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Austin Allegro

Austin Allegro Published: 24th Nov 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Allegro
Austin Allegro
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The Allegro may not be the most appreciated of Austins but, believes hardcore owner Richard Gunn (from his padded cell), there’s quite a lot to like about the car if you look past its dubious reputation...

As a classic motoring journalist, an inevitable question I’m asked when I meet new people is “So, what cars do you drive then?” I suspect most of them are expecting something like a Jaguar, Austin-Healey, MG, sporty Triumph or another of the perennial greats of the British historic motoring scene.

When I reply instead with “Austin Allegro”, there’s usually brief pause as bewilderment and disbelief flicks across their faces. Then, there’s generally two variations of response; either a “But why on earth?” or, surprisingly far more common these days, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!”

The Allegro, British Leyland’s great embodiment of industrial unrest and woeful build quality, is a very Marmite car. You either love it or hate it. For far too much of its life, it’s usually provoked the latter response, with many people ‘fondly’ remembering the trials and tribulations of running one as an everyday vehicle back in the 70s and 80s, hence the term ‘All aggro’.

Well, running is perhaps too strong a word for the typical behaviour of these Austins during their 1970’s and 1980’s heyday. Kangarooing is probably a more accurate term. But that was then and this is now, and with the 716,250 built now reduced to around 300 survivors, those that have endured are generally the good ‘uns, the ones that weren’t screwed together at Longbridge on a Friday afternoon. Allegros these days aren’t just very comedic, cheap and cheerful classics. They’re usually also remarkably reliable too – I should know as I’ve owned several…


My first introduction to Allegro ownership came in 2000, back when they still used to change hands for free – or even less. I had a Ford Anglia 105E that thoughtfully decided it was much happier running on just three cylinders than its requisite four on the eve of me driving several hundred miles back home for Christmas.

A friend took pity on me – well, I assume it was pity, although it could have quite easily have been some sort of disguised vengeance – and gave me his decrepit Austin Allegro Series III 1300 HLS, in several shades of metallic green, to use instead. And I mean gave. It wasn’t a loan, it was a gift, albeit not the sort that some people might have been that delighted to find lurking in their festive stockings.

Yet despite the gratis nature of the Austin and the fact that it had clearly not been loved since about 1987, it did everything that was asked of it, and only quite unimportant bits dropped off it. Its A-Series engine gave enjoyable, enthusiastic performance while the Hydragas suspension provided effective if somewhat bouncy handling. It was like a Mini with middle age spread and a tendency to drunkenness. Above all though, it was just very entertaining and a constant talking point.

Since then, I’ve owned around eight (EIGHT!-ed) other Allegros. I‘ve sort of lost count as I suspect a few of the more beige ones have blended into each other. There have been A-Series and the bigger E-Series-engined variants, in Series I, II or III forms, as well as baby Bentley wannabe Vanden Plases.

In fact, the only offshoot I haven’t had is the hearse-like estate, mainly because I’ve usually resorted to old Volvos for any serious load- lugging. Along the way, there was the Series III automatic that had no reverse gear, so every time it needed to go backwards, somebody had to jump out and push it.

Then there was the Vanden Plas 1500 where, over the course of a 200-mile trip to the south coast, everything stopped working. By journey’s end in Bournemouth, it was practically crippled, including having no brakes, random electrical failures and several new and interesting noises that would make other British Leyland products Tara Green with envy.

It took the best part of six months before I could have its various ailments remotely sorted out and get it back home again. By that time, its seaside sojourn meant it was considerably rustier than it had been before. However, to balance those cars out, there was also the 1978 Sandglow 1300 Super that, over three years of hard, everyday use, never once let me down, or the 1975 Series I in Harvest Gold with a purple velour and peeling fake wood trim interior that was utterly convinced it was still the 1970s.

Whenever it was started, its original Radiomobile would invariably be playing David Bowie, ABBA, T-Rex, Slade, Queen, the Bee Gees or something else appropriately glam from its youth. It would be several minutes before you could actually stop laughing enough to actually drive the thing!


Some people will never understand the appeal of an Allegro (the car that was said to be more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards), and that’s fine. I don’t understand the appeal of a lot of Ferraris, most of which are incidentally now much less rare than Harris Mann’s family Austin (he’s the chap who penned the TR7-ed). But a bigger band now seem to appreciate the mongrelish charms of what is often voted Britain’s worst ever car. Which it isn’t, really.

In a lot of respects, it’s quite a good little vehicle, I reckon, even if the styling isn’t exactly elegance personified. It’s definitely an icon of its era – if you want to pin any period UK television show or film to the 1970s, all you need to do is chuck some flares, sideburns, hot pants and the odd Allegro at it, and the job’s pretty much done – which is one of the main reasons people like it now, through the glow of rose- tinted spectacles.

And most are still very inexpensive to buy and run, plus they’re a snip to work on. Parts are plentiful and cheap (especially for the A-Series-engined cars), economy can be excellent and Allegro Club International members are an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and fun bunch, happy to help. Like many small classics, it’s also a nippy and smile-inducing machine to drive.

There’s now a lot more to like about an Allegro than to dislike. Go on, try it. You might even love it.

Of course, you will have to be prepared for another inevitable question when you admit to ownership. And that’s “Does it have the square steering wheel?” Many more now seem to sport the infamous ‘Quartic’ item than ever had one fitted when new. It saves owners the bother of having to explain that it was only used for two years. Still, how many other mainstream family cars from 40 years ago can boast such a feature still so universally well-known today? You have to admire and even laugh at the Austin Alleg-pull…

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