Blog : Making the Allegro cool

Keith Adams

Stephen Harper Allegro sketch
Car designer Stephen Harper penned this Allegro, and it helped him get his dream design job at the Austin-Morris Design studios in Longbridge.

I’ve already blogged about the 40th birthday of the Allegro, and how they really do make great classic cars – and that 2013 will be its big year – but few people will argue with the fact that it’s challengingly styled. If you read the development story of the Allegro, you’ll see that even head designer Harris Mann wasn’t happy with the results. He penned a tight, wedgy two-box, which over course of its development into a production car, was distended by the fitment of the transmission-in-sump E-Series, followed by that devilishly bulky Morris Marina heater matrix.

Whatever the reasons, it happened, and few would argue with the fact that to 1973’s average car buyer, the new driving force from Austin looked a little bit strange. Designer, Stephen Harper was a bit of a fan, though. And although he he joined BL as a technical apprentice, he really wanted to be a stylist. He taught himself how to sketch car design proposals, and got to work trying to get himself a place in the Design department.

He said, ‘…and pestered like hell ’til I was given an interview with a basket full of sketches inspired by Harris’ Allegro drawing in Motor.’

This was 1977 – and the rest, as they say, is history. Stephen earned his place in Design, and went on to have quite a career in the motor industry – and it’s one he’s still very much involved with. Here’s a list of some of the designs he worked on:

C70 (2010) Exterior & Interior Design + BPT
C30 (2010) Exterior & Interior Design Supervision + BPT
S40 (2007) Exterior & Interior Design + BPT
V50 (2007) Exterior & Interior Design + BPT
XC90 (2006)
S60 (2005)
S60R (2004)
S80 (2003) Interior Design & Exterior Design Supervision
Volvo ACC2 ‘XC70R’ Concept Car (2003) Concept originator & Design Supervision.
Volvo ACC ‘XC90’ Concept Car (2002) Detroit. Exterior Design & Supervision.
Volvo PCC2 ‘V70R’ Concept Car (2001) Frankfurt. Concept originator. Exterior & Interior Design
Volvo PCC ‘S60R’ Concept Car (2001) Paris. Concept originator. Exterior & Interior Design

Ashok-Leyland Truck Cab Range Proposals (1999). Exterior Design

Ford India – Seven Seat Crossover-Estate Car (based upon ‘ICON) (1999). Exterior Design
Escort RS Cosworth Project (1989). Chief Exterior Designer
Galaxy MPV (VX62) Project (1988). Project Exterior Designer at VW/FORD Studio
Escort van (1990) Escort Van Project (1987). Project Exterior Designer

DAF Trucks
DAF Trucks 45 and 55 Series Sleeper Cab (1997). Exterior & Interior Design.

Bakrie Motors, Indonesia – Beta 97 MPV (1996). Exterior, Interior & Colour+Trim Design.

Grinnall Cars
Grinnall Cars – BMW motorcycle based R1150 ‘Trike’ (2002). Exterior Design

Legacy (2003) Legacy Estate. New Vehicle Concepts (1999). Exterior Design

London Taxi International
London Taxi International (1997) TX1 Black Cab project (1992). Chief Exterior Designer

Rolls Royce
Silver Seraph/Bentley Arnage Project (1991).Chief Exterior Designer
Rolls Royce – 1994 facelift of RR and Bentley models (1990). Chief Exterior Designer

MGF 1995 MGF Sports car Project (1991). Chief Exterior Designer

Aston Martin
DB7. Concept Design proposal (1992). Exterior Design

Austin Rover
Montego Estate

That’s not a bad role call. But going back to our original question, posed by the blog title – can you make an Allegro look cool? The sporting addenda, Wolfrace Slot Mags and barchetta top are certainly of their time, and imaginative. I think I’d join Steve in saying, I’d love to see someone build one!

Some interesting inspiration for Steve here,,,
Some interesting inspiration for Steve here,,,
Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. I preferred the styling of the breadvan/hearse estate. It just looked neater in my eyes, and perhaps would have looked better still as a 5 door version?

    And how about ditching the front wheel drive and hydragas, and a stonking great V8, mated to a Jag rear axle, and wolfrace slots, with chromed side exhausts??

  2. custom car magazine published some similar style sketches for the BL range in the mid to late seventies, also featuring an Allegro in panda car colours with Robber written accross the door.

  3. Would love to see someone have a crack at building upon the original Harris Mann sketch with the quad-headlight arrangement at the front-end at a 3/4 angle (both shown on in Concepts and prototypes: Austin Allegro page), while envisioning the Allegro as a hatchback from the rear-end at a 3/4 angle.

    Another idea that would also be worth exploring is drawing upon the above sketch to envision an Allegro estate with vastly improved styling or reimagining it as a stylish sports-estate / shooting-brake.

  4. You’ve been writing a lot about the Allegro recently, Keith; is this a hint about your next Bangernomics venture, by any chance…?

    Happy New Year!

  5. Can you make an Allegro look cool? Yes, I think you could, you can.
    If the production car was re-styled more in line with Harris Mann’s original sketches then it definitely could look cool. However, like you Keith, I’ve been paying the Allegro quite a bit of attention recently. Visited various sites and seen some cherished, tweaked Allegros. Some cars with a slightly sporty theme actually looked quite good without the need for major panel changes.

  6. I always liked the 1750SS – this one is a beauty:-

    The plusher versions of the mk1 all looked quite slick – might be the black rear panel, those lovely wheeltrims and the vinyl rood that did it – managing to break up the ‘pudding’ countours. Allegro 3s generally looked good in the plush verions too. There was a lovely yellow Allegro 3, which I think has graced this website before, looking great with some aftermarket alloys….

  7. Simon, I’ve seen this 1750SS photo before. Let’s be honest, put jokes aside – the car looks rather good! Just shown it to my 12 year old daughter. Her reaction? “Weird shape, nice colour, weirdly cool”.

    You know if I was wealthy with a long line of old cars I’d be quite keen on adding an Allegro.

  8. I liked the (styling) allegro especially the last of them. remember what else was around – Vauxhall viva and the Ford Escort, Hillman Avenger (and some european stuff). The local mini specialist in new plymouth reakons they use les petrol than a mini classic.

  9. One of the most difficult challenges a stylist faces is to design a car that looks like no other and has its own distinct character. The Allegro has that in spades and next time you see one in the metal give it a close look over as it is full of delicate design details.

  10. it is interesting that the allegro looks especially good in the photo above…yet I think the MG6 Does Not look good in many photos. maybe Leyland knew something styling… note im talking about styling so that it looks good in pictures and not how good the photography is… alex

  11. Regardless of the stigma attached to BL cars, they did have some great designers working on them. Harris Mann in particular never gets the credit he deserves – his Princess is fabulous, as (can be) the Allegro. Even the Marina TC was a good looking car. Why then did the BL paint dept. saddle such cars with such awful colours? I never saw a poo brown Cortina, or a hearing aid beige Chevette…….

  12. Simon_H, above

    Yes, it was very often the trims and colours that were the problem, rather than the overall styling. The Allegro 1750SS above is a great example – compare it to a mid range chocolate brown or beige model. Similarly, compare a Maestro HLS in light blue metallic to a brown 1.6L.

    I know all cars look better in certain guises than others but the differences with BL cars could be extreme.

  13. 2 words..Harvest Gold, or as it was also known as prosthetic limb beige/hearing aid beige…The 1970’s had some really bad colours, and BL were one of the worst culprits for it

  14. @19 – Keith – I give you the beige/orange Chevette, but I disagree on the ‘tina – that was a lovely metallic deep bronze colour. I was thinking more of this:-

  15. That is in Russet Brown and surprisingly good paint at keeping rust at bay.
    Other BL colours which left taste behind on the Allegro were Tundra, Harvest Gold and Limeflower though some looked great, Damask Red, Mirage, Denim Blue and Lagoon (the colour of that SS above) and Sandglow (which replaced Harvest Gold).

  16. The Allegro was a car of its time and not a bad one either. It is a shame it was dumpier than Harris Mann intended – the concept sketches are amazing.

    I do at times now feel that I see a ‘new’ Allegro all the time – the Audi A1 – the shape and proportion is very close to the Allegro

  17. The old Mazda 323 had a strong Allegro feel about it, an Allegro for the 1990s.
    I’ve own two Allegros and have driven most of its ‘British’ competition from the period. The main rival was the Escort and regarding equipment, technological advancement, performance and ride the Allegro is more than a match and in most areas thrashes it.

  18. Regarding the general colour issue and my own comment 18 –

    Thinking about it, most cars of the 70’s & 80’s could look pretty poor in base trim, the wrong colour. Compare a Cortina base in beige to a silver Ghia!

    With more modern cars the visual differences between lower and higher models don’t seem as great. Also, the age of the ‘Popular’ , ‘City’ or ‘Merit’ seems to have gone.

  19. …..and oh, the quartic wheel. I wonder how this would have been received, regarded had it appeared in a Citroen?

  20. @23 – I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that……..I always thought the A1 had an element of flying pig about it. But then, all Audis are a dumpy looking mess these days…..

  21. My dad had an orange 1750 Sport, GWU733N, in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I wish I had a pic of it – it was much like the blue 1750SS pictured earlier except it had black side stripes instead of the vinyl roof. Those wheel trims, the front fog lights and the blacked-out rear panel really lifted the design, and it also had one of the nicer versions of the Allegro grille.

    It was by far the coolest car my dad ever owned, he traded in a Morris 1100 for it and the Allegro eventualy got swapped for a Renault 14.

  22. Didn’t the young lad in PC with the amusing surname buy a poverty spec All Aggro, that had a VDP interior?

  23. I have owned four of these over the years , a series 2 1500LE, 2 off series 3 1300’s, and a series 3 1750HL. All were excellent vehicles with the 1750 being an absolute road rocket….pity that they all rendered down to ferric oxide and dust. The chances of finding another are rapidly diminishing now.

  24. @29 – I remember that blog well – in fact I commented on it….

    @Keith -Lol! Okay, you win. How about finding me a pic of a baby poop-coloured Vauxhall Firenza then?? 😀

  25. @28 – Wow – your Dad had quite progressive taste in 70s cars. I always thought the R14 represented the type of car the Allegro should have been, and should have developed into – it was quite modern for it’s time, although I’ve only recently found out how universally disliked it was in France. From a flying pig to a rotten pear!

  26. I did wonder what Renault were trying to do with the 14, it wasn’t quite daring enough to be a “Golf Rival” & the use of PSA engines must has raised some eyebrows.

    The French adverts compaired it to a pear, which can also mean someone foolish in French, as well as being the source of the “rotten pear” nickname, thanks to them rusting quickly.

  27. Nice set of alloys is all you need to make it look half decent… anyone remember seeing that Princess with the 827 Vitesse alloys? Really looked quite sporty!

  28. Having worked in Longbridge Styling as an Apprentice during the final stages of the Allegro design, I always had problems with the ‘cottage bun’ style, which was exacerbated by the rather ‘tip-toe’ ride height with the Hydragas set to the right pressure. HOWEVER, compared with many of today’s desperately overwrought and ‘Bangle-fied’ Quasimodo cars, the Allegro is really quite neat. And a well-sorted one with modern running gear would make a really superb Q-car…

  29. @38 “‘Bangle-fied’ Quasimodo cars” – love it! Where has the style gone these days? Although (whisper) I happen to like a lot of Bangle’s designs – especially the Alfa 145/6 and the last gen Beemer 5-series.

  30. @38, Ian Elliott,

    What would you use to power it? O Series Turbo? The other issue would be braking- you’d have to choose some pretty unsuitable looking wheels to accommodate decent sized disks- although I suppose a talented engineer might be able to turn the hydraulic suspension into an active Citroen oleopneumatic type set up- with brakes to match. The GSA didn’t have particularly big wheels and one of those could stop a freight train.

    Would make an interesting project!

  31. There is a barn fine early 2 door one on evilbay currently, that has a fair bit of grot in it, and it’s a poverty spec one in harvest gold, and still has the daft quartic! It does look quite miserable in my eyes

  32. @28, @36

    I started learning to drive in the Allegro (I remember the gearbox was fairly rubbish or perhaps that was just me) but it was traded in that year so it was the R14 I passed in. The Renault was a really comfy, roomy car and quite fun to drive but it fully lived up to its reputation for rot – one rather vicious swipe of winter salt from a passing gritter was enough to start serious rust on both driver’s side doors. It also had an oil leak that proved incredibly persisitent.

    When trade-in time came we went to look at the then-new Maestro 1.3 (the base model with black bumpers) but the offer for the Renault was negligible. Dad eventualy swapped the R14 for a Fiat as they had one of those “£1500 minimum trade in” offers at the time. He was tempted by a Strada II but I managed to persuade him to go for the newer and then quite trendy Uno, a five door 60 in red with steel wheels.

  33. Brings back memories.
    Both my brother and I learnt to drive in a very faded allegro 1500 estate. That car took no end of abuse and was 100% reliable compared to our new 5 dr VW Passat (remember them) which started rusting from the centre of the panels had various leaks etc.
    The allegro ended up being given to my brother on his 18th, it stood on the drive for two years with a slipping clutch, only to start first time with a jump on the battery, when he sold it for £50 to a mate.
    Was still seen driving around Exeter for a few years after.. No idea what happened to the ‘new’ but rusting Passat.
    My aunt also had a delightful mustard 1974 allegro automatic with the quartic steering wheel. The car never rusted despite living in salty exmouth and was sold on around a decade ago.
    BL in the 70’sand 80’s were never as bad as made out.. The escort was very basic in comparison and hardly the paragon in reliability.
    It seems to me the the company launched badly/controversially styled cars and then gave up.. The allegro did look quite smart come the end with the quad lights though.

  34. One summer holiday I worked for a lithographer who had the contract to typeset an MG magazine (probably MG Owners Club as they were based a few miles down the road). I remember there being an article in one where a chap had attempted to make a “MG Allegro”. This was back in the late ’80s when the MG Metro/Meastro Turbo had an MG sticker half the size of the car plastered over the rear quarters. This chap had done the same to his Allegro, and changed the wheels for the pepperpot alloys. Can’t remeber the rest of the mods, but it did look cool (mind you so did mullets then!).

    About five years later I saw the car in a driveway somewhere in the Fens while driving about in my Bedford TK (see earlier post).

  35. You could probably fit the oily bits from a rotten Metro Turbo without much effort.

    Another suggestion here, how about a spaceframe chassis,with an Allegro body and a supercharged V8 engine running on a healthy dose of nitrous???

  36. My Allegro interest is growing. I can see one in the right colour, with smart alloys and a few subtle trim, styling tweaks being rather cool, very novel, a real crowd puller!!

  37. How to make the allaggro cool..
    Step 1, Build it in Naples
    Step 2 glue an alfa romeo badge to it..
    Setp 3 remove Allegro badge, fit Alfasud badge in it’s place


  38. I was quite disappointed when the Allegro was launched as so much of it was spot on and some of it awful. When I saw the sketches produced by Harris Mann and realised the whole thing fell apart when the E series engine was shoe horned in and the bonnet line rose and the front side windows were de wedged (as in the later Maestro).
    What I find interesting now is that no one has ever spotted the similarity between the Harris Mann’s sketches and the Rover 200/25 which is still regarded as a great hatch back design

  39. This What-If Allegro sketch looks interesting and a slight step in the right direction.

    Though assuming the Allegro still kept the E-Series engines preventing Harris Mann’s sketch from being properly realized, my vision of a cool Austin Allegro features amongst other things cosmetic modifications from an Allegro Series 3 rear-end (where the number plate sits between the rear lights) plus hatchback as well as a redesigned front-end that builds upon the earlier quad-headlight arrangement investigated during the Allegro’s development into something vaguely resembling a mid-1970s Reliant Scimitar (SE6 onwards), overall improving the Allegro’s looks by getting rid of the dumpy and pig-like styling aspects.

    Earlier Quad-headlight arrangement during Allegro’s development –

    Reliant Scimitar –

  40. As far as making the Allegro cool is concerned, it seems there was a number of approaches that could have been taken.

    1- Would be an early introduction of the Princess instead of the Allegro, which would allow Harris Mann to adapt the styling of the Princess to the smaller Allegro and pair it with Series 3 quad-headlamps as well as a hatchback (with the rear number plate sitting between the rear lights like on the Series 3).

    2- The second would be up-sizing of the Bertone styled Innocenti Mini styling theme to the Allegro.

    3- The Peugeot Pininfarina route via a down-sized Peugeot 504 with elements of the Peugeot 305 as opposed to the Pininfarina Aerodynamica.

    4- Akin to how the Simca 1100 became the European Horizon or how the Austin Princess / Morris Marina became the Austin Ambassador / Morris Ital, the following would be best described as a re-skinned Allegro.

    Which from my limited conjecture would resemble a down-sized Ambassador hatchback with an Austin Maestro front-end (and R/S-Series engines), giving it a vague resemblance to the Alfasud Series 3 (aka 1980 facelift) with the sporty versions even featuring quad-headlamps (as seen on a modified MG Maestro).

    Would be interesting seeing photoshops made of the above.

  41. Probably some of the pond life colours like hearing aid beige and pale blue made the Allegro look even worse, and lacking a hatch in a class of car where this was becoming common didn’t help. Yet the 1979 restyle and the Equipe model, which actually looked quite cool, made some amends.

    • Not to mentioned the dingy limeflower & the over loud vermillion & applejack.

      I agree the series 3 restyle improved things but was really too little too late.

    • Am actually surprised no Allegro hatchback conversions were ever done like on the Torcars/Crayford Princess “Estate”, someone even managed to convert the Morris Marina Coupe into a hatchback.

      That said, have to wonder how a hatchback could have been achieved from the back-end of the production Allegro as the latter would have probably needed to be slightly flatter and more angular compared to the current rear (and the Allegro as produced is too short for a Saab 900-like fastback hatchback solution).

      • I assume no hatchback conversion was ever done as people desperate for a rear tailgate would buy the estate version. Or a Golf!

        The Princess was a bit more unique in its class, so there was probably a better business case.

      • The problem with the allegro is the rear end has to much curve in the rear window – it rolls round the sides. This would make it had for any conversion. However a new back end could have been easily done if BL had the right sort of management, with possibly a Capri MK3 style front (which I think is possible) for a small outlay, much like the Princess to Ambassador was done later. Unfortunately BL had no idea, and eventually no money.

        • Clearly, you have no idea of the costs of changing major parts of the body. At the time of the Allegro, the body was the most expensive part of a car to design, engineer, tool, and produce. (On modern cars, the electronics have become the biggest bill.) The move to the Ambassador was easy though……we engineered the bloody thing with a hatch in the first place!

          • Kev

            Interested to hear your thoughts on the following excerpt below:

            “Another proposal retained the new Mini/ADO88 but replaced the whole of the LC range with a new car based on the mechanics of the Austin Allegro. This would be a much cheaper route and one often used by Ford, but there was a significant difference. Ford’s ‘re-skinning’ jobs had always been based on successful models. Not by any stretch of the imagination could the Allegro qualify as a successful model. It had in fact been a bitter disappointment, never coming within sight of even the most pessimistic targets. It could, of course, be said that the Allegro’s basic problem was its dumpy unattractive looks and it was now a well-sorted car in dire need of a facelift.” –

            While the above Allegro re-skin proposal never got very far, can the above be best described as the Allegro equivalent of how the Princess/Marina became the Ambassador/Ital (albeit now presumably featuring a belated hatchback like the Ambassador)?

            Interested to know what else the Allegro re-skin proposal likely entailed, such as if it was to carry over mechanicals and other elements from other BL models including elements of the LC range in the event the latter had not reached production?

            That said how could the above proposal be considered if the Allegro was already used as a starting point for the Maestro/Montego?

  42. While the Allegro and Marina were percieved as failures both comfortabley outsold the Maestro and Montego. The Allegro mechanical were fairly well sorted. An updated/ reskinned version would probably have had a drive train not to dissimilar to the LC cars. The one that would be brought over would be the suspension and a revised floor plan. By the 80’s the styling was seen as poor (personally I like it always did) but the same critisim could be made of the maestro and montego. If some money could have been saved by carrying over hydrogas suspension then they should have done so. While the LC cars rode and handled well enough, there is no doubt the HG was a superior system.

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