UK CAR Road Test
Austin Allegro 1300


Allegro 1300 Super Deluxe ????

Whether it was due to some warped sense of patriotism or sheer perverted cussedness, my parents remained loyal to the faltering giant British car industry for more than two generations. Their reward for such faith was to own increasingly decrepit and out-of-date cars until they saw the light two years ago and finally gave up the fight. A succession of Austins, Morris, Austin Rovers and Rovers found themselves parked on the driveway which is probably why it's been reflagged on numerous occasions - to hide the oil stains. The Allegro was just one of those cars (much to the amusement of all and sundry).

Due to Leyland's legendary build-quality, the Allegro comes in two basic versions:

  • Version 1 The terminally rusty version which the wheels fell off within hours of purchase
  • Version 2 The last forever version which never rots and just runs forever with niggling little faults appearing almost weekly

Who it is that ends up worse off here is debatable; version 1 owners probably had a lucky, if expensive, escape.

My parents' Version 2 was the improved Mark II version. This came with such improvements as a round steering wheel and a back window that didn't fall out.

The original line drawings for the Allegro looked quite promising. How this ended up being translated to a bulbous slab-sided lump of dog poo is beyond most people's grasp. And how, when all the world were falling over themselves for hatchbacks, Leyland managed to create a hatchback shape and then stick a tiny boot in it beggars belief.

The only thing worse than looking at this car is, of course, driving it. Granted, the suspension gives a remarkable ride when its working, but the pay-off is floaty, lurchy handling and enough body roll to rival a 2CV. Unsurprisingly, to under steer is its natural inclination, with only the dimwittedness of the steering and your inability to twirl it standing between you and terminal plough mode.

Did I just mention inability to turn the steering wheel?  Well, at parking speeds at least the Allegro must have some of the heaviest steering ever to grace a motor car, this combines with thigh withering clutch and brake pedal and recalcitrant gear changes to make the All Allegro one of the most physically punishing cars to drive EVER. Stepping out of my own car and into the Allegro, I thought that the clutch had seized. Unfortunately, it hadn't and it continued running for many more years. Maybe it was designed as a training aid for would-be bodybuilders so they could get an extra workout every time they needed to go anywhere.

The engine, even 20 years ago, was already an old stager and it has almost diesel-like performance, ie reasonable bottom end torque, inability to rev and no top end. Economy is bearable but not earth shattering but even that may be down to the fact that you really can't be bothered attempting to make the thing go at any more than a leisurely pace.

The gearbox, as well as being like stirring lumpy treacle, manages the dual role of blunting any acceleration attempts and being low enough geared in its 4 speed top to murder your ears with the engine's anguished screams on the motorway. 

About the only nice thing I can say about an Allegro is that they were surprisingly roomy on the back seat. Being version 2 it never rotted of course and even after a decade it somehow looked in remarkably good condition, even its late 70s Leyland dralon interior was completely unmarked. Unfortunately, every other component had been replaced at least once.

Now, some people claim the Allegro is now a collectors item, there's even an Allegro club and, supposedly, the 1750 twin carb item or the fetishist Vanden Plas are the most sought-after versions. But all this proves is that there really is "nowt so queer as folk"

When my parents finally ridded themselves of the dreadful beast they purchased, wait for it, a Maestro, which to me was the Allegro reborn, fortunately it was a Version 1 Maestro and promptly started to disintegrate, leading them finally to Daewoo, the most reliable car they ever owned.


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