could never produce an interior or an exterior as upmarket ad an Escort Ghia, which with its wood and velour interior and metallic paint and vinyl roof looked a lot classier than a Datsun with its black plastic dashboard and dull colour schenes.

          • Over time the bigger Japanese cars started to catch up equipment if not style.

            I imagine in the second world markets which were expanding in the 1970s I imagine a lowish spec for a car didn’t matter so much as long as it was reliable & could be fixed by a local mechanic when it gave trouble.

          • Yes, a friend had a MK2 Escort Ghia with those features and it was nicer than another Escort Popular! Regards Datsun’s, my first one (1979) was in an electric metallic blue and secondly in metallic Gold – hardly dull. At the time they did a bright yellow as well

    • Not wanting to be pedantic Terry, but (I assume we are talking Allegro – V reg 1300 Hl) if it had a 5 speed, then it must have been a 1500 or 1750 as only the E Series engines had a 5 speed gear box.

      • The bigger engined Allegros used Maxi drivetrains( 1500 and 1750 engines and five speed transmissions), while the 1300 was only available with four speeds. Actually in this respect, the Allegro was more advanced than most of its rivals, which only had four speed transmissions. Still wouldn’t have been enough to tempt buyers from their Escorts in 1979, whose good looking conservative styling, acceptable reliability and quality, and huge range of models was such a big selling point.

        • Market perception is everything, the Allegro hit the market Ugly and underdeveloped so squandered the legacy of the ADO16, the mk3 was really well sorted, but other than the A+’s electronic ignition there was nothing that could and should not have been on the car when it was delivered to the market.

          By 79, the market had long decided, the Allegro now the public symbol of everything that was wrong about the BL they had perceived from the media. In reality it also was, far from perfect, but not half as bad as people thought it was.

          I recall a line from a classic car review of the MG Maestro 2.0i “The market knew that the MG Maestro was not as good as a Golf GTi, but then again nor was a Golf GTi.

  57. Found this picture on Pinterest of Donald Stokes giving a presentation of the Allegro to Prince Philip.

    Firstly, wonder what he said to Stokes, as he reportedly gave Leonard Lord an honest description about BMC cars in the 50s.

    Secondly, what is the drawing in the background? Is it a sports car based on an Allegro or is it a TR idea not seen before?

    • The Allegro like every other British Leyland car of its era came good too late and buyers had moved on. I think the last Allegros with the A plus engine were decent enough cars with low running costs and better quality, but the car was competing against much newer models from Ford and Vauxhall, even if the Mark 3 Escort was mutton dressed as lamb. Also many private buyers had long since moved on to Japanese cars with their guaranteed reliability and generous equipment levels, and Datsun’s once weak rustproofing had been tightened up by the eighties.

  58. About 1986, I saw an Allegro in Cwmbran, South Wales, which was distinguished by having 12 inch wheels on the left and 13’s on the right. Presumably this was so that they could park it on the level on a typical Valleys driveway, isn’it. They all do that, sir!

  59. Why were the Maxi and Allegro launched with 1500 engines? We later found with the Rover 216 (3-box), Maestro, and Montego that 1600cc was the right size for this engine, as the valves were too big for a 1500 and too small for a 1750. All E series had too-small crankshaft bearings, due to the need to fit an E6 across the nose of ADO17 etc. – this was based on a side mounted radiator, which was another silly idea. (my brother, bless him, once wired a Kenlowe fan the wrong way round on his MG1300. At least the heater then worked well – unlike any other ADO16)
    BMC must have got a bee in their bonnet about “we need a new 1500cc car”, but look at the rivals (just UK models for simplicity): the first 1600cc Escort came out in 1968; the Cortina upgraded from 1967, and the Corsair (admittedly to 1663cc) in 1965.
    The Avenger finally admitted that Ford had defined the market with its switch to 1300 and 1600 in 1973; while the 1600cc Minx arrived in 1965, and the 1961 Super Minx had the same engine from 1961! The Vauxhall Victor 1600 was launched in 1963 (FB model), while the Viva 1600 (HB) arrived in 1966. Even the Farinas (Cambridge, Oxford, etc.) moved up (to 1622cc) in 1961.
    The “hold outs” outside BMC were the Rootes Arrow range (1496 and 1725cc) and Triumph’s 1972 Dolomite (1854cc – another weird BL engine size).
    When the Allegro was launched, its engine range was crowded – four engines spanning 650cc and 36bhp; compare this to the Mk3 Cortina, also four engines but 700cc and 41bhp. It doesn’t sound like much difference expressed that way, but it made all the difference in the market place. Ford and Vauxhall slugged it out with 1600s and 2000s, leaving BL in the dust with their oddly sized and badly designed engines.

    • From what I remember the E-series was the engine Alec Issigonis had the most input into, which might explain things.

    • The Allegro was launched with a 1500 engine because they both had one in production (along with the 1750) and available in large volumes as they knew when the Allegro was conceived that the Maxi would never sell in its intended volumes and it was expected that just as the ADO16 market centre of gravity had progressed from 1100 to 1300 it would with the Allegro progress to 1500 and it was in many ways the sweet spot in the range, fast enough for most and with a 5 speed gear box, there was high hopes for it. There was little reason to spin off a 1600, because it would cost no less to make than a 1750 and a car intended for European market where many countries such as France and Italy had heavy tax penalties for cars of larger capacity. Why potential rivals such as the VW Golf came in 1500 form.

      This fell apart however not only because the Allegro’s well documented compromises and “unique” styling meant that many customers did not want an Allegro no matter what engine it had, but also because the Fuel Crisis and the Recession of the early 70s meant that the car markets did not size up and the Allegro’s market was for the rest of the decade remain with a 1300 centre of gravity. This hurt British Leyland twice over, because not only could they not utilize their production capacity for E Series engines, but also the Allegro having been optimized for a 1500 engine was in 1300 form considerably more sluggish than the ADO16 1300 many customers were coming from.

      • Although it is said the 1300 E-Series post Issigonis input (as opposed to the lighter, compact and more advanced pre-Issigonis 1300cc design that should have been approved instead) was not viewed as a significant update over the 1275 A-Series to justify being produced for the Allegro.

        It would have made some sense to adopt a similar approach to the latter with a 1293-1332cc engine relative to the 1750cc unit’s proximity to the 1.8 B-Series, despite the risk of potential duplication as the displacement ceiling for the A-Series on the old tooling was already reached (notwithstanding owners and tuners pursuing 1293-1479cc builds).

        Since the S-Series reputedly had a 25l bs / 11.3 kg weight penalty over the A-Series, is it known roughly what the weight of the post-Issigonis input 1.5/1.75 E-Series & 1.6 R-Series engines were in comparison?

        Similar to how Rootes were looking at developing a 1100cc version of the Avenger engine for the Avenger Liftback and thinking of the projected 1160cc E-Series unit, could the latter have been further reduced to around 1000cc since the bore centre of the E-Series appear to be very similar to the smaller-block Nissan A and E OHC which displaced around 1000-1600cc rather than the E-Series 1160/1300-1750cc?

        Because if the weight of the post-Issigonis E-Series was very similar to the S-Series and the pre-Issigonis E-Series design was perceived as being much lighter then what entered production, then can actually see merit in lower-capacity versions taking over from the 998-1275cc A-Series or supplementing it as a short-stroke design at that displacement range (using a 73-76.2 mm bore).

  60. I am not convinced the 1500 E Series suffered from “too big valves” I think that was just some marketing spin put out at the time of the R Series launch. In fact if recall correctly, if you shorten the stroke to make a 1300 you end up with something similar dimensionally to Simca’s 1300 cross flow engine, that whilst never going to win any awards for refinement was a very punchy performer by 1970s standards.

    Having done that, and in the process created a 2 litre 6 (would have sat nicely under the bonnet of the Princess especially if given a 5th cog)

    The potential then existed to create 1000 and 1100 3 cylinder engines, which would have been both lighter and more compact as well as cheaper to produce than a 4 cylinder.

    Whilst narrow it would have been a tall engine, but was that such a disadvantage as it would have allowed the stylists to exploit the high scuttle line to increase the glass area with a higher roof line whilst keeping things in proportion ( rather than not with the Allegro, and so making it look a bit under “glassed” compared with its European competitors) and so creating more passenger space.

  61. The Allegro did have 1.1 and 1.3 litre engines like the Escort, which were the biggest selling models, but the E series was chosen as it was far cheaper than developing a 1.6 and mating this to the five speed transmission from the Maxi would make the car unique in its class. Also the ADO16 had no engine bigger than the 1.3, while the Avenger and Viva had bigger engine options, and it was felt the Allegro would benefit from having two larger engines.
    The Allegro could have actually done quite well with better styling and better quality on early cars as it was quite advanced mechanically and would have appealed to the French and Italian markets, where this sort of thing mattered more.

  62. An E3 would be the simplest route to replace the lower-end A-Series and with an E4 reduced to roughly 1120-1133cc could have even potentially replaced the 850 A-Series if desired, however a 3-cylinder four-stroke engine seems a radical step too far for the generally conservative British carmakers during the 1970s beyond some experimenting*. Leaving the Japanese getting there first from the late-70s onwards with the Daihatsu C-Series, followed by Suzuki G and Subaru EF, etc.

    The Issigonis-input E-Series was unable to meet US emissions standards, whereas the original experimental compact E-Series design was said to possess that capability and possibly also an uprated A-Series by way of a cross-flow alloy cylinder head (mentioned in Leyland Marina article) or the A-OHC project. Perhaps if it was beyond the experimental E-Series engine’s ability to be replaced to 1000cc (a la Nissan E10 engine), it could have been scaled-down to later on to partially form the basis of an A-Series replacing British equivalent to the Nissan MA with approximate 71-73 mm bore range, which in some respects like the maximum 73mm bore mirrors BL’s own K/H-Series and preceding F-Series experimental engine projects that had AFAIK no direct lineage to the E-Series.

    *- Besides BL’s dabbling with E3s and 3-cylinder created from Triumph Slant-Fours that were tested in one experimental Allegro, Rover (in addition to the 5-cylinder P7) also looked at a 3-cylinder based on the p6 unit for a stillborn Land Rover project of similar vein as the 80-inch Series I during the early-60s. Vauxhall and Ford UK also allegedly looked at 3-cylinder’s based on the Viva and Kent units IIRC.

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