Modern Family [Part One]

More than just a Midi-Mini

1962 Morris 1100. Image: Car Magazine

During the run up to the 1997 UK election victory which swept them into power, Labour Party strategists identified a core median demographic to which they hoped to appeal, which they labelled, Mondeo Man[1]. But had this election taken place some twenty years earlier, Labour’s archetype might have hailed, not from Genk, but Longbridge, because for most of the Sixties, Britain’s favourite car had been BMC’s 1100.

Having painfully emerged from post-war privation, a recovering Sixties Britain remained a hidebound and socially conservative nation. A matter which makes it all the more striking that a car marrying contemporary Italian style with a highly sophisticated technical specification should prove a bestseller. In many respects, the BMC 1100 seemed more akin to what was then termed a continental car than one hailing from the British midlands, the type of car more likely to have been viewed by Mondeo Man’s forebears as something akin to witchcraft.

Perhaps then it should surprise nobody that it would take the profound influence of that foreign chap[2] to disrupt the engineering orthodoxies locked into the BMC corporation since its troubled merger of equals in 1952. For without the drive and conceptual inspiration of Alec Issigonis during this period, it is questionable whether BMC would have found itself in any kind of leading position at all. However, thanks to his influence, the 1100 family would not only help define what would become the modern C-segment but should also be viewed as the original Super-Mini[3].

While on one hand, the commercial success of the 1100 may have been down to the Levantine engineering prodigy’s original thinking, on the other, it owed at least as much to others, both within and outside of Issigonis’ direct sphere of influence. Of these, perhaps the most significant being programme-lead, Charles Griffin[4], stylists, Pininfarina, BMC Chairman, Lord Lambury and deputy, George Harriman, whose impositions limited Alec’s more spartan tendencies.


Notionally speaking, the 1100’s mission was to provide a successor to the established Morris Minor, intended as a more sophisticated offering aimed at an increasingly discerning customer. Since its 1948 introduction, the Issigonis-designed Minor had carved itself a secure niche as a well-proven, durable and fit for purpose product, one which by the late 1950s had become a firm UK market favourite. Widely acknowledged as one of the finest compact car designs of its era, its increasingly dated styling (by contemporary standards) provided little impediment to sales success[5].

When serious work began on what was known internally as ADO 16 in 1959, a considerable amount of preliminary work had already taken place[6]. By then, with development of the diminutive ADO 15 in full swing, responsibility for the mid-sized car was handed to Charles Griffin’s engineering cell at Cowley; a pivotal decision since not only was Griffin a fine engineer in his own right, but while Issigonis was fully engaged with his nascent Sputnik at Longbridge, Griffin could bring to bear his own instincts, largely without interference[7].

Griffin’s influence upon the 1100 should not be underestimated. Because while both Mini and ADO 16 shared a good deal of parallel thinking, he would ensure that the larger car was a good deal more refined and considered in execution. The larger capacity 1098 cc version of the A-Series engine[8] was for instance at Griffin’s instigation, a decision based upon the leisurely performance of early 998 cc prototypes. So too was the inclusion of front disc brakes, Issigonis initially arguing that they were merely fashionable.

Central to ADO 16’s dynamic behaviour was the provision of Dr. Alex Moulton’s interconnected Hydrolastic suspension, but it appears that this too was largely due to Griffin’s insistence[9]. ADO 16’s programme lead would emphasise this to Joseph Lowrey of Motor magazine in August 1962, stating that… “the handling of this long wheelbase car could not have been combined with such a good ride in any other way.” A further benefit over its minimalist sibling was that it was developed in less of an unseemly rush, with a good many lessons learned. Also, as a larger, more upmarket car, there was a less maniacal emphasis upon space utilisation, miniaturisation and weight saving.

Early XC9002/ADO 16 prototypes were styled by Issigonis himself, with wholly predictable results. Given this unsatisfactory state of affairs and no doubt stung by the ambivalent reception the Mini’s styling received before it would become a cult car, the decision was taken by BMC’s senior executive to contract out the work to Pininfarina, working to Issigonis’ and Griffin’s exacting specifications.

The very mention of ‘styling’ normally gave Alec a fit of the vapours, but having developed a cordial relationship with Battista and Sergio Pininfarina, Issigonis was of the belief that the Italian father and son duo shared his principles of car design. Meaning that if he did not necessarily approve of Pininfarina’s ADO 16 style, he at least had the good grace to say otherwise[10]. The 1100 combined the wheel at each corner proportions, minimal overhangs and broad stance of the Mini with by then familiar BMC/ Farina styling tropes, especially at the nose and tail. As a demonstration of fine tailoring, it proved a most effective transformation, one which did much for the 1100’s showroom prospects.

Inside too, while predictably austere, the in-house designed cabin was considerably more civilised an environment than that of its Mini sibling, Issigonis caving into the provision of some creature comforts. Naturally, generous cabin space remained a core component, but here, occupant comfort was equally a priority. Boot space however, remained less than generous – a consequence of the stub-tail.

Image: curbsideclassic

Owing to a less frenetic pace of development, ADO 16 was considerably better honed by the time it entered production, with prototypes embarking on testing sorties not only in the UK, but across the continent as well[11].  August 1962 saw the official debut of ADO 16. Christened the Morris 1100[12], the world’s press gathered that Autumn at Worcester College, South-West of Birmingham to laud BMC’s technical director on yet another creative magic act.

This time, either by design, good fortune, or a measure of both, BMC and its enigmatic technical director hit a direct market bullseye.


[1] In fact, New Labour’s Mondeo Man was primarily a social and demographic construct; more about aspiration than automobiles.

[2] Illustrative of attitudes at the time, this was how certain senior BMC personnel referred to Issigonis, many of whom couldn’t or wouldn’t attempt to correctly pronounce his name.

[3] LJK Setright defined the 1100 as “the only true super-Mini”.

[4] Griffin worked for Issigonis, but in reality was very much his equal. A measure of the respect he engendered, Alec was prepared to defer to his judgements on ADO 16 and the two men remained on cordial terms throughout their respective careers. Griffin later gained a senior engineering position within BLMC/BL. 

[5] Despite an element of senior management ambivalence towards the Minor, BMC found it almost impossible to replace. The Minor continued, long past its prime until 1971. Spiritually, it lived longer still.

[6] ADO 16 began life as XC9002, the second of a trio of advanced designs formulated by Issigonis during 1956-8. All resembled a Russian-doll series of Minis in appearance.

[7] Alec made a single weekly visit to Cowley to review ADO 16 progress during the programme. 

[8] ADO 16 was originally intended to feature a narrow angle V4 engine, and in August 1962, Issigonis hinted at its advent. For a variety of reasons, this power unit was not proceeded with, however a more commodious engine bay was one beneficial consequence. The enlarged 1098 cc A-Series engine employed featured a modified cylinder head, apparently shared with the production Mini Cooper, as was its gearbox and remote control gear linkage. In this application it developed 48 bhp and 60 lb ft of torque.

[9] Hydrolastic was in gestation for a decade before entering production on ADO 16, leading some to suspect an element of ambivalence on Alec’s part. 

[10] In 1979, Alec admitted his own failings in a letter to Sergio Pininfarina, saying, “The 1100 was completed to your design after I failed to produce an elegant car”. This act of contrition came too late to prevent the larger ADO 17 from being hobbled by Issigonis’ intransigence. It’s also worth noting at this point that unlike his father, Sergio Pininfarina was more of an administrator than a stylist.

[11] Charles Griffin told Motor in August 1962 that ADO 16s had been tested in Germany, Italy and Switzerland, prior to launch. In the same interview, Issigonis asserted that he didn’t recognise the value of overseas proving, questioning the entire basis on which vehicle testing took place, claiming it was totally unrepresentative of actual car use. In this at least, he may have had a point. 

[12] Due to internal politics, it was decided to launch ADO 16 with Morris badging only at first, giving Nuffield dealers a chance to sell the new car exclusively for a time.

Sources: Issigonis: The Official Biography – Gillian Bardlsley (Icon)/ Mini: the design icon of a generation – LJK Setright (Virgin). Alec Issigonis & Charles Griffin interview – Motor: August 1962/ Autocar 17 August 1962/ AROline/ owners club/ Wolesley Owners Club/ Vanden Plas Owners Club.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

36 thoughts on “Modern Family [Part One]”

    1. Money well spent! I’m a little too young to have an active memory about the ADO 16, nor do I know if they were successful outside the UK. Looking forward to the sequel Eóin.

  1. My mother had a blue two door Morris 1100 for a few years. It was a lovely car. I always thought its real replacement was the first VW Golf.. Pity it wasn’t BL that made it

  2. Thanks, Eóin, for this great write-up on the ADO 16. In my family and its social circles, no cars of this type were to be found while I was growing up. I do remember a strange story, though: around twenty to twenty-five years ago, there was this arsonist in Athens who targeted ADO 16s exclusively. I don’t remember any reports of his arrest, though.

  3. The only ADO16 I’ve some experience with was the Austin 1300 GT from someone I knew in the late Seventies. The car was kind of mustard yellow with a black vinyl roof and a wooden dashboard with beautiful Smiths instruments (and ridiculous Wilmot Breeden keys).
    I don’t remember it as particularly comfortable but rather as quite noisy with lots of tram like transmission whine.
    But it was fun to drive with lively steering and a torque-y engine.
    In direct comparison our Alfasud was light years ahead as it should have been regarding the difference in age.

  4. It really was an excellent piece of styling, better than the pictures can show, and the face-lift ones looked even better. The estate was presumably crafted in-house, as it wasn’t quite as sharp. I certainly drove one once or twice, and spannered a relatives’ one sometimes. There could be issues with transfer gear whine, and the vulnerable location of the fuel pump….
    I was such a ‘WTF’ moment when they replaced it with the Allegro.

  5. Good afternoon Eóin. While the Mini might have stolen the limelight, the 1100/1300 was, as you say, a more thoroughly developed car that forced fewer compromises on its driver and passengers. What is extraordinary, to my mind at least, is that the Minor continued to sell for almost a decade alongside the 1100/1300, presumably bought by those who shied away from the perceived complexity of the latter. I suppose there is a parallel with the Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle) and the Golf, although in this case the overlap in European production was only four years (1974 to 1978).

    Looking forward to the next instalment of this story.

    1. Would it have been better for BMC to drop the Minor (plus the A40 Farina) and focus on the 1100/1300 yet risk alienating pre-existing conservative clientele suspicious of FWD switching to other rivals or would they have been better off developing a conservatively-engineered Farina-rebodied Minor as a stop-gap (without the notoriety of the Marina)?

    2. Bob: In my view, either one or the other should have been dropped – keeping both in production made little sense. Logically, the best elements of both cars ought to have been combined into the A40 body. The irony is that the A40 was discontinued in 1967, while the Minor carried on until 1971. While the Austin looked less dated than the Minor, the Morris was probably a better drive. BMC never quite got the volumes they wanted with ADO 16 – partly due to a lack of capacity linked to the above. I’ll come back to this later.

    3. That’s an interesting question; I think BMC took the view that the Minor was selling well enough for it to be worth while continuing with it. Its intended replacement never really got off the ground, in the UK at least, and turned in to the Wolseley 1500 / Riley 1.5.

      That said, 2 million ADO 16s were sold over approximately 10 years, while 1.6 million Minors were sold over 20 years or so, so perhaps they should have canned the Minor. If they had done so, they would have had to come up with some ADO 16-based vans, I guess, or something else to fill the gap for their commercial customers.

      Incidentally, I’ve always viewed ADO 16 as an early C segment-sized car and the A40, etc, as superminis, despite their preceding the Mini.

    4. Eóin Doyle and Charles

      The minimum ideal to retain conservative rear-wheel drive customers would have been an A40 Farina type three-box body on the Minor derived platform (thereby replacing the A40 Farina, Minor and Wolseley 1500/Riley One-Point-Five), featuring 1100-1600cc engines (similar spec to early ideas for what became the Marina) with the booted rear drawing inspiration from the 1960 Ferrarina 850 Pininfarina (its front vaguely resembling the mk1 A40 Farina).

      Another would have been variation of the above yet with a more contemporary 60s boxier body by Pininfarina as featured on the Nissan Bluebird 410 (that would have given it a bit more visual longevity if required), which seems to have been a rebody of the previous Bluebird 310 that itself (like the larger related Cedric 30) was said to have carried over quite a bit of Cambridge A50 mechanicals.

      And lastly abandoning the above in favour of ADO16-only would have basically entailed shifting from a two-box saloon to a two-box hatchback, three-box saloon (three separate proposals were so-far known to have been produced by Innocenti, BMC Australia and under BL by Michalotti aka Apache) as well as a 5-door estate (e.g. Nomad or Nomad-derived). Also heard of one or a two ADO16 derived coupes.

      Had ADO16 been equipped with a Primula-like gearbox amongst other developments (or at minimum scope to feature both in-sump and end-on gearboxes as on both the Citroen Visa and Peugeot 305), it would have allowed BMC to produce more spinoffs like British analogues of the Fiat 238 for example.

      They did develop a Fiat X1/9 equivalent via the Healey WAEC prototype, while the Jimny-like Austin Ant was said to have been based on a shortened ADO16 platform. Given the role Charles Griffin played in both ADO16 and what became the Metro, perhaps he could have produced an early ADO16-derived Metro and Mini successor (provided it took a more scaled down approach like the 127 and A112 instead of say a quick and expedient SWB Peugeot 104 ZS type solution).

    5. About the Minor, I will never understand why they kept such an old-fashioned-looking car in production for so long. Great mechanicals yes, great looks in 1948, but so dated by 1958 let alone later. In Australia we had the Morris Major (and Austin Lancer), de-contented and lightly restyled versions of the Wolseley 1500/Riley One Point Five, which were hugely successful and virtually replaced the Minor. These went through several series, gaining a longer wheelbase, the 1622cc engine and bodywork like a little 1955 Ford Customline. These were were in turn made obsolete by the 1100. I wonder why BMC didn’t do this for the home market? Any thoughts?

  6. Even though I don’t recall seeing very many on Dutch roads, I quite like this car- cleverly engineered and tidily styled. My main memories of the car involve seeing it “star” in my favorite comedy series of all time, Fawlty Towers, where an on-form John Cleese proceeds to give it “a damn good trashing” 🙂
    Coincidentally, in another production involving John Cleese, the comedy “Clockwise” a dark blue 1100 gets lots of screen time as well, and also gets quite comprehensively trashed!

  7. If I remember correctly ADO16 had phenomenal torsional rigidity, something that without doubt contributed to its good handling and was mostly lost in its successor which was quite the opposite in this regard with rear windows popping out…

    1. Dave: I suspect you’re thinking of ADO 17, the 1100’s larger sibling. Much was made of its torsional rigidity at launch. It was also successfully rallied in particularly gruelling long-distance events, where the strength of the body was perhaps an advantage. ADO 16 however was not to my knowledge above average in this regard, although others, better versed than I may demur.

      As to rear screens popping out of Allegros, while I enjoy a bit of BL baiting as much as the next man, I expect that one would have to have been trying somewhat to replicate that particular achievement. Another old favourite was the one about rear subframes detaching from ADO 16s over hump-back bridges, owing to corrosion at the mounts. This probably happened once and entered legend.

    2. I remember some legend about back wheels falling off Allegros, because mechanics assumed they had the same rear wheel-bearings as ADO16s and over tightened the hub nut.

    3. According to Harry Webster, quoted in AROnline, the Allegro had relatively good torsional stiffness at 8,160 Nm/degree, which is somewhat better than a third generation Ford Fiesta.

      BMC’s 1800 was very rigid, at 18,032 Nm/degree, which is about the same as a BMW E46.

      Here’s a list of various cars’ rigidity (God bless the internet).

      Incidentally, Allegros’ rear windows did pop out if you jacked them up in the wrong place – what looked like a jacking point actually wasn’t.

  8. My father owned one in the late ´70s. It was a 1100 built in Pamplona by Authi (Automóviles de Turismo Hispano Ingleses), made along Minis and Victorias (a three volume, Michelotti styled 1100), in the same factory that nowadays produces VW Polos (and before that Seats and even Lancia Betas HPE and Coupés).
    It was a rare move for my father, to buy a relatively sophisticated car. Unfortunately it was stolen and never recovered, and he replaced it with a rather more prosaic Renault 4.

  9. If Issigonis wasn’t keen on Hydrolastic was ADO16 originally conceived with a conventional suspension system in mind? The ingenious 4×4 ANT was based on a shortened ADO16 floor pan and that employed torsion bar suspension, so was this ADO16’s suspension medium before it was decided to go with Hydrolastic?

    Something that has been nagging at me: was BMC guilty of overthinking its small front-drivers? Consider TFC 717, the experimental transverse engined front drive (with an end on gearbox) Minor that Issigonis made in the early Fifties prior to his move to Alvis.

    Perhaps all BMC needed small car wise, was a front drive Minor, nicely restyled by Pininfarina – and forget about the Mini.

    Finally, here’s some more Cleese nonsense featuring an ADO16 – is the man obsessed?

    1. Colin: Welcome to the site. Issigonis did propose a number of permutations (in sketch form) for ADO 16, some of which involved variations of longitudinal and transverse engines with conventional or hydrolastic suspension. One even had a leaf-sprung live rear axle, a la Primula. At least one B-series prototype was built with a longitudinal installation. Who knows what else was being considered? I will return to ADO 16’s suspension at a later date.

      You make a valid point as regards BMC’s thinking. But there were reasons for the direction taken – even if they could be questioned in the cold light of hindsight. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that the Mini was not wholly necessary.

      As for Mr Cleese, I liked his earlier, funny work…

    2. Were coil-springs looked at for ADO16 like on the Mini? In reality Issigonis could have carried easily over a development of the FWD Minor prototype’s end-on gearbox to both the ADO16 and 1800/2200 given their large engine bays, whilst deferring the layout on the Mini until the latter was either upgraded to the mk2/mk3 or replaced with a new model.

      Agree with the premise that much more could have been done with the Minor along with the Oxford and Six MS / Isis then was achieved, yet much of that preceded the formation of BMC due to Nuffield’s meddling.

  10. Regarding Dr. Alex Moulton’s interconnected Hydrolastic suspension: The interconnection idea was used as recently as 2013 by Mercedes’s F1 team. It worked so well that it was promptly banned by the FIA.

    1. The last car that it was available on was the MGF, but it was dropped on the replacement MGTF, apparently coil springs are cheaper.

      I often hear comments decrying the ‘complexity’ and ‘unreliability’ of both BMC’s Hydragas and Citroën’s Hydropneumatic suspension systems. In practice, my neighbours 50 year old Morris 1100 and my own 250,000 km Citroen BX beg to differ. (My other neighbour’s E36 BMW on it’s second set of broken springs could also comment.)
      Leaky hydragas units are easily replaced or, unlike broken springs, can be recharged.

    2. Read stories of Hydragas being tested on the Maestro before being dropped, however outside of the MGF am not sure how effective it would have been on cars larger than the Metro and the Mini.

      Hydragas was said to have significantly improved the Mini in particular via the Minki prototypes and a shame it never appeared in a production Mini, whereas the effectiveness of Hydrolastic on the Mini was said to have been questionable unlike on ADO16.

    1. Do not disagree, was thinking of larger cars from the 80s and beyond concerning Hydragas after the Ambassador rather than Hydrolastic. One can only imagine how Hydragas would have fared in a 3-litre like car.

      Rover was said to have developed an anti-roll suspension system during the P8 project that had some similarities with Hydragas.

    2. Hello Bob – yes, it looked impressive. They overcooked things with the white car, though.

  11. The ADO16 holds a special place in my car-loving heart. In 1974, when I was three, my family moved us to London for a two-year stint. For transportation my dad bought a second-hand Austin-Morris 1300GT just like the one Dave described earlier, probably a 1971 model. It was mustard yellow, with a black vinyl roof, black interior and the ubiquitous “AA” badge on the grille. I don’t remember the dashboard and whether it was wooden or not. My brother, who is one year and a half older than me, christened our new car “The Penguin” because the car had a small decal on the lower right corner of the windscreen (i.e. at the perfect height for a five-year old kid to notice) that featured a penguin over a white background. Does anyone here have a clue what that Penguin stood for?

    Anyway, we drove all over Great Britain and Europe with our beloved 1300GT Penguin, going as far as Spain and back and mostly with a full load of five plus luggage rack. Fond memories, even after all these years!

  12. Peter Wilding asks why the Morris Minor remained in production for so long. The answer is simple – there was still a home market; buyers who were spending their own money, who were suspicious of anything new-fangled and liked to stick with the comfortably familiar. If male they smoked a pipe and probably wore a trilby; if female they were either District nurses or retired head teachers. You also have to understand that BMC had in fact produced two updated versions of the Minor in the form of the Wolseley 1500/Riley 1.5. Minor production ended because & when its loyal clientele stopped buying new, or indeed any, cars.

    1. In addition to the factors JTC mentions, the Minor was also popular with fleets, who favoured the normative and the inexpensive to maintain. My father for instance was provided with two successive new Minors in 1968 and 1970 as company cars. The company he worked for was British and enacted a buy-British policy, so despite there being other equally fleet-friendly fare available, they stuck with Minors until they could no longer be purchased new. (These cars were assembled by Brittans in Dublin). Furthermore, the commercial versions also remained popular, and a key corps of the buyer profile. One must also consider the tribalism of the two opposing factions within BMC. The continuation of the Minor was something of a sop to the Nuffield dealers, who otherwise would have lacked a car to sell to these customers.

      BMC probably did enough to keep the Minor up to date, although by 1971 it was dated indeed. To be frank however, the advent of the A40 ‘Farina ought to have marked the inflection point when the carmaker should have consolidated both Austin and Morris offerings. But they didn’t, so that’s that.

    2. Thanks JTC. I guess I underestimated the cultural difference between my country and yours. And I thought sixties Australians were conservative… 🙂

  13. One interesting titbit that stood out from reading the Jonathan Wood book on Issigonis is the claim on page 188 the original XC9002 actually featured an end-on gearbox, prior to Suez and a shift in focus led to the adoption of the in-sump layout. Had they still proceeded with the end-on layout on ADO16 (and ADO17), how would that have affected the engine bay and styling at the front?

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