Friday January 10, 2020
For (too) many years, the Austin Allegro was an easy punch line for tired comedians. If you believe the myths, the official press launch on the 17th May 1973 was the occasion for universal abuse from the motoring press. But this was not quite the case. Motor stated that the 1100 4-door had ride and handling that favourably compared ‘with the best in its class’.
Motor Sport went so far as to claim ‘All in all the Allegro is the best small car ever to come out of British Leyland’ and one that ‘quite justifies that company's claim that the Hydragas suspension gives ride comfort almost on a par with that of the XJ6’.
Even Car thought the Allegro ‘fine for handling, comfort, styling’ and Autocar regarded the 1300 Super De Luxe 2-door as ‘a big step forward in all respects’ as compared with ‘the much older Austin 1300’.
Certainly, the same title was somewhat less complimentary about the flagship 1750 Sport Special, remarking that ‘whilst it offers other things to offset the performance deficit, we wonder whether sporting buyers will reckon they are getting enough’.
Motor was more positive, regarding it as an Allegro that ‘goes and handles well’ albeit ‘rather disappointing’ in ‘some detail respects’. It should also be noted that when Autocar evaluated the HL in 1974, they enjoyed driving it and thought it ‘performs very well for its class’.
In other words, the response seemed to be that the Allegro was not a flawless car but - crucially – it was certainly one of promise and with many good points. Nor, despite another persistent rumour, was the Allegro especially Spartan by early 1970s standards.
If the entry-level De Luxe was devoid of reclining front seats, this certainly was not unusual for a car in that class; compare the Austin with a bottom of the range Hillman Avenger or Vauxhall Viva HC. Autocar regarded 1300 Super as coming with ‘a very complete list of standard equipment’ and offering ‘very good value for money.’
So, how did “The Allegro Story” evolve? One reason was BL’s record for unreliability, for although other British car manufacturers were far from innocent in that regard, Leyland was constantly in the public eye during the 1970s – especially post-1975 nationalisation.
Then there were those looks that appealed to neither motorists of the Avenger/Escort/Toledo/Viva School of Thought, nor drivers contemplating a new Citroën GS, the Fiat 128 or, by the mid-1970s, the VW Golf.
The second-generation Allegro of 1975 was an attempt to remedy many key issues, but by then the brand was already haunted by its reputation.
The Series 3 of four years later was regarded by many as reliable family transport, but the Allegro was now perceived as somewhat of an anachronism.
Motor regarded it as an improvement on earlier models but found it hard ‘to single out areas ‘where it is notably better than its rivals’. Production ceased on 1982 although the Maestro did not officially replace the Allegro until 1983.
It was a car that deserved better, and Lord Stokes famously hoped the Allegro would ‘appeal not only to the sophisticated British public but to the sophisticated European public’. And with greater development and more cohesive styling, the Allegro might well have done.