Regrets: Chris Smith’s Austin Allegro 1100

Regrets: Chris Smith’s Austin Allegro 1100

Regrets –  we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Actually that’s not strictly true – it seems we all look back on our catalogue of car purchases with some degree of regret. There are cars we regret selling. Cars we regret not buying. And cars we regret buying. PetrolBlog’s latest feature has certainly struck a chord with many of you, leading to an outpouring of tales of regret.

This latest tale of regrets comes from the vaults deep inside the head of Chris Smith, who himself was inspired by Peter Counsell’s recent Triumph Dolomite piece. Here are Chris’s words.

‘Tahiti Blue’ suggests something exotic and possibly incredibly expensive. You’d think it ought to be the next most popular supercar colour after Maranello Red. However, it happened to be the shade of blue in which my first vehicle was painted. This was as far removed from a supercar as it is possible to be. The only thing vaguely super about it was the fact that it remained on the road for so long – despite suffering from terminal rust for most of the time I owned it. And no it wasn’t an Alfa.

It was (cue – embarrassed look) a 2-door 1976 Austin Allegro. Instead of the lusty V8 of my boyhood dreams it had BL’s trusty 1098cc A-Series engine under the bonnet. It also had a tendency to leave pools of oil on my parents’ driveway which annoyed my dad. I’d planned to buy a Renault 5 as it was French and I liked its looks, but for some still unexplained reason I ended up buying the Austin Allegro. It came from a local BL dealer and I paid £650 – a lot of money in 1984 for someone in their first term at university. It had one previous owner who must have spent a lot of time on the beach judging by the vast amount of sand in the carpets and in the corners of the boot.

Austin Allegro at BeaulieuOver the four years I owned the car, I invested a constant stream of money from my part-time bar job in spray-cans of Tahiti Blue. This was mainly used to cover up the Plastic Padding and aluminium mesh that gradually replaced the rust in the bottom of both doors, the front valence, sections of the wings and wheel-arches (both front and rear) plus other places of possibly structural significance.

To make up for my feelings of inadequacy when faced with my friends’ cars, I fitted various extras. A pair of air horns came from a mate’s Datsun 120Y coupé (he’d fitted a bigger, louder pair that played a tune). I installed a car alarm that went off at random moments or else flattened the battery for no apparent reason. When I went to France to study for a few months, my mum took care of the car and, according to my dad, she became adept at push-starting it entirely on her own.

The hydrolastic suspension regularly lost pressure giving the car an almost permanent lop-sided look and interesting handling. As soon as one side was pumped up the other would sag. Re-pressurising the suspension made the car look less like a squatting toad on wheels but did not transform the performance. Wheel bearings failed annoyingly often – usually a day or so before I was due to make a long journey.

My friends took pleasure in taunting me about my choice of car. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard that ‘austin allegro’ is an anagram of ‘a slug relation’. They found it very funny to see my reaction when they poked fun at the Allegro’s performance or lack of it compared to their Capris and Mk3 Cortinas. They did possibly have a point; the journey from home in Norfolk to Bristol – a distance of around 250 miles – took eight and a half hours. My brother used to do the same trip in four and half in his Vauxhall Chevette despite frequently shedding parts of his exhaust en route – usually in the Hatfield Tunnel on the A1.

Regrets: Austin AllegroThe Allegro’s most memorable moment occurred at the height of the holiday season, in the Norfolk Broads. I drove over the ancient hump-backed bridge that crosses the river Bure in the middle of Wroxham at about 30mph. Changing up as I went over the top of the bridge, the gear lever went floppy. Surprised, I somehow managed to stall the car and coasted down the far side of the bridge. Restarting the engine I discovered it was stuck in third gear and the lever was clearly not connected to the gear box any more. A growing queue of impatient holiday traffic started to build up behind me as I blocked the road. My passengers (yes some of my friends were occasionally prepared to ride in the Allegro even though they took the mickey out of it) helped push the car into the car park of a boat-yard. There, a kindly employee put a rivet through the gear linkage to reconnect the lever to the gear selector mechanism and get me mobile again. Pleased that it had not cost me anything to repair, I thought no more about it.

A week or so later on the M4, as I changed down in an ambitious attempt to overtake an HGV, I discovered that the boatyard guy had used an aluminium rivet and it had sheared. Clearly it had been too soft for the job so I made a temporary repair on the hard shoulder with some electrical wire I happened to have in the car – left over from fitting a set of speakers that never worked properly.

I did a lot small repairs and maintenance myself although a moonlighting mechanic from a local Peugeot garage helped me get the car through several MOTs. He also welded the areas that were beyond the miraculous powers of Plastic Padding to repair. Eventually though, the rust bug ate its way through the floor, sills and bulkhead so badly that there was no option but to take the Allegro behind the garage and put a bullet in its head. I wasn’t even there to see it off – I was working in London at the time and the car was in Norfolk at my parents’ house. My mum probably pushed it onto the scrap-man’s trailer single-handedly.

Do I miss it? No – not in the least. However a tiny bit of me is glad I owned it as I learned a lot about keeping an unreliable old car going. Who knows – maybe in the future when I buy a classic that knowledge may come in useful. I won’t be buying an Austin Allegro though!

REGRET FACTOR

Car: 1976 Austin Allegro 1100DL

Regret: Keeping it going so long

Strength of regret: 9/10

Possibility of buying another one: 0/10

PetrolBlog wants to hear your regrets. Get in touch with us at the usual address and fill PetrolBlog with regret. You know it makes sense.

Written by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

The chief waffler and person responsible for getting PetrolBlog off the ground in February 2010. Has a deep fascination of cars from the '80s and '90s, especially if they originate from France. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

8 Comments

  1. gordon

    aah the dreaded Al agro! I knew someone who had an automatic one…what a pile of rubbish when it changed up you got whiplash (not from power from jerk).

    it soon rusted away and ended up stock car racing at the local quarry were it literally fell apart,
    leaving huge chunks of filler over chicken wire and newspaper that were previously undetected.

  2. Peter Counsell

    Chris, that is a fabulously regretful story. I think whilst you were in the Allegro I was also on the streets of Bristol in a Capri.

    It was responsible for the best call to the AA I have ever had to make.

    “Hello, can you send a recovery van, I have a problem with the gear lever”

    -What is the problem, Sir?

    “I am in a phone box and the gear lever is still in my hand”

    Peter

    1. Chris Smith

      I bet the AA person’s face was a picture, Peter. I don’t suppose the AA gets interesting calls like that these days – probably all just computer problems or mis-fuelling issues!

      1. Peter Counsell

        True enough, Chris. I love the fact that the Allegro was only 8 years old at the start of your piece. Compare that with an 05 registered Focus or Golf nowadays. That is how far things have changed over 30 years.

  3. Rafael

    I´m amazed! I´ve just seen an Allegro with british plates in my city! I have pictures to prove it…if this car could travel under its own power from England to the south of Spain, surely it wouldn´t be so bad…or am I wrong?

  4. gordon

    A Window inspector came the other day, quite a jolly chap, noticed my car model collection and then very proudly told me he had a classic car…………..wait for it!
    an Allegro
    ……..I kept a straight face……..
    for about 3 seconds and showed his this page! he was chuffed to bits!

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