More than just a Midi-Mini
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. 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 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.
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, 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.
When serious work began on what was known internally as ADO 16 in 1959, a considerable amount of preliminary work had already taken place. 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.
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 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. 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. 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.
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. August 1962 saw the official debut of ADO 16. Christened the Morris 1100, 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.
 In fact, New Labour’s Mondeo Man was primarily a social and demographic construct; more about aspiration than automobiles.
 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.
 LJK Setright defined the 1100 as “the only true super-Mini”.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Alec made a single weekly visit to Cowley to review ADO 16 progress during the programme.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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/ elevenhundred.com/MG owners club/ Wolesley Owners Club/ Vanden Plas Owners Club.