Allegro Con Spazio

Making a case for Allegro’s load-lugger.

Allegro Estate. Image: classiccarcatalogue

Today, we take a brief hiatus from our analysis of Allegro and its commercial fate to return briefly to aspects of its style, and in particular, to the third ADO67 bodystyle to be offered.

Closely aping its predecessor, Allegro was introduced as a single format  bob-tailed saloon – with two or four doors – and unlike its stablemate Marina, both Allegri employed the same silhouette and styling theme[1]. Of the two saloons, the two-door might be considered the most cohesive, a factor which could be explained by its cleaner, less cluttered DLO treatment, which did away with the four-door’s rear quarterlight. In the photo appended below, one can appreciate this and just maybe, discern a pale reflection of Harris Mann’s original design intent?

Almost flattering. Allegro 2-door. Image: classiccarcatalogue

One aspect of Allegro’s style which escaped mention, then or now was the passing resemblance Allegro’s boot/ tail-lamp treatment bore to the 1968 Autobianchi Primula Coupé S, the sporting version of the ground-breaking Italian berlina, habitually viewed by the UK press as a cynical copy of ADO16[2]. The Coupé S was a tail-lifted version of the standard (be-finned) Primula Coupé, introduced for the final two years of the model’s lifespan.

Autobianchi Primula S Coupé. Image:

Regardless of intent (or otherwise) on Harris Mann and his team’s part – any direct influence is likely to be somewhat tenuous – what can be said is that this area of Allegro’s styling was more competently handled than either Maxi or Diablo (18-22/ Princess/ADO71). The latter in particular being particularly poorly executed in this region, suggesting that both time and money had run out and an exasperated design team slapped on the first set of bumpers and tail lamp units to hand.

Austin 18-22. Image: lautomobileancienne

In keeping with the urge for continuity with its more esteemed forebear, an estate model was introduced two years after the Allegro saloon’s debut. A three-door format was selected, partially because BLMC didn’t want any (further) cannibalisation of Maxi or Marina sales, but also by the fact that relatively few rival manufacturers offered a five-door estate car at this size and market segment at the time[3].

While the saloon’s styling received little mention (or overt criticism) in print, that of the Allegro Estate was deemed worthy of critique; Car magazine being highly critical of its “kicked-up” appearance[4]. Unlike its forebear, the roofline remained relatively linear towards the rear, with a near vertical tailgate. Displaying Harris Mann’s predilection for wedge shapes, the upward sweeping DLO not only raised eyebrows, but would prove somewhat prescient, as did the built-in spoiler at the roof’s trailing edge.

Viewed alongside the Alfasud Giardinetta[5] and the GS Break, the Allegro Estate could perhaps hold its head a little higher than its saloon counterparts, because despite how one views it from an stylistic perspective (and opinions do differ), it was without doubt the most interesting (and daring) of the Allegro body styles offered. Not that this buttered many UK buyers’ spuds; the consensus seeming to be that, along with the almost universally-disliked Quartic steering wheel (excised in 1975 at the same time the Estate was introduced), here was another stylistic flight of fancy for its own sake.

Following the introduction of the Estate in the summer of 1975, a mini-relaunch of the model line would take place that Autumn. Allegro 2, as it was dubbed looked broadly the same[6] but was the result of considerable re-engineering to alleviate unresolved issues when the car was launched two years previously. Chief amongst these involved the rear seat pan being remodelled to liberate additional legroom in the rear – a criticism of the initial cars. The range was also rationalised.

The Allegro 2 in its three body styles. Image: gt-cars

It is relatively easy to disparage the innate conservatism of the buying public of the time, but some fifty years later one can view the Estate’s styling as another example of misplaced BLMC ‘innovation’. The task of the product designer is to display progression, advancement even; but fundamentally, to provide management with a range of alternatives. It is up to the decision makers to ensure that the chosen style is of a calibre that will not only stand the test of time, but bring the customer with them. Time and again, Stokes and his board would choose a radical proposal, only for the public to look askance.

By mid-decade, the very last thing Allegro needed was more controversy, but the Estate’s dramatic appearance, coming on the (high) heels of the clumsily ennobled Vanden Plas 1500 model, would not only prove divisive, but would serve as an impediment to sales. Another own-goal for Lord Stokes and his merry men.

[1] A coupé proposal reached the clay modelling stage, but was not sanctioned.

[2] The Primula was far more important than that. 

[3] The Citroën GS Break was relatively unusual in only being offered as a five-door, but they did market a three door commercial model for a time.

[4] In its April 1976 Giant Test, Car described the Allegro Estate’s styling as “awkward“, stating that the front and rear ends did not gel. They also (quite accurately) suggested that the side glass treatment was inspired by the Reliant Scimitar GTE. 

[5] The Alfasud Giardinetta was believed to have been a centro stile Alfa design, with no Giugiaro involvement. 

[6] Externally, only the grille treatment and badging were altered, there being little available resource for anything more sweeping. 


Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

52 thoughts on “Allegro Con Spazio”

  1. I’m feeling the styling of the Allegro is improving as this series progresses! I’ve always thought there isn’t one major issue with the styling – there’s quite a lot to like – but the whole thing is just slightly ‘off’.

    I wonder how much we’re still influenced by the received wisdom towards BLMC as the 70’s progressed? As the previous article highlighted, at the cars launch there were few red-flags raised with the styling, and things like the quartic wheel seemed to be an excuse to generate more column-inches. By the time the Estate launched the public and press we’re looking for any excuse to reinforce the general sentiment towards the company.

    Or perhaps my inclination to support the underdog is twisting my reality. Either way, I’m really enjoying this series.

    1. That’s an interesting point about the received wisdom of the time. One of the things which I think really didn’t help was the company being nationalised. On the one hand it ensured its medium term survival; on the other, it meant that the company was literally public property and everyone had a view about how it should be run. It also meant that it was relatively starved of cash, leading to products weren’t was good as they could’ve been, leading to lower sales and less cash, etc.

      One point about Lord Stokes who has been mentioned a few times – he was nobody’s fool and struck me from his media appearances as a very down-to-earth, sensible man – he’d achieved great things at Leyland Trucks. The reasons for British Leyland’s problems go far beyond personnel or even the products.

  2. Good morning Eóin. I’ve always wondered if the Allegro estate’s “built-in spoiler” was there for aerodynamic benefit, or simply to raise the height of the tailgate opening and conceal its hinges. Either way, it looks decidedly awkward, especially thanks to the diagonal seam between the roof and C-pillar:

    I think I prefer the neater treatment of the (often criticised) Alfasud giardinetta, even with its exposed hinges:

    With regard to the latter, incidentally, a bit of curvature in the trailing corners of the rear side windows would have done much to alleviate the boxy appearance and help integrate the rear end better with the curvaceous Alfasud front end.

    The ADO71’s tail-lights have always baffled me. Was someone so determined that the chrome bezels should be interchangeable left to right that they thought the resulting awkwardness of their appearance was a price worth paying? The shape doesn’t relate at all to the boot shut-line or the seam between rear panel and wing:

    Just another example of BL’s ‘it’ll do” mindset, I guess.

    1. I’m always baffled by how very, very grumpy the Princess looks when viewed from behind. Those taillights are not a happy ending!

    2. It is funny how the front indicators of the cottage-bun Allegro and the rear-tail-lights of the tinny insubstantial Princess, both look like they were attached to the body with blue tack or magnets at the last minute before being sent off to management for viewing.

      That said the styling of both the Princess and Ambassador do look they could have been successfully scaled down to the size of the Allegro, also the rear of the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 prototype looks tidier compared to the above although doesn’t really belong on a larger car let alone one straddling between the D-Segment and E-Segment like the Princess was.

      How could the rear tail-light treatment of the Princess been improved or would it have been more straightforward to utilise an earlier form of the Ambassador tail-light arrangement?

    3. The fix for the Princess’s rear lights wasn’t difficult: just make them fit the space provided for them:

      (I wanted to keep them as close in style to the originals rather than something that resembled the Ambassador’s.)

    4. And here’s some curvature added to the Alfasud Giardinetta’s rear side window and C-pillar:

    5. Admittingly fitting the tail-lights within the space does help make them look integrated.

    6. Time for today’s BL fun fact: the 18/22 Series and Princess Series 1 had an aluminium finisher strip carrying the badges across the boot lid.

      This strip actually projected slightly further rearward than the rear bumper, so the strip was the first point of contact if the driver unwittingly reversed into a lamp post or bollard, for example.

      I wish I was making this stuff up but, sadly, it’s true. 😨

  3. While I’m banging about BL’s lack of attention to detail, the dip in the lower DLO line at the B-pillar is painfully evident in that photo of the three-door saloon above. At least the estate dodged that particular bullet.

    Incidentally, the launch of the estate didn’t quite coincide with the introduction of the Series 2 Allegro. In a masterful act of non-planning, BL introduced the estate in the summer of 1975, just three months before the Series 2 revisions, hence there were a tiny number of Series 1 estates produced.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Daniel. I had suspected as much, but this is what happens when you read too many contemporary reports. You become snow-blind. I will amend the text accordingly.

      Mind you, I get the sense that a lot of the Aggro 2 improvements arrived below the skin by the time the Estate debuted.

  4. Hi Eóin. The estate seems the most characterful of the bunch. Daniel’s picture really highlights the awkwardness of the rear, but with all that it seems more coherent to me than the saloon’s. I actually think the estate would have made a better styling theme for the saloon/hatch:

    I tried approximating a rear end that would probably use the rear window of the estate. I’ve also amended the wheel arches to look a little more conventional.

    1. Tom, this is absolutely amazing! That’s the best looking allegro I’ve ever seen, and at the time would have been a pretty slick looking car imo. It’s a far better looking version of my own photoshopping attempts on the estate to turn it into an hatchback. Even the awkward looking front wings are starting to look better on it.

      And that’s the first time I’ve seen one with proper circular wheel arches. Not to toot my own horn but I’ve always said it’d look better with those lol.

      Imagine they never wasted time and money on the marina and got that design out a year or two earlier; hand on heart I think BLMC would still be around in some shape or form. Because Italian cars have taught me that people can and will forgive shocking reliability and build quality if the car looks good and drives wonderfully lol.

    2. Would have thought a Pacer type solution at the front as an improvement for the Allegro, until realising the height of the radiator and engine plus gearbox would in reality have led to it resembling the restyled Pacer, which (short of a mk1 Civic type solution) actually places the the Vanden Plas Allegro in a more visually attractive light at the front if such a thing is possible.

    3. Tom, you might at least have chosen an example in a less bilious colour and full complement of hubcaps! 😁

      I also immediately thought “AMC Gremlin” but Bruno beat me to it. Here’s an example in a disturbingly similar hue:

    4. Ah well, at least I tried. I hadn’t made the Gremlin connection whilst making it, only a vague Datsun vibe (which felt a lot less detrimental 😬).

      🤷 🙂

    5. On the subject of positives: at least you got to delve into your obviously substantive collection of pictures of cars in questionable green hues, Daniel 😜.

      That Cherry does look a substantially more disciplined design than the Allegro, though. Notwithstanding my -err: “effort”, I think the design theme of the Allegro wasn’t the main problem, but rather the execution was (as had been pointed out around these parts).

  5. The angle matches the upper bodywork better, but I doubt they were ever considering fitting them that high up. The simpler ones used on the later Ambassador work better.

    As for the Allegro Estate, I think Reliant (well Ogle) did a better job with the Kitten, even neatly incorporating the ventilation extraction grilles into the rear of the side window area. Both have similar, square rear openings, even though they open differently. Note tail lights here are non-standard (from a late Escort van, I think).

    1. Agree on Reliant and Ogle making a more attractive estate with the Kitten then BL with the Allegro, the Mini-based Phoenix Estate is another albeit plainer solution.

  6. By coincidence I watched the Allegro estate being reviewed on “Drive In” (Thames TV YouTube archive), the other day and the spoiler was explained away as a convenience for the hinges.

    In it’s limited defence I think 3 door estates are very hard to get right, I’ve thought about it a lot since the dissection of the Lotus Elite. I’d say the Scimitar GTE, BM 2002 Touring and Lancia HPE are about the only 3 door estates of that era that get it right.

    What was it about that time that made BL think the ugly tree needed to be shaken so hard? Stokes seems to have been a sober suited chap, did the board think they were “With it” or “Coming from where it’s at” or whatever the argot of the time was? Maybe they took inspiration from the fashions of the decade, in which case they had a bit of an own goal. When I watch film or telly programmes from that time most people over 30 are rather smartly dressed, nary a flared ankle in sight. Not the sort of people who I could imagine being enamoured by the challenging looks of an Allegro.

  7. I don’t think I’ve been aware of an estate Allegro. I have only vague memories of seeing mustard coloured four doors. Many years ago.

    What a revealing story this is.

    1. I’ll be dipped. Last night’s TV watching; BBC’s The Gold, a drama circling the Brinks Mat gold heist in the early 1980’s. Early in the second episode, an Allegro estate is involved in a car chase. Well, more an obstacle, obstructing the Old Bill from chasing a suspect. There’s also been some Ford Granada’s, Orion’s, Escorts and the “Jam Sandwich” Rover SD1 in police livery. Some ripping tunes, too.

  8. I always thought the reason so many small estates had only three doors was torsional rigidity, or lack of. The Allegro was particularly floppy, wasn’t it? Didn’t the rear window tend to pop out when you applied the jack, or is that just a myth?

    1. I think Eóin said he’s going to come on to the structure of the car, so I won’t steal his thunder. All I’ll say is that there’s some truth to that statement, but it’s also incorrect.

  9. Proper 3-door estates are usually cursed by an overly long side window, between the B and C pillars. The ‘C’ type Opel Kadett estate got around this by splitting the window, and looked very tidy as a consequence.

  10. Great stuff once again Eóin. Might be a good time to repost my treatment of an Allegro estate turned into a hatchback, with touched up front end:

    I also like the idea of something resembling a scaled down princess with better detailing. That car is yet another ‘nearly there’ BL design.

  11. Here’s the Thames TV Drive-In clip mentioned by Richard. The Allegro gets a generally positive review. I wonder if they ever considered doing a Vanden Plas version. It’s a scary thought.

    Re the 18-22’s rear lights, I think they agonised over many designs and came up with those as being best.

    1. Indeed, the VdP Allegro had a piggy-looking snout at the front, scary doesn’t describe it.

    2. A VDP Allegro would have at least looked better compared to the facelifted AMC Pacer.

  12. 3-door estate cars always have a touch of a funeral car. Especially with a heightened load area.
    I would prefer the regular body.

  13. The Simca 1100 seems to have been available as both a 3-door and a 5-door estate, although I believe that the 3-door came first. I think the 5-door format suits it a lot better.

  14. Oh dear!
    The shape of that Datsunesque C-pillar just puts too much visual weight up high behind the back wheels. In a side-on view, my eye reads that as unstable, as though the heavy rear pillar wants to break off from the roof and collapse in a heap behind the rear wheels. It makes me wonder about the torsional rigidity of this style, with that long single pane of glass.
    It doesn’t look so bad in a three-quarter view, I must say.
    We’ve seen how earlier designs for the saloons had a more curvaceous body; this estate looks like it belongs to the curvy-bod stage of the design process, and never got updated to the square-bod style. If the saloons were like Tom V’s rendering above, I’d probably have no problem.

    1. Surely the HC Viva estate was a rival that showed 3 door estates could be stylish, even though the loadspace was compromised. Better looking than the Firenza to.

  15. Reading through this, the thought occurred to me that the ‘ultimate’ Allegro would be a Vanden Plas Estate. I’m not the only one to have the thought…

    1. And for one owner, an Allegro Vanden Plas Estate wasn’t enough. This car has been made by combining a Suzuki Vitara chassis and running gear with the Allegro VDP Estate body to make a unique offroader that has presaged many of today’s luxury light duty offroaders and without the awkward styling tropes seemingly mandatory to market these things today. A sort of ‘proto-Evoque’ if you will. 🙂

    2. Good morning David. What a find! Lose the silly grille, fit the twin-headlamp front end from the Series 3 Allegro, and… I can’t really finish this sentence. 😨

    3. Losing the grille would start to defeat the whole purpose though wouldn’t it? The twin lights though, that would be an improvement.
      Actually, I think that the grille ties in quite well with the curves around the ‘c’ pillar.

      Sorry, I’ve been off the site for a week, we’ve had no power or any phone or internet here in Napier due to a storm, google ‘Brookfields bridge Napier NZ’ to see what happened to the river down the road, normally some 25metres lower. We are on higher ground and were spared the flooding fortunately. All that heat from global warming is going somewhere, we’ve had 60% of our average yearly rainfall already, and we’re in the middle of southern hemisphere summer.

    4. Sorry to hear of your troubles, David. NZ is happily removed from so much of the world’s troubles, but not Global Warming. Stay safe and I hope your community can recover quickly.

    1. DaveAR: What I’d like to know is exactly what you typed into the search field to yield that particular result?

      On second thoughts, I’d rather not know…

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