All the cars I’ve owned : Austin Allegro 1500 Super

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.

Staples2Naples Austin Allegro 01

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!

Austin Allegro and VW Polo

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.

Martin Blum and his Allegros

Keith Adams
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20 Comments

  1. A great story, even though I won’t claim to be the biggest Allegro fan.
    Tell you what though, a running Polo breadvan would be worth a lot more than fifty quid nowadays!

    • The breadvan Polo was one of the more interesting cars to come out during the supermini boom of the early eighties. It looked more like an estate car than a hatchback, which meant carrying items like furniture was easier, the 1300 cc version was a nice drive and it was very well made as you would expect from VW 40 years ago. OTOH the 1 litre version was slow and the car was expensive, though I suppose buyers recouped this with higher trade in values and fewer repair bills than something like a Fiat 127. Also the original design lasted until 1990, when a Spanish built Polo with a more conventional hatchback took over.

      • I wanted a bread van but the prices for them in the late 90s was still considerably higher than its competitors, and you could get Golf’s for similar mula. These days they have a cult following with VWdubbers who love to put on oversized deep rims on em.

        As to Allegros, never liked them as a kid, but my aunt had two in the 80s and early 90s and she loved em. Its a shame they just didn’t improve the ad016 and give it a sharp suit.

  2. I’ve been enjoying your ‘All the cars I’ve owned’ articles in Classic Car Weekly. I’d go as far as saying it is the highlight of the mag for me. Perhaps you could put some of those onto this page and give aronline readers some of your memories.

  3. Love the story, but even more the breadvan Polo. I thought these cars were quite interesting when new, especially for a VW. The coupé was also a nice VW.
    Of the breadvan there are only two for sale over here in the Netherlands!
    One for restoration for € 599 (£ 515) and a really nice one for almost ten times that price at € 5.950 (£ 5,120). It has done less than 40,000 miles!
    There’s also 1 Allegro for sale, a 1975 1500 Special for € 4.950 or 4,260 of your pounds

  4. I’ve heard that Mk2 Polo is popular bangernomic circles, sometimes called the “modern Minor” because of their toughness & relative simplicity. Also they could be picked fairly cheap because the styling was unfashionable.

  5. The Allegro could have done so much better as a hatchback as fwd hatchbacks were really taking off in Europe at the time and the Allegro was hampered by being a saloon in a body that was crying out for a hatchback, same as the Princess. Also the Allegro continued the Austin tradition of making mechanically advanced cars and the use of a five speed transmjssion on bigger cars was still quite rare in this class..

  6. I don’t love the story . It is altogether typical of gormless British motoring writers of the last 30 years. There was nothing really wrong with the Allegro except its looks

    • So, basically you’re saying I’m stupid or silly because I don’t happen to share your opinion about the Austin Allegro?

      I rather think you’re being ‘gormless’ for not having read the piece properly. Because what I actually said is that I held those opinions and have since changed my mind.

      Still, don’t let the truth get in the way of a personal, acerbic attack, eh?

      • I am sorry if I offended you, Keith Adams . It was not a personal attack . The point I was making, perhaps rather clumsily, was that if you had indeed changed your mind, why repeat the old canards about the Allegro which are brought out every time the subject is mentioned

    • I would have thought that was a serious shortcoming though. Who buys a car that doesn’t look good? It’s a big outlay, especially if you don’t like it’s appearance. I’ve never really agreed with the consensus about the `Allegro’s looks anyway. I think it looked alright, and unlike most, felt that the series3 changes were not a success. Especially cross-eyed four headlamp version.

      • “Who buys a car that doesn’t look good? ”
        Just about 99% of people who buy the current crop of SUVs

        • I worded that poorly but I’m reasonably sure you realise that I meant that no-one buys a car the appearance of which they dislike. Or at least I can’t understand why anyone would. The appeal of SUVs eludes me too but walking through neighbouring estates it’s not uncommon to see homes with two of the things on the driveway.

  7. For me the mk1 Allegro looked best. The mk3 was a heavy handed update that lost much of the mk1 appeal, especially the awful colour schemes. The mk2 made the Allegro blander although had some useful updates.
    I can still remember the new car smell of my late father’s mk1 1300 SDL. He did 72k in 18 months…..and 3 engines!

    • @ Merlin Miliner, such mileages weren’t good for cars then, and even now would mean several visits for services, new tyres, brake discs and pads and a new cambelt, and possibly a new clutch if the clutch had been abused. This isn’t a criticism of the Allegro, not many cars in 1974 would have coped with 50,000 miles in a year and it did better than expected.

  8. Please describe the engine faults to require new engines at 20,000 miles intervals. BL engines were not typically so poor, well, not in my experience.

  9. I was only 9 when he had the car. I cannot remember why he went through so many engines. I do know he was always late, so drove all round the country like the clappers.
    Anyway I loved the Allegro and it was much better than his next car a basic 1.3 mk3 Cortina. Again he had to have a replacement engine in that to after about a year. Luckily it was changed to a 1.6.
    Both cars were company cars that he got new by the way.

    • 24,000 miles in six months on a car engine in the seventies would cause problems as they weren’t made to take such punishment. It’s probably not a reflection on the fairly reliable A series, just it sounds like the Allegro was driven very hard and gave up. Mind you, the 1.3 Cortina, an underpowered slug of a car that certainly would die if driven flat out for a year.

  10. Had a 1.3 Allegro Auto Estate as company car. Score 0. Had a 1.3 Polo Bread van bought myself. Score 8 out of 10 (and this is from a bloke who is not a VW man – apart from the original Beetle)

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