Ah 1967: The Summer of love. Sgt. Pepper. Twiggy. Bond.
But leaving popular culture aside, the mood music was more sombre. In the UK, land speed record holder, Donald Campbell died attempting to break the water record on Lake Coniston in his Bluebird K3 jetboat. While back on terra firma the advent of the Road Safety Act set a maximum permitted blood alcohol level, allowing breathalyser tests to be performed on drivers for the first time.
1955 was a decisive year for the British Motor Corporation, as it set its product direction for the next decade. A certain gentleman of Graeco-German parentage was said to have played an important part in the process.
The person I refer to is not, as some might think, the confirmed bachelor from Smyrna, but the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is unlikely that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was aware of Alec Issigonis’ imminent return to BMC when he visited Longbridge on 8 December 1955, but the supposed interaction of Lord and the duke, and the repercussions thereof have become part of the daemonology of BMC.
Austin’s Ford Zephyr and Vauxhall Velox rival of the mid-1950s is scarcely remembered now, but it turns out to be a something of a forgotten hero.
The Austin Westminster story began with the launch of the A90 series in October 1954, nearly four years before the start of the momentous eleven month period in which Farina’s new styling ‘language’ for BMC was unveiled, layer by layer.
Robertas Parazitas reports on one of the stars of this year’s NEC Classic Motor show.
Grim commerce and ‘investment car’ mania now dominate the annual NEC Classic Motor show, but search hard, seek the wisdom of the crowds, and strangeness and delight is there to be found. In Hall 4, a Restoration Theatre had been setup. I sat for a while, hoping for a performance of one of Congreve or Wycherley’s lighter works, but all that was on offer was a video of two elderly men in a dingy workshop explaining the intricacies of panel beating in what I imagined to be a satire on Puritanism. Continue reading “Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800”
If a car can embody the legacy of its creator, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre will forever be linked with the fall of BMC boss, George Harriman. Hubris or simply bad timing? Driven to Write investigates.
An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure in both creative and commercial terms. Received at launch with an embarrassed silence from the UK press corps, shunned by the buying public and withdrawn from sale in 1971 with a mere 9,992 examples built, the 3-Litre, along with the Austin Maxi would prove to be the final nails in BMC’s coffinlid and all the evidence Donald Stokes and his Leyland cohorts needed to Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”
The 1964 brochure describes it as “A golden milestone”, but BMC’s Rolls-Royce powered luxury flagship had a curious history and turned out to be a rotund failure, a white elephant which was to be an embarrassment to the reputations of both companies.
My copy of the brochure is rather dusty and faded, but is a splendid thing, printed on heavy, high quality paper, with a stiff card cover. There are thirteen fine hand-painted illustrations – not one photograph in sight – and fulsome letters from the managing directors of the new car’s proud parents, Sir George Harriman of BMC, and Dr. Fred Llewellyn Smith, of Rolls-Royce’s Motor Car Division. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R”
A 1977 Wolseley 18-22. As named, this car had a mayfly-brief production run. Why is it labelled a 1977 though?
Something quite like it could be purchased until 1982 (sold as an Austin Princess and Austin Princess 2 until 1981). And something quite like that appeared in showrooms from 1982 to 1984, the Austin Ambassador. They re-tooled the body and engineered a hatchback for 24 months of sales. That’s another story, British Leyland has plenty of those. Continue reading “Something Rebadged in Denmark”
A long time ago the Midlands of Britain were at the cutting edge of suspension design.
In 1955 Citroen presented their DS which had a suspension system markedly different from the ones with which drivers were familiar. The British Motor Corporation picked up Citroen’s fragrant gauntlet. Their attempt to improve ride and handling went under the name hydrolastic and they offered it first on the period’s equivalent of a bog-standard family car, the 1100-series (born as ADO16). Continue reading “Theme : Suspension – Hydrolastic Rubbery Goodness”
Would you blow £35,000 on a luxury version of a Ford Ka? Back in the Sixties someone did the equivalent and others followed.
There’s a partial myth about British class barriers finally breaking down in the 1960s. Yes, this was a time when working class kids like David Bailey could make it without having to go to elocution classes and when satire suddenly made the establishment seem less intimidating. But beneath the veneer, and outside the world of ‘creativity’, for most it was business as usual. Continue reading “Theme : Special – Maximising the Mini”
In 1922, against great opposition from his board, Herbert Austin introduced his Seven into a market dominated by the rudimentary cyclecars that had sprung up in the wake of the First World War. The Seven was a proper small car and, unlike other ‘people’s cars’, it had no radical and untried solutions. Continue reading “Theme : Evolution – Or Metamorphosis?”
During the 1960’s, BMC assembled Mini’s in Dublin to a standard not vastly dissimilar to that at Longbridge. Make of that what you will. It was from here that MZI 265 – a light grey Morris Mini Minor emerged in 1966. Republic-spec Mini’s straddled basic and De-Luxe models, having carpeting, a heater and duo-tone upholstery, if little else by way of comfort.
Bertone gives Issigonis’ box on wheels some sharp-suited Italian style and demonstrates how cute doesn’t always mean curvy.
The 1970’s can be seen as a bit of a lost decade when it comes to cute cars apart from this – the Innocenti 90/120L. Innocenti’s association with BMC began in 1960, producing cars like the Austin A40, 1100 and more notably, the Mini under licence for the Italian market. Innocenti’s versions of BMC models tended to be plusher; the subtle restyling undertaken often appearing better judged and executed than those of their UK counterparts.
Has there ever been a more unselfconsciously cute car than the Frogeye Sprite? From that grinning air intake, amphibian headlights, and pert form, to the dainty little tail-lights; the little Austin-Healey is about as friendly and cuddlesome as a miniature Schnauzer. If Pixar had created it, it really couldn’t have been as maddeningly lovable. Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Austin Healey Sprite”
My French teacher at grammar school, Mr Roberts, had a small collection of Austin 7s from the 1920s, which he alternated using as transport to work. I think that he considered me a bit of a prat (history might have vindicated him on some levels, certainly) and, sensing this, I reciprocated with contempt for his collection of little, old and, at the time, very cheap cars. In hindsight, I might have had a more rewarding time discussing the niceties of the Ulster, Ruby, etc with him and he might have decided that I had some redeeming features. I deeply regret my glib teenage contempt, though it was entirely my loss. He was right, I was wrong.