In a driving career spanning more than 30 years and 250+ cars, Keith Adams highlights some of the highs… and lows.
In the third of the series, it’s time to recall an Austin Allegro purchased in 2005, which ended up taking the site’s three founding fathers, Keith, Declan Berridge and Alexander Boucke on an incident-filled adventure to Southern Italy…
Molly the magnificent!
So why on earth did I want an Austin Allegro, after all of the berating that I gave it in the early years of AROnline? I didn’t! In my more formative years I really was one of the Austin Allegro’s sternest critics, and poked fun at the portly teapot without a spout at any opportunity I could.
I blamed it for single-handedly bringing down the British car industry and encapsulating all that was wrong with industrial relations in that pudding-shaped package. Of course, in reality, it wasn’t really that simple and, following my extended adventure behind the wheel of this one, I changed my mind somewhat – declaring it a great entry-level classic car that’s lost its baggage and can be appreciated positively by a whole new generation of owners.
But that wasn’t me when I was an angrier, younger man! Back in late 2004, in the dying days of MG Rover, I mentioned to my friend and Classic Car Weekly colleague, Richard Gunn, that I needed to buy a £100 car to compete in a banger rally to run from Calais to Naples called the Staples2Naples run.
As quick as a flash, Richard offered me his Series 1 Austin Allegro, saying I could take it off his hands for that price as long as I enjoyed myself, and made sure my teammates and I would call her Molly all the way through the Alps and down to the finishing point on the Amalfi Coast.
How did it go?
Life with the Allegro was never boring, even before the off, that’s for sure. Getting it ready for the rally meant running it for a few weeks before the start of the event in September 2005. So, it received a service from me and a package of stickers to make it stand out (including go-faster stripes made from brown parcel tape that looked fantastic).
Unfortunately, a couple of days before the off, the clutch gave up the ghost, leaving me with a mad rush trying to find a new clutch plate (thank you, Maxi Club) and then getting it fitted just hours before the ferry was due to leave.
We made it by the skin of our teeth and caused quite a stir the following morning when the teams all gathered for the start at the car park at the Citie Europe shopping complex in Calais (above). Yes, the Allegro won the award for the unlikeliest car to make it to the end. But even before we made it to Calais, I knew we were in trouble as the Allegro was running hot and constantly needed topping up with coolant.
Was it mission accomplished?
It has to be actually making it to the end of the four-day rally in one piece despite a worrying appetite for engine oil and a damaged headgasket. We ran it in 30-degree heat in Southern Italy, up a half dozen Alpine passes, and along some very long and dull autoroutes at a decent speed. At the end of the rally in Pinetamare, we celebrated with a few soft drinks and basked in the joy of a job well done, showing that British engineering from the 1970s was as good as anybody’s.
The moment was fleeting and soon we needed to head home. I couldn’t face another mile in Molly despite her heroic performance, so teammate Alexander took over the job, while I followed in a Volkswagen Polo (below) I picked up for £50, and teammate Declan and I enjoyed watching our Allegro make her wobbly progress northwards from a safe distance.
I have to say that my most enduring memory from this drive came from the driver’s seat of the Polo, following Alexander in the Allegro. We drove into and through the night and, at one point, we drove into the Apennine mountains, where Alexander really began to let rip on one particularly sinuous and challenging mountain pass. He led the way, with the Allegro diving and heaving into bends like a drunk rhinocerous – and me keeping up in my 45bhp Polo thanks to the grip its oversized wheels gave me to play with. Declan and I were laughing like children at it all!
At the end, I flashed him to pull over. Not because I wanted a word or anything like that. I wanted to see his face, and hoped that he’d enjoyed it as much as I had. When he opened his door, he was grinning like an idiot… at that moment, I knew he was one of us!
What became of the Austin Allegro?
Alexander Boucke ended up driving it to his house in Aachen, Germany, where he proceeded to de-sticker it and give it an all-round spruce-up before selling it on to another British car-loving enthusiast over there. As far as we know, the car still exists within Martin Blum’s collection (below), alongside a rather nice Series 2 model.