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Top 10: British Leyland saloons and hatchbacks

From the formation of British Leyland in the late ’60s through to the remnants being renamed Rover Group in the 1980s, this most financially challenged of large motor manufacturers produced a vast array of models via its numerous marques.

Many were criticised for their poor quality and unreliability, and yet there were some genuinely good designs introduced – several of which now have a cult following. So join us as we celebrate ten of the top saloons (and hatchbacks) launched during the British Leyland years.

By Paul Guinness, Contributor

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Austin Allegro

Replacing what had once been Britain’s best-selling car (the 1100/1300 series) with a model as oddball looking as the Allegro seemed a strange move, so it came as little surprise that Austin’s new compact saloon (and estate) failed to match its predecessor’s sales success. The Allegro, however, was far from a bad car.

From the 1098cc (998cc later on) A-series engine to the 1748cc E-series, your Allegro could be as economical or a quick as you liked, with a vast array of trim levels to match. Happily, the Allegro enjoys something of a cult following on today’s classic scene.

Comments

Model Flyer    on 27 February 2017

The Princess 1800 wasa great car for the time but did suffer from rust as did most makes . Very economical family car and a good commuter vehicle .

Edited by Model Flyer on 27/02/2017 at 11:01

Mike Lanc    on 27 February 2017

A Marina 1.8 gave me one of the scariest moments of my motoring life back in the early 1970's. I was travelling south on the M6, just north of Walsall when the throttle return spring snapped. The throttle pedal fell to the floor and the car started to race away on full power. I was in the overtaking lane at the time. Fortunately, the road was not as busy then as it is now and I was able to turn off the ignition and move into neutral and then gently get to the hard shoulder. I managed to do a temporary repair and then drive into Walsall where I bought a new spring and carried on my journey. I didn't panic at the time, but since I have realised how lucky I was.

Terry Eiss    on 27 February 2017

I ran a company Princess 1700 HL from new in 1980 until 1982, loved it, had very little trouble and no rust. It was such a comfortable car and handled well. It was superb both for commuting and on long journeys, including many miles on autobahns. I was minded to replace it with an Ambassador, but it lacked any style as well as having flimsy controls, and I selected a Peugeot instead which was, sadly, a "Friday" car.

zundapp    on 27 February 2017

I was a big BL fan in the 70's( must have been deluded), How long have I got?
Basically, they were not very reliable. The one I liked best was a 1275 GT Mini Clubman,I had complete with Denovo Dunlop run flat tyres. The inside of the tyre was filled with aluminium canisters FULL of slimy stuff.
Fortunately, I was quite handy with the spanners, which is just as well, because I certainly needed them.
It went very well and was quick, but God, did it give problems. It ate exhaust mounts=metalastic? and on two occasions, the flange sheared off the exhaust manifold., because the engine moved so much. Dramatically, on one occasion, the engine failed in spectacular fashion, half way up Hard Knott pass in Cumbria. Clouds of steam and oil smoke.!! The failure was eventually found to be caused by BL's failure to fit a circlclip to one end of a gudgeon pin. The pin had slowly ground its way through the cylinder bore. Naturally it wasn't guaranteed and I ended up buying a Gold Seal engine. Oh, and there was the time when the bonnet flew up on the M6 Thelwall viaduct, ripped off its hinges (this was very exciting) flew in the air and t was run over by a following lorry.
Another exciting time when I had total brake failure in the Mersey Tunnel at rush hour.
believe it or not, I was quite sad to see it go(to the scrap yard)

I also had a company Marina at one time. Driving down the M6, doing a steady 75 in the dark, there was a fantastic crash inside the car. I nearly wet myself. It turned out to be the interior mirror falling off the windscreen.

Oh, and don't get me started about Rover SD1's
Happy Days!! I have now run German cars for the last 30 years. RIP BL.

Alan Bowler    on 14 August 2017

I had a variety of BL products. Having started with (and learnt to drive on) an Austin A30 (bought for 30 quid back in 1963) I switched to Ford vans for 80 odd thousand miles or so, returning to BL for a Minivan and a succession of Mini saloons, an Allegro and a Maestro.

Most of these cars were cheap to run if you had a Haynes manual and an assortment of basic tools - plus a smattering of what one of my old bosses called 'native guile and cunning'. Rust beetles were the biggest problems with most of these British cars and I got through a lot of fibreglass! By the way, I have never worked in the motor trade.

Until I bought my first new car (a Skoda Fabia) in 1990 I never paid for any garage servicing apart from occasional assistance from an old auto electrician but I did carry a decent tool kit! During that 27 years I drove the best part of 500,000 miles, including a fair amount of Continental motoring.

Now I've topped 70 I leave the servicing to our local garage!

   on 27 February 2017

Owned a 1275GT, great car effortless to drive with loads of torque , an A series engine strength. My car seems to have been covered in metal dust before spraying as it came out in rust spots every fortnight! No mechanical problems however and strangely no oil leak from the engine/gearbox

David Harrison    on 27 February 2017

Don't forget the Dolomite and Toledo came from the 1965 Triumph 1300 because my father bought a white model in 1966 and paid £785 new.

Chris Clement    on 27 February 2017

The Triumph 2000/2500 was a lovely car to drive, smooth and fairly powerful. The Princess was very comfortable as a rear seat passenger but to drive it handle like a snow plough. Even the most powerful Allegro, the 1750 Equipe, was slow but torquey. The SD1 Rover had so much potential but was built by children on a Friday afternoon just before the school bell rings. The Triumph Dolomite Sprint was rapid, but high speed stability felt like you needed two lanes. Marina isn't worth mentioning it was so abysmal. The company just didn't move with the times, Honda helped them and they started to show potential but poor reliability was their ultimate downfall. Such a shame, but gladl some people keep them alive buying these old cars as classics and because they will get less use they should be as reliable as any other classic car.

cfc2000    on 14 August 2017

I agree with some of that, but not the bit about BL's lack of innovation, nor the assessment of the Marina. If anything most models apart from the Marina, were too innovative and never made a profit to speak of because of it. The Marina, which was old fashioned as you say, was their most profitable model. The accountants saw that Ford was making money with old fashioned (even pre-war side valve engines in some of them) designs like the Popular, Prefect, Anglia, Cortina etc., so thought they could do the same. The waiting list for the Marina was immense - the factory couldn't make enough of them. Some people wanted a glorified Morris Oxford. I drove one in Jamaica for quite a while and it was ideal for those roads and those mechanics. Never once let me down. No barmy hydrolastic suspension, frail drive shafts and oddball wheel bearings. And no square steering wheel or other daftness. Quite nippy too, for the time, esecially the twin carb models.

100andthirty    on 27 February 2017

I had a 1500 Allegro, a 1750 Maxi and two Maestros. They were good cars, especially the 2.0efi MG Maestro. The worst car I ever drove was a 1275 automatic Marina. That was truly slow

DJP1553    on 28 February 2017

During the 1970's I drove a series of classic BL cars from an 850 Mini - great if the sub frame didn't rust away in no time at all. I took delivery of spanking new Marina 1700 and on my first drive I was going down a hill and stopped due to oncoming traffic and had to reverse into a space between to parked cars. I went to select reverse and the gear stick came away from the hole in the tunnel. The cast allow had actually snapped flush with the point of entry into the car. Needless to say a tow truck arrived an hour later with a queue a mile long. I then ended up with two succesive Maestros - considering both were fitted with the A+ engine - a derivative of the Morris Minor engine - they were ok so long as the ECU didn't fail effectively leaving the car to run with the choke out permanently. Bags of space for the family but it was so primitive for the time.

Martin4148    on 28 February 2017

The Maxi was quite a good car let down by unreliability. When the Maxi 1500 was launched the engine suffered from poor lubrication of the overhead camshaft causing premature failure; BL hurriedly did a redesign to cure the problem (a classic example of BL letting the public do their testing for them). The original gearbox was cable operated, later to become rod operated, an improvement. My parents had a 1750 model as did our neighbours; both cars' engine mountings failed within a few months of each other causing the engine to drop alarmingly on one side which was a really basic design fault. My parents Dutch friends bought a new Maxi 1500 when it was launched, having had good service from an Austin Cambridge Diesel. They soon regretted the purchase. They replaced it with Renault 16 TS and loved the car.

Sad to say it was generally accepted at the time that the Renault 16 was the better car, especially in TS form with it's superior aerodynamics.

The Renault featured an electric engine cooling fan and I'm fairly certain had seperate gearbox oil (North South engine layout).

Edited by Martin4148 on 28/02/2017 at 21:15

lawrence kempster    on 3 March 2017

my allegro was great car except gearbox, steering, and brake problems ;) also the colour of the princess is reihngold

SteveTTT    on 14 August 2017

I chose a black Metro 1.3S as an alternative to an Ital or Allegro under a BL-only company car policy - the "sportiest" choice available to my pay grade at the time. Did thousands of business miles in all weathers with no problems whatsoever. Rubbish halogen headlamps were the biggest issue, but a brace of 190mm Wipac Hair Raisers helped quite a bit and improved the look of the car too (to my eyes anyway). Just prior to getting the Metro a Marina 1.3 pool car with no radio was used for regular Swindon to Hartlepool site visits and needed a pint of oil at each end of the journey!

bobber    on 14 August 2017

Why isn't the Rover P6 on the list. Interesting features such rear seat designed for two individual bottoms, sidelights with a tell-tale top moulding visible from inside and dashboard toggle switches all different so you knew by feel which was which. Also served as a test-bed for the 3.5 V8 engine already chosen for the upcoming SD1.

bobber    on 14 August 2017

Why isn't the Rover P6 on the list. Interesting features such rear seat designed for two individual bottoms, sidelights with a tell-tale top moulding visible from inside and dashboard toggle switches all different so you knew by feel which was which. Also served as a test-bed for the 3.5 V8 engine already chosen for the upcoming SD1.

   on 14 August 2017

I had a series of British Leyland cars. Some designs were excellent - build quality abysmal! My 1750 Mk1 Austin Maxi did 125k miles without an oil change, I considered that the oil was never in the engine long enough to require changing! It bordered on a total loss oil system. In fact had they marketed it as such, people may have been much happier with it. It too was prone to max uncontrollable acceleration at the most inoportune moments like joint the M6 from the M5 in rush hour!!
I could write a book on the shortcomings of BL quality.

Mel Watkins    on 14 August 2017

I owned two Ital's from new. A four door saloon and an 1800 silver estate. Never had a problem with either of them which included trips to Spain pulling a large trailer tent. Before company cars I also had two new Morris Montego's. One a four door saloon and then a VDP 1800 ohc estate with all the trimmings including alloy wheels..Again,no problems. was I lucky?!

Edited by Mel Watkins on 14/08/2017 at 16:30

Edward Hughes    on 14 August 2017

Very.

Graham Boorer    on 14 August 2017

I bought a new 1300 AllAgro - had to top up the oil between visits to the petrol station. Short motor fitted under warranty. No better. Sump wet with oil. Nice to drive and roomy, but swapped it for a Fiat Strada and a different problem.....rust. Happy days!

datostar    on 15 August 2017

I used to be a BMC/BL loyalist and had an Austin A40 Cambridge (1956 model, column change, 1200cc side-valve engine); Austin A60 Cambridge (sheer luxury!); Austin 1800 (massive interior space, hard to work on - Issigonis said ease of maintenance wasn't a factor in the design!); Austin Maxi 1750 late model, most of the problems sorted by then but prone to crankshaft oil seal leaks on to the clutch plate). Used to drive Marina 1800TC's as Police Area Cars - quite lively but engines used to get very hot and smelly when driven hard. In the memorable words of a colleague 'handles like a Hovis loaf'!

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