Shropshire Star

Celebrating 50 years of the Austin Allegro, the joke car now prized by collectors

"It is going to be a piece of cake," said Filmer J Paradise, the brash, flash American in charge of marketing the newly formed British Leyland's make-or-break car.

An early marketing picture of the Allegro

"Of all the cars I’ve sold this is going to be the easiest. It is the size the Europeans want, it has front-wheel drive, which they want, it’s got the right shape and styling, it’s got the right spares and parts back-up and it’s the right price."

Yes, it is 50 years today since the group unveiled the Austin Allegro, arguably the most maligned car ever to be sold on these shores.

Quickly picking up the moniker 'All Aggro', for much of its life the Longbridge-built car vied with British Rail as a staple of every comedian's humour in the 1970s and early 80s. Jeremy Clarkson once remarked that choosing between an Allegro and its stablemate the Morris Marina was like deciding whether you would prefer to have your left leg amputated, or the right one.

Was it really that bad? Did the Allegro really deserve the amount of ridicule that has been heaped on it over the past half century?

An early marketing picture of the Allegro

"Everybody said it was rubbish, but it wasn't a terrible car," says chairman of Allegro Club International, the Rev Colin Corke.

"It wasn't brilliant, but when you look at other stuff from 1973, it wasn't that dreadful. It had its problems, but so did a lot of Renaults and Fiats. The trouble was, in the 1970s, nobody had anything good to say about anything that came out of Britain."

Today, the infamous Allegro has an almost cult-like following among collectors, and Colin reckons its kitsch image is a major attraction. Eighty-two owners turned out with their cars for a rally to celebrate its half-century at the weekend.

A publicity picture of the Austin Allegro

Colin says it appeals to young people in particular, born long after the car went out of production, who are drawn to its underdog status.

The vicar of Longbridge, who reckons he has owned between 40 and 50 of the much-derided cars since becoming a founder member of the club in 1990, has three examples at the moment.

"I was 14 when the Allegro was launched, and I was a car nut, but not a car snob," he says.

"There was just something about it I fell in love with."

After leaving university in 1981, he worked for a time as a car salesman at Kennings in London, where he was given an Allegro as a company car.

"I had it because nobody else wanted it," he says.