Allegro Aperto

Aggro gets its top off.

Image: klassiker

The Allegro has never been a car synonymous with the notion of frivolity, not of the intentional variety at least. It was however, no stranger to satire or derision, not least its somewhat self-important looking flagship model[1]. But while the Vanden Plas 1500 variant may have represented the zenith of Allegro’s upmarket ambitions, it was not the rarest of the breed. That plaudit rests with the most exotic of Allegri, the Crayford Convertible.

The story begins on a more Minor note. In 1950, a factory convertible version of the Morris Minor was introduced, dubbed the Tourer. The Minor might not have appeared like an optimal choice for the topless treatment, but its unitary body seemed capable of supporting it nonetheless; notwithstanding the retention of the side window surrounds, which made the convertible Minor’s roof more akin to a giant folding sunroof than a Karmann style, fully lined Cabriolet arrangement[2].

The Minor Tourer was to prove an attractive and successful derivation, produced until Autumn 1969, a mere two years before series production of the saloon ceased at Cowley. The Minor’s intended successor – the BMC 1100 (ADO16) was never officially offered in drophead form, largely because the Minor remained in production alongside throughout the bulk of its career, making such adventures in decapitation unnecessary. However, the OEM’s absence often proves catnip to the aftermarket, so it was somewhat inevitable that the aftermarket would oblige.


Enter Crayford Auto Developments, a firm initiated in 1960 by David McMullin and Jeff Smith, originally operating from a flat in Bexleyheath, South-East London[3]. In 1963, having moved to new premises in Tatsfield in Kent, the Crayford Mini convertible was officially introduced. Following its subsequent success, Crayford would branch out further, producing estates as well as drophead conversions on a variety of cars, mostly BMC and Ford products.

In 1969, Crayford introduced an ADO16 convertible, based on the 1300 model. Said to have been a complex conversion, combining a lined full convertible hood and a restyled rear featuring a flat rear deck/ boot arrangement, only 12 were produced – for reasons which remain unclear. Perhaps the cost of conversion simply couldn’t be recouped.

But following the Allegro’s 1973 debut, Crayford was commissioned by South-West London BLMC agent, Spikins of Twickenham to produce a convertible version to be sold exclusively through their dealership, the franchise covering Crayford’s development costs. The Allegro may have seemed a less than prepossessing starting point, owing to its decidedly plump body style, one which didn’t altogether lend itself to such treatment, but inexpensive convertibles such as these were relatively thin on the ground at the time. Perhaps Spikins’ management believed there were customers for whom the Allegro experience could not be fully realised without some form of topless element.

Image: Autocar

Aesthetics it seems were the least of the conversion’s issues however. As Crayford commenced development, they immediately ran into serious problems with the Allegro bodyshell, as documented by the Crayford Convertible Car Club, which is worth quoting verbatim. “The body shell, once decapitated, was found to be one of the weakest Crayford had ever encountered. In fact too weak to be converted into a fully open car so Crayford went for the extended sunshine roof option. Even after the most extensive strengthening procedures the shell still lacked rigidity, it was rumoured Jeff Smith at Crayford threatened to fill the sills with concrete”.

While this may on one hand lend credence to those who question Allegro’s body rigidity, it is not an entirely smoking gun. Removing the roof from any unitary constructed closed vehicle will entail varying degrees of rigidity issues, although it does appear from this account at least that Allegro was more adversely affected than most. Furthermore, the build issues that plagued early Allegros became apparent, with donor cars showing signs of rust, damp and shoddy workmanship – with a suggestion that some had been stored outdoors for protracted periods. A mere 17 examples were converted in all before Crayford called time on the programme.

The Allegro and the Crayford Marina[4] which was sold alongside, would mark the end of Crayford’s direct association with the UK carmaker. According to the CCCC, nine of the original seventeen Allegro Convertibles have survived and are today amongst the highlights of any Allegro enthusiast gathering.

The principal basis for a convertible surely is the pursuit of pleasure; a hedonistic rejection of convention, a more carefree approach to the art of motoring. Basically, convertibles are typically viewed as being more fun. This being the rationale, surely the Vanden Plas model would have been the Allegro to convert. For if nothing else, it might at least have given the rest of us something more to smile about.

[1] It’s tempting to envisage a certain tongue-in-cheek; a knowing chuckle behind the faintly ludicrous appearance of the Vanden Plas 1500.

[2] The retention of the Minor’s side glass surrounds seemed to be more out of practicality than necessity, allowing for a less complex roof mechanism and the retention of the saloon’s doors. 

[3] Their premises used the Crayford telephone exchange, which was adopted by the duo for their new enterprise.

[4] Crayford drophead conversion of the Marina came with a good deal more upper body superstructure – one assumes for similar reasons.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Allegro Aperto”

    1. Just as well it’s a Photoshop. These Rostyles have totally the wrong offset.

  1. All that effort, all that expense and you are left with…that.

    Which sums up every Allegro really.

    Great series by the way!

  2. Good morning Eóin. The aesthetic deficiencies of the Allegro convertible are nothing compared to the guillotined Marina coupé, where the solution to the problem of the overly long rear side window on the production car was this weird scaffolding arrangement behind the B-pillars:

    The prototype(?) looked even worse, with frames around the rear quarter windows:

    1. We’ll have to agree to differ on the BMW, Dave. I think it works rather well, because it is a Targa top, not a full convertible. That said, it does look rather ‘cab-forward’ in side profile:

    2. The yellow car has a better starting point….
      At least with an Allegro rag-top you could jack it up without the back window popping out….

    3. BMW bakkie! I wonder if they actually did one in South Africa. It’s a bit strange and I don’t know if I like it, but at first look it seems well executed.

      The Marina drop dead – sorry: drophead is just… it needs a health warning. As usual, the Japanese made better looking mad side window arrangements:

      The Allegro (to go back on topic somewhat) looks – like most Allegros – a little half baked to me, but somehow I like it better than the regular saloon – at least from the angles shown: the rear is a bit of a let down. Possibly because the (now canvas) c-pillar doesn’t have that air vent, and the rear window being out of alignment is easier to excuse on a convertible.

    4. I must say that the “prototype” (how did it get the OK for production…?) is one of the most unpleasant convertibles I´ve seen recently.

  3. The more upmarket versions were not offered for cost reasons. It was because the two door models only came in the smaller engine and low-rent Super and Deluxe trims.
    You could only buy a model from the catalogue to have chopped and the VP, Sport Special etc etc were only 4 door models.

  4. Throughout this series I’ve been struggling with an odd notion about visual acceptance. If the car was relatively new-fangled in the 1970’s; that is if we’d only recently graduated from horses and the Allegro was a 2nd generation car, a Model T equivalent, would it have been better accepted because notions about what a car was meant to look like would not yet be codified (Also fewer people would have ever seen a car)?

    The conclusion I keep reaching is… nah, they’d have still thought it was horrible! But, the convertible version, I see that have just enough extra weirdness to make it credible to mine eyes.

    1. Hi Richard,

      I don’t quite understand your analogy to the Model T, which was a very utilitarian and spartan design that made few if any concessions to style or overtly conscious attempts to appear aesthetically attractive. The Model T was an enduring success across two decades because it was mechanically honest and economical to run. I think it would be fairer to compare the the Model T to the Mini, or the Morris Minor, or Austin 7 .

      I think the Allegro’s aesthetic shortcomings are not because the overall concept or theme(s) are or were unacceptable, but rather that the execution of Mann’s intent for the car was poorly wrought. It seems to have jumped off the rails as if the designer completely lost control on the way to series production. In that respect I would liken the Allegro to the Rolls Camargue.

  5. It’s possible that the Allegro was simply ahead of its time. The bulbous shape is after all very similar to just about any medium size SUV you care to think of but I’m thinking about you in particular Audi Q3/Q5

  6. I wonder if going with a hoop (Golf, Ritmo/Strada) occurred to them for a 2-door version, or whether they would have been better with a 4-door conversion, like the Visa. The fact that the Allegro had a boot should’ve made the conversion easier, I guess.

    I think the answer may be that it didn’t really suit being a convertible – Alfa Romeo never produced a convertible Alfasud.

    Citroen Visa Aug 1984 18-19 Convertible

    1. And for nearly 47 years I’d imagined that this was just a speculative rendering:

      The word from CAR:

      “Alfa Romeo, however, are taking far more positive steps to attack the X1/9 from behind the home lines. Their targa-topped Alfasud, promised when the Sud factory was opened, has been ready for production for some time, but pushed further and further back down the pipeline by Naples’ wildcat strikes. At last the backlog of orders for Sud created by these labour problems is being eaten into and Alfa are confident enough to be introducing the Alfasud 1300 coupe this autumn. The spider is based on fwd coupe mechanicals with a stylish, two-seater configuration. Duplication of parts should allow its introduction possibly next spring. This will not be before time for Guigaro, of Ital Design, who is known to be angry at continued delays in building of what he considers to be one of the best-looking cars he has designed.”

      Raging Giorgietto!

      The rest of the article included other sports cars (all-targa topped) which didn’t happen: a Fiesta-based mid-engined two seater, a GM targa based on the XP903 supermini (even the base car was six years away!), and an Alfetta Spider.

    2. Rather surprising the Alfasud Spider was to be FWD at least visually, even though it kind of makes sense in terms of cost.

      As with Fiat’s previous attempts to stymie Alfa Romeo’s move downmarket, makes one wonder if that factor also likely influenced the decision to make the Alfasud Spider FWD rather than mid-engined RWD in an attempt to mitigate conflict with the Fiat X1/9.

      OTOH the Alfasud Spider just maybe would have been the sort of catalyst Fiat needed to up gun the X1/9.

      Found a sketch of the XP903 based GM Targa.

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