Sifting through the debris
In the build-up to 1980’s Motorfair, where the crucially important Austin Mini-Metro was to make its public debut, BL’s TV advertising was to put it mildly, of a decidedly patriotic nature. An array of doughty Metros standing sentinel on Dover’s white cliffs to repel Britain’s foreign invaders certainly got the message across, but in any conflict situation, real or imaginary, there is always collateral damage.
Because within a year of Metro’s triumphant debut, Britain’s homegrown supermini had dealt Allegro a fatal blow. Despite their differences in size and mission, such was the level of domestic enthusiasm for Britain’s ‘car to beat the world’ that by the end of 1981, Allegro sales, already in freefall, had almost halved. For the BL board, the evidence was unequivocal, and under Sir Michael Edwardes’ pragmatic leadership, it was elected to euthanise Allegro ahead of schedule, concentrate on satisfying Metro demand at Longbridge, and prepare the Cowley plant for the Spring 1983 introduction of the LM10 Maestro.
There is a single statistic which graphically illustrates the scope of Allegro’s commercial failure. Over a nine year life cycle, a total of 667,192 Allegros of all stripes were built. Compare this to its ADO16 predecessor’s total of 2,151,007 (over a 12 year period), and the starkness of Allegro’s plight is laid bare.
The right product at the right moment can work wonders for a business, as both FIAT Auto and PSA would later discover that decade; both Uno and 205 transforming the fortunes of their respective carmakers. Allegro did prove to be a transformational product for British Leyland, just not in the manner intended. But while it can be established with some certainty that Allegro’s failure was a grievous blow to BL, it is also quite evident that the model line was felled by more than one axe.
Amongst these is the geopolitical dimension, which must too be acknowledged. The timing of Britain’s late entry to the EEC was particularly poor. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that BLMC, like most UK-based manufacturers were at the time finding it almost impossible to satisfy domestic demand, much less find additional volume to export. Much of this was the result of the ceaseless fiddling by the UK Treasury with the credit supply, leading to the artificial consumer spending spree of 1972/3.
This endless cycle of will-they, won’t-they with Brussels meant that while Allegro was being scoped, the European market was not a primary consideration, although where the upper 50% of the Allegro range was to be sold (outside of the home market at least) remains something of a mystery to this day.
But before Allegro sales could get into their stride, or BLMC resolve the model’s early troubles, the entire world economy was brought to its knees by the oil embargo of October 1973 and its chilling after effects. The catastrophic impact this had on fuel prices killed customer confidence overnight, leaving a sizeable chunk of Allegro’s business case crippled in the harbour.
The oil shock was an equal opportunities crisis, and BLMC were not the only carmaker to fall victim at exactly the wrong moment to the effects of force majeure. Similarly, BLMC’s management had no way of predicting how the UK government’s ongoing negotiations with Europe would proceed, and having faced rejection twice before, could not rely upon success on the third attempt. Plans had to be made on the basis of likelihood, not wishful thinking.
No auto executive, then or now is in possession of clairvoyant qualities. Neither of these factors were within Donald Stokes’ control, but their affect upon Allegro as it arrived on the market was profound – to say nothing of the BLMC business itself.
Because even had Allegro been a class-leading product, this series of crises would have grievously undermined it. Notwithstanding this, its underperformance can only be partially ascribed to external forces – the majority of its failures being baked in. Furthermore, Allegro’s commercial failure lost British Leyland the revenue it required, not only to alleviate many of the car’s most infuriating faults (many of which remained unaddressed right to the end), but also to fund a replacement.
The internal failures were myriad. Most have been covered in earlier chapters, and do not require restating. And while there were engineering failures aplenty, Allegro was primarily the child of BLMC’s marketers and product planners, who appear to have been blind to just how more sophisticated mainland European rivals were becoming. But above all, Allegro was Donald Stokes’ failure as much as that of the car business he bestrode. Allegro was his call – his fingerprints are all over it.
Another, even more sobering set of statistics are these: Over a nine year lifespan (1971-1980) a total of 1,163,116 Morris Marinas were sold. For all of the ripe fruit flung in Marina’s direction, this reactionary motor car, over a similar timeline, would prove almost twice as popular as Allegro, a car designed from scratch, and intended not only to be BLMC’s cash cow but Britain’s ‘national car’.
Some industry observers, like the respected Anders Clausager have pointed out in mitigation that both Allegro and Marina, with combined sales of 1,830,308 cars at least approaches that of ADO16’s total. Add in Maxi’s 450,297 (1968-1981) and that total rises to 2,280,605 cars. Now remind yourself of how many separate model lines and the colossal level of investment it required to achieve this. Here is British Leyland’s failure laid bare.
It is perhaps necessary to make the point that Allegro was not as bad a car as its more lurid detractors like to portray it, but neither is it as good as its aficionados might wish us to believe. It was at best a median product, probably everybody’s third or fourth choice, but in essence a reasonable, sensible, inexpensive means of transport – at least once the worst of the early gremlins were excised. What Allegro was not is perhaps easier to define. For it came nowhere close to achieving the mission its makers set for it – a mission to successfully replace a national best-seller. But given its difficult gestation, birth and subsequent life, could matters really have been otherwise?
The creation and production of motor cars is a process fraught with risk and it is the job of those who do so to minimise and mitigate against these. British Leyland set out to produce a world class car, but perhaps unwittingly, perhaps through hubris, they produced a flawed product under a flawed premise. These flaws could not be excised and Allegro quickly became a ‘lame duck’ product. But while Allegro alone did not cause British Leyland to fail, its inability to meet objectives made it inevitable.
It is generally advised that one should not run with scissors.
 Allegro production ceased in March 1982.
 “Anyone trying to quantify the scale of the Allegro’s failure can start with that one and a half million car shortfall, and the loss of potential revenue it represents”. Chris Cowin – Chronicle of a Car Crash.
 The so-called ‘Barber Boom’, named after chancellor, Anthony Barber but which would be more rightfully ascribed to Prime Minster, Ted Heath saw lending costs and purchase taxes fall in what was described as a “dash for growth”. UK carmakers were completely unprepared for the surge in demand this entailed, having previously trimmed production to meet stricter government strictures. Ongoing industrial unrest also depressed domestic production, leaving the way for the newly de-restricted importers to fill the vacuum. UK Car sales reached an all-time record in 1972. It all came to a grinding halt the following October.
 Marina’s best sales year was 1972/73, with 201,724. Marina sales held up respectably throughout the 1970s, but the trend was inexorably downwards. In its final year (1980) only 27,773 were sold, but the facelifted Ital was introduced that Summer, selling 51,274 and failing to arrest the overall decline.
 At its peak, Allegro production was intended to run at around 6500 cars per week, and Longbridge was geared up to produce that number. However, production (and demand) never came even close to that number. Allegro’s best year was 1975/76 with 125,420 cars produced, half that of ADO16’s best year (1968/69).
Full list of sources: See part one
49 thoughts on “Running With Scissors [Part Ten]”
The vinyl roof gave the Allegro the look of a convertible car. So it seems to be less solid and torsion-resistant than other cars but without having the advantages of a convertible car. And not sporty or modern at all.
Allow me to disagree, I actually think the vinyl roof improves the look of the car. It’s the bulbous C-pillar/sailpanel that makes it look like a pregnant guppy. Bisecting the car horizontally with a clear upper half and downer half makes it look more rectilinear and athletic in my eyes.
For me it looks less like a convertible and more like a pram
I remember the Mini Metro ads. We seem to have come a long way regarding cars-as-mascots. In 1981 it was plausible that a car was a national symbol of various things such as commercial success and technical competence. For some reason no UK-based car manufacturers use this trope in their advertising. As far as I know none of the others do either, not in the same way. The Italians hint at Italian charm and the Germans at technical excellence. Is Frenchness found in any Renault or Citroen or Peugeot ads? Perhaps the reason for this is due to none of these makers from these nations feeling like borrowing national prestige to flog their wares. The Mini-Metro ad seems very Suella Bravermanesque.
Nicely put, Richard. For our overseas readers, Suella Braverman is the current UK Home Secretary and might be described as a right-wing populist. DTW avoids straying into political matters so I’ll leave it at that.
In my experience from the other end of the world, patriotic advertising is what you fall back to when there’s absolutely nothing else to recommend the product. In the seventies Holden ran a particularly abhorrent ad with the theme “Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” – a ripoff of an American Chevrolet ad. I suspect an American was behind this, and didn’t realise the difference in culture between the two countries; we’re nowhere near as patriotic. Mind you, Ford was taking massive bites out of Holden at this time, and the big Holdens were pretty woeful, having suffered an ugly facelift, and then made a hash of their Australian Design Rules emissions update. It’s not surprising if they panicked.
So yes, call me cynical. And looking at Leyland’s form over the preceding decade – especially the Allegro – I think that would be somewhat justified.
One closing thought – at least the Allegro wasn’t forced to use 1800 doors!
Quick interjection: Renault had its “Createur d’Automobiles” period, which was leveraging its frenchness (specifically trying to connect the prestigious image of French fashion products to their cars) at a time when their products were rather good as well.
I don’t know about other markets, but Opel under Stellantis advertises its germanic roots over here in the Netherlands while Volvo under Geely has been adding Swedish flags to its cars left, right and center.
I both latter instances, I suspect it is no coincidence that this happened shortly after the marques were taken over by potentially controversial “foreign agents”.
BMW not only has its country of origin in its name, it also unashamedly uses the traditional colours of Bavarian sky of white and blue in its logo.
Which brings us to the question whether it is helpful to have your region of origin in the name of your company.
BL, BSA and AMC say no, BMW says yes.
I kind of like the nationaliatic theme if it’s done tongue in cheek and not for real. For example, even if I’m Swedish, I’ve always loved the Union Jack-themed Minis with the flag on the roof. I don’t see it as excluding everything non-British but on the contrary an invitation to share the intrinsic Britishness with the rest of the world even though I’m not even British in the slightest. But the British have a way of playing with those symbols in a way that is fun, in contrast to for example the American flag waving which just becomes idiotic. Being somewhat of a Francophile as welk, I would have no problem with a Tricolor themed Citroen or whatnot, just because it’s fun and something that would cheer people up. But playing on any nationalism for real? No thank you…
Oddly enough the French flag on the Alpine A110 bothers me a great deal. The fewer logos the better and all that.
How about this 2CV, as French as it gets
Various Volvos have small Swedish flags on them, which I think is rather nice. I also recall my father’s 1975 Saab 96 came with a fair-sized ‘Made In Sweden’ sticker in the windscreen.
Re Suella Braverman – that’s what happens if you feed Priti Patel after midnight.
I like this nationalism of some manufacturers.
For example, I only wear Le Coq Sportive sneakers, and only the models that feature the rooster or the tricolour – even though they might be glued together in the same building in some country in Asia as all the Adidas/Puma/Nike/what ever.
I would also never buy a grappa from a non-Italian distillery, even if a local distillery offered an equivalent, or better, product. The same goes for all traditional drinks whose origins go back to a specific landscape/environment/nationality.
Also, I don’t really find the Italian flag on the wings of Alfas embarrassing (ours doesn’t have one because it wasn’t delivered with it), even if really everyone, even people without education (to avoid the word “idiots”), naturally know where the car comes from. For me, this emblem does not stand for nationalism as a bad word, but is rather the statement “I (also) don’t drink coffee but espresso” – a symbol for a certain lifestyle.
The roof of the Mini with the Union Jack was an element that always made me smile – even though I can’t do anything with Mini as a brand. Unlike the rear lights, because they don’t technically work in their function, and since it doesn’t technically work it’s a silly gimmick.
(Side note: I also kind of miss the Union Jack on our hoover. But Mr D is probably too woke for these gimmicks).
I often take offence at the use of the words “national” or “nationalism” because it is usually branded by opponents/deniers as something negative. Yet it is not negative. Nations/tribes/races are not better than others, they are different. And this being different is worth discovering for oneself. Only when you discover something different from what you have known up to now, do you develop further. Only when you recognise the values of others (cultures/nations) do you recognise your own values. And when you have recognised these values, the game of life can begin.
(Note on the side: White/blue were the colours of the Wittelsbach dynasty, a noble line that founded the Kingdom of Bavaria and became heiress to the British throne with Sophie of the Palatinate.
BMW was not allowed to use the white/blue rhombus, which was reserved for the Wittelsbach dynasty, and therefore designed the colours of the Wittelsbach dynasty in the form of a running propeller as a reference to their origins as an aircraft engine manufacturer. The irony of history is that a company that based its logo on the Wittelsbach family, who were heirs to the British throne, now owns a British brand that uses the Union Jack as its symbol. And that’s another irony of history – and a warning to all “nationalists” – if you make the mistake of digging too deep into your own nationality you’ll end up with Lucy – we’re the same, but different…).
DS refers to old french techniques of stitching fabrics and polishing metals. Skoda always is proud of the taillights and headlights which were inspired by the bohemian glass tradition.
Fantastic series. I’ve seen that Metro ad on YT…cringe is the word I’d use.
Having read through this series, I realise now the very difficult external factors BL faced; initially outside the EEC, delayed entry into it, government policy messing up the market, the fuel crisis…but I still think that they could have successfully navigated around those issues if they had a decent plan to build the car that people wanted. And they should have known what people wanted; the ado16 and the mini, which both sold well on the continent dispute the trade barriers.
Imo the Marina is what poisoned BL and doomed right from the very start. They were still obsessed with fighting Ford in the fleet market when their real territory was in the private users club with the likes of Fiat and Renault. So they built this massively expensive rehash of a 20 year old design (losing production of their best seller in the process) that only really appealed to the home market for people who didn’t want an escort or cortina for some reason. The only praise I can give them for the Marina is, at least they had the body options mostly right. This expensive and distracting dead end took away all the development money for the car they should have been building.
They had all the ingredients there to make a potentially successful line up of FWD family hatchbacks. They inherited the mini and the ado16, and the Maxi, which was a dud from the beginning but work could have been done. The Aquila concept shows what the Maxi could have been turned into. And the princess’s overall design on a c sized car (possibly built on a much shorted maxi platform?) would have looked very striking imo.
Yes I know hindsight is everything and all but you’d think that somewhere in that company you could find at least one person who knew what they were doing? But I guess not.
There were voices in BL arguing not to go after Ford – I believe John Barber (ex Ford) argued the company should focus on the more profitable private market with the groups upmarket brands. But the general consensus within the company (including Stokes who wanted to expand not shrink), in the wider political sphere (unemployment etc.) and in the UK generally (national pride) was that BL needed to be a volume manufacturer. Hindsight has proven that wrong obviously, but I don’t fault the logic at the time.
If I remember correctly for a long time Britain was the country with the highest percentage of company cars in the market, long before Continental countries went down this road.
The British corporate car market collapsed when taxation more or less got based on fuel consumption which roughly coincided with the German market truly taking off in the corporate sector.
Under these circumstances it doesn’t look too stupid to try and get a piece of the corporate cake.
The UK company car market was a large one, and was dominated by Ford, and to a slightly lesser extent, GM-Vauxhall, who had the advantage of being able to offer a full range of business-compatible cars, from repmobiles to senior management. The blue oval had this down to a fine art, pitching their product to this market with finely demarcated model hierarchies. It didn’t hurt that many private buyers liked the cut of their jib as well. Furthermore, this was a cut-throat market, where the fleets drove hard bargains, where contracts would be for large quantities of vehicles and would probably run over a number of years. Also note that in the 1970s, the notion of the user-chooser had yet to come into being – and most UK-based businesses would only buy ‘British’, or in the case of the US multinationals, those who had a United Kingdom presence.
So while it is possible to understand BLMC’s aspiration to grab a share of this market – and they did sell to fleets on the commercial side of course – with Marina they were entering the lion’s den. Marina needed to be pitched perfectly. It wasn’t. Worse, for those businesses who opted for them, there were no supporting vehicles within BLMC’s mainstream range which fleet managers would have accepted.
To my mind, BLMC had a choice. Target the private motorist and leave the fleet market to the big boys, or go all in fighting Ford on their own turf. Stokes tried to do both. It couldn’t work, therefore it didn’t.
Quite right Daniel, politics have no place here – however, as Eóin’s Allegro tour-de-force makes very clear, the incessant interference and instability of politicians and the government departments they pretend to control has much to do with the perceived and actual failure of businesses such as BL. And although I firmly believe in democracy ( ideally voting should be compulsory but with a “none of the above” option on every ballot paper) I have a certain sympathy with the bumper sticker I once saw which read “Don’t vote – it only encourages them”.
I leave you in peace now – I’m off to the NEC for the next four days.
JTC, I had to smile at your ‘instability of politicians’ remark; that could be taken several ways. 🙂 The British motor industry might have turned out quite differently if political decisions hadn’t blocked expansion in areas where people were used to building cars. Fancy politicians thinking they know more about business than the business owners – whatever next!
In Australia voting is compulsory – and yes, they literally mark the roll – but what you put on the paper is up to you. Unfortunately ‘none of the above’ is not an option, and any written comment counts as an ‘informal’ (invalid) vote. Shame.
In the period between the launch of the Metro and the arrival of LM10 (3/83) and LM11(4/84), BL were throwing everything possible into the space the Maestro and Montego would belatedly fill – Ital, Acclaim, Ambassador. It really does look as if the Allegro was left to wither and die, as a product beyond redemption. It wasn’t even a matter of factory space, as the Metro had its own brand new production facility at Longbridge, and the Acclaim and Maestro/Montego were Cowley cars.
The Ital’s end of days sales figures suggest that it still had a following, possibly government, railway and utilities fleets, and a hardcore coterie of real wheel drive recusants and Sierra-phobes.
1000 cars and vans a week almost till the end must have justified the widely reported £5 million cost of Italisation and the September 1982 relocation of production to Longbridge – Michael Edwardes made the right call.
At the risk of making a fool of myself…the Ital isn’t a bad looking machine…perhaps just a little bit old fashioned looking at the time?
And again, saloon, estate, van…just needed a hatchback and it would have covered everything.
I said before, if they’d made a car with the looks of the Marina and the mechanicals of the allegro, with a second gen one with the Ital’s looks released around 1975-76, they might still be in business.
Hi JCC. An Ital five-door hatchback (and updated estate, losing the uptick in the rear door window)? Here you go:
Seriously though, how hard would that have been for BL? Together with proper telescopic damper front suspension, bizzarely and belatedly fitted for the Ital’s final year of production, it could have made the Ital a viable competitor.
Ikr? It’s baffling. If they were really determined to go down that route, they could have done it right from the very beginning.
And yes those designs are genuinely quite nice for the time. Simple strategy, you could have had the original style Marina, with the telescopic dampeners, in hatchback, saloon and estate variants (and the van), run with that for 5 years or so, and then in the mid seventies, replaced them with your nice updated versions to carry them up to about 1980. I mean if you’re going to go down the cheap fleet market route at least do it right.
But even better? That same basic plan but with the FWD, hydrolastic/hydrogas suspension set up as seen on the ADO16. Get the engine range under control (easier said than done I know) and you’d have a strong product for the decade.
Heres an even madder idea; could they have done this plan twice? A small c segment car using the bits of an ado16 and the a series, and a larger d segment car using the maxi and e series? The small one released say, 1971 and the bigger one 1972/3? Both using this Marina/Ital styling?
Purely hypothetical I know but if the likes of me can come up with relatively simple plan over a cup of tea while watching the evening news, you’d think the experts would have too lol
JCC, for an even madder idea still, while we’re tearing up the Marina’s shell, how about we fit the Dolomite’s rear suspension? Still a solid axle, but better location and a wider track.
Let’s see what else we can find in those parts bins. Marina Sprint, anyone?
They just needed something simple that would sell, and be ready really quickly; cue everything being done in a rush, and thus incorrect assumptions and shortcuts that would come back to bite them. The basic theory was that they could re-body the Minor and bung some new engines in. Sure, some of the technology was old, but it’d be reliable. And, it turned out, expensive to produce, because no one had really looked at that aspect of the Minor, recently, or the implications of producing it in larger volumes.
The Marina wasn’t done properly because they assumed they could get away with it for 5 years while they sorted themselves out after the merger(s). They didn’t expect the Barber Boom / oil crisis / to go bust and be nationalised within a few years.
Also, they had a weird attitude to innovation; they seemed to like advanced solutions, but they were also quite cheapskate. Technical advances would be compromised to save a few quid, while stuff that customers could see was often viewed as unimportant window dressing.
It is possible (and boring hard work) to do development by numbers. Define where the gaps are in the market, see which you want to fill, come up with concepts, test them for performance and market acceptance and then launch them. Then do it all over again, ad infinitum.
BL’s approach was start developing a new concept – some sort of mid-range car, possibly. Decide it’s too big / small / lacking features / has too many unique components . Change it. It’s now late and over-budget, so re-do much of the development, but in a rush. It’s now even further behind schedule / over budget and the market has moved on. Launch what is clearly a sub-optimal product. Have poor sales and poor income. Think about developing a new model, or – I know – two new models which will share a lot to save costs… and so on.
Here is another Ital variation – essentially two types of coupe. There was also a Marina hatchback conversion in real-life.
Was it really impossible for BL to find a straight Allegro to use in any of its publicity, or was the bumper and valance of the car at the head of this piece straight when it first took off?
BL had form as far as badly presented publicity cars goes. Take a look at the Maestro presented at 10 Downing Street for inspection by Margaret Thatcher(whose government bankrolled its development):
Not the trim on the rear door at the base of the window: it’s bowing upwards noticeably.
More generally, BMC and BL acquired a dismal reputation for releasing cars before all the bugs were properly ironed out, so early customers were effectively treated as crash test dummies. By the time the bugs were fixed, the car’s reputation was often irretrievably damaged. I recall an Autocar piece on the Series 2 Rover SD1, quoting someone senior in the development programme saying “I wish we had built it like this in the first place.” It was intended to be a compliment to the revised car, but was just as easily read as a criticism of the original.
One of the Marinas in its launch film is missing a rear hubcap – it’s really obvious. Then there’s the Allegro / Penthouse magazine incident, of course.
What a fascinating series, Eóin. Thank you very much for writing it! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learning about the Allegro and most importantly, about BL and the UK during the difficult 1970s. The nature of the automotive industry is such that by studying it you can also learn a lot about the political, social, and economic hardships and fortunes of countries and regions.
A couple of thoughts about the Allegro:
1 – I’ve yet to see one in the metal, at least as far as I can remember. Two years of my childhood (from 3 to 5 years of age) were spent in GB, in the mid 70s, precisely the key years of the Allegro, so I surely must have seen them on the streets, but alas, I can’t remember. On a side note, our family car at the time was the Allegro’s predecessor, a much loved mustard yellow Austin 1300GT.
2 – The blue Allegro with the vinyl top in the last photo actually looks quite nice and tidy, with good stance and proportions between wheels, body, and DLO. I quite like it. The vinyl top gives it that quintessentially British look. Vinyl tops were indeed a 1970s thing all across Europe (except Italy, now that I think about it), but for some reason I perceive it as more British. I hold judgement on the front styling of the Allegro, however, until I see one in the metal.
I’ve had a rollercoaster of opinions during these excellent pieces. I abhor those lazy lists of “The 5 crappiest cars that hide the letters of the word large in their names” which the Allegro inevitably turns up in. So on one level I wanted to see it redeemed. On the other hand, to me it will always symbolise the slow motion chaos that the once proud (and probably unfounded pride was the problem) British manufacturing sank into.
But what finally damns it in my eyes is the revelation (to me!) that it was so torsionally weak. Based on the Landcrab’s famed strength, as well as the omission of a hatchback, I’d always justified the Allegro’s dumpiness by thinking of it as being a really solid thing. But it was just an imposter. Though in the end I can’t despise the car, just the structure that allowed it.
Regarding the first image in the piece, which I assume was a BL publicity photo, given the ‘number plate’. In what parallel universe does a photo of a family saloon with all four wheels in the air endear it to potential customers? I would want any car I drove always to have all four wheels firmly planted on the tarmac!
Daniel. Come on, don’t be so bloody serious. Four wheels on the ground, zero emissions, carrying the family. Where’s the fun in all that? Blooming kids these days need everything done for them. Even parking. Back in the day, we knew how to find a parking slot.
Hello Bristowfuller. Well, that’s a first for me, being accused of having Millennial sensibilities! I’ll have you know I’m a baby-boomer (just) and proud of it!
The combined sales of the Allegro, Marina and Maxi with ADO16 does put things into perspective. Truth is neither of the three should have turned out the way they did, in fact two of the three cars should not have even existed to begin with had the Maxi turned out how it was supposed to be together with an updated ADO16.
The Marina was a product that though initiated by Triumph people (initially conceived as an Escort sized rebodied 1100-1500 Minor) not only should have been a bit more sophisticated than it was (e.g. MacPherson Struts, E-Series, etc) but also appeared about a decade earlier with Ital-like mechanical specification (specifically the suspension – where it should have been more competitive in the 1960s) at minimum as part of a final two or so car send-off for Morris (essentially further building upon Minor foundations like BMC was supposed to), because with the exception of some outside parts (of which in-house alternatives could have been sought e.g. upgraded Minor or MGB gearbox in place of Triumph 1300 gearbox, etc) it was definitely with BMC’s ability to develop by itself.
Whereas the Allegro was another car like the Marina that should not have existed, vexingly like the latter there was still room for it to turn out to be a significantly better product. However even though it largely used carried over BMC mechanicals, it was basically a product of Stokes, Webster and the Triumph people who (unlike the BMC personnel they initially side-lined) give any indication of having virtually no understanding why ADO16 was so successful compared to their own FWD 1300/1500 apart from the former’s transverse layout.
I’ve really enjoyed this series and the comments which have accompanied it; it’s been a detailed and fair assessment of a complex set of circumstances.
As a counterpoint, the Morris Minor sold in similar numbers to the Allegro – 1.6m over a 23 year period, so about 70,000 per year. That said, it was sold alongside its replacement for much of its life, so it’s a bit naughty of me to make the comparison. Equally, though, the Allegro had more competition than ADO16.
To my mimd, the real failure, which inexcusably continued with the Maestro and Montego, was that of poor product planning.
I agree that the silvery-blue car pictured in the article does look good – I think it may just be a slightly lucky photo, though. I also thought the Metro ad was quite clever / funny – it was meant to be tongue in cheek.
Other companies with their nationality or location in the title? Saab, Fiat, Aston Martin (the Aston part), Bristol (?), Alfa Romeo and SEAT. Two thirds of the list is still going.
Nihon Sangyo (Nissan), Zhonghua Brilliance, Iran Khodro.
Oh and Yugo – neither the carmaker nor the country still exist.
In the early 1900s there was a Swiss car manufacturer named Turicum (which is the Latin name of Zurich). It was rather short-lived though.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series of articles… But have also been biting my tongue a little: Whilst I can’t speak to its engineering competence, I really don’t think the Allegro looks that bad. Whilst it’s no great beauty, I don’t see the visual design tragedy that others seem to. To me, it just looks… OK.
Trying to make rational sense of the Allegro, I see it as the outcome of giving some Ford product planners, stylists and engineers the task of designing an Escort-sized car, which had to use the 1100/1300 and Maxi drivers almost completely unaltered, and also required to have independent Hydragas suspension. The clash of cultures would never be satisfactorily resolved.
And yet, some things about the Allegro (and Marina) were good because of the influence of the Ford people. Both cars had broad and coherent range hierarchies – the first Maxi was take it or leave it, and the preceding ’60s BMC cars differentiated trim levels by recalling moribund brands.
The Marina and Allegro interiors were more in keeping with ’70s expectations. Preceding BMC cars offered the choice of either Issigonis’ asceticism, or cut-price simulacra of a 1950s Rover, Daimler or Alvis cockpit.
What a fascinating series this has been. Many thanks, Eóin, for proving such a wealth and depth of material – and to everyone for your commentary which has led to many enjoyable hours of exploring internet wormholes. I’ve just finished Wood’s biography of Issigonis; many thanks for the recommendation.
I always felt vaguely disappointed Leyland Australia imploded before we could get the Allegro here. I don’t feel like that any more. I guess the ADO16 was bound to be a hard act to follow; this series has made me realise what a hard act that was. Having driven a Morris 1500 (E-series ADO16) I have to wonder whether they’d have been better off taking some ideas from the Colonies, and used the Nomad body and Apache front and rear end to have a range of bob-tail sedan, booted sedan or hatch with A- or E-series engines. They could have done this as an interim step while they took time to do the Allegro properly.
Ah, there are so many things they could have done! The two saddest words in the English language are If Only…..
Thanks for a herculean effort, Eóin. Well played on the final sentence.
Since the Allegro was a non-event in my country and I am too young to remember the success of its predecessor, I’ve come late to the Allegro fascination and view it as something vaguely exotic. Through all this, I’ve come to believe that the Allegro’s design was let down by poor execution, the management by a lot of infighting and culture clashes. Most of all, however, it’s been evident (to me) that the rot was already there at BL: only a miracle could have saved it and BL’s entire culture precluded such miracles. I get a strong impression of everything being done by committee, as a reaction to giving Alec Issigonis too much leeway in the preceding decade.
In hindsight (with all the caveats that implies), the failure of the Landcrab and the Maxi probably did for BL before the Allegro was a glint in Donald Stokes’ eye. That might be in large part because BL never developed a management culture strong enough to both nurture and restrain (as en when appropriate) a talent like Issigonis. He had focus, but it was too narrow and lopsided while the rest of the leadership seemed to lack focus in any significant amount. Witness the development drift of Landcrab and Maxi, the sudden shift in strategy to produce the Marina and so on. In that sense the Allegro is a symptom.
Agree with regards to the failure of both the Landcrab and Maxi laying the ground work in helping undermine BMC later BL. Issigonis was already side-lined and unwilling to work with the new regime at BL, which did not help his cause in trying to get 9X/10X or some elements of the former into production.
In theory it was within a restrained yet focused Issigonis’s ability to bring some new thinking towards the type of emerging compact executive saloon, to at least acquit itself well against Rover and Triumph’s efforts in the form of a X6 sized ADO61 with a similarly wide choice of engines like at Ford and Vauxhall. As opposed to what actually unfolded unintentionally beginning with the Landcrab that in reality should have been a car with a 100-inch wheelbase and 155-160-inch length (at a time before the C and D Segments were clearly defined), rather than something that upon drifting away from its original brief Issigonis decided to expediently attempt to make it into a sort of British DS.
OTOH perhaps the task of producing larger models should have been given to someone else, based on what actually happened when small car focused designers like Alec Issigonis and Dante Giacosa were asked to be involved with projects whose commercial prospects either they doubted for their own reasons or were simply not interested in.
This dog will hunt:
Allegro gone troppo*?
(*an Australian slang expression meaning “gone mad or crazy due to tropical heat” or just “gone mad”)
Far too many people are excessively critical of the Allegro/Marina duo with the benefit of hindsight.
To begin with, the decision to go with two models rather than one made perfect sense, in fact was the only rational option, at the time. It seems to have been forgotten that at its formation BL had something like a 35% market share in the UK, dwarfing competitors like Ford (20%), Vauxhall and Rootes (15% each). Importers like VW, Renault and Fiat were of the order of 5% each and the Japanese were nowhere, with miniscule shares. (I’m sure someone else will come up with exact figures, but the above are ballpark). In this circumstance for BL to ‘concentrate on one particular market’ where they might be strong would be tantamount to deliberately shrinking the company – why would anyone in charge of an enterprise want to do that? It would be rather like saying to VW group now ‘you should pack in with Audi and leave executive cars to BMW’ or ‘you should close VW and leave the economy market to Stellantis’ – either of which may be seen as the right thing retrospectively in 40 years time but right now are inconceivable.
It is absolutely true the Allegro and Marina were lacklustre cars but this was not unusual, in fact all the big carmakers regularly ‘drop clangers’. At the time the competition included things like the equally lacklustre Viva from Vauxhall, the ugly Renault 12 (which morphed into the the even worse blob of the 14), and dated Peugeots and Rootes Arrow. Where they were unlucky was with timing, because Rootes introduced the very competent (though thoroughly conventional) Avenger and Ford stayed bang up-to-date (with styling/marketing, if not mechanicals) with the various iterations of Escort and Cortina. Others had equal ups and downs – Vauxhall was going down the pan until they basically adopted the entire Opel range, Fiat had the class leading 128 and then threw it all away morphing it into the Strada/Ritmo.
And what was totally unforseen was the rise of the Germans – VW had been in a totally retrograde backwater making variants (literally!) of the beetle for 30 years – and then in 1974 launched the Golf, which made everything else in the sector look dated overnight. Just think what might have happened if BL had outsourced their design to Guigaro (or continued to use Pininfarina or Michelotti for that matter) – the results might have been very different.
Of course this did not happen because BL was struggling with profitability and was perennially strapped for cash – this is why models were launched underdeveloped, and when ‘clangers’ were dropped, instead of being shelved as soon as practicable, they just hung around until they became notorious embarrassments. It is this (and the rise of quality control from other makers, particularly the Japanese, whilst due to industrial relations BL’s remained poor) which put them on a downward trajectory. And it also has to be said other brands have been turned around from similar ‘holes’ with sufficient injections of capital. But BL was also unlucky enough to have the UK government as it’s major shareholder just when the political climate was turning against state involvement in industry. So the reasons for ultimate failure were myriad, but bad timing was as big a cause as anything fundamental.
We will have some more supportive coverage of the Austin Allegro coming very soon.
That is a very good summation, Max, to which can be added that at the same time they had to integrate Triumph and the other competing/complimentary BMC brands.