I had a brief run in an Austin Allegro today. The car in question is owned by Calum Brown and, it has to be said, he was very keen to get my views on his pride and joy. He’s a nice chap – 24-years old, a car nutter and the owner of a very interesting and diverse range of cars. He’ll go far in our industry. Anyway, I digress – he handed me the keys to his 1979 Allegro 3 1.3L and told me to enjoy myself.
Little did he know that I’ve plenty of history with the Allegro. Back in 2005, I took Richard Gunn’s old 1500 Special on the 2005 Staples2Naples Rally, which saw Alexander Boucke, Declan Berridge and me take this Harvest Gold pudding to Naples – often at high speed – across the Alps and on to Naples. It was a trip that left me confused and upset by the Allegro. I wanted to love the car, be impressed by its grown-up Mini dynamics and smooth-riding Hydragas suspension – but, in the end, I simply wanted to kill it with fire.
However, when I turned the key and its A-Series engine skipped into life after the merest flick of the starter, I was transported back to a happier time. Not Staples2Naples, but before. It reminded me of the 1980 1.3L I bought back in 2000, one of the first ‘classic’ cars I’d owned (perhaps before it was considered a classic in the wider sense of the word). But as we started to roll and head for the country, I was reminded how potent a crutch to nostalgia old cars can be.
With the benefit of more than 15-years’ driving experience, the same feelings came back loud and clear. The unburstable A-Series engine is both willing and eager while performance is more than adequate, given that it’ll roll along happily at 60-70mph. The steering is well-weighted, positive and brimming with feel. Then there’s the Hydragas suspension, which is superbly comfortable for such a small car – damping might be a little chaotic at times, but the overall ride will shame many more modern luxury cars.
As the miles rolled by in the idyllic Cambridgeshire countryside, I felt all of my deep-seated distaste and prejudices for the Allegro melt away. It’s genuinely good to drive. OK, I’ve defended the Allegro many, many times over the years, even getting published in The Independent saying it was perhaps the ideal starter classic and that it was way more cool than people gave it credit for. Deep down, though, I said this through gritted teeth.
However, as a result of Calum’s generosity in lending me his car, I have shifted my Staples2Naples opinion and gone back to the year 2000 version of me that loved this little thing – before it was cool to do so. Yes, back then, I loved the Allegro and, although I might not readily admit it now in polite conversation, I think I might do again. I won’t buy another one, but at least I can encourage other people to do so with real sincerity.