God Save the Queen

“There’s no future, in England’s dreaming…”

“That look of distinction”. Image (c) VPOC

Ah, the Allegro: Worst car ever. All Aggro. These and other less flattering terms have been routinely flung like wet rags at BLMC’s 1973 compact saloon offering in the intervening decades since the car ceased production in 1984. But while ADO67 itself would over time become notorious, its more dignified Kingsbury derivation was the object of ridicule pretty much from the outset.

Introduced in September 1974, the Vanden Plas 1500’s debut was greeted not only with a gilded tureen of derision but a sizeable component of incredulity; not so much for what it was, but largely for the manner in which it had been executed. So, what in the name of all that was sacred and holy possessed Vanden Plas to build such a curious motor car?

The fundamental rationale behind the VDP 1500 goes back to the 1962 introduction of ADO 16, the Morris 1100 saloon which would go on to top the UK best-seller list for the bulk of the decade. Shortly after the 1100’s introduction, Fred Connolly of the world-renowned hide producers commissioned Vanden Plas to create a one-off luxury version for his personal use.

At the time, BMC’s Sir George Harriman was keen to promote Vanden Plas as the carmaker’s premier nameplate, and in 1963, BMC requested that the Kingsbury coachbuilder weave its VDP magic upon the 1100, showing a prototype at that year’s London motor show at Earls Court. Featuring a similarly enhanced cabin as that of the ‘Connolly car’, along with visual refinements; the most notable being at the nose, where a prominent upright VDP grille replaced the standard car’s horizonal affair.

Given the 1100’s bluff frontal aspect, and the fact that already, MG, Wolesley and Riley versions were in production, sporting traditional marque-specific grilles, this highly formal arrangement was carried off with reasonable aplomb, flanked by integrated twin spotlamps. While an entirely speculative showing that year, owing to the level of customer interest, it entered production the following year.

Image (c) autominded.net

Marketed as the Vanden Plas Princess 1100, the car was trimmed to a high standard by VDP’s craftsmen, featuring a full-width walnut dashboard, matching door capping’s and picnic tables fitted to the rear of each front seat. West of England cloth lined the roof, Wilton carpets on the floor while the seats were trimmed with Connolly leather. Each front seat had its own folding armrest and a central armrest was fitted to the rear bench. Additional sound deadening kept the NVH down.

The ADO 16 was produced over three series in both 1100 and 1300 form, manual or automatic. Proving popular with those who desired the sybaritic qualities of a conventional British luxury car, but neither the bulk or the thirst, the junior Princess proved a successful, profitable model line for BMC, with a total of 38,751 being built – the final Princess 1300 Mark III leaving VDP’s Kingsbury plant in June 1974.

Image: (c) VPOC

While the ADO 16 Princess came about largely as an afterthought, it would appear that its successor (now shorn of Princess nomenclature) was in the product plan from the beginning – a likely outcome of the previous car’s durable sales success – the new car entering production a mere three months later.[1] Inside, the traditional dials-on-a-plank, along with matching door cappings were unique to the model. Bound Evian carpets, Connolly leather and a sound deadening kit lent the requisite luxury markers – there being few surprises within the well-appointed cabin.

The frontal styling on the other hand, while certainly a surprise, was very much a matter of taste. Deeming it necessary to carry the requisite gravitas associated with the marque, the VDP 1500’s nose treatment is believed to have been the brainchild of Roland Fox, Vanden Plas’ Managing Director at the time, who created the initial styling sketch.

“Gracious motoring.” Image: (c) veikl

But while ADO16 could carry such a formal arrangement, the Allegro’s already somewhat pinched looking nose treatment was thrown even further out of kilter by the tall, inward-slanting grille, flanked on either side by the standard car’s small, inboard headlamp units. Taken in isolation, the nose treatment could perhaps have been excused, but viewed as a whole, the upright grille affixed to the rather plump Allegro body lent the the car a rather unfortunate aura of failed seriousness – that of a humble economy saloon with notions.

Portions of the UK press certainly thought so; the ever-acerbic Car (Oct 1976) decrying the VDP 1500’s appearance as “absurd“, noting that it was “certain to appeal, visually at least, to those who reflect warmly on past glories“. Autocar, somewhat characteristically gave the car a less hostile review in November 1974, stating that “With familiarity the forward slanted Vanden Plas radiator grille does not look objectionable on the Allegro body”.

Given how BLMC’s Donald Stokes was known to be opposed to his predecessor’s policy of badge-engineering, it is curious that he should have sanctioned such a product, especially considering how vital the success of the Allegro programme was to his business plan.

It is also tempting to ponder the VDP 1500’s subsequent sales career had either Roland Fox decided against the formal grille (or Stokes had said no). Would a less overt treatment made for a more commercially attractive product? We’ll never know for sure. However, what the sales figures do seem to illustrate is that the core customer base was either tailing off or dying out.

Finished to a high standard at VDP’s Kingsbury facility[2] from Autumn 1975 until 1980 in 1500 and later, 1750[3] form with an identical mechanical specification to the equivalent Allegro over three distinct series; during the five year production run, a total of 11,942 were produced, a not disgraceful figure, but well below that of its predecessor.

“No Future”. Image: Honestjohn

Were it not for its appearance, the Vanden Plas 1500 would most likely have passed into history almost entirely unremarked, there being little conceptually wrong with a well-appointed, luxury version of a relatively humdrum car. However, largely as a result of its unmistakable visage, it became a somewhat lazy target of journalistic ire.

Yet from the vantage point of half a century, the VDP 1500 exudes a more ironic appeal, its initial failure to be taken seriously having since inverted into a failure to take itself seriously – a somewhat different proposition. We look upon the Vanden Plas 1500 now and are more inclined to smile benevolently at its wilful oddness, its defiant refusal to concede to conventional nostrums of aestheticism. For a car that carries so much of the semiotics of upper-class conformity, is there not perhaps an almost Punk, in-your-face sensibility to its demeanour – more Vivienne Westwood than Savile Row?

Roland Fox – style icon. What on earth were the chances?

[1] Was the VDP 1500 the last BLMC model introduction prior to the group’s collapse later that year?

[2] Vanden Plas Kingsbury plant was closed in 1979, the remaining VDP 1.5/ 1.7s being completed at MG’s Abingdon facility, prior to its closure in 1980.

[3] While the cooking third series Allegro received new larger plastic-faced bumpers, amongst other cosmetic changes, these were not fitted to production Series 3 VDP models, which were badged Vanden Plas 1.5/ 1.7, the larger engine being fitted to later models ordered with automatic transmission.

The 1970s were also an era of customisation, of Minis and VW Beetles sporting Rolls Royce grilles and the like. While its unclear as to whether Vanden Plas was aware of this trend, it was nevertheless of the Zeitgeist.

Data source: Vanden Plas Owners Club.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

80 thoughts on “God Save the Queen”

  1. “It is also tempting to ponder the VDP 1500’s subsequent sales career had either Roland Fox decided against the formal grille (or Stokes had said no). Would a less outré treatment made for a more commercially attractive product?”

    That suggestion seems to anticipate the following wave of Vanden Plas cars: Metro, Maestro, Montego, SD1, 216, which were more ‘Ghia’ in their presentation, and a trim level rather than a brand. The were more ambitiously upmarket than the contemporary Fords, where the standing of the Ghia coinage had become somewhat devalued. As with the VP1500, the raw material was what let the product down.

    A tie-in with Daimler Double-Six (late ’72 on) seems like a missed opportunity. It had a high equipment level and a colour palette not shared with other XJs, although I’d guess a four inch wheelbase stretch would be our of the question for the ADO67.

  2. Good morning Eóin. I actually have a sneaking regard for what Vanden Plas did. This was not a thin veneer of luxury, but the real thing in a small package and the end result was actually rather pleasant:

    Of course, the coachbuilder’s starting point was hopeless, but that was not VdP’s fault.

  3. Even the Marina might have made a more credible starting point for VdP, from a stylistic perspective at least:

    1. Oh dear, that looks pretty grim from this correspondent’s perspective. “Silk purse out of sows ear”comes to mind.

    2. Hi Mike. But is it really worse than the Allegro version? Put aside for a moment everything you know about Marina and ask yourself…oh, never mind, I can’t complete that sentence and expect to have any credibility left!

    3. The problem lies in the proportions. The grill needs to be deeper, and extend below the bumper.

    4. With those vertically aligned tail lights, the rear aspect suddenly looks a lot like the Chrysler 180.

    5. Hi Jonathan. I thought exactly the same. I think those lights are from the Marina estate.

  4. I think it’s quite interesting pondering what works and why and why not? The VdP-treatment obviously worked on the ADO16 but not on the Allegro? The Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet was obviously a bridge too far concerning the Mini, while the Radford et al treatment of the Mini was a great success? Did Vanden Plas ever make a Mini make-over? Perhaps they should have, and the extended boot Mini should never have been made at all? There’s something tongue in cheek over the Mini and ADO16, perhaps because nobody ever took their treatments seriously? Why does a wicker Mini like Peter Seller’s only produce joy in its audience, while the thought of a wicker adorned Allegro would only be laughed about?

    1. The Marina does look plausible for the period. As this is early/mid-’70s I don’t think Mervyn’s suggestion of a deeper grille with part below the bumper would have been popular. Vauxhall did try the above and below bumper grille wih their FE Transcontinental series in 1972 and they didn’t exactly fly in sales terms. Even Jaguar grilles became much less deep with the Series 2 models in 1973.
      For the Allegro if they could have run to providing new front wings too they could perhaps have made something more dignified, headlights on the new outer wings (the oblong ones vertical?) and driving/fog lamps between like the ADO16.

  5. Goodness. The failure of the Allegro VdP rests on about 2 cm of of grille – it´s a bit too big and pointy. A smaller, chromed and mostly horizontal grille would have looked more appropriate. Apart from that, there is nothing wrong with the rest of the VdP treatment. One might wonder, given the low cost of designing a new grille, why BL didn´t get right back to the drawing board and redo the grille and bonnet. The cost would have been marginal, even for as cash-short an enterprise as BL.

    1. Would this be the ticket?

      Maybe a full-size grille moved downward (although I don’t know whether regulations at the time would have allowed for that bumper)?

      Silly bumper aside (my fault entirely), I think the larger grille gives a bit more gravitas whilst being better integrated into the design. Such things being relative on an Allegro, of course.

      Regarding the Ford name on the Mustang: I think I read somewhere that Ford considered its brand lacked prestige for an important, premium-ish car like the Mustang Mach E. It’s intended to compete against Tesla, after all, which has its very own “edgy” kind of premium image (I loathe Elon Musk, but admire Tesla for making electric cars aspirational products and maintaining their technological advantage). Most new electric cars from mainstream brands feel a little underwhelming (the Ioniq 5’s battery range seems to be about equivalent to the five year old Kona Electric’s, it’s also huge compared to a Model 3, much as I like it overall). The Mach E seems to offer a more convincing range, better quality than Tesla, and equivalent roadholding to the Model 3. Plus, I simply like its look.

    2. Tom V: It’s definitely an improvement, but personally, I’d have gone smaller still.

      Nice work however.

    3. Hi Eóin, I suppose you’re thinking more in the vein of the R8 Rover 400 facelift (and various other Rovers around that period)?

      I always reckoned that a very late-‘eighties, or ‘nineties thing: referencing a traditional grille with a smaller, more aerodynamic version. I seem to remember an evolution of grilles from large and upright to at first leaning backwards (wasn’t the 190 – why would I be thinking of that car… – the first Mercedes with a grille that leant backwards?) to even smaller. I even think the Rover 800 facelift was pretty much the first car to feature such a small version of a traditional grille, and very neatly done, too. The Vanden Plas’s grille seems to be conceived with the traditional “large and upright” in mind, with the bumper height the main limiting factor as I’m sure they wanted it to be every bit as big as on the ADO16. The same can be seen with the Jaguar XJ series 2 vs. the series 1. Maybe there’s an article in there somewhere… “the evolution of the grille”.

    4. Hi Tom. Yes, the XJ Series II is a great example of a well executed updating of a traditional front end while keeping the grille relevant and not reducing it to a cliché. The Series III successfully refined it further:

      That said, I wonder if it might have worked even better if Jaguar had allowed it to remain inset, as on the Series I, and not added the prominent chrome surround?

    5. I thought it might be worthwhile to see if an XJ Series 1.5, with a shallower but still inset grille, might have worked. Here’s my effort, with the original for comparison:

      Any thoughts?

    6. Given some of the proposals for the revised XJ’s nose treatment, I would say that what was sanctioned was at least in sympathy with what had gone before. (I much prefer the original inset grille) It’s clear to me that Jaguar’s stylists, left largely without Sir William’s guidance, struggled mightily with these revisions, which were largely driven by US impact regulations. Having said that, I never felt entirely happy with the Series 2 treatment. The Series III however, tided up matters enormously.

      On balance however, it really doesn’t get any better than a Series 1 XJ12.

    7. Daniel: yes, that seems to work quite well. Why did they not do it? Perhaps because it was not enough to merely remove; they needed to add some “content” or information. In formal terms, the grille frame articulates the aperture more emphatically. Was that needed? Probably not on what must be one of the most evocative front ends ever to grace a saloon. Like the DS and CX, I never get bored looking at that car, in any of its forms. You see them around here now and again and it´s always an event.

    8. I’m with Richard: they felt they needed a stronger emphasis to the shape because it was smaller. Was the series 1 the first jaguar without such a prominent chrome surround? I must admit I hadn’t noticed the chrome, though: I’m so in awe of the XJ that I tend not to notice such details, just admire its “rightness”. What a picture of three XJs together!

  6. Hi Mike. But is it really worse than the Allegro version?
    Hi Daniel – I don’t believe it is but that doesn’t make it right imho. Credibility? Mmmm 😉

  7. The Sex Pistols in a gentleman’s club; glorious stuff, Eóin! Dials on a plank not only made me spill my cuppa but is a great punk band name. Johnny Rotten’s lyrics have never sounded so incongruously mischievous. Bravo.

    VDP were the Mitsuoka’s of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Goodness only knows what both companies were drinking but I’ll raise a glass to these anachronisms – then stick two fingers up, fasten my safety pins and head for the mosh pit.

  8. The VDP Princess 1100 was marketed in some countries (I forgot which since I have this pic on my computer for so long) as the MG Princess 1100:

    1. Do you know if the Vanden Plas 1500 was sold outside the UK? I’ve never seen one in the flesh.

  9. brrrruno – according to the VP Owners Club:

    “Based upon the Vanden Plas Princess 1100, the Vanden Plas name being virtually unknown in the U.S.A, it was decided to badge the Princess exported to the U.S. as an M.G. Princess 1100. Mechanically identical to the Vanden Plas 1100 (automatic transmission was never offered) the cars were all left-hand drive. Most had an M.G. badge fitted to the standard Vanden Plas grille, and all received an M.G. badge on the bootlid in place of Vanden Plas, and M.G. 1100 hubcaps.

    The car was not a good seller and only 156 examples were manufactured between December 1963 (the February 1964 New York Show Car) and September 1966 when the last one was built.”

    1. Robertas- thank you very much for the information, much appreciated.

    2. The marketing people thought the VdP name was too obscure to use on US market Princesses, but they thought it better known, or maybe less confusing, than Daimler; upscale American market XJ40s wore Vanden Plas badging along with the fluted grill of a Daimler.

    3. The Daimler trademark in the US was owned by another company.

    4. The Daimler trademark situation seems convoluted. As far as I know, the right to use that name on automobiles resides with JLR. I seem to recall the Daimler, the German company that makes Mercedes-Benz cars, had to consult their lawyers regarding their ability to rename themselves after the DaimlerChrysler debacle. Jaguar’s right to use the name in the US market apparently lapsed due to disuse, confirmed in a US Patent Office decision from 2009.

    5. Ben, I tried to research why every Mercedes sold in North America since around 1980 has had a sticker like this on the windscreen.

      I came up with “they wanted to honor the founder”… Well, one of the founders.
      I would tend to doubt that such a sticker has ever appeared, or could ever appear on UK market cars.
      While this is but circumstantial evidence, draw your own conclusion.

    6. gooddog, I’d agree that M-B using that window sticker appears to be an attempt to establish “Daimler” as their intellectual property. Especially as you note it was only used in N. America; my parents’ gray market Euro spec w126 notably didn’t have it. The pre-Jaguar Daimler company certainly used that name in the US market, but maybe the then Daimler Benz withdrew the license after the Jaguar acquisition or after the existing lineup has been exhausted. But I it also could have been the other way around, with the UK company holding the name rights when it is used as a marque. And that’s before wading into the case of Austro Daimler and Daimler Steyr Puch.

  10. Whereas it is generally agreed the Allegro should have been a hatchback, the Vanden Plas Allegro is one of those exceptions that could have instead benefited from a three-box saloon bodystyle where the VDP grille does not look too out of place.

    1. Bob: the Allegro saloon works rather well. The snout is immediately less problematic. I had not entertained the idea of an Allegro saloon. It looks so plausible and so we find another wasted opportunity in BL-land.
      I came across Harris Mann´s sketches for the Allegro. They are all quite nice to look at (he could draw very nicely indeed!). Given the attractiveness of the theme, I can imagine Mann was infuriated his name was attached to the production car. If the Pope can apologise for the misdeeds of the church, I wish someone could make it clear that Harris Mann was not responsible for the Allegro and that the TR7 was actually quite okay. It might not be the worst example of reputational injustice, but it does rankle.

    2. richard herriott – Apparently there was concern a three-box Allegro saloon would have overlapped even more with the Marina and Dolomite, even if such a car would have probably been not much longer compared to the ADO16 based Austin Victoria.

      Despite factors beyond Harris Mann’s control over how the Allegro turned out compared to his sketches such as the misjudged “spring” in the panel pressings, tall engine (in contrast to the later significantly shorter S-Series) and Marina heating system. Am of the view Harris Mann should have done a better job at anticipating things based on how the E-Series was used in the Morris 1500 / Nomad beforehand, whilst at the same time believing it was still within his capability of salvaging the design as it drifted away from his sketches had he drawn upon his time at Ford to incorporate amongst other things a more Ford Capri (that he was already familiar with) or Ford Taunus TC influenced solution for the Allegro’s front end (if not something akin to a downscaled version of ADO71 / Princess 18-22).

  11. How I wish there had been an ad campaign with the strap line, “The Vanden Plas 1500: it’s got notions”. ‘Having notions’ is beautiful.

    Here’s the UK TV programme, Drive In, taking a look at the VdP.

    There’s also the owners’ club site, which I (genuinely) think is excellent.


    The sporty versions of the Allegro didn’t really hit the mark, but I always thought the Italian version, the Innocenti Regent, was better / interesting.

    1. Not so much ‘dials-on-a-plank’ , which would appeal to me, as dials recessed behind the plank. Did they just lay the plank over an MG dashboard ?

    2. I agree that the Italian girls are more interesting but weren’t we talking about the cars?

    1. Can you specify the Vignale Fiesta with smaller wheels? By the way, the Mustang Mach-E is not badged as a Ford. And the Fiesta Vignale is not badged as a Ford either. Is Ford backing away from the Ford name?

    2. Richard -I don’t think that you can order the Vignale with smaller wheels, unless one’s dealer could do something post-ordering. I wonder if it would mess -up type approval, though. No interior choices, either. The Vignale has Ford badges front and rear on the configuator.

    3. Ah, so it does. Where did I get the impression it didn´t. Silly me.
      Jolly nice cars though. I just Googled the S-Max Vignale interior. It´s very pleasing indeed, in dark brown with quilted leather. If it had quilted cloth I´d be even more pleased to see it.

  12. The idea of a not-huge but genuinely luxurious car is such an obvious one it remains a mystery to me why the breed has all but died out. Perhaps the example discussed in this article confirms that the luxury can’t usually be stuck on to an existing type? Lovely though the Fiesta is externally (and how nice to say that of a car that is actually in production), its interior cannot convince me as a luxury car, no matter how much tinsel is added in Vignale spec.

    Probably the economics of making dedicated models of this type just don’t work. Probably it’s no coincidence that Rover and Lancia no longer exist (the lingering shadow of the White Hen notwithstanding).

    1. @Chris, I think this could be attributed to consumers’ attitudes regarding what they perceive that their money is getting them.

      To understand this, we must begin with a premise that holds true of pretty much every mass-produced car nowadays: the creature comforts that were once reserved for the best “executive” cars (power windows all around, power steering, power mirrors, central locking, anti-lock brakes, multiple airbags, aircon, leather steering wheel, alloy wheels) have become, through competition, evolution, and even – in some cases – through legislation, available to pretty much everyone. Even the most pedestrian, proletarian car has them.

      Another factor we must understand is that people tend to be size queens (this does have some sexual connotations). When presented with two cars of equal trim level and similar powertrains, but different sizes, they will gravitate towards the bigger one, even if they don’t need the extra space that the larger car promises. Yes, this does have some sexual connotations. But it’s not just the phallic thing (at least for our sex) that’s at play here; we must also consider that people believe that bigger size equals greater value for their euro (or pound sterling, or dollar, or what have you). Why? Because size is instantly visible.

      And here lies the problem: instantly visible vs non-instantly visible. Luxury is in the details. Those details that you might never notice, that you might even never see, but give the luxury product its refinement. Like the sweet fret dressing on Ibanez’ Japanese-made “Prestige” line of guitars, which is visible only if you look closely at the fretboard and its edges, and felt when you bend the strings on the immaculately-polished frets. Like the silicon hairsprings and glucydur balance wheels on ETA’s “Top” and “Chronometer” grade movements that power several highly-spec’d watches made by Swatch Group subsidiaries. Like a pre-1991 IBM Model M keyboard’s buckling spring switches and all-PBT construction that never yellows or loses its texture through decades of contact with your acidic sweat. And so on.

      These things are lost on most people. They want bulk. And they want to instantly see what their money gets them. It’s why we see people buy the overpriced, vulgar scamware referred to as “fashion watches” that promise “affordable luxury”. I’ll go back to the “bigger is better” thing: in pretty much everyone’s eyes, a small car can be nothing more than a basic run-around for the harsh city traffic. Something you’ll thrash daily, fill up your kids’ with Cheeto crumbles and your dog’s vomit, thread through unforgivingly-congested streets at idiotic speeds, giving it (and others’ cars) all sorts of dents while hoping you’ll keep your license clean, and then hose down once in a blue moon. Even if it has the finest leather seats, that’s the treatment people expect it to receive. So, the notion of a small luxury car does not compute to most people – it throws up a divide by zero error to them.

      On the other hand, a bigger (D-segment and up) is something they feel they can be proud of. It’s a BIG car. A car that marks its male owner as an Alpha Male. As a man of power and achievement. So, it will be cherished, and it makes perfect sense for its owner to seek one that has at least some elements of luxury (as in refinement).

    2. Thanks for your detailed response to my musing, Konstantinos. I have a horrible feeling you are right.

    3. I think there’s lot in what Konstantinos says.

      I’ve just had a look at the DS3 using their configurator and I thought it was rather nice, inside, in the right colour.

      I guess the Audi A1 is meant to be premium, but it’s far from luxurious, sadly.

    4. Konstantinos, how does the bigger is better analysis account for the death of the non premium executive car? My impression is that from the mid 80s or so, buyers ditched big Fords and Opels in favor of smaller BMWs and Mercedes Benzes. Do the brand kudos of a meanly specced 190E trump the size advantage of a Granada?

    5. @Ben: Sedans, hatchbacks, and B-segment cars have been losing popularity to SUVs and their spawn, which are bigger in all dimensions compared to what they replaced in the buyers’ preferences. That Mercedes-Benz chose to go downmarket with the A-class is neither here nor there, because the A-class is not a luxury car by any stretch of the word. It’s just a cynically-conceived C-segment hatch (and pretty cramped, at that) with a build quality and trim spec that’s comparable (not always favorably) to that of a VW Golf’s, but with a more desirable badge. It’s a bit like Longines making a watch to compete with a 5-series Seiko.

  13. Right, I tried to resist, but failed. Here’s the Vanden Plas 1500 and my ‘improved’ version, with a lower grille and revised lamps:

    What do we think?

    1. Definitely an improvement, Daniel. However, I’m getting Panther Rio flashbacks.

    2. Quite like it, can understand the Panther Rio vibes as well as some inspiration from the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 prototype.

      Perhaps the headlights could be made bigger like on the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 if not the Lancia Gamma Trevi prototype by Pininfarina, was going to suggest either a pair of Maxi-style single round or Princess/Allegro Series 3-style twin headlights though the VDP Marina photoshop gives a rough idea in the case of the latter.


    3. Yeah, much better than the original. There are still things that could be done to make it look more palatable, though.

    4. Better -the headlamps would be better if the upper edges were exactly horizontal or better, angled slightly down ward toward the centre. They look sad at the moment.

  14. Amazing – it gets rid of the ‘piggyness’ and all those panel gaps. It looks much, much wider and lower, and better. How did BL manage to mess stuff up so badly? It’s almost an achievement to have been as comprehensively inept as they were.

    Some of the Marina prototypes were lovely, too (and were rejected, it goes without saying).

  15. The fuss has been removed from the wings and lights, which is good. The general design could have worked for all Allegros. How about sub-bumper indicators too? That could achieve a bit of an XJ40 Sovereign look, with these ‘fishtank’ headlights.

    Tedious practicalities: Could you fit an E series engine and “that heater” under the lowered bonnet?

    Why was the top of the VP1500’s grille so arched at the top? the earlier cars’ grilles were almost straight-topped, and better for it.

    I’m thinking along the lines of having a high bonnet and low bonnet, in the short lived 18-22 Series manner:

    The simplest is the best – who would have thought it?

    1. Shades too of the Frua-bodied Rolls Royce Phantom.

      Robertas: Going back to the first post in this thread, I do wonder if the Allegro’s proportional issues (well one of them anyway) could have been assuaged by an increase in wheelbase. I seem to recall it was pegged to that of ADO 16, when in fact cars were growing in size. Of course that would have put it closer to the Maxi, which opens up an other can of worms. Best leave that one alone…

  16. Thanks for the feedback, all. I was keen to try and create something that maintained the style of the Allegro front end, rather than go for a generic solution, hence the headlamps are still inset into the grille, albeit pushed out into the front wings.

    One thing that, I think, makes a huge difference to the VdP version is flattening the top of the grille, removing the excessive curvature that Robertas identifies as a problem. Incidentally, despite appearances, the front end is no lower than the production Allegro, so there would be no issue accommodating the engine and heater.

    This would not have been a particularly expensive facelift either, just a new bonnet, wings and valance, although the custom headlamp units wouldn’t have been cheap.

    Of course, Charles is right: if I can knock this up in 30 minutes, how on earth did BL get the Allegro so wrong in the first place?

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I guess the Allegro’s headlights came straight out of a parts catalogue, as did those for the majority of other vehicles, at the time. Your solution would have been too expensive – above the car’s ‘pay grade’ – even assuming that lights of that shape existed; manufacturing bespoke ones would have been out of the question. It just shows how spoilt we are these days with advanced manufacturing techniques.

  17. Hi Charles. I think that the replacement of glass with polycarbonate for headlamp lenses allowed a huge advance in the complexity of shapes that can be created. That, and the abolition of the US DOT regulations enforcing standardised sealed-beam units allowed designers much greater creative freedom (which is not always a good thing!)

    1. Hello Daniel – yes, I thought that; constraints can sometimes lead to creativity.

  18. Some dimensions – Imperial because it seems right:

    ADO16 wheelbase: 93.5″
    ADO16 tracks: 52.0″/50.0″
    Allegro wheelbase: 96″
    Allegro tracks: 54.3″/54.3″
    Marina wheelbase: 96″
    Marina tracks: 52.4″/52″

    Cortina Mk.3 wheelbase: 101.6″
    Cortina Mk.3 tracks: 56″/56″
    Cortina Mk.3 wheelbase: 98″
    Cortina Mk.3 tracks: 52.5″/51″

    Maxi wheelbase: 104.75″
    Maxi tracks: 53.7″/53.3″

    The Marina and Allegro have the same wheelbase dimension but the Allegro has the broader tracks – wider than the Maxi and within sniffing distance of the Cortina Mk.3, which seemed a very wide car by comparison with its predecessor.

    I’ll contend that the Allegro sizing was absolutely spot-on for the time, although Greek Al must have taken a dim view of the packaging.

    To be a proper Cortina competitor, the Marina should have had at least at 100″ wheelbase. With so many Ford people at Longbridge and Pressed Steel BL must have known how big the 1970 Cortina was going to be. Of course the Marina was sized and priced to catch those who may otherwise have bought an Escort, Viva, or Avenger, and those who might consider the new Cortina unwieldy.

    1. Hi Robertas. As I recall, the benchmark for the Marina was the Cortina Mk2, which, like the Mk1, had a 98″ wheelbase. Even if Ford surprised BL by increasing the wheelbase of the Mk3 by 3″, it still remains unclear as to why BL didn’t match the Mk2’s in any event. Perhaps it was because BL seemed to be afraid to go head-on against a competitor, or always thought they (i.e. Issigonis) knew better?

    2. Perhaps not only unwieldy but so blatantly borrowing cues from Dearborn that it appeared more an ill conceived redux of Consul Classic/Capri/ Corsair than a saleable Cortina?

    3. The Marina’s development was confused. It started out as an Escort rival, but grew. Leyland knew about the mk3 Cortina but they probably didn’t want to step on the toes of the forthcoming 18-22 range (105″ wheelbase) with the Marina. The Marina’s exact size wasn’t thought to be very important, as it was planned that it would be replaced in a few years.

  19. Speaking of Fords, these always remind me of the Mercury Bobcat although that was barely pricier than the Ford Division equivalent Pinto. It had the same interior options starting with highback bucket seats in tooled-effect vinyl that wouldn’t look out of place in an F550 dump truck. There seems to have been a higher take rate for the upscale option of low-back/separate-headrest reclining seats with plaid pillow-effect cloth.

  20. With the likes of the Wolseley 1000, Cooper Bertone / Bertone Mini VIP (see below) and MG Gnat (also the reputedly more official MG M-Type proposed in 1963) in mind. While a Vanden Plas version of the Mini was produced in South Africa as a trim level, how would the Mini have looked had it actually carried over a Vanden Plas grille like the ADO16 Princess 1100/1275/1300 and Vanden Plas X6 1800 Princess never mind the Vanden Plas Allegro and Princess 2200 prototype?


    AFAIK only some of the Radford Min De Ville conversions as well as Brian Luff’s mock Rolls Royce grille conversion dubbed the “Status Mini” (below) come closest to giving the Mini an approximate front end one would expect of Vanden Plas had they been tasked with building such a model.

  21. Daniel

    Your version of the Jaguar XJ Series 2 front is an improvement which Jaguar ought to have tried, at least for one of the model range at the time. The more you look at it the better its appeal.

    What would your XJ look like were the eyebrows over the headlights removed as well? Can you do that? Leave the lights in the position mounted as they are, but get rid of the metal overhang above them. It would be interesting to see.

    Many people like the XJ’s eyebrows (Chrysler confirmed this at a clinic they ran, leading them to incorporate an analogous styling feature for their Cordoba). Trouble was that the eyebrows were known to be a major source of aerodynamic drag, generating turbulence and vortices which rolled right up the bonnet. Their contribution to a high drag coefficient and also the front lift coefficient was significant. The team at Jaguar knew this at the time, but the car did look so good. Some years later on, several wind tunnel tests confirmed the problem and demonstrated it was more serious than originally understood. Of course, priorities gradually began changing some and so different compromise needed to be sought as time wore on. Aerodynamic drag was one reason the XJ40 lost the eyebrows.*

    Had the XJ40 not have been launched when it was (and there was the strong possibility that it would not have been ready even at that delayed point in time) Jaguar engineers and management did consider a Series 4 as a fall back or Plan B. This car would have had the fuel tanks moved out of the rear wings and relocated above the rear suspension. The front sub-frame was to be altered for better crash performance and there were some other changes to be made. They would certainly have needed another restyle or freshen-up were they to have done a Series 4. It is interesting to consider what they would have amended. Perhaps Pininfarina would have been called on once again. Whatever the case, it would have been likely those eyebrows would have had to go. Too much drag…. Too many people knew….

    So, just through interest, what would the your S-2 look like minus the eyebrows? Can you prepare a picture of it?

    Thank you.

    * LJK Setright had a suitably strong opinion about it.

    1. JT: From what I can gather, a number of factors entailed the solution that was adopted for the Series 2 XJ. By then, Sir William had pulled back from direct involvement in styling, so the revised car was the work of the newly founded styling team, who struggled massively to find an attractive solution. Furthermore, the approach which Daniel worked up would probably have been deemed insufficiently different from a sales and marketing perspective. The resultant car (while not entirely to my taste) was clearly differentiated from the S1.

      I would imagine that an XJ without the eyebrows would look rather similar to an X300/308 – a bit naked.

      I have heard mention of a putative Series IV XJ from a number of sources, but have never found any definitive basis for it. I asked Professor Randle about it in 2016 and he denied there were plans for such a car – he was up to his eyes with the ’40 (and everything else) he said – there was simply no resource for it. If such a proposal existed, (and it may have) I suspect it only did so on paper. I expect Randle would not have been in favour of such an approach anyway, since the ’40 was a clean-sheet attempt to right a lot of wrongs.

      I recall LJKS being quite scathing about the aero performance of Mark 2 Jags as well. He was right. Sir William didn’t concern himself about such matters – he might get Malcolm Sayer in to consult once the styling was decided and probably then ignore his advice if he didn’t like what he heard. Sayer did carry out some wool tuft tests at MIRA with a 2.4 saloon in the late ’50s, but any changes made to the car were minimal.

    2. Hi J T. Let me give that some thought. There’s a crease on the wingtop above the outer headlamp that would need to be adjusted as well.

  22. Good Evening Eoin!

    Difficult indeed it must have been to be tasked to follow on from Sir William at Jaguar. What a huge ask. Just imagine being tasked with stepping into those big shoes!

    Having said that, the Series 2 was a fitting successor to the Series 1 in most ways. It looked the part. Still does. An example lives right here!

    I went to look carefully at some X300/308 earlier this evening (there are two really nice ones nearby- their owners take good care of them). I don’t think they really look naked, rather there is a dissonance, a certain messiness. It is a little difficult to pin it down. Don’t get me wrong. They are still attractive. Perfection? Not quite. A near miss.

    So where wrong?

    I suspect that it is down to three issues. Firstly, the top of the fender panel and the bonnet curves too far downwards to where it meets a radius at the top of the headlight. That curve occurs over an extended distance, making it stand out. There is a subtle crease there which is not completely resolved either. It sort of peters out vaguely. Compare this to the XJ4 and there the top of the fender has a clearly defined crease line which is flatter, nearer to straight, with a very short kink downwards terminating at the eyebrow over the headlight peak. Look for it carefully and you’ll see the kink is there, invisible otherwise. The X300/308 needs the straighter fender and bonnet line (interestingly enough the XJ40 did have this straight). Probably the only way to achieve this and keep the headlights at the height they need to be would require a slight nose down stance (which would likely look good on this car).

    Second, the bonnet shut-line arrives at a point close to, but not exactly at the top of the headlight. It is a mismatch. Move it further inboard.

    Third, the metalwork above the top third of each headlight has an overly generous radius. That needed to be much tighter (less radius) and/or, the headlights could have had larger diameter to consume the vertical distance the radius was supposed to hide as it traversed upwards towards the top fender line.

    {Goodness, this is quite difficult to try to describe in writing.}

    Series 4 likely only got as far as an on-paper fallback plan as you identified. Once commitment to get XJ40 up to production for the early ’80s was decided, there would not have been the will, let alone the resource, to do Series 4. My understanding is that the decision to go all out to produce XJ40 was informed by politics, not engineering. The XJ40 launch was eventually postponed (again) in order to seek more time to get it up to scratch. Nevertheless, by the time of its well delayed launch the XJ40 status was “still not ready yet”. It was under-developed. Events were to demonstrate that was the case and the early owners suffered well and truly. A shame. Jaguar could have benefitted from the extra time and cash a Series 4 would have lent them, especially in the USA.

    By the time the XJ40 launched LJK had developed considerable dislike for the eyebrows of the XJ4 cars. He had learned of the aerodynamic issues they generated and was of the firm opinion they needed to go. He mentioned this in conversation several times. He also wrote about it in his usual eloquent manner. He thought they were of a time since passed, OK back then but not appropriate now.

    Apart from that, thanks to a certain F. Piech aerodynamics came to matter to all sorts of people all of a sudden, much, much more than previously was the case.

    …so the poor Jaguar lost his eyebrows!

    1. JT: I concur. It would be fascinating to have this conversation at the Jaguar collection Centre at Gaydon, where examples of each car would be readily to hand for examination. Overall, I think what these observations distil in the purest form is just how much of Jaguar style was dependent upon the uncanny eye of Sir William for the visually elegant solution. It also shows how much of the cars’ visual richness was ‘read’ peripherally by the observer. One could see that the shape was graceful and well resolved, but one did not notice (or really understand) why.

      Interestingly, Sir William stated in a TV interview during the 1970s that the original XJ4 styling took over three years to perfect. I doubt that X300 was given that length of time, even if, as I’m reliably informed, the nose styling was knocking about the ‘Randle skunkworks’ for some time previously. Naked was probably a little unfair of me, but yes there is something vaguely unsatisfying about the end result.

      John Egan stated that he considered cancelling the XJ40 programme and starting afresh in 1984. This was, I suspect a consequence of the manner in which the car was greenlit and as you suggest, the politics of the time, both at BL level (which was considerable), and I suspect, within Jaguar itself. BL wanted the car in production on a volume model timescale, while Randle and co knew this was impossible. But they went along with it, because to do otherwise risked the funding being reneged upon – such was the total lack of trust that existed by then.

      I would certainly agree that in retrospect, it would have been preferable to have retained SIII for the US market – as it sold strongly there right to the end – and only introducing the ’40 into such a vital market when it was clear that it had been fully debugged. However, I don’t think Browns Lane had the flexibility to do this and by the time this might have been apparent, they were fully committed. But yes, I have often wondered about whether a Series IV would have solved a lot of problems. On balance, I think not. There were too many external variables, which would not have gone away.

  23. Hi Daniel

    I had another look at an XJ4 yesterday. This was a Series 2 car from 1975 in “primrose”. Looking at the headlights and eyebrows directly from the side (you need to crouch down for this) and it is noticeable that the metalwork around the headlights slopes forward from the bottom of the light to the top (the peak of the eyebrow). Perhaps the solution would be to “stand it up” and make the headlight surrounds vertical. The head light would remain slightly recessed (in Series 2 there is a lip around the headlights which gets larger as you traverse around the headlight going from the bottom to the top, in this case it wouldn’t “grow” as much or even at all). The crease on the top of the fender would not be removed or blended out as was done for X300.

    The Series 2 is still an attractive car. They even handled the grille on the Daimler versions reasonably well. I used to dislike those but it all seems to have improved with age. I took the car for a drive and it continues to surprising how silent and refined it really is. Not a track car by any means, but it does point and surprise, surprise, yes indeed it’s a final oversteerer! I’d forgotten about that. Quite nice, although there are not many like that anymore.

    Hope you are enjoying a good weekend.

    1. Hi J T. Those peaks over the headlamps perhaps made more sense on the Series I XJ model, where the forward cant of the deeper front end was much more obvious:

      The forward-cant to the front end was retained on the XJ40:

      But was dialled back on the X300:

      Which is possibly why the latter looked slightly ‘piggy-eyed’, with the surrounding metalwork appearing to be pulled back and the lights protruding somewhat:

      Slightly more prominent surrounding metalwork with more recessed lamps might have given the front end a more ‘finished’ appearance.

      And thank you, I had a very enjoyable weekend and hope you did too!

  24. Hi Eoin

    I understood that the nose of the X300 was from the still-born XJ90. They transplanted the nose and tail from XJ90 onto the new model (X300) which was in essence an updated XJ40. The surgery was done relatively skillfully but you can still tell something is awry. It’s a little like actresses who suffered botox or some plastic surgery. Even if restrained and carefully done you can still tell something doesn’t quite seem right…

    When you take the XJ4 outside (where it looks at its best) and walk around the car you can see there is a lot going on. There are all sorts of lines and curves. They interact in subtle ways. It is complex, yet it “reads” clearly as smooth, rounded, sleek, elegant. I spent a while looking at XJ4 yesterday and remembered something else that was stated about it. I think it was H Mundy who mentioned it in an interview. The lines are long and uninterrupted. They each have a purpose and they go from and to specific points on the car for a reason. That is, you can see where (and why) they begin and where (and why) they terminate. There are none of the pointless flourishes and creases which abruptly begin, go nowhere, do nothing and then peter out, all for no purpose, as is common on present “designs”. That is busyness for the sake of busyness- “stylist” got to be seen to be doing something! What a contrast.

    There is a another car I am familiar with which has a such careful relationship of curve and line, a little like the Jaguar. It is Countach. Viewed outside in natural light it has those well known dramatic lines, but there is a lot of curvature which is only really noticed when walking around the car and looking at it in daylight. It isn’t the same as the Jaguar, it is much sharper, but the combination of the lines with the curvature of panels (even the windscreen has curvature and is not flat) reveals certain surprising similarities of technique, as do certain long uninterrupted lines. I wonder if this is due to the method deployed to style each of them.

    1. JT: You will no doubt be familiar with this piece. The XJ90 is (briefly) covered here. I do wonder however if maybe Mr Randle had also considered a facelift for the ’40 along those lines? So many questions I wished I’d asked.

      History Repeating – (XJ40 : 1972-1994)

      One of these days I’ll write a short piece about the ’90. It will have to be short.

      I have a book where Bob Knight is quoted about Sir William’s approach to style – how he hated lines that didn’t go anywhere – he had very clear ideas on the subject it would seem and certainly, I wouldn’t disagree with one of them.

      I saw a comment on a Jaguar forum recently comparing the original XJ to a 1980’s design and citing the 2003 X350 as being superior. Goes to illustrate that even great art is lost on some people. I don’t intend to be mean about X350, but it is a rather blunt looking car by comparison.

      Not having a Countach to hand, I’ll take your word on it – certainly when Gandini was at his height, he was very good indeed. Shades of Icarus perhaps?

  25. Good Morning Eoin!

    Yes, please do an article on XJ90. That would be most interesting indeed!

    Can you let me know the name of the book with Bob Knight’s discussion about Sir William Lyon’s approach? I’d like to learn more about how he did it. My understanding is that Sir William worked in collaboration with some highly skilled metal fabricators who would form panels for his cars over a timber frame or buck. They would form the panels to his instruction and fit them to the buck. Sir William would view the results and ask for alterations or amendments of line and curve etc. His fabricators would work the metal sheets to suit his requests and the shape he was searching for would gradually emerge/evolve over time.

    Countach panels were hand formed by skilled fabricators from sheet…

    X350 was not superior to XJ4. Even the stylists working at Jaguar at the time were not well pleased. They knew it was wrong. When the car was released I visited the local franchisee to take a look at it. It was a disappointment. The shame is that it was wouldn’t take a lot of alteration to make it look much, much better. Why oh why did they fool about with aluminium though? What a train wreck!

    1. JT: As regards ‘The Lyons Method’, you might find this article of interest. It was written by some Doyle fellow. Never heard of him myself…


      Agreed on X350. Fergus Pollock, who was lead designer on that car, admitted as much in a fairly recent interview. The packaging constraints from Ford’s senior management made it almost impossible for it to be anything but a less than brilliant compromise.

      The book which quotes Bob Knight was Philip Porter’s ‘Project XJ40’, which was one of two ‘official’ biographies of the car which came out the year of introduction.

  26. Thank you for the link. That clarifies it. An important explanation.

    I wonder why Sir William didn’t teach his method to his up and coming styling department. They could have played around with clay and CAD all they liked in the future, but having a solid understanding the Lyon technique, the JAGUAR technique, and being able to deploy it themselves would have paid mighty dividends. After all, that technique was THE basis of the Jaguar look and feel. It was foundational.

    In the case of Malcolm Sayer, my understanding is that his numerical method is lost to history. It appears he never taught it to anyone else.

    Re X350- looks fat, like a retired Olympian starting to go to fat who’d better get married real soon (before it’s too late). They ought to have run with XJ90.

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