We can explain this

They were the bread and butter cars of British family motoring during the 1970s and ‘80s and still remembered nostalgically by millions– yet today they are an endangered species.

But a generation of popular cars that once dominated the nation’s highways and kerbsides – with evocative names like Allegro, Montego, Maestro, Marina and Maxi – are now on the brink of extinction.

Essentially, because they were shit.

The analysis of cars built before 1995 reveals that when measured and ranked as as a proportion of the total of each model built, 1980s cars have disappeared from roads faster than any others.

But while some may mourn that so few are left, others with less rose-tinted spectacles and memories of the era of poor car quality and motor industry strikes epitomised by union militants like Derek ‘Red Robbo’ Robinson, may wonder instead that any of them have survived at all.


Imagine what would happen if we had government run things today like we did then. A nationalised banking industry would be such a wonder, wouldn\’t it? And as for the stupidity of government provided health care…..

35 thoughts on “We can explain this”

  1. Nationalised banking industry? Yes, god forbid. Lawks. Nationalised money, and a bank of England. What a disaster that would be. Think of all the taxpayers’ money it would consume.

    Lucky we don’t have one of them.

  2. “A classic: Of the 642,340 Allegros built between 1973 and 1982, just 291 remain today.”

    291 too many.

    I have a personal and evidence free explanation as to why British made cars were crap – the company car. Huge proportion of cars sold to company fleets. So the key to success was being mates with the fleet manager. Elsewhere manufacturers had to make something that individuals wanted. So they has to make reliable cars, not take the fleet manager to Brands Hatch.

  3. Not only were they shit, they were also comparatively expensive. I remember my father buying a car for my mother (which was how it worked in them days) and discovering that for the same price as a nasty British shitbucket, he could get a Lancia Fulvia Zagato (the old Lancias, before Fiat bought them out and made them out of tinfoil). She wrapped it round a tree in due course, but not before having a lot more fun than you would in anything British Leyland ever made.

  4. You completely misunderstand the point of the Allegro. You’ve been seduced by the idea that the function of a product is to do the job it was designed to do as well as possible for the smallest price to the consumer.

    This is wrong.

    The purpose of a product is to keep the people making it in a job. How the product functions is irrelevant.

    * This message has been brought to you by the Trade Union Congress.

  5. The report warned that 1980s cars are particularly vulnerable because their passage into popular classic status is yet to happen

    Wrong. Supercars aside we have the Audi Quattro, Lancia Delta Integrale, Jaguar XJS*, BMW M3, Golf GTi MkI, and for cheap thrills a Renault 5 turbo or a Peugot 250 Gti. I dare say there are a couple of Alfa Romeos that would make it onto the list, too.

    And if you don’t mind getting 8mpg then the Land Rovers and Range Rovers of the time are pretty iconic, too.

    Plenty of 80s cars are seen as classics. Just not the shit ones. Which were mostly British.

    (And I’m not even a car freak, though I do admittedly come from a family of them.)

    *assuming you own an oil field

  6. “remembered nostalgically”?

    If they were “remembered nostalgically”, a lot more of them would be kept alive, one way or another. I’ll bet there’s a lot more Alvis cars on the road than Allegros.

  7. Our first brand new car in the mid-1970s was British-built and rotted in a year. It must have been left out in the rain before painting during a walkout, or something.

  8. Strange that Obama has virtually nationalised Detroit and kept it going with union co-operation. Of course you can buy imported “volume” cars but you are not going to stoke demand in the UK by paying Brit car- workers’ wages. The whole problem with the unions in the 70’s and 80’s was because of the Economics 101 howler: wage demands cause inflation ,which Enoch Powell ,of all people pointed out,calling the unions “innocent as newborn lambs” and Friedman got a Nobel Prize for pinning the blame elsewhere. Getting behind the workers like Obama instead of blaming them for everything and denying them real wage rises, as now, might help. You’ve got falling real wages now: why are n’t we all doing wonderfully?

  9. I remember in the early eighties my parents decision to buy forrin being mildly criticised by my teacher during a class discussion. I then explained that we had indeed bought British – an MGBGT* – not so long ago, but our patriotism waned after the thing caught fire. Hence, the then loyalty to those damned reliable and tank-like Mercs.

    Actually, they had taken a Rover SD1 for a test drive, and one almost pitied the salesman when the door trim came away as it rolled off the forecourt.

    *Later MG’s, IIRC, were notorious as ever more electric gubbins – products of Lucas (prince of darkness) – were hooked up to an engine that wasn’t meant to host anything more than a few bulbs and ciggie lighter.

  10. The build quality on B cars was so bad I’m surprised there are that many Allegros about now. They must live in garages, and only taken out on dry days.

    The lack of quality lasted into the 90s. My parents had a Rover 200 and a Honda Accord (both second hand) of the era where they were basically the same design. The Swindon built Honda was fine and was still running well when my parents sold it. the Lonbridge built Rover had endless problems and died with not that many miles on the clock.

  11. loyalty to those damned reliable and tank-like Mercs.

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given; when choosing anything you want to last you for a while, think if anyone uses them for a living, and then get that type.* Hence all cleaning contractors use Henrys, indubitably the most reliable type of vacuum cleaner (had a dyson once, never again). Farmers all drive Landcruisers or Land Rovers. And minicabbers all used to drive mercs. Because they last for ever and ever and ever.

    *needless to say, this only works if they are all empowered to buy their own. If the buying is centralised then it can go very wrong, which is why the police have terrible cars, the army have useless assault rifles &c &c

  12. Seriously, someone mourning the passing of the biggest collection of disasters since 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. My parents exited the folly of UK built cars in 1977 and have never bought one since. My first car, a 1980 Ford Escort, expired on day one of ownership. when someone had thoughtfully felt water was not needed in the engine, swiftly dumped and replaced with an Audi 80 sport, now that was a fun car. I remember parents of a friend telling me how their Allegro turned up with a door a different colour and the dealer refusing to take it back.. shit cars, shit service.

  13. @DBC Reed

    Actually the companies have done it by building cars the way people want them. Innovating and learning from others and listening to customers.

    Unions? OK didn’t put too many spokes in the wheel. Public money was used. Not just Obama. Salaries are lower, hundreds of thousands of jobs went.

    But from there to the Unions saving Detroit. Sorry, can’t buy it.

    Spain is getting new models because we have devaluation (through lower salaries, we are in the euro) and more flexible working practices.

  14. My dad had an Allegro. It’s one of those things that, as a family, we prefer not to talk about.

  15. My mother worked at a Ford dealer in the 70s.

    The salesmen there knew that Capris with a vinyl roof were built in Cologne, and those without in Dagenham. For some reason they used to drop that into the pre-sales discussions.

    Vinyl roofs were very popular.

  16. slightly off topic. Having working the automotive sector for the last 25 years and seen some right horrors. It was always fun to add names to various car for instance the Allegro was the Austin agro, Ford Crappi. Ford Mundaino, Peugeots were all called piglets, the new RR Evoke is called an Ewok you get the idea.

  17. Yes, I had a company MG Monte-nogo. It did go, quite well in fact, but not for very long…
    I also used to drive up the road from Oxford to Birmingham in the 80’s behind lorries loaded with ill-packed body panels being gently soaked by the rain. Never felt that was a really good idea.
    I always think that BL was a bit like the EU – lots of small companies/countries shoved together in the misbegotten belief that size was the only important thing.
    It is worth remembering that when BL was first being assembled from Austin, Morris, Triumph, Standard and so on, BMW pretty well only made motor cycles, and VW had one car in it’s range.
    Size matters, but just not that much.

  18. I had a company Montego MG as well – it drove beatifully, probably better than any other car I’ve owned. Bits kept on falling off though and the electric windows failed fairly quickly.

  19. Oh and my 2002 Mercedes E240 was the most unreliable car I ever had – by far. Frequently wouldn’t start, windscreen wipers would pack in intermittently, and Mercedes could never find anything wrong after charging £100+ per hour to look for the fault.

  20. I was a minicabber, bought a brand new Maxi, it lasted the whole guarantee period, then fell apart. BL did a mod on the production line, but not for me.
    And I was so proud of it …

    Alan Douglas

  21. NN. I rented a Hillman Imp for our honeymoon, a walking tour of the Lake District. Great car. Fond memories.

  22. I know someone who is a member of the Marina Owners’ Club (yes, it does exist, for some reason). He has a wafer-thin excuse, however, having bought a Marina mail van from his previous employer. It still has its original livery, otherwise, what would be the point.

  23. Hey, no apostrophe nonsense! Perhaps it’s because I’m using Firefox on Linux. “testing this”.

  24. Hillman Imp?

    Raced them for a couple of years. Take a Coventry- Climax racing engine, detune slightly & stick into a lightweight, small saloon car body. Flog as a cheap runabout. What’s not to like?
    But they’re 60s/70s.

  25. And the depths of the memory were just jogged. Conversation with someone in the motor trade, round about 1980. At that time BL were selling vehicles – models & versions of – a total of over 80 different.
    Maybe that tells us something.

  26. We lived in the Middle East – my dad ran a business out there and earned a small, tax free fortune every month.

    He bought a runabout in about 1979 for UK use when we were home each summer.

    Could have had literally anything he wanted, money wise, and chose a purple Morris Marina with red plastic seats.

    He wasn’t even a cheapskate, quite the reverse. I couldn’t understand it, even then.

    It ran fine but rotted to bits after about three years and he changed to an Audi 100. That went the same way, actually, but took an extra year or so.

  27. The only company in the history car industry that’s been it’s own major competitor for market share. With 3 completely separate model lines. In each of the pricing bands.

  28. In the NZ of my childhood, punative taxation on all but British and Australian cars meant the roads wre filled with British Leyland products.

    As a result, much of the popuation aged over 40 won’t buy any British-made device with more than two moving parts. Once bitten…

  29. I’m surprised Alfas haven’t made it onto the scoreboard. I drive one, a GT. Rather beautiful it is, but been falling to bits since the day I bought it second hand, 44k on the clock. It needed a new engine within three months. I hate it and I love it. La Dolce Vita meets truculent Trotskyite brummies. Or Menshevik Milanese.

  30. Purchased an Austin Maestro for my first car, made approx. 1980 or so. Horrible windows on it and engine needed constant care, 2nd worst car I’ve ever had.

  31. So Much For Subtlety

    DBC Reed – “Strange that Obama has virtually nationalised Detroit and kept it going with union co[]operation.”

    What is strange about that? He is shoveling tax payers money to his favoured clients. Just as all such schemes end up doing. But he is doing worse than that – he has hit all of GM-s competitors with spurious safety concerns that cost them a lot of money and do nothing for the consumer. The non-existent Sudden Acceleration problem on Toyotas for instance. Way back in the 1990s people worked out that this did not exist as a problem. But it cost Toyota billions and so helped keep GM in the game.

    “Of course you can buy imported [volume] cars but you are not going to stoke demand in the UK by paying Brit car- workers[] wages.”

    I am not sure what you mean by that but I doubt Britain imports many cars from places with lower wages than Britain. Not Germany. Not Japan.

    “The whole problem with the unions in the 70[]s and 80[]s was because of the Economics 101 howler: wage demands cause inflation”

    Actually wage demands do cause inflation. But that was not the real problem. The real problem was the fractured Union structure meant that every car maker was dealing with three dozen Unions, any one of them being able to bring all production to a halt. That and the fact that the Soviet Union ran a large part of the Union movement and so they were trying to make things worse.

  32. “I am not sure what you mean by that but I doubt Britain imports many cars from places with lower wages than Britain. Not Germany. Not Japan.”
    says SMFS

    It’s not so much the wages for the people, it was the wages for the robots against which BL couldn’t compete.

    Or as they said in that Not The Nine OClock News sketch

    “The Austin Metro – Hand built by Roberts.”

    I had a MGF bought in 1997. Loved it, great fun K class engine,vroom, brilliant. Apart from the three radiators it blew, the roof which leaked, the plastic pipes which kept on coming undone and emptying the coolant, the condensation in the boot, the rust underneath, the wires fraying inside the heated mirror and popping the fuses, the brake sensor being permanently on, the radio blowing up…

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