Questions of style.
There are certain irrefutable qualities which help determine successful product design. Of these, appearance, while arguably the least important in absolute terms, is the most easily perceived, and clearly the most subjective, but it goes without saying that in the absence of a robust visual appeal, even the best wrought product will struggle. The Allegro’s appearance forms an essential component of its subsequent notoriety, but like most aspects of the car’s iconography, this aspect of ADO67 remains subject to varying levels of hysteria.
The Allegro’s style garnered little overt press criticism at its introduction. This would not have been unusual behaviour from the home team – but in this instance the UK press may have been a little over-keen to recognise progress from an organisation which had hitherto, to their eyes, underperformed. But motor journalists were not the arbiters of the car’s appeal – visual or otherwise. The buying public were and they would make up their own minds.
A key rationale behind ADO16’s lasting sales success was that amongst its many virtues, it looked right. The 1100/1300’s cheerful, pert appearance, combined with strong proportions, and a purposeful, wheel at each corner stance were traits held in common with the Mini. But unlike its diminutive sibling, it came with a further dash of Pininfarina style, probably the finest contemporary car designers in the business.
Upon BLMC’s formation, the principles underpinning the Austin nameplate would dictate styling that was ‘durable’, rather than prey to the vicissitudes of fashion, a somewhat questionable aspiration for a vital new consumer product. This may have been a tacit nod to the time-honoured Issigonis doctrine, but given the commercial resilience of ADO16, there was clearly a nervousness at BLMC’s Berkley Square headquarters towards radical change and a belief that a family resemblance was desirable, for the purposes of continuity.
The Harris Mann factor:
For ADO67, the main thrust of the design work would be concentrated at Longbridge, where a small design studio had been set up around 1967. Amongst this intake of stylists was a young designer from bus makers, Duple, named Harris Mann. Noted for the vibrancy of his illustrations and renderings, the Ford-trained designer brought a modernist, dramatic approach to the formerly somewhat stuffy Longbridge studio, and would play a central role in the studio’s later output.
As stated in Autocar’s introduction to Allegro in May 1973, ADO67 took initial form from preliminary work carried out by Mann and fellow designer Paul Hughes in 1968 on an ADO16 base; Autocar’s Geoffrey Howard noting that Harry Webster had considered a reskin of the existing car before the decision was taken to start with a fresh slate. Later that year, Webster and Austin-Morris MD, George Turnbull travelled to the Longbridge studio to view Mann’s first full-size clay, which they sanctioned for further development; this gaining approval the following September.
BLMC’s Chief Body Engineer, Tom Penny outlined to Car magazine’s Doug Blain, that there were “four or five” proposals presented to senior management at Longbridge in early 1969. According to his account, “they all immediately fell for Harris’ car. After that they just left him to get on with it.” A statement which was probably intended as a compliment, but unintentional consequences would see otherwise.
A ghosted schematic taken from Autocar’s 1973 description of Allegro, where the silhouette was transposed over that of its predecessor clearly illustrates how closely matched the two cars were in dimension and outline. Obvious too was just how the bulk of Allegro’s extra length was concentrated aft of the rear wheels, additional luggage space being a key component of ADO67’s design brief. Another notable aspect of Allegro was how faithfully it reflected its predecessor in aspects such as passenger compartment and screen rakes; for a car a generation ahead of the 1100, Allegro exhibited a comparatively modest progression.
In a further nod to continuity, initial prototypes retained the side-mounted radiator positioning of ADO16, with earlier styling schemes showing a blanked off grille treatment. However, noise tests dictated its re-positioning to a frontal mounting, necessitating a more conventional grille. One further detail change involved the tail lamps. Originally ribbed to reflect the effect of the boot closing panel, this proved too difficult for the supplier to mould in plastic and was abandoned for a simplified affair.
The body shape itself was a close approximation of its predecessor, especially in the shaping of the canopy, and in the lack of overhangs. The main difference lay in the bodyside treatment, which carried faint reflections of Giugiaro’s 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint – in its use of inset headlamps and a prominent dihedral body crease bisecting the flanks.
Inside, the cabin design was subject to around 3o alternative proposals before a definitive version was established. The production design created under the supervision of Vic Hammond was for a rather stark looking, minimalist affair, with a floating instrument binnacle mounted ahead of the driver. In certain respects it was something of a dry-run for Rover’s later SD1 dash design, having at least an element of similar thinking behind it. Such modular dash designs would become a core BLMC/BL design trope.
The notorious Quartic steering wheel which garnered so much attention at launch would prove a late addition, only being incorporated into the car a year prior to launch. The thinking behind this was to allow the driver see the full compliment of instruments – as fitted on more upmarket models – and also to provide additional leverage at low speed manoeuvres. However, it was also something of a sop to marketing. Some members of the press would find it entirely satisfactory, others took against it. It would ultimately become one of several sticks to beat the car with and to be frank, perhaps the most spurious. It was excised in 1975.
It has been documented that the necessity of packaging a number of bulky and tall carry-over components led to Mann’s original design vision being compromised, and from viewing an image of an earlier see-through styling prototype, one can clearly observe its lower bonnet line, cleaner, deeper glass area and less pronounced body crease. But creating an arresting rendering, something at which Mann was particularly adept, was one thing. Making the design not only fit the given package, but sympathise with it was another matter altogether.
Did Mann lack sufficient oversight? Did being “left to get on with it” blind the inexperienced stylist to the fact that ADO67 was drifting inexorably from its earlier form? Did a complacent senior management over-rule the neophyte designer’s objections, wedded as they were to their chosen styling theme, and an ‘alright on the night’ mentality?
Isolating the basis of ADO67’s style issues is not the job of a moment. Problematic areas centred around aspects like the canopy treatment in relation to lower body – which gave the appearance of being perched atop – a matter made more evident by the overt barrelling of the bodysides. The inset headlamps lent the car a pinched appearance and not only visually narrowed the car, but also served to emphasise its over-inflated flanks. The raised bonnet and centre section were necessary to allow for packaging, but these transitions were not well handled and appear careless. Furthermore, many Allegros suffered from issues of stance, and in particular ride height – the latter either appearing too high, or too low.
No one aspect holed the Allegro’s styling – it was a confluence of details that were to be its undoing. But the unavoidable fact remains that Allegro was no ravishing beauty in any of its forms, lacking ADO16’s seemingly universal resonance with the British and International car buyer. By comparison, ADO67, while in essence a neat, tidy looking shape, simply looked awkward. But that is not to say that it was without charm, all be it, that charm may well be a factor of its awkwardness – waifs and strays having a certain sentimental appeal, despite their often unprepossessing appearance.
But as a replacement for Britain’s best loved motor car, the UK motorist had reason to expect better. The Allegro succeeded the 1100, but it never replaced it – certainly not in sales or in affection – and its styling played no small part in that discrepancy.
 In Car magazine’s 1973 introductory supplement, Doug Blain described the Allegro’s styling as follows: “And so emerged that rarity amongst mass-produced car bodies: a car of character, practical, light, rigid, reasonably efficient aerodynamically and free from the kind of gimmicks that might cause it to date prematurely.” On the other hand, LJKS didn’t appear all that enthused about the Allegro’s design, yet made no overt criticism of its style.
 A strong argument can be made that Pininfarina’s body style for the 1100/1300 range was not only fashionable, but also durable, in that it dated very slowly indeed. Unfortunately, this is not something which could be said for the Allegro, a matter which lends further credence to the suggestion that Stokes, Turnbull and Paradise really didn’t understand design.
 Former BMH Deputy MD, Joe Edwards brought styling back in-house in 1967, partly for strategic reasons, but also one imagines, to save costs; top flight Italian design hardly coming cheap.
 The nature of these rival proposals remains undocumented. It is however known that both Pininfarina and Michelotti were asked to submit proposals for Marina, so it’s possible they were again involved.
 This is more apparent if we consider the stylistic shift from the Morris Minor to that of the 1100, or indeed, compare Allegro’s silhouette with that of progressive rivals such as the Citroën GS or Alfasud. What the schematic above also suggests is that Allegro could have benefitted visually from some additional overhang ahead of the front wheels, although any extra length would have brought it even closer to Maxi.
 There are also reflections of the grille/headlamp treatment of the 1967 Ford Thunderbird, at least with the headlamps uncovered.
 The idea for the Quartic wheel (it was originally a Detroit invention) harked from David Bache’s Rover studio, where a version was being prepared for the ill-fated P8 saloon. A version eventually found its way into the SD-1, which garnered no negative coverage from the gentlemen of the press whatsoever.
 Not unlike the much-ballyhooed electronic instrumentation and voice synthesiser as fitted to the Maestro a generation later.
 The man in the street is easily swayed. The Quartic wheel was in fact the least of the Allegro’s problems, but not if you asked the auto press.
 This was definitely a more lithe looking car, but it was no metaphorical smoking gun. The image has not been included, since it was not attributable, but can be viewed via aronline.com.
 It is well known that the Allegro’s decidedly ‘plump’ appearance was a direct consequence of a miscalculation in the press tooling, further underlining BLMC’s inability to operate at world class.
 This was an issue which also afflicted the 18/22-Princess/Ambassador model and to a lesser extent, the Metro – possibly related to inconsistencies in the Hydragas set-up at the factory.
Sources: See part one.
120 thoughts on “Running With Scissors [Part Three]”
The pictures of the Allegro’s dashboard immediately gave me a déjà vu (except for the quartic wheel):
The lovely first gen Honda Civic. My great aunt had one in yellow. Lovely car.
I notice I have very little recollection of the Allegro. They were around in the Netherlands when new, but even then they didn’t make much of an impression.
The quartic whell was great when you were 8.
A friend of my father had one, and I found it amazing.
He explained to me how and why it worked better than a round whell.
That’s why I became an architect, to bring novelty and better solutions to humankind material world.
Pentagonal steering wheels were visiting me in my dreams 🤭
Good morning Eóin. Regarding the Allegro’s styling, there has always been much criticism of the car’s front-end with its inboard headlamps, but at least one can see what the designers were attempting to achieve there, even if the execution (shut-line and panel alignment) was not at all precise enough for a successful expression of a complex design.
I think it’s at the rear of the Allegro where things really fall apart, however. The following photos illustrate the carelessness with it was apparently thrown together:
The photo above (taken from adult head-height) reveals the awkward transition from the inward sloping bodysides to the much more upright roof and side-DLO. I think the designers tried to disguise (or, at least, distract from) this by making the shape of the rear window so that its outer edges also sloped inwards at a similar inclination to the bodysides. This creates a very awkward looking mismatch between the rear window and DLO, whereby the C-pillars appear much wider at the top from this angle.
The rear three-quarter photo above shows the conflict between the very rounded rear window shape and the more angular DLO and, especially, the trapezoidal vent of the C-pillar with its angular corners. The latter almost touches the frame of the rear window at its trailing upper corner, leaving a tiny sliver of body-colour visible between the two, a really horrible detail. The level of the base of the rear window bears no relationship go the side-DLO or the vent, adding to the impression of carelessness in execution.
These details, I would contend, support the proposition that Harris Mann, while adept at producing alluring drawings, was not sufficiently attentive to the detail execution and resolution of his designs.
If time allows this evening, I might get out my crayons and see if I can improve matters.
You may be right Daniel.
But if the DLO could have begun one inch lower all around the car, and if the belt line could have been pushed inwards a quarter of an inch, I guess most of the design’s fundamental problems would have been at least mitigated.
Detail issues it undoubtely had, but main one was IMO a matter of proportions.
If you had your pencils around… 🤣
Hi Daniel, I hope you do get a chance to try modifying the design, I’d love to see what you come up with! General observations absolutely right too, the different elements just don’t match up right.
What do you think of the wheel arches? Strange question I know, but the fact that they aren’t more circular, following the wheels more closely, kinda bothers me. I think that style would work on a long car, but not one as short as the allegro.
Hi JCC. I hadn’t noticed it before, but you’re right, the wheel arches are unusually elongated from front to rear. I don’t think it’s the worst of the Allegro’s crimes against automotive style.
Bernard’s rework below to make it into a hatchback is excellent work, without turning the Allegro into something else entirely.
The form of the rear window vis à vis the tailgate is also at odds with the times insomuch as it totally negates the possibility of a hatchback already from the start.
In contrast to other small cars that started as booted fastbacks without a hatch, but would get s harch later in life; like the Citroen GS, the Alfasud, the Peugeot 104, the Volkswagen Passat.
There’s simply nobesy the Allegro could be transformed into a hatchback without a substantial redesign of the entire rear of the car, and it shows from the get go and that makes it truly the odd man out.
For me, it’s the front-end that kills it, the lights being too low and too close, but even the wheels look wrong.
BTW, are the numbers mixed-up on the footnotes above – #9 should be #10 ?
Thanks Mervyn. I added a last minute footnote and neglected to adjust accordingly. Apologies all.
Well, I with my untrained eye found the Allegro to be quite a nice, let’s say ok, car (I can’t say anything about the manufacturing quality due to lack of experience), but your description based on the green example shows also for me (and my untrained eye) what was not done right.
Even though Bernhard Taylor has shown very well with his hatchback version how it could have been done better, I would be very curious to see what your non-hatchback version would look like, because I think an improvement of the non-hatchback version is closer to the problem solution at that time.
Hi Fred. Ah, just when I thought I’d got out of a job! I’ll take a crack at it tomorrow.
On Car’s initial description of the Allegro, I recently re-read that of Steve Cropley on the launch of the Maestro. It’s like groundhog-day, with Cropley even finding a way of describing the Maestro as ‘pretty’ (whilst I find it OK, I can’t imagine having used that work myself – a 205 is ‘pretty’, but the LM10 …?). Moreover, when you read the detail of the article, especially the driving impressions element, it’s clear that the car was, in reality, a disappointment to the writer and other hacks at the time, and yet the title of the piece is ‘Maestro – Masterstroke’.
Well, it seems that Car learnt the lesson…
Yes, I remember that.
Morning Eóin, thanks again for this great series on one of my favourite car subjects. You perfectly articulated what I’ve often thought about the Allegro too; that it was a ‘very nearly there’ design that wasn’t let down by one big issue, but lots of little ones all coming together to form one giant mess of a problem.
I still blame the dead end that was the Marina. Like I said before, if BL understood it’s place and forgot the fleet market, and concentrated all its efforts into making one car that private buyers would want (knowing how much they loved the ADO16), they’ve had been so much better off.
A car with the looks and options of the Marina (one thing BL actually got fantastically right) but the mechanicals of the allegro, would have given them a golf several years before the golf turned up.
All these different factors, the designs they made, the technology they had, it’s like they had all the pieces to the puzzle right there in front of them, but lack of care and attention made them fail to put it together. Such a shame.
And, please, 5 degrees less on the windcreen rake
” It is well known that the Allegro’s decidedly ‘plump’ appearance was a direct consequence of a miscalculation in the press tooling, further underlining BLMC’s inability to operate at world class. ”
I’ve heard this many times before as some sort of excuse for the cars odd appearance, but I’m beginning to believe it is something of a hyperbole. Looking at the clay models the plumpiness is there already from the beginning, there’s simply too much tumblehome in the body sides, an affliction that also the Jaguar Mark X suffered from. Their excuse is they added som extra roundness into the press tooling because the stamped metal sheets had a habit of “bouncing back” into shape after they had been pressed. But this roundness is evident through the entire bodyside including both from and rear doors and front and rear fenders?
You can’t simply make the outer body panels more rounded without inner panels to match where both are welded together. Otherwise the rear side panel would be flat at the B post and rounded further back and the outer and inner pressings of the doors wouldn’t match.
Therefore the roundedness was designed in and not a glitch in production calculations.
Totally agree – I’ve read this elsewhere but have never believed it to be true. Obviously the exterior panels are welded to the inner structure – did every pressing miraculously spring in the same direction so they could still weld the body together?
I think a hatch could suit the Allegro. It doesn’t really make it look any better or worse but it might have been in touch with where the market was going by 1973.
That’s actually quite nice! It’s kinda funky and fun looking, charming in its own way. With the front headlights sorted that would have been alright imo.
Looks remarkably similar to this
Hi Bernard. That’s a huge improvement. It actually turns the Allegro into something quite characterful and distinctive from that angle. I’m sure I couldn’t improve upon it, so you’ve saved me a job! 👍
Bernard, Another appreciation for your deft work following upon Daniel’s well studied critique. You make an excellent team. Looking forward to seeing more.
There are hints and shades there of the Fiat 127 with the curved razor edge rear ‘hip’ line, and of course, the 127 started out without a hatchback, too.
That is much better already, almost Saabish in appearance?
That’s very nicely done, especially as it makes all the elements around the C pillar that Daniel highlighted make much more sense: the rear window and the vent. It also makes the C pillar as a whole make more sense. I’ve had many stabs at improving the Allegro, but never could, because of all the different elements working together to ruin the design. Nice one.
Thanks all. The Allegro always struck me as looking like a hatchback with the hatch missing. The clamshell shaping should also make for a fairly rigid ‘door’ too.
Having just checked there’s only about 1″ difference in width between the Allegro and Marina (and, surprisingly, an identical wheelbase) so it would have made sense to rationalise round one FWD platform if they weren’t chasing the fleet market.
My eyes keep telling me that the rear half outlook of latest Honda Vezel/HRV bears influence from Allegro and Fiat 127.
I failed to say otherwise.
Does the latest HRV/Vezel really exist ? I’ve seen the odd dull photo, but I’ve seen photos of the Loch Ness monster too…
I refined my earlier photoshop. I enlarged the headlights, and brought in the back so that it’s not quite so stretched out:
Crude I know, but I hope it conveys the general idea. Kinda like a larger mark 2 polo right? I should try something with an earlier version.
Do like the Princess-esque front of the photoshop, especially as it would have created a family-look between the two cars and been the most plausible compared to other Allegro front-end photoshop efforts.
It also allow for a twin-headlight version as well as other versions inspired by the Wolseley 2200 and Vanden Plas 2200 prototype, the latter being better executed in comparison to the existing VDP Allegros.
It is the front with the inboard headlights that is the most vexing thing about the Allegro visually together with the cottage bun look, quickly followed by the indicators at the front look like they were an afterthought rather than an integrated part of the design. As if a clay model was fitted with them at the late minute via a pair of magnets or some blue tack before being presented to senior management for viewing.
It is also too much of a departure from the front headlights at each corner theme established by the Clubman, Maxi, Tasman / Kimberley and Victoria / Apache as well as a theme Harris Mann would not carry over with ADO71, the latter’s front is probably something that should have appeared first in the Allegro in some form.
As for the rear do not really have much criticism of it beyond the lack of a hatchback as well as maybe the lack of rear windows at the C-Pillar.
Am particularly keen on seeing the rival proposals both Italian and in-house to see if they were any better then what was approved.
This discussion has spurred me to try out an idea which has bothered me for years.
Just imagine if Innocenti had chosen to follow their Bertone-styled Mini with a similar exercise on the Allegro platform, rather than proceeding with the woefully unsuccessful Regent, an Allegro in all but name?
There’s an intriguing starting point in this five-door Bertone Mini, Scooped! in CAR quite some time before the 3-door went on sale. There was never a production five-door, although the three door got a 6.6″ wheelbase stretch in late 1986, 12 years to late.
The proportions couldn’t be scaled up directly, as the Allegro has a 20% longer wheelbase, 24% greater overall length, but is only 17mm higher than the Innocenti. It also needs a longer nose and rear overhang.
Here are the results of an hour with the sketch pad and pencil:
More work required. I’d expected something Golf-like, but the outcome is more like a Manx-tailed Giulietta Tipo 116.
Perhaps the answer would have been to make the putative Bertone Allegro tall, as the five-door Mini prototype looks so ‘right’. The Fiat Uno is the obvious point of comparison, but it’s only 25mm taller than the Allegro, which surprised me.
Your drawing reminds me of some of the early sketches AROnline has for the Princess
DaveAR – here’s the picture:
It looks close to the ADO68/14 clay model, part of the ‘Condor’ project to create a Capri rival based on either the Marina, Allegro, or Maxi platforms – this was the Maxi-based one.
Note the ‘power bulge’ – Harris Mann was taking account of that E series engine!
The Maxi platform would have been a better basis for the Allegro – very close in width, and with proper subframes, and some clever suspension refinements by Moulton Developments. Alex was still taking an interest in ADO14 long after Alec had handed it over to Eric Bareham and moved on to other things.
I think it’s more like the ’79 Fiat Ritmo? The expanded Innocenti Allegritmo would’ve had the exact form factor if not the details of the Ritmo five years earlier than Fiat. That’s something to ponder?
Did not immediately notice the shades of Ritmo/Strada in the upscaled Bertone bodied Regent/Allegro. That is not a bad thing despite not being a fan of the Series 1 Ritmo.
Perhaps the answer to the Allegro conundrum was proceeding with AD022, while taking an ADO74-to-ADO88/LC8 approach with the Maxi? The result being a smaller Maxi-based platform clothed with a Maxi-derived Condor body, which in turn would have allowed for the Princess to be reduced in size and weight to be more of a Alpine type Cortina-rival.
Isn’t a power bulge for the E series engine an oxymoron?
Rattle bulge maybe or Issigonis memorial bulge but what power?
A “power hump”, like the deformity it is….
In a moment of particular idleness I had another shot at the ;Allegro in the style of Bertone. Bit taller, unadorned C-pillar:
I look upon it and already see what I want to change. It’s an unending game – two steps forward, one step back.
The more I look at the Allegro, the more I think its lack of appeal lies in the carelessness (perceived or otherwise) of its execution. Sure, the proportions aren’t ideal (though a lot better than those of the more radical Issigonis designs – the Maxi and the Landcrab), but ultimately it’s the little things that let it down. The things Daniel highlighted, for instance.
The Datsun Sunny of the same vintage as the Allegro doesn’t strike me as having much better proportions, rather the opposite actually, but because it’s significantly better executed it looks a lot more convincing to me:
Of course, Opel introduced the Kadett C in the same year as well, which to me is just a much more pleasing design:
The broader story of the ADO16 and Allegro strikes me as lack of attention and focus: the 1100/1300 sold well, almost despite BLMC’s best efforts (or whatever acronym was current at the time) and somehow they took that as a sign they should neglect it. I cannot help but think that the Allegro would have turned out differently if BL had kept their attention on the ADO16 by improving it regularly and thus had kept a finger on the pulse of the relevant market. Now it seems they put the ADO16 out there, went away for a decade doing other things and then came back going “so, whats been going on here, then?” That’s never a recipe for success, surely.
I agree that the Kadett / Chevette design is well done, although I think the 3-door made an appearance in 1975.
It’s perhaps a bit unfair to say that they launched ADO16 and then did nothing – it got a couple of updates, with the largest appearing in 1967. There was also consideration being given to a much larger revision in the form of ADO 22.
Given all the mergers going on and the massive success of ADO16, it’s perhaps understandable that they didn’t see replacing it as being a top priority (I’m not saying that’s a wise way of thinking, though).
I seem to have gone in to bat for the Allegro quite a lot today. I don’t think it’s the best thing on 4 wheels, but it wasn’t the disaster it’s now often made out to be. It could have been better, but I can think of quite a few models you could say that about. At least they got the rustproofing right.
The same could be said of the Datsun Cherry from the B-Pillar to the back, otherwise it is quite similar to both ADO16 and Allegro in a number of respects. Apart from featuring the sort of light compact engines the E-Series should have been as well as being lighter than the A-Series despite the greater displacement range, the Japanese units managing to comply with US emissions standards in the 1970s unlike BMC’s effort that reputedly was not designed with the US in mind.
Seconded the view regarding the Kadett C’s rear.
The Kadett C range was very competently designed in all its variants. The hatchback ‘Kadett City’ variant in the photo above reveals its Vauxhall origins in that it retains the pressing in the rear valance where the number plate was mounted. This was below the bumper on the Chevette, which instead had ‘VAUXHALL’ spelt out across the rear panel above the bumper.
Here’s a nice photo of the Kadett C Coupé:
Opel and Vauxhall were doing nice things in those days, design wise. Although, as Richard Herriott will (rightly, IMHO) not tire to point out, they did so in later decades as well.
You’re right Charles: BL didn’t necessarily abandon the ADO16 as such, but I think the net result did look like that, at least from the outside. A more rigourous and better managed programme of improvements would have probably helped BL keep better tabs on the market. Within the total chaos and infighting within BL, that’s hardly the root cause, though. More of a consequence.
Another thing that occurred to me is that perhaps the UK was simply too small a market for the likes of Rootes, BL, Ford and Vauxhall all to coexist. Ford and Vauxhall had transatlantic parents to fall back on and other European operations to – eventually – share costs with, and thus were able to survive – after a manner. BL and Rootes didn’t (Chrysler never really got its effort off the ground before domestic troubles crippled it) and thus perished. Given that Ford UK and Vauxhall effectively ceased to be independent operations by the end of the 70s, that’s perhaps not surprising. A lot of what I read about BL (and Rootes) seems to point to resources, ambitions and market demands not aligning. Mismanagement might as much be a consequence of that, as a cause.
Eóin, this just gets more and more interesting.
Just this morning I was reading an old road test of a 1961 Chrysler Imperial, and there was the Allegro’s steering wheel. 🙂
There must’ve been something in the water at Leyland. So many of their new-ish designs around then were close but not quite right. Being Australian, naturally I think of the Leyland P76. Overall shape good, but detail execution rather off-putting. Austin Tasman/Kimberley: overall shape good, grille rather amateurish. So it wasn’t peculiar to Harris Mann’s design work, it speaks of something institutionally lacking, worldwide. It’s as though someone in management was in something of a panic (which would be highly appropriate), and thought to speed up the process by cutting out some review and refinement stages before final approval.
The more I’ve learnt from DTW lately, the more I see what a fly in the ointment the Maxi was. So many product decisions were skewed by having to avoid the Maxi’s perceived market position. Surely at some point it would have been wiser to admit defeat and terminate the poor thing.
The Allegro is so interesting a piece of design that one can discuss about it for days.
Back and forth, forth and back.
For instance, are the headlights federalized? Because it is not believeble the designers hadn’t notice the frontal proportions are from a smaller car .
Looking at the sunny above, how could the lower windscreen corners not be of 0-radius type, like the sunny ones (and a lot of japanese cars ?) As the lateral glass angles were so ‘right’, the windcreen (at least) should have followed the same logic (as did the Escort mk2)
Another issue is the diferent design philosophies fore and aft the A post: how can a car have so well defined lines (almost italian rationalism) after the A post and including the rear (being them the right ones or not), and have somehow an organic, curvaceous shape in the frontal area?
Design by diferent persons can not be the answer: they would have to be too incompetent to achieve such a poorly integrated design.
Allegro’s shape will forever remain an an answered mistery
Autocar’s 1100/Allegro outline drawings are interesting. Note how a more conventional driving position has pushed the front seat backwards, though it sits at about the same height. To regain legroom the rear seat has gone back a bit, but has also been raised several inches. This explains the Allegro’s higher roofline relative to ADO16, though that over the front seat wasn’t really needed. Perhaps this is why the later Princess is wedge shaped.
The Allegro is such a text book example of mission creep. “Yeah,we want exactly the same, only bigger, larger, higher, wider, longer, faster, better, cheaper….” What they ended up with was a dumpy hot mess that had none of the grace and pertiness of the original and was the answer to none of the public….
While it sold less well than its predecessor, it still sold over 640,000 copies in 10 years, which isn’t bad, especially given the increased competition in its segment.
Parallel reality: the Allegro was designed with USA marketing in mind.
So, it had to complain with a given bumper height.
So, it had to have more front legroom in order to acomodate the larger framed american offering a space advantage over the japanese competition.
So, it had those fat doors in order to, if necessary, acomodate side impact bars.
So, it had a ‘neutral’ frontal style that could receive the mandatory and apoved USA’s circular headlights (instead of the caracterful ones shown in sketches on tis post)
So, it had the headlights placed ‘inwards’, in a way that could allow the indicators to be seen at the front and go ‘around the corners’, avoiding the use of adapted repeaters on the front fenders.
So, it had an high scuttle to may shoehorn the big (for its class) 1750cc engine
Hypothesis are a favourite past time of mine.
If the know reality defies rationality, one may allways idealise an hypothesis that fits
…one of these, perhaps?
I’ve been thinking back to when the Allegro was launched and how it appeared to me, then. One has to remember that there were no Golfs – its closest competitor in the Volkswagen range was probably the Passat, which was smaller, then (and much more expensive than the Allegro).
Its other competitors were things like the MK1 Escort, Viva, Avenger and so forth, so it was pretty unusual in its styling in looking a bit like what we would now call a hatchback. I recall thinking it was attractive and in 1750 Sport Special form, quite sporty and flashy in a colourful ‘70s ‘Spangles & Space-hoppers’ sort of a way. The cult of the serious, taut, minimalist, C-segment hatchback was some way off.
I also recall that not having a hatchback wasn’t an issue – that was for oddities such as the Maxi, and ‘funny foreign cars’ like the Renault 4 and 16. The Astra, which came out much later, still had a boot, initially.
Here’s a review from Motor Sport magazine. The review looks odd now, but only because the Allegro had had such a pasting in the intervening years. It was no Golf GTI competitor, because it wasn’t designed to be – neither was the Citroën GS.
“All in all the Allegro is the best small car ever to come out of British Leyland. It quite justifies that company’s claim that the Hydragas suspension gives ride comfort almost on a par with that of the XJ6, and the standard of appointment and the numerous usual extras fitted in the normal specification to this conservatively attractive, small car should give it a massive following.”
Totally agree with the hatchback matter: if one remembers that the Renault 4 was not a ‘proper car’ in itself but rather an answer to the ‘niche’ Citroën 2cv; if one his allowed to think that the Renault 16 was influenced by ex-Simca designers (those, with the 1100, the true creators of the c-segment template), then what we had in european makes was indecision about the hatchback. Fiat 127, Alfasud and GS (the best cars on their respective segments?) all were born as berlinas and died as hatchbacks
IIRC Dante Giacosa’s book mentions there am being some internal discord within Fiat over whether the A112, 127 and 128 should feature hatchbacks or not. With Giacosa having to contend with one or more particular critics who viewed hatchbacks as little more than glorified estates and sought a A112 berlina at one point, notwithstanding the admittedly low volume Primula hatchback.
The difference is that Fiat and others quickly saw the error of their ways regarding hatchbacks, unlike BL who limited it to just the Maxi and SD1 (leaving aside the Aussie built Nomad and stillborn Clubman hatchback).
Charles, you may not believe me, but the Pacer crossed my mind!
When I thought about the Allegro’s curved and expensive rear screen, I tought about visibility/ security.
And in my American Dream, the Pacer’s rear glasses popped up
Gustavo – yes, the Pacer is similar in that it went against trends at the time and was rounded in design.
Renault really were ‘true believers’ in the hatchback concept – there was the 6 as well, of course (related to the 4). The Simca 1100 really was incredible, when you think about it. There are some profiles of it on here.
So, Ladies and Gents, it’s time to claim victory.
I found it, I discovered it, I undisclosed it.
The one reason that explains all the Allegro’s design faults: it was meant to be Federalized.
Thank you all
I’ll sleep better tonight
Indeed, even the elongated wheel arches can be explained away. Many areas in the US have tire chain requirements.
Perhaps the wheel arches are simply a silent tribute to the ‘Quartic’ steering wheel?
In 1972, BLMC introduced the Austin Marina into the North American markets (USA and Canada). North American models, (aside from Austin badging) were 1.8 litre (single carburettor) only, in four door or Coupé bodystyles.
The thinking here was straightforward enough. ADO16 had proven a tough sell to US customers, owing to its complexity, unconventional appearance, and an insufficient robustness for US conditions. The Marina was closer in form to what budget conscious motorists were looking for and were choosing in increasing numbers from European and Japanese carmakers. It also shared a good deal of componentry with the MGB, making life easier on BLMC’s US importer and its dealership network. And as a wholly conventional product, could probably be repaired just about anywhere (where parts were available). The Marina was withdrawn from the US (but not Canada) in 1975, owing to BL’s reduced circumstances, changes to US import regulations (aimed at restricting Japanese imports) and the fact that BL couldn’t afford to update it.
On this basis, the notion that Stokes and Paradise had US ambitions for Allegro stretches credulity somewhat, I would respectfully argue.
You may well be right, but do please consider an alternative perspective: if Stokes and Paradise dared to send such a poorly engineered / developed rush job like the Marina to the states in 1971, would it be so strange in their point of view to do the same in 1973 with the perfectioned sucessor of a well-proven, bestseller, 15 years old concept/design?
I am not sure
Gustavo: I can’t see it. One does not go to the trouble and expense of Federalising a car for the US market only to withdraw it a year later, unless something catastrophic has occurred reputationally. The Marina was offered there from 1972 to 1975. It was the last Austin-Morris saloon to be sold in the US.
You are probably on stronger ground suggesting that there is Detroit influence in Allegro’s styling. It’s likely that Harris Mann was looking in that direction – and of course he was schooled at Ford.
I hope you don’t mind if I reply: as I speculate (it is an expeculation) they might (just might) have taken the road of developing it to be USA compatible.
But they might have suspended the idea of selling it there when they launched it.
Among other reasons to do so, one can imagine: the bad results with the federalized Marina, the dificulties with the distribution network, or the financial dificulties of BL itself.
Starting with one goal in mind and changing it at the last minute was not strange to BL.
And the company’s problems developed at such a pace (compare, say, 1966 with 1973) that most decisions taken in one year often proved/ were considered impossible to implement the next year.
This is surely speculative thinking. But speculative thinking is not ‘per se’ right or wrong until proven to be one or another.
Is this one completely out of the blue, without any ground to support said hypothesis?
Each one would form his own opinion
But the Pacer had yet another common feature – glass in the DLO’s rear ‘corners’.
The Allegro bended the rear screen around the corner, the Pacer bended the rear side windows.
But the intencion is the same, increasing visibility where it matters
Since they couldn’t do it Panhard Dynamic-wise 🤣
Here, as promised, is my ‘minimal changes’ Allegro. Original first for comparison:
I’ve simply dropped the lower edge of the rear window to align with the side DLO and replaced the ventilation grille with a body-coloured item.
But my cottage bun! I wonder why they didn’t think of this?
Wow. Quite an improvement.
Wow that’s an immediate improvement! Nice work!
I love that colour on the car too. Nice bright colours suited the allegro.
Here’s another version, with the curvature of the top edge of the rear screen flattened a bit, to reduce the rotund “cottage bun” (great description, gooddog!) look:
That’s even nicer! That, with rounder wheel arches and a better sorted front end would have been perfect imo
Much much much improved Daniel, congratulations.
But dropping the rear screen’s lower edge would probably enforce lowering the structural beam that (must?) exist bellow it – and, in consequence, reducing the boot’s access and perhaps capacity…
I love your restyling jobs, Daniel. This second one in particular looks great, and I can’t imagine lowering the upper edge of the rear screen like that would seriously impact the driver’s visibility.
Now, about that black ‘stone guard’-looking uptick on the rear wheel arch – it looks like an amateur’s rust repair job!
And I think the Australian VH-series Chrysler Valiant from 1971-3 shows what the Allegro’s front end designer was aiming at. It’s the same concept, but being on a larger car allows better proportioning. I’m fairly new here and not sure how to attach a pic, perhaps you would be so kind…
Hi Peter. Happy to oblige. Here’s the VH-Series Valiant:
I see what you mean about the resemblance to the Allegro’s front-end
Here are our guidelines for embedding photos in comments:
Many thanks Daniel!
Please, please, please Daniel: couldn’t you please drop the belt line and the DLO ‘base’ line one inch all around your proposal?
Just because you asked so nicely, Gustavo.
Before and after:
I think it improves it!
A thousend thanks to you, Daniel 🤗
I’m not joking. It was very important to me to see my idea tested. And you had the trouble to go the extra mile in order to satisfy my curiosity.
Thank very much Daniel
Here is the Allegro before it was packed off to Pressed Steel:
Better regarding the width, not so regarding the lenght 😁
Hopefully, this works…
The lateral design reveals something new to me: the curvaceous beltline and lower DLO line are reminiscent of Coke bottle designs from that time – escort 1, cortina 3, Marina…
Now I understand the Allegro’s curvaceous front, it is what remained from that former design language.
So, their first goal was to produce an americanized ADO16 replacement…
…but in the last minute they looked at the rectilinear trend that was arising and staightened the lateral panels in a hurry.
They were caught in the midle of a design trend change, and sunk.
They produced the equivalent of a marriage between a Escort mk1 front, roof and screens and a Escort mk2 side and rear panels
This is actually much nicer. But would that E-series fit?
Talking about whellarches, one may talk about the wheels: assuming as a given their size was small in order to maximize packaging (like ADO’s 15 and 16), why where many hubcaps usually small, not covering all the wheel’s surface? They gave the visual impression that the wheels were even smaller
Here is the Allegro before it was packed off to Pressed Steel:
It worked first time you posted it Colin, thanks a lot!
It is IMO truly enlightening 🙂
Hi Colin. I took the liberty of substituting an embedded photograph in place of the link in your comment above.
And it explains the fundamental design problem: it is an hybrid, a cross of two different species
As it was sent to pressed steel, it is a more coherent design. Not better looking, mind
They started it as a British mass-market car with american inspiration, like most others (Ford of England, Vauxhall, Roote’s Avenger, etc) around the time De Gaulle vetoed UK’s entre in the EEC…
… and straightened it as much as they could, in a hurry, when they realised they would become members in 1973 😄
Someone stop me please
Ah, the Allegro… To misquote Adrian Belew, “the more I look at it, the less I like it.” I remember the time when you could see it on the street, and I remember I didn’t like it back then as a child of a single-digit age, and I still don’t. There are some things that no amount of nostalgia and temporal distance can make more attractive. Now, as to the photoshopping attempts to make its frumpy, bulbous body a bit less unpalatable: while the ideas are fine in principle, what sabotages them is the car they’re trying to improve upon. It’s not unlike trying to turn a mug of Bloated Tick into a crystal glass of Vesper. Also, looking at the pre-production design sketches, many of them were infinitely better, cleaner, and perhaps even easier to produce than the end result. I’m afraid that, indeed, Stokes & Co didn’t understand design and styling at all. Then again, maybe Stokes didn’t understand much of anything…
That probably means then that the previous idea, a car with the Marina’s looks, is the better avenue to pursue. The Marina’s looks were more conventional and adaptable than the Allegro’s puffy pudding panels. Dare I say, they’re even a little handsome in the right trim.
For future reference I’m gonna call this hypothetical alternative history car the Marllego.
The way I see it, BL managed to saddle itself with:
1. The Allegro: an ugly car that had a decent floorpan underneath, but was poorly-made and executed;
2. The Marina: a technically unaccomplished car with conventional looks, whose only redeeming quality was its low price.
That said, I wonder exactly what criteria were used for appointing someone at the helm of British Leyland or whatever its name was at any given time.
People don´t often quote Adrian Bellew. He was a guitarist on David Bowie´s Lodger album and musical director for the Sound + Vision tour. If you go hunting you can find two David Bowie songs on the album Young Lions. Not many people know this.
And he was King Crimson’s lead guitarist and singer for quite some time.
Has anyone mentioned the Ogle SX1000 as an inspiration?
Like many, I’ve been looking at AI image generation recently. It occurs that the hit-and-miss images it produces, often far away from your original intention, are similar to the results bemused designers must have seen when their beautiful intentions had been passed through the Pressed Steel mill.
That said, this is DALL-E’s best attempt at “Austin Allegro as it should have been”
Strangely, a reverse image search identifies it as a Ford Escort. So AI might not be as smart as it thinks it is, but it’s smarter that BL’s planners..
It reminds me of a Bristol.
I thought of the Opel Kadett C. But I realise that the Bristol 603 reminds me of a Kadett C, so yes.
Hmm, is that really the best that an AI system can produce? I’d be embarrassed to claim it as my effort. It’s clearly heavily based on the Escort Mk2. Presumably, the algorithm said ‘start with the best-selling contemporary car in the Allegro’s class, then tinker with it a bit! 😁
Incidentally, the Mk2 Escort really was a nicely resolved design, even if its recycled underpinnings were pretty basic and it was cost-engineered down to the last penny:
And whilst we’re in the realm of AI, and to show you the true value you get at DTW, here is ChatGPT’s critique of the Allegro. Workmanlike, but I think you can cancel the order for those servers Eoin.
“The Austin Allegro was a small family car produced by British Leyland in the 1970s. Its design was heavily criticized for its perceived lack of style and quality, with the square shape and unreliable mechanical components being particularly criticized. The build quality was also poor and many of the components used were cheap and prone to breaking, leading to a poor reputation for reliability.
In terms of market failure, the Austin Allegro struggled to compete with other cars in its class, both in terms of design and performance. It was widely seen as outdated compared to its rivals and lacked the features and technology that consumers were looking for. Additionally, the car was plagued by production problems and strikes, which led to long waiting times for customers and a decline in sales.
In conclusion, the Austin Allegro failed in the market due to a combination of factors including its unappealing design, poor build quality, and reliability issues. These factors, combined with increased competition from other manufacturers, led to a decline in sales and ultimately its discontinuation.”
Who would have guessed that this runt of the litter would, in the fullness of time, generate 105 (and counting) posts on DTW? Go Allegro!
Indeed. And to maybe round off this piece, as well as to hopefully mark my last visit to ChatGPT, I commissioned a small poem to celebrate the noble Austin. I actually asked for blank verse, but it came out like this …..
The Austin Allegro, a car so grand,
With curves that echoed the English land.
Built with pride, a symbol of might,
In a time when motor cars took flight.
With design both simple and sleek,
It was the car that people would seek.
Its engine revved with such great cheer,
And drivers felt its power year after year.
But as the times and tastes did change,
The Allegro, it seemed, was left in range.
Its boxy form no longer in demand,
As flashier cars took hold of the land.
But still, it lives on in memory,
A car that brought joy and a legacy.
A relic of a time gone by,
The Austin Allegro, with a twinkle in its eye.
You can just hear the algorithms creaking, can’t you?
Mostly my fault
I must explain: the Allegro is a hitch that doesn’t leave me.
It’s the only car I remember of I can’t understand in terms of design AND I can’t justify in general, broad terms.
Strictly speaking, this one is the unconceivable one.
(and as you see, I keep posting 😋)
Mostly my fault
I must explain: the Allegro is a hitch that doesn’t leave me.
It’s the only car I remember of I can’t understand in terms of design AND I can’t justify in general, broad terms.
Strictly speaking, this one is the unconceivable one.
(and as you see, I keep posting 😋)
Gustavo, I’m beginning to worry about you. This obsession with the Allegro is not healthy! 😁
In similar vein, this might amuse you. (It made me laugh when I first saw it.)
Creaking and groaning.
This week’s hot tip: The Allegro is exempt from the Greater London ULEZ charges – buy one today!
Daniel, you have absolutely hit the spot 🙂
Although it is not unusual to see Allegro photoshops incorporating features from the Alfasud, found this very quick and very dirty mockup of an Allegro with Alfasud lights by one commenter on a Pistonheads thread a while back that addresses a criticism many find with the Allegro at the front.
That is so much better. It even works with the wheel arches.
Indeed, more so when seeing the alternative Sud-ish front-end treatments considered for the Allegro.
There are some stubborn DTW readers – me! 😊
Looking at the above picture “allegro as sent to pressed steel”, said photo doesn’t show nearly as much design issues as the finished article.
(Please indulge me and look at it again)
The main differences shown on that picture are:
1-The front valance is much less deeper
2-the rear door windows have no rear quarter lights
3-the A Pillar rain gutter is the usual one fitted around the industry at the time.
The visual efects said differences in that photo trigger are:
1-the car front looks not as high, and therefore seems wider
2-the high radius rear door’s rear upper ‘corner’ becomes visible (you can still see it on the 3 door, of course).
3-the ondulating line linking upper front fender with front door reveals itself.
These main three features (others, less obvious, could be discussed) give the following visual impressions:
The car’s front looks wider
The car’s side looks longer and more ondulating.
Imo, I see that picture as very similar to what one might imagine as a 2 volume mk3 Ford Cortina. Am I the only one feeling that way?
One way of testing one’s reasoning is thinking about alternative possible explanations:
1-Is there any reasonable explanation to uselessly deepen the front valance, having to fill it with fake and ungainly black vents?
2-Is there any reasonable explanation to insert a rear door quarterlight when it wasn’t needed before?
3-Is there any reasonable explanation to develop such a tortuous, not yet imagined and never used again A pillar rain gutter, inserting itself uselessly between front fender and front door ?
Those 3 design misteries reach the same effect:
1-de-cortina-ize the overall design language, breaking the curvilineous ‘horizontal’ lines and (by) introducing a couple of ‘vertical’ lines.
2- making the car seem shorter and taller
3 – straightening up the design language, running away from the American trend and aporoaching it to the european tendencies.
Thank you for reading 😊