By Gordon Wilkins
While the Austin Allegro was well received in Britain, some Continental writers were non-committal, some actively hostile.
Switzerland’s Automobil Revue said tactfully: ‘The cars tested were among the first produced, so probably by the time they are imported into Switzerland they will have attained the level of quality expected by buyers this and other export markets.’
In France’s Auto Journal, Bernard Carat complained of lack of power and performance and condemned the 1750 as dangerous with suspension ‘completely overtaken by events.’
Jean Bernardet of L’Equipe found the engines underpowered. He criticised the suspension and said: ‘British engineers will have to correct their aim if they want to satisfy Continental users and particularly those in France.’
There has always been a performance gap between British and Continental family saloons. Even in the thirties Continental family saloons sold here were regarded as sports saloons. The gap between British and Continental ideas on acceptable performance has been widened by the 70 mph speed limit.
The British Leyland 1100/1300 engine is an old-fashioned design and a replacement must be one of the four new units planned In the £500 million expansion programme. The 1500/1750 Is a legacy of the muddle-headed management at the old BMC. It was a design artificially cramped so that a six cylinder version could eventually be produced short enough to mount transversely in the Austin 2200 which in world terms is of no importance.
For the rest, it is an old, sad story. The cars sent to Spain for test by the world’s Press had been held back by strikes and late deliveries. Many arrived with the ride height set wrongly and most seemed to have had an early and feeble batch of damper valves. If I had not, before and since, had the chance to drive cars properly set up, I too would have been tempted to write off the Allegro is a misfire. I still think that if the 1500/1750 is given the performance Continental buyers expect, it will need stronger damping. Fortunately, with Hydragas it is easy to vary fluid flow front to rear or up and down to control the ride. Some writers have described Hydragas as one of the ‘expensive’ features of the Allegro, but Alex Moulton, its originator, maintains that it will prove to be the cheapest suspension system fitted to any mass produced car.
David Wickens, chairman of British Car Auctions, confirms my view that the models that would help to sell the 1500 and the 1750 are the ones British Leyland has left out. With 6,000 cars a week passing through his auctions, he has a shrewd idea what buyers, and especially fleet owners, want. He believes they will want a two door 1500 Super, but there isn ‘t one. I think the Continental buyer who wants a four-door 1750 will seek something bigger than the Allegro, with more power.
The man who seeks compact performance will prefer two doors, as on the BMW 2002. In short, what is needed is a two-door Allegro 1750 Sports Special, but again there isn’t one Meanwhile, I hear that the first three Allegros to be offered at BCA made slightly under list price, bought possibly by traders as an insurance against cuts in supplies through the threatened strike due to start next week.