PROJECT RETIREMENT ROCKET PART 1
Austin Allegro plus stealth bhp equals dream car. Now there’s an equation you don’t see often. Or ever. This is the first installment of Jonny Smith’s ultimate Q car. A quick Allegro. Well, someone had to
Err, and why is that exactly? There’s only one reason really – because giving muscle to unloved motors is beautifully eccentric. It’s about time ugly ducklings like Allegros and Marinas side stepped the bullying at classic car shows and headed to the workshop for some well disguised horse power. I’m talking Q-cars, and street sleepers. You know, leave the bodywork and trim rock stock, and spend the cash and time on mechanical engineering. In this case the Austin Mini’s chubby docile brother.
All-Aggros run in my family. Really I should be embarrassed, but for some reason I’ve got this warped sense of pride. My Grandma had a series 1 in non-metallic mustard with quartic ‘wheel up until about three years ago. My Auntie had a dog mud brown 2-door she used as an urban weapon. Now both cars are long gone: squashed, weighed-in and sold to China, probably.
Since the family lost its Allegros and Avengers (my old man bought one new in ’76 and only got rid in 1999!) I’ve kept one eye on the classifieds. The criteria? It had to be an early Allegro and it HAD to be 2-door. The latter meant that my search took a few years on and off. It seems every Allegro customer wanted four of those funky mazak door levers. Allegros are everywhere, but 2-door models are one of those things that are scarce but not particularly desirable. A bit like adult measles.
A LOCAL ALLEGRO FOR LOCAL PEOPLE
Eventually patience paid off. The perfect basis for my project appeared on eBay. A series 2 2-door 1300 Super finished in sun eroded Harvest Gold – a colour that looks more green than gold and baby sick than any form of harvest. This car was obviously destined to be mine because it was a local car to where I grew up. Two elderly owners, a genuine 43,000 miles (two clutches) and only four miles from where my parents live in Somerset. I even knew the road it spent most of its life on.
The frail lady had got too old to drive and gone to a care home. She donated the Allegro to her mechanic, who politely thanked her and left it in his front garden for four years. After failing to sell it several times, he slapped it on eBay for £10. The five-day battle commenced and I HAD to own it. The hammer went down at £123, although I was (stupidly) prepared to pay more. Despite living outside in the last few years it was very solid and honest, with just a few dings from Taunton Market car park. This Leyland pig was ripe for modification. I just had to decide what power would replace the 1300cc ‘B’ series…
As a muscle car pervert, from the word go I presumed the Allegro would be getting the V8 rear-drive treatment. My inspiration was a red Rover P4 owned by a chap called Steve Pateman. It looked all stock apart from the ‘tubbed’ Pro Street rear axle and huge tyres tucked underneath the rear arches. Oh, and the Corvette V8 under the bonnet. It is a beautifully executed car. I toyed things over and spoke to street dragster building guys like Andy Frost – the man with the world’s fastest street legal car (www.redvictor1racing.co.uk) and John Sleath (www.audiracing.co.uk).
Soon it became apparent that I’d need £10k even on a budget, and to get a V8 to work we’d effectively need to cut the entire floorpan off and drop the Allegro shell over a bespoke tubular steel chassis. Very cool, but not very Q-car and too expensive for me. I wanted to keep the original dash, itchy brown velour interior and carpets. I wanted the bonnet and bodywork unmolested without silly bulges to give the game away. Through various friends of friends I met up with ex British Autocross championship podium winner Mike Boak. Mike built his Audi TT to compete in Autocross and he was fascinated by the Retirement Rocket plan. He understood the need to keep bhp disguised and he loved the idea of keeping the whole project on a budget. Having built a number of ‘stealth’ VW Golfs since starting up in business as MB Motorsport in Hebburn, nr Newcastle (0191 4894239), Mike knew a thing or two about street sleeping. Within a month the Allegro was heading up to his workshop.
A STERLING DONOR
So we had one half of the Retirement Rocket sorted, but a heart donor was still required. Several weeks of research and chatting followed. Various suggestions followed such as Ford Zetec, Vauxhall red top 2-litre 16v and Golf VR6 but I wanted to keep the car relatively British. And cheap. It had to be Rover. And not a four-cylinder Rover, something with a throbbing heartbeat. Did someone say Rover 827? Within a week I had scoured websites and haggled my way into the driver’s seat of a very clean 1993 Rover 927 Si in Hampshire. The wallet damage? Just £150. It had 100k miles, a desirable manual gearbox and even an MoT.
We hadn’t strictly measured to see if the front-drive 827 would even fit under the bonnet of the All-agro, but for £150 it was worth a punt. Nearly 180bhp standard and the reliability of a Honda Legend. Besides, this car was meant to be. After buying it over the phone and Mike collecting it, I sifted through the comprehensive service history. To my surprise I saw a bill showing that back in 2002 the car had broken down on the road next to where I live in Lincolnshire. It was recovered to the local garage where it had its clutch checked. Spooky co-incidence? Yeah, something like that.
As I write this, both cars are sat at MB Motorsport awaiting surgery. The plan? To create a faithful street sleeper Austin Allegro using the guts from a Rover 2.7-litre 5-speed Rover 827 to keep it Brit. All unnecessary parts will be flogged to help pay for the project and scrap yard bits will be used where possible. Will it get a fresh repaint and shiny wheels? Will it hell…
COST SO FAR
£123 for the Allegro
£150 for the Rover (which I’ll break and flog interior, wheels etc to break even)
£300 in recovery fees
This is the wanted list for project Retirement Rocket. Expect it to grow by the week as the car takes shape and problems are encountered. At present all I am in need of is a quartic (square) steering wheel. As this is a second generation All-agro it never came with one, but for some reason I must retro fit one. Imagine that with torque steer.