Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
'Never meet your heroes.' That's what people always tell you. So it stands to reason that you should always meet those for whom you have utter contempt - or, even worse, a shrugging sense of indifference. That makes sense, doesn't it?
And so it is that SuckSqueezeBangBlow finds itself behind the wheel of the asthmatically sighing Austin Allegro - a 1.1-litre Allegro 3, no less, with a whopping 45bhp. Forty-five. Phew. The skin on your rice pudding is far from safe here.
I'm driving it alongside Not2Grand's Chris Pollitt, on the basis that spending too much time driving the thing solo might result in a terminal case of glumness. We've borrowed it from the cheery chaps at Great Escape Cars; their fleet is packed full of desirable classics (y'know, E-Types, Interceptors, that sort of caper) and the poor little Allegro probably gets overlooked. Understandable, of course - Graham at Great Escape assures us that the wobbly Austin is presented in deliberately, er, 'pre-loved' form because 'the idea of a restored Allegro seems oxymoronic'. Fair enough. So you can spot quite a few different shades of white scattered about the bodywork, along with a liberal sprinkling of flaky brown oxidation, and a drizzled jus of parking knocks. It's not a cherished classic. It's just an old car.
There's a hell of a lot of brown going on inside too. It quickly earns itself the nickname 'Brown Fury', for obvious reasons, while Chris points out that 'there are things in the world that are less brown because this exists'. Nevertheless, it's actually in pretty good nick in there. Clean and tidy, uncluttered, honest. Oh, and BROWN. Very, very brown.
...and to drive? Well, er... *shrug*
Yeah, it's what you'd expect it to be. It takes quite some time to wind up any sort of speed above walking pace, although you wouldn't really want to as the brakes don't do anything. And that's not carefree hyperbole, I mean they literally do nothing at all. You can stand on the middle pedal with both feet and Brown Fury just keeps rolling inexorably onward, plodding remorsefully into the trauma of the next bend in the road. You need to send a polite letter to the brakes a few days in advance in order to allow the request sufficient time to pass through the British Leyland admin system and set about actually stopping the car. Some considered planning ahead is required.
Interestingly, it is possible to wind the Allegro up to over 70mph, if you have a long enough road, a nice downhill slope, and a following wind. But I wouldn't recommend it, because if you have a Pollitt in your passenger seat as you're doing so, you'll find that the interior is becoming rather more brown. And that's the last thing you need in there. Besides, as well as planning ahead with your braking, you also need to be giving some thought to the steering. There might be a corner coming up and, although this later car eschews the fabled Quartic rim for a regular circular steering wheel, it doesn't actually do very much. Sure, it sort of suggests to the car that a particular change in compass points might be favourable, but if you really want to get the door handles scraping on the floor you'd better shift your weight around and do some leaning yourself.
I'm being very cruel, of course. Yes, the Allegro is rubbish, but it's so poor that it's actually kind of charming. When you indicate, for example, the ticker sounds so s-l-o-w that it feels as if the beleaguered car has given up on life; 'Yes, we can turn I suppose. But what's the point? What's the point of doing anything? Are we nearly there yet? I need a lie down. I'm so sorry. OK, we can turn here if you like. I really am sorry.'
The whole car shudders and oozes with this apologetic sense of defeat, and that's actually what makes it rather fun. It could be that we're caught up in the timeworn notion that the adventure is found in the journey rather than the destination, and by that token we might as well be in any car, but an hour and a half with a good mate in some pretty countryside really endears us to this embarrassing little poppet. Yes, people are genuinely pointing at us and laughing, but we feel like we're in on the joke. And we're certainly having more fun than the dreary folk in every anonymous Corsa that overtakes us in a flurry of irritation and marginally superior acceleration.
So yes - don't meet your heroes, but do have a pop at Brown Fury. That's the helpful lesson here.