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The Austin Allegro’s Fanatics Beg to Differ: Is this Really Britain’s Most Terrible Car?


For millions of people, the Austin Allegro epitomizes the misery of 1970s Britain: unreliable, uncomfortable and ugly.

Get ready for some pink nostalgia though as the rusty standard bearer for an era of appalling nationalized industries, mass strikes and stagflation is about to turn 50.

The celebrations begin this Sunday at a gathering at the Mini Plant in Oxford. In May there is an Allegro Fun Day in Longbridge, Birmingham, followed by a formal Golden Jubilee celebration at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

A turn of events for the much-derided British Leyland jalopy, voted ‘Britain’s worst car ever’ from a bleak era of fierce competition.

Do you remember the Morris Marina? The Talbot ray of sunshine?

Style King: Allegro designer Harris Mann (pictured)

The Equipe pictured next to a model

The Equipe pictured next to a model

For fans of the Allegro – and there may be an unbelievable number of them – the breakdown-prone family car should be celebrated for more than just its revolutionary, if pointless, square steering wheel.

Take Reverend Colin Clarke, for example. He has owned nearly 50 of the cars and now has three to his name.

Mr Clarke, 63, whose parish in Birmingham includes Longbridge, where the Allegro was made, explained: ‘They made 650,000. It wasn’t such a flop as people say. It is part of people’s lives.

The Allegros evoke memories in people. The best thing is when someone sees the car and says, “Can I put my head through the window and take a sniff?” Then they say, “I remember being taken to school with this.”

“They think the colors are more evocative. People like them because they were bright orange or green. Then they had more interesting colors.’

Harris Mann was to blame. He was chief car stylist for British Leyland in the 1970s and was accused of inventing a sedan to give the European upstarts their money’s worth. The original model, launched in 1973, cost £974. The more affluent could spend £1,367 on the Austin Allegro Sport Special – unfortunately known as the SS. Then came the Vanden Plas, a so-called luxury version, equipped with a ridiculous grille, walnut dashboard – and even a picnic table. It cost £1,950. And was still an Allegro.

None of this has deterred Richard Gooch, 44, a carer from Cornwall. Quite the opposite. Mr. Gooch’s fascination with the Allegro started over 30 years ago when he worked in a garage as a teenager. He has since spent an eye-watering £50,000 buying and restoring Allegros.

He currently owns seven (there are believed to be only 300 left), and his pride and joy is a damask red convertible 1300 Super. He is, he says, used to the ridicule.

The Reverend Colin Clarke (pictured) has owned nearly 50 of the cars and now has three to his name.

The Reverend Colin Clarke (pictured) has owned nearly 50 of the cars and now has three to his name.

Mr Gooch told The Mail on Sunday: ‘When I worked in the garage I always got some cane. I was told it was a “grandpa’s car”. I do not give a hoot. I just like an underdog.”

Tom Morley, 40, from Chelmsford, bought his 1976 1100 Deluxe in 2005 for £700. He calls him Gladys and they had good times: he won best car in the 600 at a show in Essex in 2018.

Mr Morley said: ‘I grew up with a family of British Leyland cars so I suppose it was just inevitable that I would own one. It has so much character and when you drive it it makes you smile.

“When I first got the car 18 years ago it had a reputation for being worthless. But now I can be parked next to Bentleys at shows and people will want to look at the Allegro. People can identify with it.

“Many people may want a Ferrari, but they can never have one. But many people could own an Allegro.

“In the 18 years I’ve had the car and driven it to shows, it’s been so reliable. I wouldn’t want to drive any other way.’

So why, we asked Mr. Clarke, has the Allegro risen after half a century of being misunderstood? He said, “Jesus often spoke to the less powerful, marginalized and overlooked in society.

“He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on his way to the cross. Maybe, just maybe, he would have endorsed the Austin Allegro, long the despised underdog of the car world.’

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