April 10, 2017
The UK’s most hated cars – #10 The Austin Allegro 0
The title of the ‘UK’s most hated car’ is a contentious one. Everyone has their own opinions on what really constitutes the ultimate stinker and there have been many contenders to choose from over the years. The next few weeks will see us revisit some of the real hummers, that have stank up the roads of Britain since Karl Benz first came up with the bright idea of combining four wheels, seats and a steering wheel.
But what are the real categories that would make a car ‘the most hated’? In truth, there are a few criteria we’d have to factor in: drivability, looks, reliability, blah, blah, blah. After a period of excruciating forensic research, we’re pretty sure we’ve nailed the definitive top ten pigs of the road, loathed by millions and rightfully consigned to the automotive dustbin of history.
So, let’s not waste any more time and begin our top-ten roster of shame. In reverse order we give you the…
By God this was bad. A true piece of dirt that best summed up the lethargy and malaise of Great Britain, and more particularly British Leyland in the 1970s. Even the worst cars have certain redeemable features, but it’s hard to think of any with the Allegro.
First conceived in 1973, the Allegro was the resultant product of a surprisingly short development programme. British Leyland and British Motor Holdings has recently merged and Leyland had become wise to the alarming news that BMH had no replacement planned for the ageing Austin 1100. Therefore, the Allegro was rushed into production which goes someway to explaining its numerous shortcomings.
It was perhaps surprising that during its hurried design, Leyland hadn’t considered pitching the Allegro to match its potential competitors which were mostly being sold as versatile hatchbacks. That said, the lack of practicality would ultimately be the least of the Allegro’s worries.
So why was the Allegro so spectacularly awful? Where to start? All the car parts of this car seem impossible to enjoy. It’s hard to look past the truly unflattering lines, which were squat, dumpy and plain. The steering wheel was a bizarre shape too, ultimately round, but with rectangular pretensions. It was shaped this way to allow the driver to see the dashboard dials, but safe to say, this made it butt ugly.
There’s a story that the Metropolitan Police – who used the Allegro as squad cars for a period – demanded that the ‘Quartic’ steering wheels be removed for regular ones, for the reason they ‘didn’t suit police driving style’! By 1975, all versions had standard steering wheels when the Allegro had its first major facelift, and the experiment to reinvent the wheel was discontinued.
The facelift in the mid-70s went some way to sorting out some of the worst bugs with regards to the car’s performance; it was further improved in 1979 with a sporty boy racer being released. By then though, the Allegro’s reputation was irreparably damaged. By then, Volkswagen had released the Golf and this groundbreaking new car sounded the death knell for the Allegro. By comparison, it was completely out of its depth.
Despite the improvements, there was still a catalogue of failing car parts that no car servicing could solve. The interior felt cramped, engines throughout the throughout the range were unreliable and fairly puny. Pricewise, it was more than the majority of its rivals too. The sales figures for its entire lifespan were risible, just 650,000 were shifted in a nine-year period, especially puny when you consider its predecessor, the Austin 1100, shifted 2.1 million examples throughout its lifespan.
Undoubtedly the main flaw with the Allegro, was its potential to suffer from bearing failure if you excessively tightened up the wheel bearing nuts. That, plus the motoring folklore legend that if you jacked it up in the wrong place, the back window would fall out and the doors would jam shut. The arrival of its replacement, the Austin Maestro in 1983, must have felt a long time coming.
We continue our nostalgic look back at the ‘UK’s most hated cars’ next week by revisiting the absolute hummer that was the Alfa Romeo Arna.
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