New Broome

The 1970 X6 Austin Kimberley and Tasman ushered in a fresh start for British Leyland’s Antipodean outpost. But it would prove a short-lived one.

Even prior to becoming part of the British Leyland conglomerate, the BMC motor company was not renowned for making astute product decisions. Certainly, from the point when the ADO 17 (Landcrab) series was introduced, little or nothing to emerge from Longbridge was entirely fit for its intended purpose. ADO 17 entered the UK market in late 1964 as the Austin 1800 (its identical Morris equivalent arrived a bewildering two years later) and was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from the domestic market, who were not clamouring to purchase an underdeveloped, overinflated Mini.

Overseas sales were equally sluggish, with European (common) markets (widespread perplexity over its appearance notwithstanding) imposing tariffs on British cars, and the 1800 proving inadequate for both customer needs and the often inhospitable terrain of the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and South African markets. Given that the car was allegedly introduced without any meaningful overseas proving hardly aided its cause either.

ADO 17, aka Austin 1800. (c)

But while the newly enlarged five-bearing 1.8 litre B-Series engine was deemed somewhat over-large for the target UK customer, the opposite was true for his Australian equivalent, who was used to traversing vast distances, often carrying large payloads, and generally favoured six cylinders. BLMC Australia (as it was known post-merger) concluded that what was required was an indigenously developed car aimed directly at the needs of the local market. With this in train (the P76 of 1973), a stopgap was required to give beleaguered BLMCA dealers something to sell in the interim.

Allegedly styled at BLMC Australia’s Victoria Park headquarters in Sydney, (although it’s difficult to envisage how the hand of Roy Haynes at Pressed Steel Fisher in Birmingham wasn’t involved), the X6 models, as the cars were termed, received revised nose and tail sections, incorporated onto a broadly existing centre section, which by necessity retained ‘those doors‘. Actually, the door skin pressings were different to their UK equivalents owing to local rules on door handle design, so in effect, (had the money been available), a full reskin might have been within the bounds of possibility.

Austin Tasman. (c) Classic cars

Still, given its proposed short-term nature, it was comprehensive enough. With an enlarged and more upright C-pillar and the removal of the sixth light, the canopy was more formal looking and arguably, better resolved. The X6 bodyshell was 8.5 inches longer than ADO 17, with a 3 in longer wheelbase. This latter figure was concentrated forward of the bulkhead, with the remainder being accounted for by the longer nose and tail – aimed at passing the car off as a full-sized offering against more conventional rear-drive Chrysler, Ford and Holden rivals.

The changes to the nose saw the adoption of either a Maxi-inflected single headlamp arrangement for the entry-level Tasman model, or a more chintzy, brightwork-laden four rectangular headlamp/grille confection for the more upscale Kimberley. Certainly, whatever one’s view of the styling changes, it can be said to have mitigated ADO 17’s unhappy external proportions, at the expense of a certain blandness. Particularly at the rear, where the cleaner bootlid and tail lamp arrangement appeared somewhat redolent of contemporary Ford Escorts and Hillman Arrows.

Technically, the major innovation lay within the X6’s needlessly enlarged engine bay, where a 2227 litre six cylinder version of the E-series engine now resided. Initially developed for the Maxi and other applications, when this powertrain was first envisaged, BMC, Technical Director, Alec Issigonis dictated that the larger capacity versions should have six cylinders, which necessitated the siamised bores which were the bane of the four cylinder model, but would allow the in-line six to be mounted transversely across ADO 17’s engine bay. In this application, it developed 100 bhp in the lower-spec Tasman, and 113 bhp in twin carburettor Kimberley form.

Tasman X6 models were fairly austere affairs, with front bench seats and rubber matting on the floor. Kimberley X6 models came with deep pile carpets, individual bucket front seats, headrests and a full set of instruments. In both advertising and marketing material BLMC made much of the X6 models’ luxury credentials, emphasising that they were made by the same company that produced Rovers, Jaguars and Daimlers. The carmaker also highlighted the extensive on-site proving that had taken place prior to the car’s announcement – citing over 260,000 miles of hard use by engineers in all conditions.

Image: ebay

The X6 models got off to a decent start at the tail end of 1970 and through the following year. However, not only did it seem to be widely known that it was a stopgap car, (the P76 seemingly the worst kept secret in Australia), it appears that despite BLMCA’s claims of durability testing, the cars soon developed a raft of teething troubles, which included a reputation for overheating. Mid-way through 1972, a revised Mark II version was introduced, aimed at addressing the early car’s faults, but sales had already dipped and never recovered – Australian imprint, Wheels describing it that year as “The Hit and Miss Kimberley II“.

Production ceased that December, in preparation for P76’s introduction, but there remained a large backlog of several thousand unsold cars which had to be disposed of throughout 1973 at considerable discount – new X6s still being available by June of that year.

The X6 series was a thorough update of a flawed car, creating an inherently decent one, if one that lacked much by way of personality or (if we’re honest), true appeal. Praised for its interior space (more leg room than rivals), comfort, quality of trim, dynamics, refinement and brakes, but it fell short on performance, gearchange quality, ergonomics (steering wheel angle in particular), dash and cabin furnishings.

Fully debugged by the time it arrived in Blighty, the 2.2 litre E-Series was introduced with the 1972 Mark 3 ADO17 facelift, which in Wolseley 2200 form proved a relatively strong seller. For years since, armchair product planners have posited as to why BLMC didn’t repurpose the X6 body to create a better looking, more upmarket version of the existing 1800, while putting some additional clear water between it and the Maxi.

However, marque historian and author, Chris Cowan, latterly uncovered that this was in fact originally part of the product plan – ADO 17 Mark 3 being intended to at the very least employ the X6 bodyshell aft of the bulkhead – the one-off Vanden Plas version of the 1800 being thus based. Frontal styling was allegedly intended to harmonise with the Maxi.

That it didn’t come to pass owed largely to BLMC’s already deteriorating position around 1970, fears that the revised car wouldn’t justify the investment, not to mention the fact they had already committed vast sums to the ADO 28 (Marina) and ADO 67 (Allegro) programmes, which the carmaker saw as priority models. Would it have made any difference by 1972, when the third iteration of ADO 17 belatedly reached the market, largely unchanged? Probably not.

Image: ebay

On the face of it, the X6 twins were a credible and broadly speaking, cohesive update of the ADO 17 template, but nothing could undo the inherent flaws baked into the design. Therefore the Australian effort, while creditable, remained proportionally unsatisfactory and bland in the extreme at both extremities. Although debugged into a decent car, it arrived to market insufficiently proven – a perennial BMC/BLMC/BL bugbear.

What it and its (distant) ADO61 relative demonstrate with abundance is that when you get the fundamentals wrong, you cannot simply facelift your way out of trouble. Fiddling around the edges was not going to solve ADO 17’s issues. That was as true in 1964 as it was some six years later. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses.

Source material and images (unless where stated) : / AROnline.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “New Broome”

  1. The X6 almost looks conventionally handsome in that rear three-quarter view. The Victoria Park guys did a good job, but there’s definitely some Roy Axe influence evident in the front end and dashboard. It’s definitely the best resolved of the designs that used ‘those doors’:

    It makes an interesting comparison with the ADO61 3-Litre:

    One design detail of the latter that has always struck me as odd is the rear wheel arch. Why so tall? It makes the wheels look enormous and there’s insufficient metal left above it, making the tail look weak. If it had a flattened top like the X6 it would have been more elegant, I think.

  2. Despite Pininfarina having some involvement in styling BMC’s cars, cannot be the only one to notice the latter was comparatively behind the times over the 1960s compared to other carmakers that made use of Pininfarina during the same period though not sure whether it is down to BMC themselves being rather conservative or Pininfarina giving rather derivative proposals to work with that were already being readily adopted as done by Peugeot, Fiat, Lancia, Datsun/Nissan and even IKA-Renault (with the Torino).

    The modern looking X6 body should have appeared much earlier then it did (in addition to being utilized on 1100/1300 as well as the Mini* and ADO61), while the front-end was definitely capable of being improved upon in spite of ADO17 / X6 being flawed in conception.

    *) IMHO the 1964 Pininfarina-styled Mini-based MG ADO34 prototype gives an idea as to how a more X6 saloon body could have been applied on more modernized Riley Elf / Wolseley Hornet as well as on the 1100/1300 even with a Vanden Plas 1800 X6 prototype front end, years before the Austin Apache/Victoria.

  3. Funny, how unscrupulous Pininfarina sold the same design to different companys. KWD 348D looks like a Peugeot 204 Cabriolet with a face of a Fiat 1200.

    1. Hello Fred – I always wonder how conscious it is when designers replicate their own designs.

      I saw pictures of two cars designed by Michelotti, the other day. Both were versions of the Hino Contessa; the earlier one looked like a Triumph Herald and the later one like a Triumph 1300.

      I’ve noticed similar trends with other designers – it’s like they get ‘stuck’ on a certain design.

    2. The Pininfarina styled MG EX234 prototype to replace the Midget and the MGB was even more derivative, yet in the case of the Mini-based MG ADO34 prototype above BMC could have at least given it and other Pininfarina styled BMC models a modern looking front and (in the case of ADO16 / etc non-tailfin) body more befitting of the 1960s like the Peugeot 204/304/504, Nissan Bluebird 410/Cedric 130, Lancia 2000 Coupe and IKA Torino and 1963 Mercedes 230SL Pininfarina Coupé instead of something that looks like it belongs on a Vanden Plas at best.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tasman in real life, but even in a large car landscape the Kimberley is an imposing looking machine, rather reminiscent of the Zephyr/Zodiac Mk.4. The “big car look” may have been anathema to packaging-obsessed Greek Al, but it’s what UK buyers as well as Australians wanted for their money.

    The issue of T&CC whence came the Tasman pictures quotes some interesting numbers:

    Capital cost for X6 development: A$4.5 million
    Local content 98% (Although ‘Motor’ in the UK said 85%)
    Entry level Tasman was priced at A$1 more than the outgoing 1800
    BLMC-A loss was A$2 millon in 1970-71, the X6 launch year

    The Tasman does “Australian basic” very well, and the E6’s torque-biased state of tune suited market expectations. The ability to pull cleanly in top gear from 5mph was a particular benefit given that the X6 still had a cable operated gearchange – the 1972-on British ADO17s got a rod operated mechanism.

    The X6’s case was not helped by the problems of the underdeveloped 1969 YDO9 / YDO15 Nomad and 1500, an ADO16 with an E series engine and gearbox. The big challenge by then was from locally assembled Japanese cars. Even BMC-A’s main bodywork supplier Pressed Metal Corporation was assembling Datsun Bluebirds in Sydney as early as 1966, although production moved to Victoria after only 18 months.

    Both constituent companies of BMC had a disproportionate fixation with the remote and rather small Australian car market – around 150-200,000 units by the late ’50s. It’s even suggested in Martyn Nutland’s Lord biography that the merger of Austin and Nuffield was agreed by Len Lord and William Morris over ice creams on Bondi Beach in January 1952. By 1957 Len Lord spoke of taking 30% of the Australian car market, despite the unsuitability of what they sold or intended to offer – stripped-out Austin and Morris-badged Wolseley 1500s, and eventually a six cylinder Farina Cambridge.

    1. Hello Robertas – YouTube classic car channel, HubNut, went to Australia, recently and drove some of the key BMC / BL models, such as the Nomad and Tasman. Here’s the video of the Tasman.

      Coming back to the earlier topic of Issigonis, I think the assumption that everything should be based around transverse engine locations hobbled things a bit. There’s less need to save space in larger cars – other factors can take precedence.

  5. Nice gig that Ian’s got there. I’ve watched his P76 test, on some familiar roads in and around Hobart.

    1. I am very familiar with the streets he’s used in the Melbourne-based reviews, and know the owners of the Nomad.

      I agree 100% with Bob’s observations above, that BMC didn’t update their cars anywhere near quickly enough. Also, with the longer front end a conventionally mounted radiator could have solved any overheating problems – too bad the electric cooling fan was still a decade or so into the future (I think).

  6. Regarding the scorn poured upon the Landcrab, I had an opportunity to drive one in the late 60s when I lived in London, and it made no sense to me. By the early 70s I lived in Co Kerry and ended up with a very well-used ’65 Austin 1800 as a company car, and it was a revelation – one could cruise at 70mph on roads that would challenge a Capri at 60mph. In reality, I had less of an issue with ‘those doors’ than with the cable-gearshift.

  7. John H , aftermarket electric fans (Kenlowe) date back to 1955. I had one on my Triumph Herald in the 60s, it was part of the “stage 2” tuning !

    1. Cheers Mervyn.

      I remember reading one of the London Sydney Marathon drivers’ description of the 1800s main virtue was it could do 90mph on basically any road.

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