Several shadows loomed large over Allegro: ADO16, its benighted imperator and a man called Paradise.
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 appointed in his stead. Nursing acute resentment over the manner in which this was handled, 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 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, 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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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?
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, 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, according to some sources, at the wrong moment for BLMC to benefit from the removal of tariffs across Europe. In fact, it has been argued, it had the opposite effect, with European carmakers being better-placed to capitalise in Britain – which they did.
A further factor influencing Paradise could be described as the illusion of success. This would manifest itself two-fold. 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 right 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.
 Harry Webster had a strong track record, steering 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.
 There is no question that the manner in which Sir Alec was treated by Stokes was insensitive and poorly handled. But Stokes clearly considered him surplus to requirements.
 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.
 Marina was intended to buy BLMC time and market share. Allegro however was essential to Donald Stokes’ ambitious expansion plans.
 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 aging model was now only available through a single BLMC sales channel.
 What is beyond doubt is that for the 1975 Allegro 2 revisions, the rear seat pan was redesigned to allow for improved rear seat access, suggesting that someone got their initial calculations wrong.
 The Allegro was launched in 1973 as a 12-car range. Four engines, two bodystyles.
 As soon as the 1300 A-Series engine was made available in 1968, sales of ADO16 leapt upwards, with a waiting list quickly forming.
 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.
 The UK press seemed to regard the 1300 cc Allegro as the sweet spot in the range – the 1100 being a bit of a slug and both E-Series units under-performing – the 1750 being particularly disappointing in this regard.
 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.
Sources: See part one