Matters of moment, June 1973

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• AD067–British Leyland’s first completely new car
The editor writes:—”l was summoned to Longbridge as long ago as mid-January, for a preview of the long-awaited entirely-new British Leyland car. The idea was that I should meet Mr. George Turnbull, Director of the Austin-Morris Group and Deputy Managing Director of the BLMC and his engineering and promotional executives, to learn all about Allegro, which he calls his ‘Song for Europe’.

“As I pointed the BMW in the direction of Birmingham I felt as excited as when, fourteen years ago, I had gone to the Austin factory to see the secrets of the first Mini Minor revealed. Would this new BL confection be as revolutionary? In what category would it fall—a baby car more economical than the Mini or Dyane, a new GT car to rival the Citroën SM, perhaps based on that sadly still-born mid-engined Rover V8 coupé, or a fine new family car, perhaps using the 2,200-c.c. Austin Six engine coupled to a five-speed gearbox with properly spaced ratios or to an automatic box as good as the AP transmission in an Automatic Mini, maybe with self-levelling suspension on a restyled body shell? Then, as the time for my appointment drew near, I reflected that BL already have most markets covered, with cars of 850 to 5,300-c.c., and that it was more likely that AD067 would consist of a rationalisation of existing components.

“I arrived to find the top-brass absent but, with a writer from The Times, I was allowed to have a brief run round the environs of Birmingham in a 1,750-c.c. Allegro, its badges taped over. This was presumably too short a drive for the new car’s top-qualities to emerge, because it seemed just like a Maxi, but without the advantage of the fifth door. We were entertained to a (rightly) non-alcoholic lunch in the Directors’ Dining Room by the Chief Transmission Engineer and it became apparent that BL are now thinking in terms of rationalisation of existing components, to cut production costs, rather than of brave new models. The Allegro is the result of much market research and as Lord Stokes was so right in respect of the Morris Marina, he may well have another winner in the world sales-stakes, in the form of the Austin Allegro.

“I was unable to go to Spain for the pre-release testing but a colleague who did go was obviously impressed; his report appears elsewhere. When I drove the Allegro no-one could quote a price for it. It is now apparent that this is highly competitive and it will be interesting to see whether it can regain the lead in the British sales-race which the BMC 1100/1300 models have lost to Ford of Britain’s Cortina.

“At least BL have used the Issigonis, not the Marina, formula for AD067, have managed to put the radiator at the front, with an electric fan (as on the 2200 Six and the Datsun 100A) and have promoted the ingenious Moulton interconnected suspension from Hydrolastic to Hydragas. Failure of two speedometers and collapse of the exhaust system on the second road-test car prevented me from renewing acquaintance with the Allegro—it is having an abnormally long gestation, embarrassing, surely, for the design-team. The last I heard of it was going away from our test track on a low-loader. I hope sincerely that my initial disappointment will evaporate on longer experience of the new car and that this latest Austin will effectively stem the invasion of Britain by cars from Japan and the bulkier area of Europe. If it doesn’t, whatever shall we do?”

• Datsun dominates the East African Safari

As you will learn from “Rally Review” in this issue, the East African Safari, regarded by the world’s car buyers as one of the most significant yardsticks for measuring which are the current top-cars, was doctrinated this year by Datsun. The outright winner was a Datsun 240Z and Datsun 1800 SSS were second and fourth. Only the Peugeot 504s could live with them. In the past Motor Sport has been reluctant to over-publicise Japanese cars. But this convincing performance in a fast-run rally in which only 16 out of the 89 starters got home put a different complexion on the matter. The Safari may not be such a “catalogue-car” rally as it once was, in the days of price-classes etc., especially with Ford making their bid (unsuccessfully) with alloy-block 2-litre Escort BDAs, for these are not cars bought by the average family saloon customer. It will be a thousand pities if the Safari is changed further to bring it into line with Europe’s idea of rallying.

As it is, it remains a truly tough test of a car and Datsun cannot fail to benefit from their convincing victory. They have been outright winners of the Safari on two previous occasions and now their prestige is bound to increase, with Mazda (all-out to promote the Wankel rotary engine), Toyota and Honda tagging along with them. So we offer no excuse for including a brief report on the excellent Datsun Cherry 100A in this issue. It is significant that Graham Hill, usually regarded as pro-British to his toenails, will be leading the Datsun team, at the wheel of a Bluebird 180B SSS, in the Avon Tour of Britain next month. On SMMT evidence Datsun sold more imported cars in Britain last year than any other manufacturer except Renault, even beating Volkswagen which has for so long headed this section of the market. The inscrutable Orient is tightening its grip!

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