With age cometh wisdom... and a love of porridge


Author: James PagePublished:

It all happened so gradually I didn’t really notice. First, my wife and I found ourselves spending New Year’s Eves at home or at friends’ houses because "it’s so busy and expensive if we go out".

Then I retuned my stereo to Radio 2 because Radio 1 was "just noise". It’s also been quite some time since I bought any new clothes. "But I’ve already got a pair of jeans," I’ll say by way of an explanation.

By far the most significant sign of impending middle-age, however, was an increasing interest in the cars of BMC and – perhaps more worryingly – BL.

I grew up as a motor sport fan in the 1980s, and my cars have always had a sporting edge: Mk2 VW Golf GTi, BMW E28 M535i, Porsche 924. Then, about three years ago, I found myself bidding for a 1974 Morris 1800 on eBay... and winning.

I loved that car. It was comfortable, straightforward to work on, I could easily fit my golf clubs in the boot (important, that) and I even liked the styling. Selling it on was a sad moment, but it went to a good home – the new owner is a friend and a genuine BL enthusiast.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have looked twice at many BMC/BL saloons, but rather than accepting this change as a by-product of me simply getting older, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s down to the fact that my horizons are becoming broader. Instead of writing them off before trying them, I’m allowing myself to see their charms.

Admittedly, old habits die hard, and my current daily driver is a Mk1 Mazda MX-5. But my eye is already wandering to the Austin A60s of this world, and one of my highlights of the recent NEC Classic Motor Show was the fabulous A105 on the Vanden Plas stand. Also, until I actually bought the Mazda, I was sorely tempted by anything from the ADO16 range.

Maybe Clements has got the right answer with his MG Magnette: a BMC saloon with a sporting edge. To be honest, though, I’d be more than happy with any of them.



Well I agree. My Dad had an A70 Hereford, a Riley 4/72 Farina and the jewel in the crown a Rover 2000 SC.

So what went wrong? What on earth happened to BMC and Rover? Your excellent magazine has published wonderful articles about the rows, territorialisms and sheer bloody mindedness at both concerns. Even Clarkson has waded into the muddy waters to peer through the murk. An entire nation's car industry gone. The last heroic effort was the breathtaking Rover SD1. The last act of dumbness was the Triumph Stag with its witless soldered together V8.

Not entirely a Union problem. Feckless management was equally to blame. And to think, I almost accepted a job there after Uni in 1970. Mercifully advertising beckoned. My first job was to advertise the Morris Marina. Beauty with brains behind it, we proclaimed. No irony intended at all.


Wasn't that the one that had the field of sheep behind the Marina (although I understand they were airbrushed away)?


BL cars. What will you enthuse about next James? The Princess? The Allegro? Wake up. They're not classics. They were junk when they were new and age has not improved them.


1100's 1800's were genuinely good cars, the Princess a good looking car let down by it's build quality. Difficult to think of anything nice to say about Marina's and Allegro's though.

Maurice Ital

Now you're talking.

Let's have no more nonsense about the W123 Mercedes on these pages. It's time to venerate old British tin.

Starting with the Allegro: so close to greatness that it hurts. Maybe not, but BL was definitely onto something with the litle dumpling. Or at least, it was onto something with its suspension.

Hydragas works. Except it wasn't properly developed for the Aggro.

I know this because I've ben reading motoring rags for too long, I owned an MGF (about which more anon, probably) and I had the privilege of meeting Dr Alex Moulton about two years ago. Rather wonderfully, the good doctor played host to a party of geeks from an internet forum to which I belong. And I have the pictures to prove it.

He showed us a trick Moke with interconnected Hydragas, and his 1966 Hydragas Mini in which he used to commute to Longbridge, and much else besides: Flexitor, Telegas, Rotashear, and one of his bikes.

The point he wanted to make about the Allegro was that it was denied a front subframe by the cost accountants - and that precluded the employment of anti-dive front suspension geometry (it would have caused huge road noise on the subframeless Allegro) which made later iterations of his system (K-series Metro, MGF) so damned good.

For a bit of bent metal the Allegro was found wanting. But I still find it annoying that the car is subject to ill-informed ridicule. Its bodyshell wasn't as comically floppy as legend would have it: its torsional rigidity was greater than that of the Mk1 Golf. It may have been more aerodynamic in reverse, but any two-box front engined car of that era would have been. The 1750cc E-series engine - panned for being achaically long of stroke and narrow of bore was- only slightly more undersquare than the Honda EK 1751cc unit of the period. One day, I expect to learn that the car's five-speed in-sump transmission was the pinnacle of the gearbox designer's art.

Many people spend many thousands of pounds hopping up MGBs and making them go around corners, but if I had that sort of disposable cash I'd build a properly sorted Allegro and harrass unwary twerps in BMWs. Nothing could be more fun.

As for the Marina, I like to think that it was an elegant p**s-take on the products F**d was making at the time. "Look, we've managed to make a new car by cobbling together bits of old BMC, and bits of Triumph in a record time of two years and it is just as bad as any Escort, Capri, or Cortina." Except that Roy Haynes might well have invented the modern practice or platform-sharing with the car but BL's mandarins were too blind to see the value in it. They should have built a V8...

The Landcrab was an epic piece of engineering, but don't get an A60. BMC's W123: nothing good can be said of it, save that banger racers love them, and Winston Churchill owned one (an A60, not a W123 - obviously.)

Simon Charlesworth

Am I sensing that the door to acceptability has been left ajar? Is it possible that the cars of BL might be allowed into the warm, relaxed and refined air of the classic club...? Instead of being left outside in the cold, shunned and left to dodge ridicule and falling pianofortes.

I hope so. Having driven many of the corporation’s products, the truth is that few are as terrible as their reputation suggests. In a classic context, they are similar to many other old wheeled specimens – they require understanding and a sympathetic hand to keep them going. Yet, just as with other mainstream classics, a lot are good honest fun to drive.

Fine, if people don’t like these cars, there’s nothing forcing them into a change of mind. Unlike we champions of BL who, for years, have been looked down upon and made to feel almost grubby and perverse. Why? Because we hold the cars of the ‘plughole of doom’ in affection.

Hopefully not any more.

Leylophobes should desist in mocking these machines, because enthusiasts are only interested in preserving old British cars. Cars which, despite being an endangered and much-mocked breed, continue to cultivate a following.

It’s not surprising – after all, porridge is good for you.

Simon Charlesworth

Maurice Ital

I think Mr Buckley started the ball rolling with a fair-minded assessment of the Aggro in his column a few years back.

Now I think about it "C&SC" promised a Buckley comparison of the Allegro with its illustrious forebear some years ago. It was there on the "Next Month" page, but the piece never materialised. Sadly.

If I remember correctly, the reason we never got to see the Allegro/ADO16 feature was to do with a certain difference of opinion Mr Buckley had with an Allegro-owning man of the cloth.

Honestly, I'd much rather see a pristine ADO67 on the front cover of "C&SC" than another MGB.


Simon Charlesworth

I think the person who has done the most to further the cause of Leylomania is Keith Adams.

Whist many of us were getting all misty-eyed about BL cars - quietly in our priest-holes - he actually sat down and started work on his monumental site in 1999.

Since then, acceptability has been such a long-winded gradual process that it makes glacial erosion look hasty and slapdash.

An Allegro on the cover of C&SC would certainly be a sight to behold!

Simon Charlesworth

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