Road Impressions - The Austin Allegro HL

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It is highly desirable that British cars should measure up to those of the rest of the world. The Rolls-Royce has proved that it still does. British Leyland promise fine new models but meanwhile, what of their existing ones? The Austin Allegro is a car of advanced technical specification and in a popular sales category. When I tried the original one I was as scathing as most critics about the quartic steering wheel but found merit in other aspects of the Allegro.

The curiously dubbed Highline or HL model with twin-carburetter 1,750-c.c. engine has a normal shape steering wheel, which is a decided improvement, for a start. Ninety (DIN) b.h.p. means a top speed of a genuine 100 m.p.h. and a thought more under good conditions in fifth gear. The car gets from rest to 60 m.p.h. in a very useful 11 seconds. The hydrogas interconnected all-independent suspension effectively irons out travel over abnormally bad roads without offering much else in its favour, unless it be less transference of noise into the body structure. There is bump-thump over cat’s-eyes and similar obstacles and throw-up under certain road conditions, as with other suspension systems, and a somewhat “woolly” feel to the roadholding, despite which the Allegro is a very sure car round fast bends. There is understeer, which changes when power is cut, but with no sharp nose-in, tail-out effect. The steering, by rack-and-pinion, is not outstanding yet is far from unpleasant.

BL engines are dated and new power units are said to be due. That in the HL has a bore and stroke of 76.2 x 93.7 mm. (1,748-c.c.) and this comes into the old-fashioned, long-stroke category. Yet there are few disadvantages, except for rough idling. Indeed, this is otherwise a notably smooth and flexible power unit which, on the quite high 9.5 to 1 c.r., pulls easily from only 1,500 r.p.m. in fifth gear. As I have observed before, even higher gearing would seem acceptable; at present 70 m.p.h. in the highest cog equals 3,600 r.p.m. This is excellent on a small car, however, and reduces engine noise to quite tolerable levels. The gears still live in the sump, which may contribute to an oil thirst of only 580 m.p.p.

The clutch isn’t fierce, yet the task of engaging it isn’t pleasant, perhaps due to pedal angling and length of travel. It is still difficult to make the car run smoothly at low speeds, because of violent snatch when the throttle is opened, due to engine torque rocking the power unit on its mountings – a shortcoming with BL f.w.d. models. The 5-speed gearbox is about average, but 1st gear baulks badly when wanted from a standstill and the entire action of selecting the gears is too stiff. The Girling servo disc/drum brakes work adequately. The theory that a square steering wheel was necessary if the instruments were to readable seems to have been nonsense, because I had no difficulty in seeing all the readings I needed with the circular rim. The HL has a tachometer, which shows the engine to be safe to 6,000 r.p.m., good going with a long-stroke, although it gives peak power at 500 r.p.m. less. The fuel gauge was more steady-reading than on the previous Allegro I tried. I got an overall consumption of 33.4 m.p.g. of 4-star petrol, economy being better on long steady runs, when 34 m.p.g, was obtained, making full use of 5th gear. The test car wore Dunlop tyres.

There is no need to say more, as we covered the Allegro fully when it was a new model. I feel that It stands up well against comparisons with Continental and Japanese products and that those wanting a quietly-appointed, very accelerative four-door package might well invest in this Allegro HL, which will cost you a matter of £1,881. But, St. Christopher, how prices have risen! – W.B.

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