Austin Allegro - the worst cars ever
A worst car classic, the Austin Allegro provokes nostalgic smirks from those who remember it and fits of furious anger from past owners
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Along with the Morris Marina, the Austin Allegro was a product of the malaise that was British Leyland in the Seventies, although with its dumpy styling, it's clear that the Allegro left a more permanent mark with our readers than the Marina.
The Allegro was born in 1973, although its development period was rather brief. When Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings merged in 1968, Leyland bosses were shocked to find out that BMH didn't have plans to replace the top-selling but ancient Austin 1100. So the Allegro was rushed into production. It's possible that in the hurry to market, bosses missed the fact that the Allegro's chief rivals were being sold as versatile hatchbacks, and were proving popular with buyers.
As it turned out, the lack of practicality was the least of the Allegro's problems. The bulbous lines were an acquired taste, to put it politely, while the Allegro's 'Quartic' steering wheel looked ugly, but was a necessity so that the driver could see the dials properly. The Metropolitan Police had the Quartic wheel swapped out of the Allegro panda cars that it ordered 'because it didn't suit police driving style’ (yeah, right!), but the strange steering wheel disappeared completely by the time of the first Allegro facelift in 1975.
That facelift addressed a few issues with the original car, while another update in 1979 improved the Allegro further, and also saw the introduction of the Equipe, a boy racer variant with silver bodywork and funky-for-the-time orange stripes. However, with the Golf GTI bringing new-found performance to the class, the Allegro felt even more out of its depth.
The updates tried to address the Allegro's problems, but the damage had already been done. It wasn't very spacious, had a range of asthmatic engines and was priced higher than its chief rivals, too, so it's no wonder it failed so miserably. And those cars that did find owners were nothing but trouble, with the constant threat of breakdown looming large every time you'd think about going for a drive.
One potential danger was that over tightening the wheel bearing nuts could result in bearing failure, and it's gone down in motoring folklore that there's so much flex in the Allegro's construction that if you jack it up in the wrong place, the back window will fall out and the doors will jam shut. No wonder the car earned the nickname 'All Aggro'.
It's fair to say that the Allegro wasn't a sales success. It was on sale for nine years and sold around 650,000 models - but its Austin 1100 predecessor sold 2.1 million examples in all of its badge engineered guises. The arrival of its replacement, the Austin Maestro in 1983, couldn't come soon enough.
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