We all have to get around the place. In our early years that means using our legs as the primary means of transport before being promoted to a bicycle. When that happens, we are introduced to a largely pain free, and exciting, medium of getting from A to B via all points wherever.
For some of us that meant getting to school, for others it included wild carefree excursions to the coast with a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop.
All too soon there comes a time when even a bicycle is not enough and a bus is just not cool. Testosterone flushes through one’s very core, rinsing out any lasting vestige of sensible and replacing it with insanity, speed, tumescence and often the spilling of a little blood and snapping of bone. If you managed to skip the motorcycling stage and went straight instead to four wheels, then the blood letting may have been evaded.
As a young man in the 1970s, one was short of money and so the choice of car was extremely limited to old Dagenham dustbins kept together with rust, string and hope. It was the time when filler was a must to keep the rusty panels together in some form of harmony. Flash German made cars were verboten, Italian style was the abode of scooters and the French were comedy vehicles fit only for the transport of eggs across a ploughed field in Brittany rather than a serious option for the ambitious young man with an urge to impress the ladies. And so good old British design was the back stop.
We must bear in mind that Britain had designed Dreadnought Battleships, the record breaking steam engine Mallard, the Spitfire and the mini skirt. There has been a wealth of talent in this country to design things of beauty, of form and function that the world could only envy. Even the French.
Then at some point we took our eye off the ball when it came to cars. Yes, Alec Issigonis had designed the mini. But, Alec was an Englishman born in Turkey, of Greek origin and through his mother’s kinships, was a first cousin once removed to BMW and Volkswagen director Bernd Pischetsrieder. Perhaps that explains the mini exception in car design in the 1970s. For the ‘hoi polloi’, apart from this masterpiece, we were offered cars designed by some blokes down the pub after several rounds of mild and porter whose only association with any form of style was of the type of field entrance covered in cow shit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a car, which if you have not owned, seriously challenges your credentials to be a member of the beige cardigan wearing community.
I need not tell you the make or model, nor the year in which it made its first appearance. Those of you who have had the ‘joy’ of owning, repairing, riding, or dare I suggest ‘canoodling in the back seat of’ this or similar motors, will still bear the memories and the scars of that mental trauma.
Mine was white.
It was about as thrilling to drive as filling out a tax return, except less challenging. It must have been designed by burned out engineers at the end of their careers who otherwise dreamed of turning their allotments into mini Edens (but without the nudity and snakes). They were given the project on a Friday afternoon by the CEO with the remit: “Nothing fancy, mind, and don’t work late, just make it go”. They would have gnawed at the end of their HB pencils, then scribbled furiously for 10 minutes before remembering that their local pub had a happy hour which, for 2s and 6d, would provide the opportunity for a three pints of mild and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps to discuss serious matters such as the correct methods for cheese-paring.
The name of the car is a farce. And a lie.
As you know it means “at brisk speed”.
You will only find bigger fibs, and misdirection, in the Old Testament, Estate Agents’ blurb and in the vocal prelude to the performance of fellatio by over enthusiastic and inebriated youths to their gullible girlfriends.
I had the ‘joy’ of driving to work one day, and just as the car turned into the hospital’s main entrance the nearside wheel fell off causing a sudden lurch to the left and a grinding halt mid turn. Upon inspection the wheel was at 90 degrees to the body of the car. Something had completely snapped. Needless to say the car was now immovable stuck in the gateway. With the assistance of a few onlookers, who must have seen my pain, the car was pushed, scraping and grinding to one side leaving a slick of oil that a Gulf bound Tanker grounded off the rocks of the Manacles would have been proud of.
I must have paid £300 quid for what was now just a useless pile of rust infested metal, good only perhaps to be a modern art installation or a warning to the unwary car buyer. The most valuable thing about it now was the full tank of petrol and the packet of fags in the glove compartment. Thus it was necessary, before calling the scrap dealer to lift it away on a flatbed truck, to empty the tank, and to clear the interior of detritus such as crisp packets, chewing gum and a year old packet of rusty condoms kept in the glove box for ‘just in case’. This was the 1980’s when hope was still alive for such matters.
When the scrap dealer turned up to tow it away, it was with mixed emotions. On the one hand, a little sorrow as I was now without transport. On the other hand, I was as relieved to see the back of it as a man on death row seeing his sentence commuted to a life organised around wine, cherries and an endless supply of willing female entertainers bent on using an ostrich feather in an amusing fashion.
A car is a car. It is merely an means to an end. Some have a frisson of excitement about them, some are reliable, some are cheap to run. Many are destined to be assigned to the sluice of history removing all traces of their existence in one’s consciousness lest wellbeing, dignity and sanity is flushed down Satan’s u bend.
Such is the Austin Allegro.