We return to our two stars of the spring 1969 season with a look at the different approaches to chassis design adopted at Longbridge and Lingotto. One car defied convention, the other defined the new orthodoxy.
Raw facts first: The Fiat 128 uses MacPherson struts at the front, with coil springs and a transverse anti-roll bar, and a fully independent system at the rear, comprising a transverse leaf spring, struts, and a single wishbone per side. The Austin has Hydrolastic springing and interconnection, with upper and lower links in a parallelogram arrangement at the front, and fully trailing arms at the rear.
We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt.
The rather Lancia Beta-like profile rendering from the early stages of BMC’s ADO14 project shows considerable promise. Too short in the nose, probably at Issigonis’ prompting, but otherwise elegant in spite of the ‘carry-over’ 1800 doors. So what went wrong along the road to BLMC’s five-door fiasco? Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form”
A little over 50 years ago, two of Europe’s leading automotive businesses introduced a pair of rather utilitarian cars to the world. One was hugely successful and influential, the other turned out to be a prophet with little honour in its own time.
In bombastic terms, there’s a ‘clash of giants’ story to be told. Issigonis v. Giacosa. BLMC v. Fiat SpA. Maxi v. 128. It’s not quite ‘rumble in the jungle’, but a comparison tells a lot about the way things were done at Lingotto and Longbridge.
In a curious coincidence, the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128 were the last cars developed by their lead designers which reached production.
Austin’s ill-starred 1969 confection still casts a max-sized shadow.
History judges Austin’s ill-drawn hatchback pioneer harshly. Its orthodoxies tell us ADO14 was a terrible motor car; ungainly, ill-conceived, introduced with a litany of serious flaws, thereby failing to even approach its commercial aspirations. Its introduction was repeatedly delayed, with serious concern being expressed over its styling, driveability, power output, commercial viability and basic fitness for purpose.
The ostensible initial aim of this small article was to find out how many engines British Leyland had around about the mid-1970s. I didn’t answer that question at all. So, what did I discover?
Before getting very far (as in reading one single page of the internet) I learned that truck and bus maker Leyland Motors Limited owned Triumph (acquired 1960) and Rover (acquired 1967) before LMC got merged with the British Motor Corporation in 1968 (bringing Austin, Morris, MG, Mini, Wolseley et al to the party). That puts a slightly different light on the later fate of Triumph. Conceivably LMC might have been able to Continue reading “Past Shadowed Beams Lean The Wintry Rays”
The Farina-bodied BMC saloons would become ubiquitous Sixties fare. We examine an early verdict, courtesy of The Autocar.
The very first of a new generation of Pininfarina-bodied medium saloons from BMC, Wolseley’s 15/60 model was introduced in December 1958 before going on sale in 1959. This new series would take BMC’s multi-marque strategy to previously unheard of heights (some might choose to invert that statement), with a succession of models quickly following, all sharing identical bodies and technical specifications, apart from minor changes to engine tune and detail styling. Widely derided as ‘badge-engineering’, it proved a commercial success for BMC, but one which ultimately came with a reputational cost.
The Autocar published its first road test of the 15/60 on 13 March 1959. The test car retailed at £991.7s, including purchase tax. Not (then) noted for sensationalism, The Autocar writer’s style was drier than a chilled glass of Tio Pepe, but with a little gentle sifting one can Continue reading “Road Test Retrospective : Wolseley 15/60”
After leaving the collected minds of DTW hanging mid-air for a bit, I am going to reveal the mystery car of earlier in the week.
DGatewood got as close as anyone could be expected by proposing BMC 1100-1300 almost immediately. Thank you to all who offered their views on the subject. It was a much more interesting discussion than the mystery car deserved to generate.
Reasons why the car could be so readily identified from its rust brown underside are to do with the suspension system and, as I reckon, the peculiarly obvious and exposed exhaust system. It makes me think of an otherwise beautifully planned house that has a toilet and bathroom tacked on at the side because to incorporate it would ruin the arrangement of all the rest of the rooms.
The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite appeared to be a typical example of British design ingenuity, but its roots may have lain further West: Kenosha, Wisconsin to be exact.
The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period of the twentieth century, the UK was arguably, its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.
Thank you for your patience. Here now is the set of links connecting the 1964 Morris Monaco to the 1960 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato.
BMC sold the Morris Six in Denmark as the Morris Monaco sometime between 1964 and 1976. You might be intrigued to know that a rear centre arm-rest only became available a month after sales began. More interesting than that is that Pininfarina were involved in mitigating Alex Issigonis’ design intentions. I suppose they tidied things here and there though there is still a very great deal wrong with the shape. For the next connection we must Continue reading “Connections: solutions”
Instread of launching into the obligatory 1100 words, I will merely ask readers to try to find the connection between the 1964 Morris Monaco (sold in Denmark) and the 1960 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato.
A word of warning. The trail of connections moves through time and space and does not always proceed in chronological order. Also, this is more like a game of dominoes. It’s not a version of “degrees of Kevin Bacon” where one person links everything somewhat tenuously.
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 one 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?
An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure both in 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 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”
In this text which is ostensibly a transcript of an authentic period review, the legendary motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, hooks a gander at the Van Den Plas Princess 4-litre R.
[The article titled “All things considered” is thought to have appeared in the Evening Post-Echo (extra edition) on March 23, 1967. Douglas Land-Windermere is credited with the photography. Due to the exceptionally poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used.]
There can be no doubt about it but BMC is certainly in the middle of a winning streak. The Riley Kestrel, Mini Moke, Wolseley 1100/1300, Morris 1800, MGC and Austin 1800 are all in their showrooms having been launched in the recent past.
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?”
It might interest you to learn that 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 creature 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? That grinning air intake, those 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. Had Pixar created it, it really couldn’t have any more maddeningly lovable.
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.