Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
Manufactured from 1973
, the Austin Allegro was actually manufactured by British Leyland
and sold under the Austin name. It’s reach even penetrated Italy, where it was manufactured under license by Innocenti between 1974
and sold as the Innocenti Regent.
Designed as a replacement for the wonderful Austin 1100/1300, the car promised much, but delivered little. A victim of the ailing British car industry of the time, much like the woeful Morris Marina, the Allegro featured poor design, insipid performance, appalling build quality, non existent re-sale value wrapped in a design that not even a mother could love.
History tells us that British Leyland
were undergoing serious difficulty at the time of the Allegro, mostly from within. Rather than create a car for the time, the decision was made to stick with the “tried-and-true” design from previous decades – but to most observers it now seemed centuries old.
Volkswagen had released the wonderful Golf, reliable, well built, modern, economical – pretty much everything the Allegro wasn’t. At a time when the “hatch” had captured the hearts and minds of the buying public, just why British Leyland
stuck with a “booted” design beggars belief, but they did.
Speculation continues to this day as to why such a self defeating strategy would be used, the most favoured view being that the company wanted the Austin Maxi to have the “unique” selling point of being the only Austin to feature a hatchback.
There is no other way to describe that decision other than plain stupid. The Allegro followed the front-wheel drive configuration of the Austin 1100/1300, and used the now familiar A-Series engine with sump-mounted transmission
. The higher specification models used the SOHC E-Series engine from the Maxi in either 1.5 or 1.8 litre iterations.
It had originally been proposed (by stylist Harris Mann) that the design be afforded the same sleek wedge shape of the Princess, however Management dictated that the bulky E-Series engine be shoe-horned into the car, along with the heating system from the Marina. The knock-on effect was to create a car that looked bloated and tubby, although to British Leyland
the actual prettiness of the design, or rather lack of it, was not an issue.
Rather, they felt the Citroen approach of combining advanced technology with styling that eschewed mainstream trends to create long-lasting 'timeless' models was a much better idea. The final car bore little resemblance to Mann's original concept, in that the Allegro was supposed to be a re-skin of the 1100/1300. This appearance, as well as British Leyland's faith in it as a model that would help turn the company around, led to it earning the early nickname of the "flying pig". The car was offered in the usual range of British Leyland
colours; notably beige, brown and green.
There was also an up-market version sold as the Vanden Plas 1500/1700 which featured a prominent grille at the front. To distance itself from the Austin, the “Allegro” name was not officially used. The early models also featured a curious "quartic" steering
wheel — that is, nominally a rounded square.
This was touted as a sales feature though its merits were questionable, some felt that it was introduced because insufficient room had been allowed between the driver's legs and the base of the wheel. The 1975
the “Allegro 2” was launched, it obviously using the same body-shell, but featuring a new grille and some interior changes to increase front leg room. Changes were also made to the suspension
, engine mounts and drive shafts. A 2-door “Estate” version was added to the range, and the infamous "quartic" steering wheel was also finally dropped.
Five years later, in 1980
, the Series 3 was launched. Using an “A-Plus” version of the A-Series engine that had been developed for the Metro, the Series 3 featured a handful of minor cosmetic alterations in an attempt to keep the momentum going. It was all far too little, and far too late. The Allegro was an out-dated design at launch, and no “makeover” could make it more appealing. Thankfully, the model was finally put out of it’s misery in 1982
, and not a moment too soon.