by Steve Favill
This car is probably cited as the perfect example of what was wrong with the British motor industry in general, and British Leyland in particular, during the 1970s and 1980s. The much-maligned Allegro came in for tremendous criticism, but was it truly justified?
I once worked for West Midlands Police and we were issued the most basic form of the Allegro, two-doors and the transversely-mounted 1100 cc A-Series engine carried over from the old 1100/1300 range. Styling was controversial to say the least, the familiar two-box design of its much-loved predecessor being replaced by a rounded, egg-shaped body with contemporary wedge influences, if such a thing could be possible. Why the Allegro? Well, BL’s Longbridge plant was set in the middle of our force area, and we had to be seen to be supporting British industry by using BL’s products in our fleet. And so, it came to be.
I never owned one of these, but during my career as a police officer in the West Midlands I accumulated countless thousands of miles, and many hours, behind the wheel of various evolutions of this car. Let’s be honest, these little cars were thrashed on a regular basis. This abuse was both mechanical and in wear and tear, and considerably in excess of what they were originally designed to handle. The cars were driven twenty-four hours a day, year-round, and although most of the time they were driven fairly gently (it would not look good for a police officer to be seen driving like a hooligan for no good reason) there were regular occasions when an urgent call would necessitate dropping into a lower gear and accelerating for all the car was worth to get from where we were, to where we needed to be five minutes ago.
Attempting to initiate a pursuit in an Allegro was often an exercise in futility. Most other vehicles on the road could show the Allegro a clean pair of heels, and no amount of training could properly compensate for a lack of power in a straight line. This did not stop me from trying, however and I managed to over-rev one poor example when trying, and failing, to at least get close enough to a fleeing motorcycle to read the plate.
I did the same to a different car in racing to assist another officer who was in serious need of some help. I still got there in a timely manner, but the car had to go in for repair immediately afterwards. It was notable that many of these vehicles were fitted with Gold Seal factory reconditioned engines, such was the frequency of this happening to others in the same line of work. The poverty-spec Allegros that were issued to PC Plod did not have tachometers, a small addition that would have saved police forces nationwide a serious amount of money.
The MK1 Allegro was the car that had the infamous square steering wheel. Driving schools bought Allegros for that very reason, since the “quartic” steering wheel encouraged drivers to feed the wheel through their hands in approved fashion, as opposed to crossing their arms. People hated it! Such was the negative feedback that BL discontinued the quartic wheel when the second generation of the Allegro appeared in 1975.
The second incarnation, in addition to having a conventional, round tiller, underwent a mild facelift with a redesigned grille and black plastic cladding on the door sills. In addition the interior was upgraded somewhat, with slightly better quality materials and trim. The dashboard was also a little nicer. Instead of blue, the interiors were now black and the seats were somewhat more comfortable. It also seemed to be rather quieter and less “tinny” so I rather suspect that some sound deadening material was added as well. Most of my time in the Allegro was spent in this version, consequently I am most fond of this one.
The third and final generation went through another facelift, and featured yet another front grille. These cars also had heavier, larger bumpers finished in matte black, replacing the more delicate, and attractive, chrome-plated items in cars gone by. In addition, there was a larger front spoiler, indicator repeaters on the front wings, snazzier badging indicating the new Austin-Rover setup, and the mandatory single rear-mounted high-intensity foglight. The dashboard was redesigned yet again, with a more modern configuration. I also seem to recall the seats being cloth, but it has been so many years now that my memory might be a little shaky on this one. These cars felt heavier and more substantial.
Allegro rode very nicely and handled extremely well, and we never had any issues with driving in snow, thanks to the skinny wheels and front wheel drive.
I’ll admit that the police fleet was maintained and serviced better than most if not all of the Allegros in private hands, but the other side of the coin was that being driven 24/7 and receiving a regular thrashing from a group of young men who did not own the cars, subjected them to a more rigorous workout than could ever be imagined by even the most sadistic factory tester.
In retrospect I agree that the Allegro could have been better, but when a car is built down to a price you must expect some corner-cutting and product development by trial and error. Would I buy one? Back then, no, as it didn’t fit in with the likes and needs of a young, single man but now? I suppose I probably would, purely for nostalgia’s sake. That, and it being a rare and quirky choice in this day and age.
by Mike Peake
The next 2 years was a busy time for my family. There were 2 terminal illnesses and bereavements, 2 weddings, 3 new babies. Poppy and I continued with our occasional forlorn visits of reassurance.
My eldest learned to drive and passed her test 1st time, passed her A-levels and got into the University of Westminster. My youngest continued to pursue her career in dance and studied for her GCSE’s. Mrs FB completed her Master’s degree and passed with Merit. She is now a Nurse Practitioner in a local GP surgery.
It is now January 2014. Talk in the Fatbloke house turned to my youngest daughters Prom which was due on 23rd May. (Coincidently, Poppy’s 44th Birthday!) I was banned from uttering the phrase “HOW MUCH?” under penalty of pain.
I have to say that the thought of having to take part in all the girly chats about dresses, shoes, hand bags, hairstyles, make-up, shoes, nails, shoes and everything else that women seem to need for these occasions (again) didn’t fill me with joy. So, I hatched a cunning plan!
“Erm…Would you like to use Poppy as your Prom transport in May?” I said to my Youngest. “Oh Wow! Yes please! That would be really cool.” She replied. I then gave my wife the sort of look that said, “Tell her we can’t do it and break her heart and ruin her Prom if you dare”. Mrs FB rolled her eyes and asked me if I thought I could do it? I paused and tried to look like I was pondering on the project before saying “Well, it will mean a lot of work, but I think I should be able to.” Mrs FB rolled her eyes again before giving me the sort of look that said “Don’t think I don’t know what you just did. Remember the callipers!” before saying “Well you’d better get on with it then”.
At this point, I tried to look nonchalant as I walked out of the house, down the street and round the corner out of sight before jumping up and down shouting with glee and dancing a jig. I then walked nonchalantly back to the house to plan my campaign.
I wanted to find out the scale of the task before me and decided that before I did anything else, I would see if I could get her started. Her reluctance to change lock ups suggested that the 14 year old battery had probably “expired”. A new one was sourced on line and collected from Europarts on my way home from work with another stop being made to collect a gallon (sorry 4.54L) of fresh unleaded. I then went straight to the lock up, opened the door and said “Here we go Girl. If you behave yourself we’ll soon be back on the road!” I’m sure I saw a shudder of excitement run through her frame!
I quickly drained the 2.27L or so of old fuel in the tank, connected the new battery topped up with the new fuel and primed the pump. I then had a passing thought that I should really change the oil before starting her, but as I didn’t have any fresh stuff or a new filter I thought “What the hell!!” I did pull the dipstick out which showed that the correct amount of very black stuff was in the sump.
I opened the driver’s door and saw that the under dash courtesy light was glowing excitedly. I lowered myself into the now pitifully padded driver’s seat and inserted the key into the ignition. I turned the key to the 1st position and all the dash lights were present and correct and glowing with anticipation. I pulled out the choke. Then, with much trepidation, I turned the key to the start position. The starter motor turned over vigorously and a surprisingly short time later…”HARK THE HERALD ANGEL SANG!!”…I whooped with joy, told Poppy what a wonderful, gorgeous, good girl she was and kissed her steering wheel… I was quite pleased.
After a couple of minutes I put the choke back in and she continued to tick over beautifully (even with a very rumbly water pump.) Feeling slightly light headed, possibly with jubilation but more probably from the build-up of carbon monoxide in my small lock up, I smoothly selected 1st and lifted the clutch. Poppy was moving under her own steam for the 1st time in 3 years!!
It was at this point that I realised I’d forgotten something rather important in all the excitement. There was no fluid in the brakes! Frantically reaching for the hand brake, I managed to pull her up in front of the lock up door opposite with mm to spare.
Sheepishly and carefully, I reversed her back into my lock up, trying to position her so I had enough room to work each side at the front of the car. I told Poppy again, what a good girl she was and with a wink and a smile at her, I shut the garage door. I’m sure she winked and smiled back at me.
With a spring in my step and a smile on my face, I went home to give Mrs FB the news and order the parts I would need.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of oily bits.
to be continued
by Steve Favill
The second Triumph that crossed my path had followed on the heels of my ill-fated Austin Maxi, and was bought in a hurry since we were without transport for a while. I wish that I could say that I had been looking for one of these for a while, but I confess that I was not. I should have been.
I picked up a 1972 Triumph 2000 MK2 Estate, registered PCH 894L, finished in brown with tan interior, from an ad in the local paper. I forget how much I paid for her, but she was cheap enough, and what a contrast from the Maxi. Boasting a smooth, powerful inline six combined with a four-speed manual transmission with overdrive, this was the first car with overdrive that I had ever driven, and I was smitten!
It looked like the car pictured above, except for being brown. I’ll try to find a photo of the car itself…
This vehicle was able to swallow adults, kids, a Labrador and all the junk that accompanies such cargo with ease, and did so in great comfort and style. The car was reliable, and was easy to work on when performing routine maintenance. It looked good, sounded good, drove well and was really posh when compared to some of the more proletarian transportation than I had been used to previously. All that wood on the dashboard and door caps, and nice cloth upholstery, instead of painted metal and vinyl, left an indelible impression on me and influenced my future buying habits for all time.
Despite my admiration and affection for this car, it wasn’t entirely without its issues. The ignition switch became increasingly reluctant to do its job, until one day it failed altogether. Well, a new switch wasn’t cheap, and so I took matters into my own hands.
An hour’s work with a hacksaw and I was able to start the car with a screwdriver, and bodgery though it was, we were able to drive that car in this manner until the day that it was time to move on, and I traded it for welding work on another vehicle that I had.
Would I have another? Without hesitation, yes. This was a lovely car, and they don’t make them that nice any more.
by Mike Peake
One winter night in 2016, I was driving out of London having dropped my daughter off at her Uni digs after a weekend at home and it reminded me that 27 years previously, I was regularly making the same Sunday night trip after spending the weekend with the future Mrs FB in the nurse’s home at Kings College Hospital.
I started to wax lyrical in my head about how things have changed in this time and indeed, how they haven’t. I thought I would share these thoughts with you.
My conclusion ...wasn’t every drive back then an adventure?
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by Steve Favill
The Hillman Avenger. Intended by Rootes to be a competitor for the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva, the car was also marketed by Chrysler in the United States as the Plymouth Cricket.
It never sold in the numbers that its competitors did however, and I think that I discovered why during the course of living with this example.
My car was identical to the one shown on the front of this period brochure, even down to the ‘ J’ suffix on the license plate. I remember being quite impressed with the styling of these cars as an impressionable youth, and I took the opportunity to see if the car lived up to that.
Finished in a brown metallic paint with beige plastic upholstery, my ownership of this car had been intended as only a temporary thing. Since my current, and much more modern, French car was undergoing repairs to the body at the time, (don’t ask…) I saw this car being advertised cheaply and, since I needed to get to work and back at odd hours another car seemed to be a must.
I realise that the car was called “Avenger”, but quite whom, or what it was trying to Avenge, I don’t know and I certainly have no idea why it decided to enact that vengeance upon me. The one that I bought was terrible. It started and it ran, which I suppose was the main thing, but it felt gutless, even though it had a 1500cc engine. Acceleration could be measured in minutes rather than seconds, the seats were hard and felt as plastic as their covers, the ride was awful and the car had absolutely no redeeming quirks whatsoever. It had no “personality” to it, something that was unusual for a British car of the era.
A short while after buying the car, the rear suspension fell apart on me on trying to pull out of the car park at work one morning at 6am. I had it towed, and scrapped as it was not worth fixing. Besides, I was broke at the time…
Thus ended my one and only dalliance with a product of the Rootes Group, and of all the cars from the UK that I’ve owned, I would definitely NOT buy another. I still rather like the way that it looks, though.
by Steve Favill
The third British car that I owned was an altogether more sporting example, a 1976 Triumph Spitfire 1500, finished in the rather dashing (at least, to me…) colour of Tahiti Blue with black vinyl seats.
And what a great little car this was! My Spitfire, above all others is a constant reminder of my days as a single man.
Absolutely reliable, ridiculously easy to work on and fun to drive, the Spitfire quickly endeared itself to me. Gone were the days of “benign neglect” as unrestricted access to all of the car’s oily bits encouraged tinkering, I was able to adjust the valves, install new spark plugs and wires and carry out other tasks whilst seated on either of the front wheels.
Fuel economy was excellent, too. I can’t recall ever being concerned about excessive fuel consumption, and I would regularly take trips from my home in the English Midlands down to the south coast without giving it a second thought. Luggage could be accommodated by utilizing the well behind the seats, the boot and the luggage rack that I installed on the boot lid. This was my daily driver, and I remember being in a procession of cars trying to make it up a snowy hill on my way home from work one night being appalled at the stupidity of other drivers and wishing that they’d just get out of the way. Decent tyres and some weight in the boot helped of course but those skinny wheels enabled me to gain traction where others could find none and I was able to negotiate the other cars strewn at odd angles across my path and make my way home. I don’t think I even drove to the pub that night…
Of course all good things are destined to come to an end, and the same holds true for my Spitfire. Coming home from work one night I applied a little too much throttle on the exit to a traffic island in the rain, and the back end came around in a millisecond, the driver’s side rear wheel contacting the kerb. The little car got me home, and back to work the next day but I had to get it fixed and the car never really felt the same after this. Ah, the recklessness of youth…
I would recommend the Triumph Spitfire to anyone, especially in the current circumstances of there being anything and everything you might need to conduct any work that you might have in mind, from a routine service to a full-blown restoration. They are fun, full of character and easy to live with in every way.
to be continued
by Brian Allison
My second day as an apprentice started with a surprise. The normal routine was that my mother would call me at least three times before I’d actually manage to crawl out of bed, but, to her surprise I was up and about before she had got to the bottom of the stairs.
I looked out on a typical Yorkshire spring day, yes, it was pouring down. Normally that would have been my cue to invent some reason why I shouldn’t go to school , and yet I found myself eager to get to work. This turned out to be a purely temporary aberration, normal service and waking habits returned within a week or two. However this morning was different, I could still hear Dennis’s words in my head, “ Tomorrow we’re working on a Rover “.
So out into the rain, get soaked, catch the bus to town, get soaked walking to Atkinson’s, clock in, and like an over excited puppy await further orders.
“Which one are we working on Dennis, is it that one? “, pointing to a shiny Rover 105R parked just inside the doors.
“No, that one is Mr Atkinson’s, ours is over here”
I felt totally cheated. I didn’t expect for a moment that the old motor with the running boards would have the object of my fascination under it’s bonnet. I was right too. When Dennis opened the bonnet it revealed what to my eyes was just an ordinary engine. If I’d known how at that time ,I’d have described it as a 6cyl. OHV , not the work of art I was itching to get my hands on. Anyway I soon got over my disappointment, watching attentively everything that Dennis did as he fitted new plugs and points, cleaned the fuel and air filters, all the while giving me a running commentary. Then he took off the rocker cover and handed it to me. My appreciation knew no bounds. Joy of joys, back to the paraffin bath. To be fair, Dennis did show me how he set the tappet clearances and why .
That morning was also my introduction to that most important part of any apprentices education at that time – where and how to make the tea !
That afternoon I took the list that Dennis gave me and went to buy my first toolkit, to be paid for weekly from my wages. ( I almost wrote pittance there.) I’m not sure, but if I remember correctly it was just over £2 p.w. The shop was an engineers supplier by the name of Gregory and Sutcliffe and very conveniently was right next door to and sharing the block with us. I duly returned bearing a shiny new toolbox containing :- 1 set each open ended WW/BSF and AF spanners, 1 set of each ring spanners, 2 or 3 screwdrivers, set of feeler gauges, normal and split pin pliers, and a dinky little set of magneto spanners which were riveted together in the form of a fan. I also got a socket set in it’s own metal case.
A short history lesson here for our younger readers. Up until about the mid 50’s all British cars used nuts and bolts with either Whitworth ( WW ) or British standard fine ( BSF ) threads. These correspond to the UNC and UNF threads used up to the adoption of the metric threads found on todays cars and which AF or across flats spanners fit. The magneto spanners were small ( think BA sizes) and meant for small connections such as those on distributor points. An interesting point about the socket sets at that time was that instead of the 1/2 inch square drive we know now the ones we used were hexagon drive and unlike most sets nowadays included a speed brace.
I now felt like a real mechanic, all those shiny tools, I couldn’t wait to use them. I didn’t have to, I was soon busy removing and refitting various parts of the braking system of the Rover 16, (for that was what we were working on ), all under the constant education/supervision/ assistance and often amused eyes of Dennis.
One of my jobs was to go to the stores for any parts we needed and I soon learned an invaluable lesson ; DO NOT upset the stores staff. They can make your life a living nightmare. As I mentioned previously the manager’s name was Arthur. He was an ex R.E.M.E. Sgt. Major and looked it. His presence was such that he demanded the respect due his rank although once you got to know him he was as nice a man as you could wish to meet. While I was waiting behind him at the hatch one of the older apprentices who’s name if I remember correctly was Rodney made the mistake of complaining about how long it was taking to get his parts. He was still waiting when I left with my parts.
Over the course of the next few days I at last got to see, in the flesh as it were, the thing that started it all. THAT engine. To me it really was a thing of beauty . The graceful curves of the polished aluminium rocker cover, the SU carburettor, the exhaust manifold, the way it filled the engine bay. How to describe it ? Only one word sprang to mind. Sexy !! Even now after seeing more shapes and sizes of engine than I care to remember I still think of it as beautiful.
It was to be a while before I actually got to see inside one but that and many more are tales for another day.
to be continued
by Mike Peake
Time passed. My eldest was studying for A-Levels which seemed to require expensive school trips, including one to America.
My youngest decided that she wanted to make a career out of dance and got into a national “gifted and talented” program. I thought that the dance school bills had been eye-watering enough before, but now I arranged to have my whole salary paid directly into the dance school account.
All this meant that the best I could do for Poppy was to wander up to the lock up, run my fingers gently along her bonnet and fins and promise that I had not forgotten her. And just maybe... once or twice... sit in the driver’s seat making brmm, brmm noises and remembering better days.
It was on one of these forlorn visits that I came across an even more forlorn sight. The toneau cover was sagging under the weight of a large pool of water. I know you are supposed to leave the hood up in storage but the frame had now broken on both sides after the prom and I found it difficult to get it up single handed (as the bishop said oooohh Missus!)
Anyway, my powers of deduction were firing on all cylinders and I was able to deduce immediately, that the garage had a leak! I called the council who sent out a man. The man sucked his teeth and pronounced the lock up roof beyond repair. The council then offered me another lock up about ¾ of a mile away from my house and as it was far better than my current lockup had ever been, I took it. The council then gave me just one week to move the car! Poppy hadn’t turned a wheel in 18 months and had no MOT or Insurance. What was I to do?
It was the depths of winter 2012 and Poppy refused to help. Even with jump leads to the modern, her starter motor refused to display any more energy than a slightly asthmatic snail with a limp and the leaking calliper had drained all the fluid out of the system. (Not that I was thinking about doing anything illegal you understand.)
I was reduced to trying to beg, borrow or steal some sort of car trailer. So an appeal on social networking was in order and I hit pay dirt immediately. An old school friend came back to say that her husband had a car dolly I could borrow. I picked the trailer up the following day on my way back from work. The trailer was a great big heavy duty thing with deep impressions for the front wheels of the car, two heavy ramps to aid the arrival of the front wheels at the depressions and a winch for the same purpose. School Friends Husband then gave me detailed instructions in the use of the trailer.
I collected Mrs Fatbloke and arrived at the lock up. Mrs FB is a beautiful and loving wife (she might read this) but is no shrinking violet and isn't the sort to worry overly about a broken nail. She will get stuck in to pretty much anything. Which was just as well!
The plan was to position the trailer in front of the garage and simply winch Poppy up onto the trailer. That was when we noticed that there was no handle for the winch. I phoned School Friends’ Husband to see if there was a cunningly hidden storage space on the trailer where the winch handle was kept. His response was " Ahh yes...well...you see, the last time I used it, which was quite some time ago, I might have forgotten to put it away properly and I think it fell off somewhere on the M4 between Swansea and Cardiff...can't you just drive it up?" I didn't use any bad words until after I'd hung up the phone.
Never mind I thought, I was a Prop Forward, Poppy is only a little car - I'll push it up the ramps myself. So with not a little difficulty, I managed to squeeze my ample frame between the car and the garage wall and was at last in position at the back of the car, ready to push.
With a good deal of grunting, heaving, snorting and sweating, I managed to get her half way up the ramps but no further. Mrs FB was sat under the tailgate of her VW Touran, laughing. So I politely asked for assistance, (No, really! Impoliteness can have severe consequences. See calliper incident earlier in my tale.)
After another bout of grunting and heaving from the both of us, we'd managed to get her to the top of the ramp, but she absolutely refused to go over the lip and into the depressions. We relaxed and of course Poppy rolled back down the ramps and gently pinned us to the back of the garage. I now knew how John Mills must have felt in that scene from "Ice Cold in Alex" when the ambulance runs back down the sand dune!!
In the end, I came up with the idea of chocking the back wheels of Poppy and reversing the ramps and trailer underneath her. It worked a treat and Poppy's front wheels were soon in the depressions on the trailer and all tied down securely.
We set off for the new garage where we reversed the chocking process and slowly drove the trailer out from underneath her before pushing her back into the snug, dry new garage.
to be continued
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