The Austin Allegro, a technologically advanced, badly built car launched just in time to become the focal point for all that was wrong with British Leyland. The fact that it looked wrong from every angle didn’t help much, so for the duration of its production run it suffered from bad press and worse jokes until it was finally taken around the back and put out of its misery in 1982.
Yet there is no denying the Allegros technological innovations and overall competence, with almost 650,000 cars finding homes things surely could not have been all that bad. Now with so many years having passed that negative image has become more of an endearing characteristic rather than an overbearing force that once prompted people to dismiss the car out of hand, so let’s open up some old wounds and with a view to owning one as an affordable classic, reassess whether the Allegro was a victim of circumstance or of its own making.
Which Allegro to buy?
Initially available in two and four-door saloon form the range was expanded to include a practical station wagon body style a few years into production. The word ‘Allegro’ may mean to move or perform at a brisk speed but in the case of this little saloon it would have been more accurate to name it the Lento (A slow tempo piece for non-music buffs). Engines ranged from a 49bhp 1.1 right up to a twin-carb 90bhp 1750cc unit and, in truth the larger capacity cars performed well enough.
The 1.5 and 1.7 cars received five-speed gearboxes while the smaller A-series 1.1 and 1.3 made do with four-speed units, an automatic could be chosen on certain models as well. Equipment levels were generally miserly, with entry-level cars having vinyl seating, no radios and wind up everything. Mid-range models got a radio and better trim, but for real small car opulence one had to go for the Vanden Plas models. Most were fitted with the optional automatic transmission and had leather and wood trim, with picnic tables in the rear. Sadly a farcical looking front grille was also standard fitment.
Looking at some of the positive attributes, the new Hydragas suspension, front drive layout and advanced electric cooling fan were ahead of the game. Then there was the ‘Quartic’ rectangular steering wheel, designed to provide easier viewing of the sparsely equipped dashboard instrumentation, it was dropped in 1975 as all most owners saw was red. The Hydragas suspension was a bit unrefined at first but it was greatly improved over the years and Series 3 cars were smooth riding and handled well.
Serious build quality issues marred the early cars and the reputation of the ones that followed, BL tried in vain to address concerns and the Series 2 models with improved suspension and interior arrived in 1975. It was not until the Series 3 cars arrived in 1979 that the majority of the issues both niggling and major had been sorted out and it is one of these later models that we would look at.
In a modern context, the majority of problems that plagued the Allegro in its day, be they mechanical or political are generally now non-issues. As a weekend fun car it makes little difference as to how it stacked up against the competition back in the ‘70s, all that matters is whether they are fun to drive (a good one can be), are they reliable and can spares be found.
Performance and specs
Austin Allegro 1300
Engine 1275cc OHV in-line four
Power 46bhp @ 5300rpm
Torque 69lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 84mph
0-60mph 15 seconds
Fuel consumption 31 mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 820kg
• Generally cheap to maintain, some Allegro spares can be hard to come by. Joining the UK Allegro club though can open up access to their spares stock as well as valuable advice from its members.
• While A series engines (1.0, 1.1 and 1.3) are sluggish, there are more parts available for them and they are a bit more reliable than the larger 1.5 and 1.7 E-series motors. The later cars with the A-plus specification engines are smoother and preferable if you can find them.
• Structural integrity on earlier cars was seriously lacking, check for stress cracks and any signs of major chassis repairs. The build quality on Series 1 cars was also patchy at best, later versions were much improved but rattly dashboards and loose trim is par for the course here.
• The four-speed gearboxes and automatics tend to be strong. Stretched cable selectors on autos can be relatively easily replaced.
• Rust is a common issue on cars from this era, particular trouble spots on the Allegro are the front wings, corrosion under the windscreen and rear arches. Blocked drainage holes can quickly destroy an otherwise good door. Later cars are surprisingly resilient to rust, especially compared to European rivals.
• Electrical systems give trouble if the connections are corroded otherwise they are reliable.
1973: Austin Allegro is released, replacing the successful Austin 1100/1300 saloons
1975: Station wagon body style launched. Series 2 Allegro introduced, front grille standardised across the range and rear passenger space is improved. Quartic steering wheel replaced with more conventional unit. Allegro Equippe model introduced with unique styling combining Series 2 and 3 parts
1979: Series 3 Allegro introduced, the majority of changes focused around the new A Plus engines, redesigned headlight units and some minor trim changes
1982: Austin Allegro production ceases, replaced by the Maestro/Metro pairing
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.allegroclubint.org.uk – Austin Allegro enthusiast site
• www.aronline.co.uk – Historical information and British car community
Summary and prices
A high attrition rate means that Allegro values have steadied a bit in recent years, not much separates a rusty project from a usable example and restoring a car is never worth it as rust buckets can be £1000 while only £500 to £750 more can get you a nice complete car. The Vanden Plas models enjoy a premium over the other cars, and perfect examples can be as much as £3000. Despite the large numbers built, choice is limited so focus your search on condition rather than specific models, the later the better.
The sayings ‘all publicity is good publicity’, may not have quite worked for the Allegro in its day but it sure makes for a fun classic car experience today, as its quirky looks and chequered history seem to invite all sorts of interactions with the general public. With a small but enthusiastic group of supporters the much maligned Allegro may finally have found its place in the world as a great little first classic.
Words: John Tallodi