Super Mini or simply a better Mini?
For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply.
It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins, which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.
Throughout its lifespan, BMC management appeared to take the 1100/1300 series’ success for granted, allowing themselves to become distracted with a myriad of costly and in some cases, vanity-driven model programmes, few of which served the business well when a disciplined, carefully targeted and costed programme of upward development for the 1100 might not only have proven a better use of resources, but could potentially have obviated the necessity for a number of other less than stellar BMC products which would arrive in the fullness of time and fail to ignite with the buying public.
Yet despite its commercial significance, and the respect and admiration it engendered across innumerable markets for its many fine qualities, the 1100/1300 series suffered, amongst other better known foibles, from something of an image problem. Whereas, by mid-Sixties, sibling-Mini, from which so much of the 1100’s technical and creative background was rooted had assumed nailed-on cult status (and eternal sanctification thereafter), ADO 16’s iconography would prove far more nebulous.
Mini’s upswing was part-rooted in celebrity endorsement, but primarily in competition success, where the halo effect of the Mini-Cooper’s giant-killing antics on race tracks and rally stages turned it into not only the most fashionable thing on four wheels, but also the car every budding young hotshot lusted after, mostly from afar. But lacking a Cooper-branded halo model, or indeed the motorsport pedigree to go with it, ADO 16’s image remained stubbornly suburban in nature.
BMC’s complacency could also be observed in the manner in which the car was developed. Following its half-cocked introduction, the model was left largely untouched for five years before gaining a mild facelift in 1967, which would include the belated and much-requested provision of the larger capacity 1275 cc engine. Ideally, an even larger unit would have aided matters by then, but this was not forthcoming – not outside of Australia at least. Thereafter, the 1100 was again left fallow, apart from a third set of last-minute cosmetic revisions in 1971.
During 1967, work had (belatedly) begun on the ADO 22 programme, a fully re-engineered update, utilising ADO 16’s centre section, with a restyled nose and tail, courtesy of ex-Ford designer, Roy Heynes. Technically, it was believed to have employed the improvements to Alex Moulton’s Hydrolastic suspension which would ultimately find their way into the Maxi, but progress stalled during the rancorous merger with Leyland, and when the dust settled, newly appointed Technical Director, Harry Webster elected instead to start anew.
Latterly, the Mini has become indelibly branded upon the consciousness of the public – a now unassailable icon, as beloved as any other archetype of Great British endeavour. Yet while survivors are rightfully cherished by their owner-enthusiast base, the 1100 is a car that remains barely recognised by the general public. And while the Mini’s level of adulation is not one every car attains in afterlife, ADO 16’s ambivalent fate remains a curious outcome for something so once ubiquitous.
But perhaps this very ubiquity is what proved its undoing. During its heyday, 1100s were a fixture on every street corner, as essential and anonymous a component of the cityscape as parking meters or red telephone boxes. But as Britain’s post-Sixties malaise slumped into Seventies social unrest and political upheaval, the 1100 instead embodied the prevailing sense of shattered optimism – all the more so as age and entropy reduced so many into shavings of ferrous oxide, slowly decomposing onto the bump stops as the hydrolastic displacers de-pressurised. Rust, above all took the vast majority to the crusher.
So much promise: both in terms of the car itself and the times in which it came into being. The dream of mobility – both of the social and physical variety. The white heat of industry. The hope of betterment for the modern (family) man. The 1100 offered the promise of more, modestly, yet elegantly wrapped in a body shape which spoke of today, yet felt bracingly like tomorrow. Because, say what you will about Issigonis, he was not a man to look backwards.
Many historians have posited the view that ADO 16 was the best-realised of the eminent engineer’s designs, and one can go along with that – up to a point at least. Lending more weight however is the profound influence of Charles Griffin, pivotal in making the 1100 into the well-rounded, pleasing consumer durable it became. Certainly, without the refinements he pushed for, it is unlikely that the car would have appealed so broadly.
Usefully larger in all dimensions; longer legged, offering superior comfort, performance and refinement, yet giving little away in agility or compactness, the 1100/1300 was to a great extent, the next logical step forward. It also identified the limit of the appeal for truly small cars, the market coalescing around vehicles of the 1100’s dimensions as the next decade dawned, heralding the advent of the supermini class – a boat which in a case of the most profound irony, BLMC and its successors missed entirely for close to a decade.
The best car BMC ever made? Possibly. The better Mini? I wouldn’t blame you if you thought so.
 According to marque chronicler, Chris Cowan, the Morris Minor was in later life sold at a loss, which if accurate (and I see no reason to doubt him), makes its continuance even less logical. This appears to have been a sop to the Nuffield dealer body rather than any joined-up corporate strategy.
 Longbridge 1100s came on stream a full year after launch, but it’s unclear as to whether volumes ever reached optimum level, owing to BMC’s chaotic management, in addition to the resultant labour and supplier problems.
 The 1100’s early warranty costs further ate into profitability.
 Some downward development would probably not have hurt either.
 Apparently, Downton Engineering produced a tuned version of the 1100, said by LJK Setright to have been “astonishingly quick and competent.”
 In its best-known British TV and movie characterisations, the 1100 appeared to have been characterised as a rolling metaphor for conformity and defeat.
 When the 1275 cc version was announced, a UK waiting list formed for a second time, BMC once again wholly unable to meet demand.
 Heynes was best known for his input into the second-series Ford Cortina. During his stint at B(L)MC, he oversaw cosmetic revisions to the pre-production Maxi, the external style of the Marina and left his stamp all over the Mini Clubman.
 The 1973 Allegro never came close to matching the 1100/1300’s customer appeal, failing to meet sales projections.
 Griffin went on the lead the engineering design for a number of BLMC and BL models, including the ADO 88 Metro.
In excess of 2.2 million ADO 16 models were built Worldwide between 1962-1977
Sources and quotations: Issigonis: The Official Biography – Gillian Bardsley (Icon)/ Mini: the design icon of a generation – LJK Setright (Virgin)/ British Leyland – Chronicle of a Car Crash: Chris Cowan. 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.