Opinion : Why the Allegro was a hatchback!

Austin Allegro Estate

There’s a lot of chat around here at the moment about hatchbacks – and what was, and wasn’t, there to beat the Volkswagen Golf to the market. I would put in a vote for – no, wait, hear me out – the Austin Allegro.

I know what you’re going to say: ‘The Allegro wasn’t a hatchback! It doesn’t count! But it should’ve been a hatchback! Typical rubbish BL, missing the boat again!’

Hang on a minute, though. If we are talking about ‘…a two-box medium-sized hatchback, with front-wheel drive, and perfectly sized to fit in a European garage.’ Well, that’s the Allegro Estate, isn’t it?

I know what you’re also going to say: ‘But the Allegro Estate is an estate! Not a hatchback! The clue’s in the name, there!’ Well, I’d say the name is not the definition. The word ‘hatchback’ was only coined in 1970, even though plenty of cars which fitted the definition of hatchback had been produced before then. More were produced afterwards, without the H-word necessarily being used. For example: the Toyota Corolla Liftback. Just like the Allegro Estate, it wasn’t officially called a hatchback. And just like the Allegro Estate, it is a hatchback.

Austin Allegro hatchback, sorry, estate
Austin Allegro hatchback, sorry, estate

Sure, the Allegro Estate doesn’t have a sloping back end – but that’s not the defining feature of a hatchback, either. Plenty of hatchbacks, both then (Polo breadvan, Fiat Cinquecento) and now (Dacia Sandero, MINI Hatch) have a high roofline and squared-up rear. It’s an easy way to provide more interior space. In fact, this type of bodyshell design has pretty much become the norm. The Allegro was a pioneer here.

I would also say the Allegro Estate was a design pioneer in another way. Its upswept side windows were an unusual feature in 1973. Only the Reliant Scimitar had anything similar. Now, almost every car has the Allegro Estate upswept window line. Come to think of it, lots of cars have wacky-shaped steering wheels these days, too. The Allegro was ahead of the game in all sorts of ways.

Yes, in some respects, the Allegro does represent an evolutionary dead end in car design. You can’t buy a car today with a gearbox-in-sump transmission and Hydragas suspension – even Citroën doesn’t do Hydropneumatic suspension anymore. But I would argue that this isn’t really relevant. The fact that the Allegro has these of-their-time features doesn’t count it out.

Gearbox-in-sump always worked well enough, even for auto boxes. The reason the concept fell out of favour was because of the problems it created in terms of packaging. Putting the gearbox under the engine resulted in an awkwardly tall unit which necessitated a high bonnet line. Realistically, Harris Mann’s original wedge design for the Allegro was never going to make it off the drawing board – there would’ve been no way to get the engine in. It’s also why the Mini Marcos has such an oddly-shaped front end, as the design tries to reconcile a droop-snoot nose with the need to get the bonnet over the carb.

Likewise, gas suspension was a good idea – technically. Trouble was, it was always more expensive than a set of steel springs. That’s why nobody does it any more.

Anyway, in general, if you’re looking for a car from back in the day which ticks all the boxes and does all the jobs of a modern hatchback, I give you the Allegro Estate. BL never realised what a pioneer they’d made!

Michael Johnson
Latest posts by Michael Johnson (see all)

51 Comments

    • I would include the Alfasud and Escort MK1 in the list. But the Alfa Is very similari in the four-doors shape, though!

      • Yes I forgot the Alfasud, the Allegro looks a bit like the Alfasud, maybe the closest to it, the 2 doors Autobianchi Primula and … the Ado16 Countryman ! The Escort is too elongated to be considered as a hatch, otherwise the Aronde Chatelaine could be, as well as the Kadett Caravan. In the exact same period as the Allegro you also find the Kadett-City/Chevette which was the poor GM reply to the Renault5/Fiat127/Audi50-VW Polo. All in all BL missed the target after the brilliant ADO16 but Sir Alec was retired.

      • That’s a good point. The Anglia Estate is indeed what we would call a hatchback nowadays. However, as a rwd car with a fore-and-aft engine it doesn’t meet AROnline’s own criteria for a precursor of the modern hatchback. That’s also why the Austin A40, Hillman Husky, or even the Renault 5 aren’t in the running.

        The original AROnline article about early hatchbacks – cars which did everything the VW Golf did before the Golf itself came along – specified transverse engine, fwd cars only:

        https://www.aronline.co.uk/opinion/hatchbacks-the-forgotten-generation/

        Thinking about this now, I reckon the estate version of the Austin 1100 would be a good contender. I must admit I had forgotten the model existed, which is odd given the ADO16 range was the UK’s best-selling car for a decade. But – interestingly enough – it was only the saloon versions which sold well.

        The hatchback version of ADO16 (this was pre-1970, so they called it an estate) was only introduced in 1966, four years after the saloons, and sold in tiny quantities. Which is an pertinent point in itself. It’s now commonplace for people to say “Should’ve been a hatchback!” about saloon models of the era, but the market at the time didn’t actually want hatchbacks all that much.

        If we apply the fwd rule, I reckon the Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale could probably claim to be the ancestor of the modern hatchback, as distinct from shooting brake, station wagon, or estate car. At any rate, it was a fwd saloon bodyshell with a rear hatch – in 1938.

    • I’d propose the Hillman Husky, both the Audax version and the earlier one as Hatchbacks. But the Citroen Traction Avant was also sold as an amazing 6-window hatchback. The ‘practical saloon’ goes back a long way

  1. B/L failed to understand the hatchback and kept pleading it was “too costly” to build. The Aegro “estate” totally transformed to Alegro from embarrassment to desirable but it was built on a vehicle not conceived as a hatchback and therefore “expensive” to produce.
    The British motor industry failed because it didn’t have product worthy of a world market -the allegro LOOKED right but that was about th end of it.

  2. This is the same argument BL attempted with claiming the Mini Clubman Estate was a viable alternative to the Ford Fiesta etc You should be able to find on YouTube a video of Raymond Baxter trying to convince BL dealer that they had nothing to fear from the Fiesta as the Mini was coming this year with a go faster stripe and they had the Mini Estate!

    But the problem with the Allegro Estate is the following.

    It’s heritage as a follow on to the Minor and Ado16 traveller shows in it having only two doors and those doors being the short doors from the 4 door. It thus lacks the convenience of those who wanted a small 5 door hatch, or those willing to lose a little convenience for the added style of a 3 door (Golf GTi, XR3i etc).

    The other failing is that it is an Allegro, completely lacking of style with its mess of lines around the nose, bulbous sides and too little glass. The Golf, Renault 5 etc stormed the market because they looked cool, people wanted to be seen in them.

    • The E long stroke engine was too high to fit a correct bonnet, otherwise the Allegro could have had nice lines.

      • Something I’ve always wanted to ask; was the E series engine actually any good? I keep pitching for it to have been stuck into the ado16 platform when in truth I know little about it’s performance and reliability. I even heard it was initially quite rough and unrefined.

        • The E-series wasn’t a bad engine, iirc the revised 1970 Maxi had the fewest warranty claims of all the fwd BL cars, it was no rougher than any other BL engine of it’s time. The O-series was the engine that was lambasted in the media for being rough and unrefined, no better than the B it replaced.

          In the 80s I had an Australian Marina with the 1750 E-series, apart from rocking a fair bit at idle, it was smooth and torquey on the road. I’ve got an Australian 1750 Marina TC (same spec as a Maxi HL), and it is smoother and more drivable than a friend’s English 1800 TC Marina, and handles better with the lighter engine. The long stroke of the 1750 gives lots of mid-range torque, but it doesn’t like to rev hard, so it wasn’t perceived as sporty like the short-stroke Italian and Ford engines of the time. However, in revised 1600 S-series form in the Maestro, it was very good.

          • I was hard at work in the late 1970s for a Petrochemical company in Stanlow, a department had advanced rolling road testing facilities, the car makers would send their sample vehicles for testing , especially for long-term compatibility with petrol. We would soon hear of the failings of new cars on the roiling roads, the E-series in 1750 form, if all the tolerances of manufacturing of the block and cylinders, crankshaft etc aggregated at the worst of the limit, the pistons would fail at the skirt area

          • Google the Australian Morris 1500 for an ADO16 e series, or a Nomad for the hatch version.

          • It has been said that in a number of ways the experimental 1.3 OHC engine design, which went on to become the tall E-Series was rather like the compact S-Series that appeared years later except that the latter never featured a crossflow cylinder-head based on drawings online.

            The E-Series was more a compromised engine designed according to Issigonis’s specs and overambitious brief to be a one-size fits all replacement to BMC’s engines than a bad engine in of itself, it could actually be tuned to produce a decent amount of power via tuning kits by Downton Engineering increase outputs of the 1.5 and 1.75 to 83 hp and 105.7 hp respectively (the in-sump gearbox though being a potential limitation).

            At best it could have replaced both the B-Series and C-Series engines though not without significant changes (e.g. increased bore centres, no siamised bores, etc), allowing for upward expansion with extra displacement and a modular design (without negatively impacting its ability to still be mounted transversely*) instead of upward expansion coming from an extra pair of cylinders.

            *- Because they never ended up fitting the ADO17 2200 with a side mounted radiator like planned, which freed up more width in the engine bay and meant the E-Series did not need to be so short like it ended up being.

          • Can anyone remember the sporty allegro?,think it was called equip?,my mate had a silver one and we were surprised how fast it was and I think it had twin headlights!!!!

        • It was fitted to the ADO16 in Australia as well as finding itself into the Marina in Australia and the Marina and SD1 in South Africa, It was competitive although the 1750 being long in stroke was not as sweet as the 1500. Both the Allegro and Maxi failed in the market, but it was not due to any great deficiency with the E Series.

      • The Allegro was always going to use the E Series, Harris Mann failing was to create a shape that could not accept it well. For example the Allegro has a relatively low roof line, which with the scuttle line needing to be high for the E Series leaves the Allegro somewhat under glassed. Had he adopted a higher roof line comparable with the Golf, Simca 1100 he could have improved its glass area.

  3. I agree with the article for the most part, but… The estate only ever had three doors, and you could never buy it with more than a utilitarian trim level. I have a strange yearning to craft a 1750 HL estate or maybe a Vanden Plas.

    • I had a similar yearning some years ago, although I was thinking of Mk3 quad headlights and a more modern drive train too, as my wife has always loved the Allegro Estate.
      The only one available at the time, reasonably locally, although described as in good condition was as rotten as a pear.

  4. “BL didn’t realise what a pioneer they’d made” and neither it seems did anybody else. Even if we agree that the Allegro estate was a hatchback, it still wasn’t a pioneer because by that same logic Ford didn’t make estate versions of the 105E Anglia or the Mk1 Escort either, they were hatchbacks instead.

  5. The Allegro estate was a lot better looking than the saloon and almost stylish in red. I’d think by the time of the series 3 and the better quality from 1979 onwards, a 1500 cc Allegro estate with five speeds would have made a useful car for people who needed to carry a lot of luggage and needed the extra power and economy over a 1300.

  6. Our next door neighbour who had been a Viva HC saloon owner, traded it in for an Allegro Estate (cream colour). Not a car of my choice but I admit it was a decent load carrier. Having said that I thought the Viva / Magnum Estates were better lookers.

  7. A definition of hatch: a small closeable opening for passing things through. When cars had horizontally split hinged rear ends, it might have been fair to call the upper – usually glazed – part a hatch. Pick-up Land Rovers had the drop down, hinged tailgate; if the tub was enclosed with a rigid canopy, the upper hinged – usually glazed – section was called a cat-flap. It was the near rhyming of hatch and back – and the snappiness of both words – that had it catch on. But a single-section rear end hinged at the top is hardly a hatch.

  8. Perhaps the market was changing and people wanted more than a small car without a hatch. Alec Issigonis’ project 9x was put on the back burner by the new management and never produced except for a prototype and afaik it had a hatch. The first Honda Civics sold in the US offered a conventional trunk or boot, or you could opt for a liftback (hatch) arrangement in 1973.

    • Hatchbacks possibly avoided, as I believe it was quite a costly hit upon the assembly budget to provide the fifth door, the additional costs and weight of the fifth door, the additional work of the pressings for the aperture in the shell to fit the fifth door, going back to the 1950s, some car makers brought out their new post-war small cars with a boot, but without an external lid, the boot area was accessed from inside, was one such car the early Standard, or perhaps the Austin A30 Peanut?

  9. The Estate was the nicest looking Allegro, I’ll give you that. Actually with the saloon, if it wasn’t so bulbous and instead looked more ‘folded paper’ sharp, and had a more coherent front end, it would look ok imo.

    I blame the Marina for gobbling up all the time and money the allegro needed to succeed. Despite its relative sales success, it shouldn’t have been built. Leyland needed to pick a lane, and their lane for their volume c-segment car was forward thinking high tech, not ford style simplicity.

    In my alternate history, the Allegro would have basically been an 1100/1300 reskinned to resemble something similar to what the Marina coupe looked like, with the option for rear side doors and space for the e series engine. That could have started off as a hatchback or at least have been easily converted into one a few years done the line. A simple cheap design upgrade built upon a proven best selling platform. Could have been a winner.

    • In my alternate history, the Marina is a topped and tailed Ado 16 with a 1500 E Series launched in 1970, the Allegro is a 100″ wheel base reskin of the held over Maxi, styled by Bertone to be launched in 1972, then complemented by a 90″ 3 door supermini created by reskinning the Ad016 launched in 74 both following the styling route he took with the Innocenti Mini reskin.

      • Beyond the images of a rebodied 1100 ADO22 hatchback or the Australian Morris 1500 Sedan on the site, does the Marina, Maxi and even the Clubman hatchback prototype give an accurate indication for what Roy Haynes planned regarding ADO22’s exterior?

        Is it possible the Allegro’s 96-inch wheelbase was originally carried over from ADO22 and in turn stemming from the allegedly extra wheelbase planned on the ADO16 1100 Van prototype? Since the increased 96-inch (or near enough) wheelbase would have allowed room for a 90-inch “Supermini” (provided the latter would be as space efficient as the Metro).

        The Paul Hughes sketch for the Allegro me got me thinking that perhaps he could have been the man (along with David Bache) to suitably adapt the Pininfarina Aerodynamica concepts to something more production viable in place of Harris Mann’s vision for the Allegro. With a composite Alfasud (that while Giugiaro designed was indirectly influenced by the Aerodynamica) meets Peugeot 104 styling theme, essentially a merger of the best elements of Pininfarina designers Leonardo Fioravanti and Paolo Martin styling themes (though interested to know who at Pininfarina actually did the 9X mock-up).

          • Yes it has been mentioned before on aronline in the past. The profile of the side panels is also similar, in that the Alfasud is slightly bulbous (against the trend for sharp lines) but its noticeable than the Allegro. If you look at the Allegro and think of it with an Alfa’s front, it does become more acceptable. I so far have not found anyone who has “grafted” one on in photoshop, and unfortunately I no longer have the pc with it in to have a bad bash at it (though somewhere on here is my attempt with a 80s Skoda front planted on which did improve it a lot)

          • The reference to a Skoda front significantly improving the Allegro made me think of the RGW-Auto joint-project more specifically the front-engined Wartburg 610M prototype (that visually resembles rear-engined Skoda 130), as its front headlight treatment brings to mind that of the Morris Ital (plus the Austin Ambassador) and how it could have been applied on an updated alternate Allegro for the late-1970s..

            Meanwhile the Giugiaro/Ital Design alternative proposal below for what became the 1983 Alfa Romeo 33 and his idea for the 33 being a redesigned Alfasud in featuring visual nods to the previous model, gives an idea to how an redesigned Allegro (akin to a more attractive if still bland shrunken Ambassador) could have looked in place of the Maestro.

            Funny enough elements of the Giugiaro proposal appear to align pretty well with the Maestro 3-door sketches (and Harris Mann’s Longbridge LC10 proposal).

            https://www.facebook.com/cardesignarchives/posts/1983-alfa-romeo-33-tipo-905giugiaroital-design-alternative-proposals-pour-rempla/505557229812618/

    • But the Marina was what the public wanted in the medium car sector, which is a different market from what the Allegro was aimed at. And it wasn’t lack of budget which made the Allegro ugly!

      Both the 1800 and Maxi were massive flops, BL should have canned the Princess and instead produced the larger RWD ADO77 Marina replacement that would have also removed any clash between the Allegro and Marina.

  10. What about the 1967 HB Viva estate. Most definitely a hatchback rather than an estate. It even retained the rear bulkhead complete with rear lights, number plate and petrol cap rather than take the tailgate down to the bumper

  11. Err no it was an estate. BL called it an Estate. Ford called the three door Escort…an estate. So did Vauxhall with the Viva.

    The Allegro’s problem was ugly front end and poor build quality and substance based on cost reductions. It you look at the side profile of the panels they have a similar shape to the “beautiful” Alfasud. By the time we got to the Mk3 it had become a sorted car and looked better (though still not pretty). When BLMC came into being, Stokes put Harry Webster in charge at Austin Morris Engineering, and his plan was to contine with Roy Haynes plan to update the ADO16, including drawings being produced that look similar to the Allegro shape (Harris Mann?) with upgrades designed by Charles Griffin. If you read books on BL history, it is lead to believe that Stokes and his cronies decided that they needed an all new car to show Leyland were superior than BMC and were now in charge, and that the past was put to bed. It was a shame that BL had Stokes at the top, as it we had received the updated ADO16, it would probably cost a lot less to produce and not been as derided as the aggro.

  12. It would be a big stretch to view the Allegro estate as a hatchback in the same it was a stretch to see the Mini estate as one, one look at a very similar Alfasud estate that would feature a hatchback or other true hatchback rivals and such an idea immediately fails apart.

    Leaving aside other flawed elements of the Allegro. The main visual issue would be largely down the badly executed front indicators, even if it was featured in Harris Mann’s original sketch and drew upon similar ideas at Ford. There was no way it could have translated well to account for the deviation stemming from the misjudged spring in the panel pressings.

    It would have been an improvement had the front indicators instead been located below the front bumpers like on the Clubman, Maxi, Princess and Marina or even as applied on the Michelotti styled Austin Victoria and Triumph Toledo / Dolomite that would have at least aided in masking the Allegro’s deviated proportions at the front (to something more akin to an Alfasud Sprint) due to the E-Series engine, in-sump gearbox and bulky Marina sourced heater. If not below the headlights like in Paul Hughes sketch with a more Peugeot 304-meets-Citroen GS inspired treatment.

  13. At a talk given in Bradford-on-Avon in 2012, I listened intently as a retired senior BL employee described how the Allegro was a victim of hostility and warfare between a number of high-end personalities, each having the over-riding authority to sign-off aspects of the design, the Quartic steering wheel was not a popular choice for production, , but was nevertheless signed-off by a man who being “well-built” struggled to enter or leave the driving position, for the styling of the Estate, described as an act of sabotage in that the least attractive design of several proposals was selected for production in order to settle a score. No names were mentioned as to these mysterious people, the speaker stated the war was about each personality trying to either, impose their own “personal stamp” on the Allegro, or, eliminate a “personal stamp” of another.

    • Very much a case of being designed by committee it seems.

      Certainly BL seemed to have many problems caused by the lack of joined up thinking.

      • So was the problem with Peugeot-Citroen, with Mercedes-Chrysler (failure) and probably more to come.
        Same problem with Renault and Nissan for common platforms and powertrains.
        They had tried to “sandwich” the organization with 1 Nissan / 1 Renault and so-on.
        The Japanese tried to by-pass the French and vice-versa.
        It stopped with the COVID hopefully but still more difficult than for example Renault and Mercedes were the contract is clear in term of responsabilities and costs-sharing.
        PSA-Opel did not fail because Tavares decided to kill completely Opel R&D after Opel designed their – successful – 3008/4008/GrandLand range.
        Stellantis will not because Tavares decided to keep only Auburn-Hills and Carriere sous Poissy only with different markets target, killing Torino (moving Velizy to Carriere sous Poissy).

  14. One of my work colleagues used to call our fleet of Cortina III & IV Estate cars as “Shooting Brakes” Though I’m not sure of the definition!

    • I think the early estate conversions were often used used on hunting parties as a place to rest, often using the entrance to the boot as as place to sit down in.

      The French still call their estate cars breaks.

      • @Richardpd. We still use the word “break” but it was used during the 19th century and maybe before to designate large horse carriages. An explanation : the Brits used very heavy carriages to “break” horses – break their legs, to master them in other words.
        And I read from Google : “HISTORY. The term “shooting brake” comes from turn-of-the-century England, where it referred to a car used to transport a hunting party and its gear. “Brake” referred to a chassis that was used to break in horses.”
        Strange, French use the correct English word and Brits… do not !

        • OK thanks for letting me know, normally breaking a horse just involves taming their instincts enough to pull a cart or to be ridden rather than physically injuring them.

          I used to be confused by the American term Station Wagon for years, until I found out they were often used when picking someone up from a railway station with enough luggage for a long stay.

  15. The Allegro Estate went down quite well with the French when fitted with the ‘A’ series engine. It filled a large niche in their market. The French even gave the car an un-PC fond nickname of “Pigmy Hearse”. They imported the car at a very low transfer price which BL staff in Bickenhill claimed was below variable production cost. It6 did keep the line going though and made a moderate financial contribution – albeit through Unipart !!!

  16. Sorry the Allegro estate is an estate, and not an attractive one either, when compared to either ADO16 or the Morris Marina.

  17. Mark – yes, there was a limited edition Equipe. Silver with bold orange stripe. There was also a rather garish green limited edition called the ‘LE’. Doubt whether there are any left.

    • There is at least one surviving Equipe. Interestingly BL did a Marina LE in silver with an orange and black stripe along the swage line.

  18. It is a ridiculous conceit to call the Allego a hatchback, it’s like saying that all Escorts had twin cam engines or all Chevettes had 16 valves. The Allegro was wantonly ugly where its predecessor was pretty; was badly packaged and had badly tuned suspension; had a densely packed range of engines, of which at least two (1500 and 1750) were the wrong size to compete with 1600s; and had a dreadful gearchange on the OHC cars. Even the 11/1300s had the same old undersized idler gear that was only upgraded to a sensible size when the Metro came out. And who, really, would buy an Allegro 1500 Special to replace a Wolseley 1300? My father owned 7 ADO16s, culminating in a VDP1300; but refused to consider a VDP1500. Then there were quality and reliability problems, and a square steering wheel. It wouldn’t have taken much to make it a very good car, but BL thought they knew best, and gave us a lemon when the competition was designing peaches. RIP.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.