Running With Scissors [Part Two]

Several shadows loomed large over Allegro: ADO16, its benighted imperator and a man called Paradise.  

Image: aronline

Sequels are often a tricky balancing act. Alter the recipe and the audience may reject it, reprise the original too closely and they are just as likely to feel short-changed.

The Allegro’s Sixties predecessor would prove a tough act to follow. Despite a lack of meaningful ongoing development, the ADO16 series remained Britain’s best-seller throughout the decade. With such lasting success, the pressure was on BLMC’s product planners and engineers to build upon this with ADO67, the 1100’s belated replacement.

Logically, when scoping the successor to a top-selling product it is sound practice to carry out a thorough analysis, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Customer and dealer feedback can provide much of this data, with additional input from manufacturing and the supplier base. All of which BLMC’s planners undoubtedly did in a thorough and workmanlike fashion.

ADO16 was expensive to build, so its profitability was marginal. This would have to change. It was heavier than necessary and its crashworthiness fell short of forthcoming standards. Furthermore, the bodyshell was notoriously rust-prone. In addition, owners were never satisfied with the paltry amount of luggage space offered, the poor engine access, nor with the upright driving position. Also, the interconnected hydrolastic suspension made some passengers carsick. All of these drawbacks were quantifiable and would be addressed.

Dealing with ADO16’s deficiencies was sensible, but one does not create lightning in a bottle by means of a checklist. When a product embeds itself so strongly into the fabric of the nation, other, less tangible factors are usually involved. Did BLMC understand the core of ADO16’s appeal?


The Issigonis factor

ADO16 came about as the result of some inspired original thinking by a small, independently minded team of gifted engineers. The imperative was for a complete rethink of the successful Morris Minor concept for a new generation. But even if BLMC’s engineers had wished to take a similarly innovative approach with ADO67, they would not have been permitted to do so.

Stung by the less than effusive reception the partially baked Austin Maxi received in 1969, there was little appetite within BLMC for the Issigonis recipe. Sir Alec, known for his high-handed and exacting approach, was left without allies in the newly re-formed organisation. He was shunted sideways, with Harry Webster[1] appointed in his stead. Nursing acute resentment over the manner in which this was handled[2], he brooded in his basement skunkworks, taking little interest in developments that were not of his own making. Meanwhile, Webster (himself no shrinking violet) was unlikely to have felt much sympathy for BMC’s one time star engineer.

But when change of this magnitude takes place, something invariably is lost. While it is obvious that Issigonis was unsuited to his oversight role, an original thinker of his ilk, intelligently channelled, was of immense value; certainly, ADO16’s lasting appeal was a consequence of his ability to establish fresh approaches and of deputy, Charles Griffin’s ability to refine and polish the product. ADO67 would feel the absence of both men’s input keenly.

At BLMC, engineers would no longer hold the same level of influence. Furthermore, Webster and his Longbridge engineers were up against a bruising schedule, with all hands diverted to meet the Marina programme target for 1971, while simultaneously scoping the far more critical ADO67 for a later release – a division of focus and resource that can only have diminished both products.

There was pressure of a different variety as well. Having bitten the inside of his cheeks at both Maxi and Marina launches, Webster was under enormous pressure to deliver a modern car, one the organisation could stand behind, no holds barred. It was a matter of honour – the ADO67 programme would leave nothing to chance.

The Paradise factor

If BMC was dominated by its dictatorial former technical chief, the newly constituted BLMC’s ethos would be far more pragmatic and market-driven. Sales and Marketing director, Filmer Paradise[3] and his team were tasked with defining the market parameters for ADO67 and establishing what was required, in engineering, specification and stylistic terms. It would be here that the true power base would lie.

Several core factors would be brought to bear upon Paradise and his team, leading them to a number of mistaken assumptions. By 1968, the success of ADO16 showed no sign of abating. This not only allowed BLMC to divert their full attention from the core product[4], but precipitated a strong element of uncertainty for those scoping the new car. Replacing a tired former bestseller was one matter, but doing so for a model enjoying a triumphant Indian Summer[5] was something else entirely. So while on one hand, the imperative was to create an entirely new, more broadly attractive product, a parallel and increasingly compelling one warned against significantly altering the formula.

Hence, while ADO67 would grow slightly in size (overall length, wheelbase and width), it would remain in principle, pegged to that of its predecessor. Size-wise, it would fit into the upper-median for this (still quite small) sub-section of the European car market. Whether this would prove an error of judgement remains a matter of debate, there being grounds to suggest that Allegro could have benefited from some further stretch[6].

Webster told reporters at the car’s launch that Allegro’s cabin space was identical in length to that of ADO16, but in reality most of the benefit was eaten up by a combination of the less upright driving position and plusher, less penitential seating – neither of which would have got past Alec’s ascetic eye – but were clearly market-driven changes.

Paradise and his team correctly believed that the customer had grown more sophisticated and demanding. Car buyers, they reasoned were prepared to pay for more creature comfort, more convenience features and that nebulous factor – snob value. Hence, ADO67 would be made available in a wider range of trim levels, and with a broader range of extra-cost options[7].

However, more features would mean more weight, negating the engineering team’s efforts to make a lighter, nimbler car.

Marketing also believed (also correctly), that ADO16 sales had been hampered by a lack of larger engine choices[8]. This view coincided with management’s keenness to harness unused capacity at the Crofton Hackett plant which was producing the Maxi’s E-Series engine. Having elected not to use this engine in UK-market Marinas, it became an urgent necessity for ADO67 to absorb this excess capacity. Paradise and his team were happy to go with this, eyeing what they projected as a growing market for more powerful versions of ADO67, despite the 1750 cc engine being far larger than any putative rival[9].

However, such was the power/ weight ratio with Allegro, not to mention the E-Series’ lack of urge, that even in 1750 cc form, performance was hardly sparkling, or aurally pleasing. In addition, the two larger engine capacities would place ADO67 well above the fiscal ratings in most European countries, begging the question, who exactly were these models aimed at?

Image: Adrian Flux

Throughout the 1960s, successive UK governments had attempted to control inflation by either restricting or encouraging borrowing using interest rates and credit controls. This constant process of heating and cooling the economy severely hampered production planning, creating a see-saw effect of hiring and firing amid the UK’s production plants, with sales uplifts and downturns and a state of perpetual uncertainty for the boardrooms of UK carmakers. It was amid this unstable situation that Paradise made his strategic projections for BLMC’s vital new car.

In 1967, Britain’s second attempt to join the European Community  foundered[10], meaning that tariff-free access to EEC markets would remain a distant aspiration. Faced with this, Paradise and his BLMC colleagues planned their product offensive with an emphasis on exports (and manufacture) amid further-flung outposts of the former colonies.

It would not be until January 1972 that Conservative UK Prime Minister, Edward Heath signed the EEC’s Treaty of Ratification, with entry taking place the following year – too late to materially influence ADO67 and as cogently argued by motor-historian, Chris Cowin, at precisely the wrong moment for BLMC to materially benefit from the removal of tariffs across Europe. In fact, it had the opposite effect, with European carmakers being better-placed to capitalise in Britain – which quite naturally, they did.

A further factor influencing Paradise could be described as the illusion of success. This would manifest itself in two ways. The sales resilience of ADO16 buoyed the marketing teams into thinking the car could be left on the market unaided – a decision which would come back to bite. Furthermore, the early success of the Marina emboldened them, vindicating Paradise’s market-first approach. This complacency would lead to ADO67 being finalised with a stronger emphasis on a section of the market which itself turned out to be illusory.

Personality matters. ADO16 came about by dint of a small number of strong personalities, without much recourse to focus groups or market research. Of course ideally, one would employ the best of both approaches, problems usually arising where one function over-rides the other. BMC got away with an engineers car in ADO16, primarily because it was so fit for its purpose. But above all, it was a car imbued with a strong and winning personality.

ADO67 would be the first post-Issigonis FWD Austin, but it would be overshadowed not just by its more illustrious predecessor, or the brooding spectre of its Spiritus Rector in exile, but an over-reliance upon focus groups and marketing spreadsheets. Numbers are not infallible.


[1] Harry Webster had steered Standard-Triumph to a position of strength within a decade with a series of well-considered saloons and sports cars. However, like Issigonis, he was also a forceful and often quite dogmatic character. Webster would resign from BLMC in 1974 to lead the engineering side of Automotive Products. He would be subsequently scapegoated for much of the product of the BLMC era, often unfairly. 

[2] There is no question that the manner in which Sir Alec was treated by Stokes was deeply insensitive and poorly handled. Stokes clearly considered him surplus to requirements. 

[3] Filmer Paradise was appointed as Sales Director, prior to the BMH/ Leyland merger, having previously headed Ford’s Italian outpost. The flamboyant American is also reputed to have worked in the White House at one point in his varied career. Paradise, who was instrumental in the development of both Marina and Allegro resigned from BLMC in 1973, the same year as Austin/Morris MD, George Turnbull. 

[4] Marina was intended to buy BLMC time and market share. Allegro however was essential to Donald Stokes’ ambitious expansion plans.

[5] 1968 and ’69 would represent the sales peak for ADO16. Beyond that, sales began to fall, but remained steady until 1971, when the revised Mark 3 version was fatally undermined by the advent of the Marina and the fact that the former bestseller was now only available through a single BLMC sales channel. 

[6] We will return to this matter in a later episode. 

[7] The Allegro was launched in 1973 as a 12-car range. Four engines, two bodystyles. 

[8] As soon as the 1300 A-Series engine was made available in 1968, sales of ADO16 leapt upwards, with a waiting list quickly forming. 

[9] None of the Allegro’s front-driven (direct) rivals fielded anything larger than 1300 cc engines. Most were pegged to around 1100-1200 cc until the latter part of the 1970s. 

[10] This appeared to have been a definitive case of General de Gaulle saying ‘non’!, not once, but twice. It was only once the French President had departed the scene, that the UK, along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark was admitted. 

More on Allegro

Sources: See part one

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

36 thoughts on “Running With Scissors [Part Two]”

  1. Good morning Eóin, thanks again for continuing on this subject.

    I kinda laugh at how their efforts panned out; the Marina was an expensive retrograde step that none the less presented a wide range of body styles to fill multiple sections of the market with one platform, while the Allergo was the one with the right mechanicals but limited to two body styles, an OK estate and a pudgy bloated two box saloon, both with that really weird headlight set up. They just couldn’t do anything right.

    Imagine an alternate reality were there was only one vehicle, with the styling and body options of the marina but the front wheel drive hydrogas set up of the allegro. Actually even better, one where the coupe style body was actually a 3/5 door hatchback, sitting alongside a 2/4 door saloon and 5 door estate.

    The newly formed BL realising that chasing the fleet market was a mugs game and instead concentrating on building private cars. With how well the ADO16 sold, I don’t think people were put off by advanced mechanicals at all. And then there’s Europe opening up. Such a shame.

    Do I judge them too harshly? After all hindsight is 2020. But considering how consistently they got it so wrong I’m left with the conclusion that they were useless at the business of designing and making cars.

  2. Good morning, JCC. You make an excellent point. As ever with BMC / BL, resources were spread too thinly. The Marina, despite its rushed development, was certainly a better looking and more versatile design than the dumpy Allegro and its peculiar three-door only estate derivative.

    I previously worked up a possible five-door Marina based on the coupé bodyshell, which would have made a lot more sense than the two-door car, and a modernised estate based on the Ital that lost the uptick in the waistline. Here they are:

    Those, together with the four-door saloon bodyshell, all with transverse engines and FWD, would have given BL a much more effective single competitor than the Marina / Allegro pair, neither of which properly hit the mark.

    1. Morning Daniel, oh wow those designs look fantastic! Totally in vogue for their times too. The top one especially excites me because I can see that forming a practical hatchback. And even if they didn’t go down that route, the overall 2 box shape would invoke the design of its predecessor, building brand recognition. As you say, using those designs with FWD and with traverse engines, they’d have been in a much stronger position to compete.

      Something else as well, the Marina sat in a sort of awkward position between the C and D class; bigger than an escort, smaller than a cortina. Do you think with a traverse engine, they’d have been able to make it just small enough to fit more comfortably into the C class? Or would this even be an issue?

    2. You’re right, Faisal. I hadn’t noticed it before, but there’s certainly something of the Vectra-based NG 900 about it.

    3. @ Daniel: That Ital wagon almost has something of a Volvoid look. Just needs a change of door handles.

  3. Ideally the Allegro should have never evolved the way it did and there are many aspects about it that needed to be remedied, at minimum it sorely needed the input of Charles Griffin.

    Much has been said of the tall larger 1500-1750 engines in the Allegro and gearbox , although curious to know the background behind the Morris Marina heater matrix that compromised Harris Mann’s vision for the Allegro’s styling at the front.

    If the Marina was originally conceived as a bitza then surely it the heater matrix must have been carried over from elsewhere as opposed to designed from scratch, or if indeed the latter than initially been designed without a specific purpose in mind before suddenly being considered good enough for both the Marina and Allegro to recoup costs and speed up development.

  4. I found a comparison of the Allegro 1100 with its rivals from Fiat, Ford and Honda.

    Austin Allegro 1100 - Fiat 128 - Ford Escort 1300 XL & Honda Civic 1200 Group Road Test 1973 (1)

    The Allegro, although being younger than the rest, could not win a single discipline and failed especially in terms of perceived quality.
    I am not a BMC-expert, but i think, the Allegro let the potential customers feel that it is not designed, engineered and built with the desired care…

    1. Ouch. Especially damaging considering that as the newest model, it probably should have had something over the others at least.

      Even looking at it parked there with the others, it just looks so wrong. Puffy and blobby looking yet somehow also slab sided and boxy. It really does look like it was built to a price, there’s absolutely no flair or style to it.

      Great find btw!

    2. Just for fun I looked up a couple of dimensions and found that the Allegro is nearly exactly the same size as the Fiat. Both cars don’t have a hatchback and both weren’t that exceptionally well made but the Fiat sold in far larger numbers. The Fiat is the more modern concept with its end-on gearbox andmuch better engine but otherwise it is just a thoroughly engineered piece of standard car building practice without funny suspension or other weirdnesses.
      Half a size up there were the Simca 1100 and Peugeot 2o4 – the Peugeot showed that a car with gears-in-sump drivetrain can look elegant and it had a gem of an engine but otherwise just fine standard engineering.
      What was it that made the Allegro fail?
      Was it all down to bad build quality?
      Or was it just too many glitches combined in one car?

  5. I feel very sorry for Harris Mann who delivered some fine themes to the BL machine only to have all the goodness sucked out of them and his name left stuck on the resultant vehicle. I like old cars. Allegros, though, aren´t Tagora wierd or much good at anything but gold medal mediocrity.

    1. Yes, Mann was very good at styling themes.

      However, a former BL designer I talked to about this didn’t agree with today’s consensus that Mann was this outstanding designer whose work was regularly undone by inept production engineers and decision makers. According to him, Mann was a designer very much of the ‘American school’, meaning he put emphasis on stunning illustrations and strong visuals, but somewhat lackadaisical about the process of turning these into fully-fledged production designs. So allegedly, the regular discrepancy between his sketches and the final products wasn’t entirely due to external factors.

    2. Strange that the All-aggro has recently attracted quite a following with those who collect such rejects. It didn’t remotely appeal to me in period and I certainly don’t want one now – but how is it that it looks so much better in 2023 than it ever did when new? Dammit, it almost looks cuddly…..

      And Daniel, I never thought I’d see a good-looking Marina, but your two are spot-on!

  6. How would the driventowrite desktop designers improve the Allegro – it always seemed a depressing bloated looking car with slumped shoulders and a face that had no relationship with the rest of the car. Is it irretrievable – it seems so similar to the Alfasud and yet completely different in appeal? Also recall my grandparents had purchased one ‘out of loyalty to England’ that we used on a family visit to the UK in 1973 and my car enthusiast father seemingly ranting about it almost every drive.

    Also great to see the original Honda Civic in the comparison test, my mother bought one in 1972, it was handed to me and my sister as our family car eleven years later, and was a fantastic unstoppable forgiving gem. I even won an impromptu drag race with a friend in his mothers Fulvia Zagato down Melbourne’s SE Freeway, an upset we still discuss.

    1. There were the photoshops done by Arnoud Besseling of hatchback, saloon and 5-door estate bodystyles.

      As for alternative front-end treatments for the Allegro. Have seen photoshop alternative Allegro fronts drawing inspiration from the Alfasud, Skoda Estelle and Estelle 2 as well as a few others.

      Noticed how the following Michelotti ADO74 proposal could have potentially been effective on the Allegro, along with how the second ADO74 resembles a single headlight version of a stillborn twin-headlight Allegro front design theme.×900

    2. ADO67’s styling will be addressed in a forthcoming article.

    3. Its proportions are wrong – and the front-end graphics are unsettling. Essentially the lamps are too far in board, like an Alfa 166, I suppose.

  7. Really enjoying this series, it’s as much a commentary on the era as it is the car and its maker.

  8. Is it just me or does the 5 door Marina coupé have overtones of the Hillman Avenger?

    1. No Charles, it isn’t just you – and the Avenger is another under appreciated motor of its era. But all this Allegro ambivalence is making me feel even more sorry for it. Perhaps Eóin’s next instalment will encourage you lot to be less cruel…….

      I rode in one only once – the winter of ’78 and battling my way home through a blizzard in my trusty Triumph Herald, I came out of the shelter of trees slap into a snow drift and had to walk the rest of the way. A couple of hours later the snow had stopped and under bright moonlight I went back to dig it out with a mate in his company car, a 4-door Allegro. Whatever else might have been wrong with the Allegro, its traction on hard frozen snow was excellent and totally without drama. Otherwise, completely forgettable.

  9. The Allegro does have a spiritual successor; the Mk1 Audi A1.

    When you see the resemblance, it cannot be unseen…

    1. So True! I made this mistake a while ago and indeed it’s indelible.

  10. @JTC

    I’ve also heard that the allegro was pretty decent to drive by the standards of the day. Good road manners. Not trilling, but not terrible. Which is a shame really, that this aspect was overshadowed.

    Was there anything they could have done to the engines to make them more lively? The A+ series 10 years early, or played around with the E series a bit more?

    1. Based on what was actually developed the Austin Maxi 1750 Stage 2 by Downton Engineering gives a rough idea of what could have been done with the Allegro 1750, the same could also possibly be said of the engine in the MG Maestro 1600 to a lesser extent.

      Click to access dtn_maxi.pdf

  11. I honestly don’t get the hate for the Allegro’s styling. To my eyes it is quite similar surfacing and proportions to the AlfaSud and GS (especially birotor) yet with a distinct character. I feel it is rather cute in an AMC Pacer kind of way. Were the headlights further outboard it would’ve been rather more generic. The bulbous sides give it good stance and make it look quite friendly. The Marina is not a car I would look twice at. It is so generic that for me makes it a lot more offensive than any Allegro could ever be.

  12. Eóin, I’m so enjoying this series. The implosion of Leyland meant we didn’t get these in my country, so I’m intrigued to read about them, wondering what we missed.
    Branching off for a moment, would the Marina have been better received (seen as more modern) if it had been fitted with the E-series engines, as we did in Australia? It seems strange to have those OHC fours only being used in the unpopular Maxi, until the Allegro came along. Or were the well-publicised suspension problems enough to turn buyers away? I remember reading about the issues in the local magazines before the Marina was released here.
    The Group Test Markus shows us above is interesting. They refer to the ‘relatively large body’; pardon me while I go check how much bigger than the 1100 it was. Hmm, six inches longer, three inches wider. That’s a fair bit. Having had several 1100s and a 1500 in the family, I have to wonder whether the added size was needed. It also invites the question, how much bigger was the Marina? An inch wider and eleven inches longer; that’d be the boot. Hmm; maybe they didn’t produce an Allegro sedan, so it wouldn’t cannibalise Marina sales. And the Maxi was in between – what a product mess!
    The shape, while clean and certainly more modern than its predecessor seems unfortunate somehow. The contour of the side panels, while suggesting strength, in effect just seems to add visual bulk – it almost looks like it has Marina front doors. Cut-down Marina? The pinched front end, while attractive seems overly complex; indicators integral with headlights and a full-width grille would have looked better and made for simpler pressings.
    Had I been in the market for one of those four, having experience with the ADO16s, I’d have probably taken a punt on the Honda. A local man replaced his Mini with one in ’74, and it was still in service 20 years later..

  13. Dry Ice! The squeal of tyres, an engine revving as a car vroomed up a curving ramp from workshop to showroom. The New Austin Allegro!
    That’s how I remember the launch party of the Allegro at Jacksons in Doncaster. As a car mad teenager I was there with my parents who had the Mini and Maxi serviced there. My family had a full house in the Issigonis bingo, from Grandad’s Oxford MO via Minors, Minis, 1100, 1800 to Maxi.
    But when I looked at the car, it looked and felt like something thrown together. The badging for example, generic and ugly block lettering for Austin, jokey bloated blobs for Allegro, and across the scratchy Quartic steering wheel different fonts.
    The Allegro is summed up for me by the detail where the bonnet, front wing, indicator, grille and headlamp meet. It’s prominent because the placing of the lamps draws attention to it, and nothing lines up, the gaps don’t match. It isn’t shoddy assembly, every Allegro is like that, it’s poor design. The shut line between the bonnet and the wing has to disappear when the wing joins the grille surround.
    Potential customers would think, if they take so little care with the things you can see, what about the things you can’t see? Spoiler, don’t try jacking it up.

    It wasn’t just that the Allegro and Marina were cynical, indifferently made designs, with nonsensical product planning. The 1970s ranges of VW, Renault and Fiat were as well. The problem was that the successive management teams had no idea what they were doing.

  14. @justin hill If I was to improve the Allegro I’d start with the much better looking estate version. That body shape is far more stylish, interesting and appropriate for a small mass market family car.

    Then I’d simply fix the headlight arrangement, ironically going with something far more conventional. Here’s an incredibly crude 5 door hatchback mock up made using a latter Allegro model:

    I think more skilled designers than me could develop that basic premise into a stylish and distinctive car. Then all it needs is some improvements to the engines to give them more get up and go, and for them to come up with a decent badge to stick on the front.

    1. “incredibly crude” JCC? Rather less crude than the real thing, I would suggest…😁

  15. A properly resolved Allegro Estate could have been quite a thing.
    I always thought that swooshy-uptick on the c-pillar was so out of character for such a stuffy, dumpy car.

    Here’s a Potato-shop to make the oh-so-missed opportunity of a 5-door.
    I channelled it ever-so-slightly – (maybe 1.5″ lost between roof and shoulderline) to lose the “dumpy”.

    It’s actually quite nice.

    1. These Photoshop images make me wonder just how hard BL had to work to make such a mess of the Allegro!

    2. I know – it’s like they purposefully screwed the pooch

  16. Thank you for the feedback on the photoshop everybody! You’re all too kind!

    Personally I think the car in that form looks a little stretched out, a couple of inches too long, and I’m currently trying to even that aspect out a little.

    Bringing the back in a little, so the rear bumpers begin immediately after the rear arch, and the swoosh on the c pillar rises right after the door sill. More in portion. It’s proving tricky though…might have to resort to sketching!

    Another question about the e-series; if they could increase the power output, could they have made viable 1.3 and 1.1 versions of it, to take over a few years down the line? I do know that a 1.3 was under consideration, before being abandoned.

    Yes A series was still there, doing a fine enough job, but if I’ve read correctly it wasn’t just old fashioned, it was also labour intensive to build. Should they have focused on moving towards OHC engines? They *were* supposed to be a forward thinking company after all.

    1. When the A series was enlarged to 1275 cc the cylinder bore centres were changed which meant very little parts interchangability with the smaller capacity versions, nor presumably could it be produced with the same machinery. There were 970 and 1070 cc versions which were short stroke versions of the 1275, but these were all ‘Cooper S’ competition engines.
      Plans to rationalise around the 1275 bore centres, which would have meant standardisation of cylinder heads, manifolds etc and simplification of production were of course Leylandised and put on hold because an ohc engine was planed.

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