As we approach the 50th Anniversary of the launch of the Austin Allegro later this month, it seems like the right time to reflect on the legacy of this controversial car. While the Allegro is often remembered for its idiosyncrasies, lack of sales success and a less-than-stellar reputation for reliability and quality, it’s important to recognise the role it played in the history of the British motor industry.
Styled by Harris Mann, engineered by Harry Webster, overseen by George Turnbull and launched in May 1973, the Allegro was intended to replace the best-selling BMC 1100/1300 range. With its more modern – timeless and durable – design, the Allegro was a significant visual departure from previous Austin models, and it was marketed as ‘The New Driving Force From Austin.’
The car was positioned as a family car that was both stylish and practical, with a range of different models available, including a two-door, a four-door, and – from 1975 – an estate.
Distinctive doesn’t always mean better
One of the Allegro’s most distinctive features was its Quartic steering wheel, which was designed to provide better visibility of the car’s instrumentation. The Allegro was also the first car from British Leyland to feature Hydragas suspension, which promised a smoother ride than its competitors combined with incisive Mini-like roadholding – in achieving this aim, albeit after considerable fine tuning, the Allegro can be regarded as a success.
However, despite its design innovations, the Allegro was not without its flaws. One of the most notorious issues was with the car’s appalling quality control and shocking build quality, just as British drivers were starting to fall in love with precision-built Japanese cars with their Swiss watch reliability. The car’s design features, including the Quartic steering wheel, were also criticised for being uncomfortable and difficult to use.
Despite these issues, the Allegro was a popular car in its day, even if it never scaled the heights of its predecessor. It was surprisingly expensive at launch, but prices and the model range were quickly adjusted to expand appeal and make the humble Allegro more accessible to a wide range of buyers. It was also available in a range of different models spanning 1100-1750cc, including sportier versions such as the Allegro 1750 Sport Special and the luxurious Vanden Plas 1500.
It emerges as a great classic car
In the years since the Allegro was first launched, it has often been the subject of jokes and ridicule, with its reputation for unreliability and poor build quality contributing to its less-than-stellar image. However, in more recent times, there has been a growing appreciation for the Allegro and its place in British motoring history.
The Allegro’s innovative design features and individual styling, have become a point of discussion for car enthusiasts, and the car has become an undeniable cult classic in some circles. There are several dedicated fan clubs and forums for Allegro enthusiasts, who appreciate the car for its quirks and idiosyncrasies and younger enthusiasts love its combination of good value and stand-out looks and don’t get hung up on its reputational baggage.
However, perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Allegro is the way it embodies the optimism and creativity of the early 1970s combined with the industrial doom and gloom of an imploding UK economy and rampant strikes. Despite its many flaws, the Allegro was an innovative car that was ahead of its time in several ways, and its distinctive design and features reflect the spirit of the era. Really, it deserved better.
That’s why, as the 50th anniversary of the Allegro’s launch approaches, it’s important to remember the role this car played in the history of British motoring. While it may have been a long way from being perfect, the Allegro was an important part of the car industry, and its impact can still be felt today.
A lasting legacy
Looking back on the Allegro, it’s clear that the car has a complex legacy. While it was reasonably popular in its day, it also had its fair share of problems, and its maker’s reputation suffered existentially as a result. However, as time has passed, the Allegro has become a symbol of a bygone era – men in brown suits smoking pipes in the office – and its unique design features and quirks have made it something of a cult classic.
Despite the passage of time, the Allegro remains a significant and painful reminder of the downfall of British Leyland. Even now – 50 years after its launch – many people continue to blame it for having a not-insignificant hand in the downfall and retrenchment of the wider British car industry…
Stay tuned to AROnline over the next few days for the best and worst of the Allegro, as it chugs past the big 5-0.
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