Modern Family [Part Four]

Taking on the world

Image: quattroruote

A true test of any successful product design is whether its popularity can be replicated outside of its country of origin, where tastes, loyalties and latent patriotism, for instance, tend to count for less. The immediate success of BMC’s 1100 within the home market was both justified and understandable, but not only would it prove popular elsewhere, it could be argued that ADO 16 would become as close to a world car that the organisation would create.

Sold in almost every continent, and assembled in fourteen distinct countries[1], the 1100/1300 it seems made friends everywhere, with perhaps one exception – a former British colony which would prove impervious to its charms. North America had already proven a difficult nut for BMC to crack throughout the 1950s, with efforts to build a market-specific product (the unloved Austin Atlantic) backfiring. Americans preferred home-grown produce, with perhaps one notable exception. Thanks to a combination of commitment, dealer coverage and the legendary durability of the product, Americans took Volkswagen’s Beetle to their hearts, turning it into a cult car.

With the 1100, BMC management felt they could offer a modern, more sophisticated rival which could at least whittle out a subset of VW’s business. Despite its more habitual sportscar fare differing notably in appearance, image and dynamics, the 1100 was introduced in October 1962 under the established MG nameplate. BMC had the distribution network, but their dealers lacked experience of the technology[2] and the cars themselves proved fragile. Well regarded by the specialist press, sales however proved modest. Efforts ceased by Autumn of 1967.

1968 Austin America. Image: seriouswheels

The following Spring, a second attempt saw the car offered, this time badged as the Austin America (in two-door form only), and fitted with the larger capacity 1275 cc engine. The America featured similar cosmetic changes to domestic Mark II models. Most were sold with the Automotive Products four-speed automatic transmission, a fact which led to the model’s undoing. Insufficiently robust, gearboxes would become consumable items[3]. This factor, combined with a notable propensity to serious corrosion, saw the vast majority of the almost 60,000 imported meet a premature end. By 1971, BLMC called time, withdrawing the model from the US[4].

Image: oldcarbrochures

The Australian market exhibited notable similarities to that of the US; both vast continents, where the distances travelled were enormous and climatic conditions differed wildly from that of temperate Britain. Similarly, Australian drivers favoured simple, durable, uncomplicated machinery over more tempestuous Euro-fare. Hence, while BMC’s advanced front-driven cars were viewed with interest, they were less than ideally suited to prevailing conditions – especially outside of the more populous urban centres.

To their credit, BMC Australia subjected a series of pre-production 1100s to an extensive 200,000 mile proving regime in the Outback prior to the model going on sale, the results of which saw a number of technical changes to account for local requirements. BMC’s Australian satellite enjoyed a good deal of autonomy from the Longbridge mothership, developing country-specific models unavailable elsewhere. The Zetland plant was also a full manufacturing facility, not simply assembling from CKD kits.

Dubbed “the car you hoped would happen”, the 1100 was an immediate hit with buyers when introduced into the Australian market in 1964, becoming subject to waiting lists as production spooled up. A hit too with the critics, the 1100 being voted by Wheels magazine as ‘car of the year’. Three years after its introduction down under, a 1275 cc 1100S model was introduced, while in 1968, the AP four-speed automatic became optional.

Back in Longbridge, with George Harriman and his cohorts preoccupied with vanity projects, requests from dealers (and their customers) for larger engined versions of ADO 16 were met with deaf ears. In response, the enlarged 1275 cc A-Series would prove too little too late when it did arrive, so for BMC Australia, the best option was (as they had frequently done in the past) to go their own way.

1969 Morris 1500. Image: elevenhundred.com

Around 1966, amongst the projects taking place at Longbridge was a proposal for a five-door estate version of the ADO 16 body. With BMC Australia losing interest in the larger Maxi (for obvious reasons), this would become part of a programme of improvements for the Australian market. Gaining the new and uninspired 1.5 litre E-Series[5] drivetrain and a host of styling and convenience-related revisions, the new model, dubbed Morris 1500 was introduced in the Summer of 1969[6].

1969 Morris Nomad. Image: wpolkowicach

Marketed as “the civilised sports car”, both 1500 and its five door Nomad sibling would become the mainstream BMC Australia offerings, and while sales of the saloon outstripped those of the Nomad (75% to 25%), demand for the more practical, if ungainly five-door was said to have surpassed expectations. Production ceased at the Zetland plant in December 1971[7], pending introduction of the Australian-specification Marina – also E-Series equipped.

In Italy, Innocenti built the 1100 under license from 1963, initially as a Morris (IM3 and IM3S) and from 1964 as a more downmarket Austin I4, which did not receive the styling changes of the more luxurious and expensive Morris versions, or its more powerful twin carburettor engine. One notable change to the Italian market cars was the inclusion of a redesigned steering column, allowing a more raked steering wheel. Sales were healthy, but owing to their high prices relative to the competition[8], they were probably less than BMC might otherwise have hoped for.

In 1970, the cars received a minor facelift, becoming the I5 with a large revised matt black grille (which previewed that of the later UK Series III models) and other trim changes. By then, the more powerful version of the 1098 cc engine was also available. Curiously, no 1275 cc version of the 1100 was offered by Innocenti, possibly owing to supply issues. In 1974, the I5 was discontinued[9], replaced by the Regent, a suitably rebadged Allegro.

1970 Innocenti I5. Image: automotodepoca.altervista.org

From the 1950s, BMC had been assembling cars and commercials in Cape Town for the South African market, prior to a full-scale manufacturing facility being set up there. Assembly of the Morris 1100 began at the Blackheath plant in 1963 with a model line-up cleaving largely to that of the UK. This remained the case until 1968 when the 11/55 models were introduced in both Morris and Wolseley form, featuring a more powerful 55 bhp version of the 1098 cc engine. There matters remained until 1971 when its replacement was introduced.

Austin Apache. Image: mginfo

The Austin Apache was a heavily restyled version of ADO 16, retaining the centre section of the bodyshell (including doors) but with new, longer nose and tail sections, designed by Michelotti in Turin. Notable for its striking resemblance to the Innsbruck Triumph 2000/2500 facelift (the tail-lamps were identical) from the same styling house, the Apache, while on one hand a clever modernisation, simply looked derivative; an unhappy crossbreed of BMC and Triumph, neither gelling alongside one another. Nevertheless, the Apache continued on sale until 1977, the very last ADO 16 derivation of all[10].

Authi Austin Victoria. Image: tiempodeclasicos

Meanwhile, in closed market Spain, an agreement was inked in 1965 between BMC and Nueva Montaña Quijano to form Automoviles di Turismo Hispano Ingleses (Authi), to build BMC cars under licence at a plant in Pamplona; Authi-built Morris 1100s going on sale in early 1967. In evolutionary terms, Spanish market ADO 16s largely dovetailed with UK market models[11], however in Autumn 1972, the Austin Victoria was introduced, employing a similar bodyshell to that of the South African Apache but with further revisions to the frontal styling. Following the decision by British Leyland to close the Spanish plant, production came to an end in early 1975, with around 95,000 ADO 16 models built in total.

In 1961, Britain had applied for EEC membership and this prospect was allegedly a significant factor in BMC’s forward plans for the business; the carmaker’s fortunes standing to gain significantly by the potential of tariff-free entry into previously protected mainland European markets. Therefore, as outlined by author, Ian Nichols in AROnline, the French government’s 1963 veto, (and Monsieur le Président’s 1967 repeated ‘non’) was instrumental in BMC’s push to maximise sales across the UK Commonwealth by way of compensation. This would at least go some way to explain why BMC’s far-flung satellites were allowed to develop notably dissimilar derivations of ADO 16 and the mothership’s repeated attempts to crack the US market.

What a more favourable outcome in 1963 would have done for both BMC and ADO 16 can only be speculated upon, but one can safely assume it would have been a different one.

Across these far-flung territories, success was in many cases as bumpy as the local terrain, but it can be stated with some certainty that ADO 16 in whatever form it was presented was conclusively BMC’s best performing product during the period in question and that neither it, British Leyland, nor its innumerable re-constituted derivations ever produced a car with such near-universal appeal again.

 

[1] Apart from Cowley and Longbridge in the UK, ADO 16 was assembled in Australia, Belgium, Chile, Italy, Malta, New Zealand, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Spain, Trinidad, the former Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe. In the Danish market the (imported) 1100 was called the Morris Marina.

[2] Hydrolastic was not well understood by BMC’s US service agents and both training and parts availability were patchy. Many non-BMC mechanics would simply throw their hands skyward and run in the opposite direction.

[3] The AP gearbox struggled under US conditions, a matter made worse by its shared oil supply with the engine. The power unit therefore required regular oil changes, which many owners neglected, frequently with catastrophic consequences. 

[4] In 1973, BLMC supplanted the America with the Austin Marina, a car quite accurately described by a DTW reader (and owner) as technically, a cross between a Morris Minor and an MGB – at least in B-Series engined form. It too proved a sales flop. 

[5] The 1275 unit was retained for automatic transmission models – customers at least being spared the guesswork of the cable operated gearchange of 1500 cc models. 

[6] The 1500 saloon employed the Series II ADO 16 body with cropped tailfins, but with a revised full-width grille, larger sidelamp/indicators, a bonnet bulge and recessed exterior door handles. The cabin too was revised. 

[7] Prior to production ceasing, a stockpile of all three models was built up for the 1972 model year; the last being sold as late as 1973. In all, nearly 90,000 Australian market ADO 16 models were built.

[8] The IM3S was more expensive in Italy than the larger Fiat 1500 berlina. 

[9] Close to 66,000 ADO 16 models were produced by Innocenti in Italy. 

[10] Slightly over 55,000 ADO 16 models of all kinds were either assembled or fully built at Blackheath. 

[11] Having been effectively taken over by BLMC in 1973, Authi also introduced a 998 cc version of the 1100 – a version seemingly unique to the Spanish market.

Sources and quotes: See part one.

 

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Modern Family [Part Four]”

  1. In the early Eighties T&CC magazine published an article of a former BMC travelling service representative telling his experiences with the US market. He was sent over there to find out why the cars gave so much trouble.
    The story was that there was a complete lack of understanding for the market on the side of BMC management. It was impossible for them to understand why vehicles had completely different sources for trouble in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles while in their eyes these cities were located so closely together.

  2. Does the red Austin Victoria pictured really have the front bumper falling off ? Should the PDI have picked that up ?

    1. Good morning Mervyn. British Leyland doing a proper PDI? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time! 😁

      Alternative possible explanation below.

  3. Good morning Eóin. To my eyes at least, that Innocenti front end treatment in your header image, reminiscent of the (chrome bumper) MG Midget, is the best resolved of all the front ends that graced ADO16.

    The Nomad may have been ungainly, although no more so than the Maxi, but it looks to have been a very practical C-segment hatchback before they became mainstream:

    Another lost opportunity for British Leyland?

    Regarding the Apache/Victoria, does it look odd in isolation, or is just that we know it’s a mash-up of two other designs? In profile, the tail looks a bit too shallow for the rest of the car:

    Also, did they have to bend the ends of the front bumper down to clear the indicators, as seen in the photo of the red car above? Here’s another publicity shot showing the same thing:

    Very British Leyland “It’ll do.” mentality!

    1. Re the Apache / Victoria – the front has an Audi / NSU air about it from some angles. The bumpers weren’t all like that, so goodness knows what they were doing. Mind you, this is the organization which featured a model reading Playboy magazine in the back of an Allegro…

      The Innocentis look smart – the little details like the revised grilles and indicators seem to suit them (and gives them a bit of an ‘older Fiat model’ look).

  4. I can’t help wondering how rigid the Nomad was (or wasn’t), with four passenger doors, a full-depth tailgate and those big windows in the C-pillars.

    1. Hello Jonathan,

      It did indeed need reinforcement. AROnline says:

      ‘To restore structural rigidity lost by the large opening – and to support the heavy tailgate – its perimeter has been strengthened by constructing it from up to five conjoined box sections which were formed by welding eight or nine separate metal stampings together creating the various channels, ridges and gutters required.’ BMC generally seemed to care quite a bit about torsional strength.

      See: https://www.aronline.co.uk/around-the-world/australia/essay-morris-nomad-vs-austin-countryman-vs-austin-maxi/

  5. Prefer the shape and black grille of the Innocenti I5, whereas the existing upsidedown trapezoid grille found on most ADO16s makes it look dated. The only other detailing change needed for the I5 IMHO would be for the headlights to be slightly de-chromed and recessed more similar to the Barrel Car Mini and A112 (if not quite foreshadowing the Series 1 127).

    Without factoring the Maxi (say it was stillborn), would Nomad have benefited from more shapely rear light clusters as the Maxi as well as the Peugeot 204 and 304 Break models? Could a better less ungainly template for a facelifted ADO16 hatchback without fins have drawn inspiration from the general look of the Peugeot 304 Coupe or Simca 1100, the latter loosely resembles the 1800 Crayford Estate?

    The Apache/Victoria does looks like something that would have been better applied on a post-70s sub-Dolomite 1300/1500-based short-tailed FWD model then on ADO16, prefer it over the rougher detailing of 1500 and Toledo.

    Even though the 1500/Nomad was developed in Australia, it resembles more like the early pre-Pininfarina ADO16 prototype at front (as well as to a lesser degree the Hindustan Ambassador).

    For BMC (plus Austin and Morris before it) in North America and Australia, it would have helped had they not sabotaged the Minor as it could have given the Beetle a tougher time. For the larger models the most feasible templates for them to challenge were the 1948+ Holdens and Nash Rambler / Rambler American. One would have thought an earlier (as in 60s) thoroughly sorted analogue of the Austin Marina or Aussie spec Leyland Marina would have done pretty well in places like the US.

    So the US market ADO16s were largely undone by the lack of 1275cc+ engines early on, corrosion, the limitations of the (in-sump) AP 4-speed automatic transmission and the absence of technical changes by done by BMC Australia or a similar proving regime in North America (leaving aside the suspension)? In some respects it is unfortunate Austin did not acquire American Austin / American Bantam prior to WW2 as not only would they have had first dibs on the Jeep prototypes in place of the Austin Champ (yet equipped with the same engine as the later Austin Gipsy some 2 decades prior), but also could have basically had the US version of BMC Australia with a similar level of autonomy.

  6. Good morning, Eóin. I spend a considerable amount of time on Trinidad, but never knew the ADO 16 was produced there. I’ve never seen them around, though.

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