The right choice?

Perhaps choosing a car isn't all that different to choosing a partner? What if you fancy a car that your friends have dismissed as being the preserve of the swivel eyed? A much maligned and perhaps misunderstood creation from the British Leyland stable for instance. A car that was almost universally criticised from the very first moment it ever saw the light of day. A thoroughly wounded underling, pecked, bruised and bedraggled. A car with a really bad reputation! Not the kind of choice you'd take home to show your family.

What a time the poor old Allegro had. Lambasted for its looks, its somewhat lackluster performance as well as for poor reliability. It even earned a pretty harsh nickname - "All-aggro".

Hard act to follow

Without going into politics, economics or any other complicated histrionics; one of the biggest hurdles the Allegro had to overcome was the fact it had a hard act to follow. The old Austin and Morris 1100 & 1300's (ADO16) had consistently ranked amongst automotive best sellers. These iconic little cars had topped the sales charts and found a place in people's hearts for years. So, whatever BL introduced as a replacement was always going to be met with a fair bit of suspicion. Even mild hostility. The Allegro really did have a mountain to climb.

Thing is, I actually bought myself an 18 month old 1979 Austin Allegro 1300 Super in glorious Russet Brown with just 15,000 miles on the clock. I bought it because I rather liked it. Sure, I'd heard all the usual criticisms but then I asked myself a simple question. How much worse could the Allegro actually be compared with all the other motoring offerings of the day?

I mean, let's be honest here, Fords of that era weren't exactly the greatest. In fact they were often pretty damned awful. Vauxhalls liked to eat their own camshafts and ended up sounding like a bag of nails. Even a Rolls-Royce was more than just a little prone to the old tin worm as were most cars that hadn't been fully Ziebarted or dipped in a bath of molten bitumen. As for Japanese or Italian cars? Shall we be gracious and just say that they sort of dissolved when exposed to a soggy climate.

BL-bashing

I didn't join the chorus of Allegro-bashing. Frankly it seemed to emanate (along with a strong smell of stale beer) from the cake holes of burly blokes who'd probably never even sat in an Allegro let alone ever driven one. The Mr Spock in me wished to test out and challenge this increasingly tiresome convention. So, I did.

Despite the prevailing winds being filled with wafts of BL-bashing negativity, I will once again unashamedly fess up to actually liking the spacious Allegro design from the offset. What I saw was a slightly curvier and modernised version of the outgoing Austin 1300. The Allegro utilised largely the same tried and trusted running gear as the old models, coupled with a greatly improved version of the Hydrolastic suspension system, which was rebranded Hydragas.

My 1979 model didn't have a quartic steering wheel but I had long forgiven BL for that infamous design quirk (perhaps square road wheels might have been a harder sell). I liked the way quartic steering wheels were colour-matched to the rest of the interior trim. I also appreciated the Allegro's ride quality. I'd always liked the trusty 1275cc engines which were spirited, smooth running, economical and very easy to maintain.

And there lies the key - maintenance

A car is often only ever going to be as good as its owner's mind set. Care and maintenance is clearly very important. I've always found that a shabby car will often have a careless owner at the helm. A tidy car on the other hand will probably live on a careful owner's pristine driveway with access to a hosepipe, a hoover and even a purposeful little cupboard containing the likes of car shampoo and a tin of Turtlewax. Maybe even a gallon or two of clean motor oil, some new filters, a set of sparkies and even some spare contact points.

The lineage

Despite all the bad press, the Austin Allegro had quite a long production run, from 1973 to 1982. There were many models offered during this time from two doors, four doors and an estate version. There was also a chrome grilled Vanden Plas model which featured all the usual 'mini Rolls-Royce' refinements including plush leather, polished wood veneers, rear picnic tables and sumptuous Wilton carpets. The Vanden Plas came with either 1500cc or 1750cc engines, 5 speed manual or an automatic transmission. BL even made a sporty Allegro known as the Equipe. The two-door Equipe came with unique trim, a fancy sports interior and colourful Starsky & Hutch style 'go-faster' stripes.

The Allegro saw no fewer than three versions in its ten year production run. The original (and the most coveted on today's classic car scene) ran from 1973 to 1975. The Allegro-2 was launched just in time for the London Motor Show in the Autumn of 1975. It came with a few styling updates (including losing the quartic steering wheel). Finally, the Austin-Rover badged Allegro-3 saw the car to the end of production in 1982 with revised exterior styling including molded black bumpers. It also boasted an all-new restyled interior and revised metallic colour options from the Austin-Rover catalogue. Some models even featured twin headlamps which gave the Allegro-3 a nice sporty appearance.

So for those who possess an independent train of thought, the poor old Austin Allegro wasn't perhaps as altogether dreadful as some pundits made it out to be. It was certainly a car of its time and I don't mind confessing that I rather miss mine. I miss it quite a lot actually. I'm sure you'll not hear that said every day.