Friday April 6, 2018
You could not miss an Austin Allegro Equipe, even at midnight, in the middle of the fog during a power cut. It was not just the way in which the orange and red stripes complemented the metallic silver coachwork; it was the black spoiler, the GKN alloy wheels and the front fog lamps. Inside there was an alloy-spoked steering wheel, all-black headling and the orange & black houndstooth check upholstery. This was not merely a two-door 1750 HL with ideas above its station – this was executive living, late 1970s style, all for a mere £4,360.42.
At this point, I should make it clear that this is not going to be yet another Allegro-knocking article. When the Equipe made its bow in July 1979 the “square” Quatric steering wheel had long been confined to history while the second-generation model of 1975 featured suspension modifications and enhanced rear legroom. The late 1970s was also a time when British Leyland applied “limited edition” treatment to quite a few of its family cars – who remembers the Triumph Dolomite 1500SE, the Mini 1100 Special, the Austin Allegro 1500 Special LE, the Morris Marina LE or the Princess Special Six Automatic?
One crucial reason for producing such tempting vehicles was the lengthy period between the debut of the 18-22 “Wedge” range in March 1975 and the launch of the Mini Metro in October 1980. The Equipe was a further means of maintaining interest in the car before the Series III facelift of September 1979 and was destined for a limited production run of 2,700 cars. As the BL historian Keith Adams points out on the indispensable https://www.aronline.co.uk/ that this unmistakable machine was ‘never became a permanent addition to the Allegro range but, then again, it was never intended to – acting as a car to generate much-needed showroom traffic during the dark years’.
British Leyland liked to suggest that here was a rival to the VW Golf GTi, which was only recently available in RHD form in the UK, but there was no question of developing the Equipe as a genuinely potent compact sports saloon. It was not just that the Allegro’ coachwork defined almost all attempts to make it look remotely exciting, it was also that the end of production was now in sight; the last examples left the factory in March 1982.
When Motor tested an Equipe in August 1979 they thought that it was ‘well-equipped and good value for money’: two qualities that were (and are) much prized by motorists. An Alfasud Ti may have been £250 cheaper, a Renault 5 Gordini slightly faster (104 mph as opposed to 100 mph) and a Talbot Sunbeam Ti more overtly sporting, but the Allegro had a charm that was entirely its own. A sober-minded middle- manager would probably opt for a metallic gold Ford Escort Ghia Mk. II but owning an Equipe encapsulated many social aspirations of nearly 40 years ago as much as a Ferguson video recorder in your living room or thinking that feasting on Pot Noodles was a form of jet-set dining. So, tune the radio to Tubeway Army playing Are “Friends” Electric? and plan your triumphal arrival at a sales conference somewhere near Bicester – always assuming that the porous alloy wheels had not deflated all of your tyres.