I must admit that I have regular AROnline Contributor Andrew Ryan to thank for this one. Otherwise known as @thecarfactoids, he’s been tweeting about BMC>MG Rover (and more) related stuff on Twitter for several years now. He has been quietly building up a significant following on this social media platform thanks to his pithy tweets delving into the more obscure areas of automotive history…
So, when he posted these two ads from a late-1970s issue of CAR magazine, I couldn’t help but smile, and remind myself that, on the whole, motor advertising is a lot fluffier these days. But I love the idea that Fiat felt compelled to remind the magazine’s readers that the 128 was a more capable car than rivals that not only included the Austin Allegro, but also the Ford Escort, Renault 12, Vauxhall Chevette and Volkswagen Derby.
Personally speaking, the 128 is a car that I’ve always admired rather than loved, coming from a fertile period in automotive history that also brought us the brilliant Alfa Romeo Alfasud and Citroën GS and helped shaped the family car into the package that we know it today. Its engineering was fabulous, and it was (and is) great to drive, but the longevity of its body was a joke (as so many other family cars were back then), and its lacklustre three-box styling was way too straight-laced for the upcoming progressive decade.
However, looking at these two ads back-to-back, and the Allegro, bless it, really does look like the more interesting and cohesive design. To be fair, the Fiat’s profile view is its most boring, while the Allegro’s is probably its best, unfettered by its inset headlights and bulbous detailing. You could argue that its rear end appears to be dragging on the floor, and those five occupants look fairly hemmed in, but it’s also a bright and fun image, with one of the least appropriate tag lines ever conceived.
So, is it the Fiat or Allegro you’d buy?
I remember that advert well and, in an era about to bring us the joyous Fiat Strada, it all looked a little bit desperate – but at least Fiat didn’t namecheck the pacesetting Volkswagen Golf or its many hatchback rivals as cars to beat. In 1979, the Fiat was ten-years old, and the Allegro was six, and both were spent forces on the marketplace, even though the Fiat was a top seller in its homeland, and the Allegro hovered in the upper half of the UK Top 10 bestsellers list. The question for buyers then would be which is going to give out first – the Fiat’s bodywork or the Allegro’s gearbox?
That was then and this is now, though. Which would I have now? After having recently driven Richard Gunn’s Series 3 Allegro 1.3, I can confirm that they’re still very fit for the road. Not quick, of course, but blessed with brilliant ride quality, decent handling, a reasonable gearchange and surprisingly responsive steering. I found myself thinking, ‘yeah, I wouldn’t mind one of these’ – and that was after I’d driven my Austin 1300…
However, despite its dowdy looks and slightly odd proportions, the Fiat would still turn my head, thanks to its vim and vigour, and its more precise handling. Yes, the steering is heavier, and the gearchange set in cold, hard rubber, but overall, it was just a little more of a convincing family car. Either way, it was a desperate advert – an ageing old player sniping at its most decrepit rivals…
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