When the ADO16 1100 was introduced in 1962, it had few natural rivals, nothing comparable from a technological or conceptual basis at least – a matter which did much to enhance its appeal. A decade later, when Allegro landed as its successor (and not withstanding its relative qualities), the landscape had altered considerably. Front-wheel drive was becoming, if not quite yet the norm, certainly a good deal more common amongst the more progressively minded of Europe’s carmakers, if not the outposts of the American multinationals. Furthermore, BLMC’s European rivals were making rather a good fist of it.
Nobody can truly escape their past, a statement that holds as true in the automotive domain as it does in the human one. Legacies, either from prior or existing BLMC products would become a leitmotif of Allegro’s dolorous story – a statement underlined by the issues surrounding its powertrain, which consisted of both the venerable A-Series engines and the more latterly developed E-Series units, inherited from the Maxi programme.
Allegro’s predecessor had been offered in 1098 and later on, in 1275 cc versions, the latter being something of a late addition to the range and one which proved popular with the buying public; improved performance having become a selling point with customers given the manner in which the UK’s motorway network had grown. It is likely that a further stretch in capacity would have gone down better still with more affluent buyers, but when a larger capacity engine did become available, it became earmarked for other purposes.
A short history of BMC and its successor companies’ trouble with doors.
Car doors: we take them for granted. They are there simply to provide a means of entry to and egress from a cabin sealed off from the elements, to ensure the comfort and security of the vehicle’s occupants. In engineering terms, they are mainly pretty simple: two hinges at the front, a locating pin and lock at the rear, and a mechanism to move the glass up and down either manually or electrically(1). So far, so straightforward.
However, doors are of far greater importance than might be implied by their mere functionality. They define the side profile of the car and are integral to its overall design. While cars are routinely given facelifts to freshen up their appearance after a few years on the market, such facelifts are typically confined to the front (and, occasionally, rear) end. The centre section of the bodyshell usually(2) remains untouched. Hence, it is very important to Continue reading “An Open and Shut Case”
The story continues: BMC struggles with the failure of the 1800 and Maxi, but Issigonis has moved on.
The Austin Maxi was reluctantly launched by BLMC* in 1969 and was greeted with a similarly lukewarm reception to that given to the 1800. With its five-door layout, it was an eminently practical car, but it lacked any element of desirability and, as launched, was plagued with technical issues. Increasingly desperate, BLMC hurriedly cobbled together a conventional RWD saloon and launched it in 1971 as the Morris Marina. It sold well enough, on the back of conventionally attractive looks and simple, proven (if antiquated) mechanicals, but it was still very much in the shadow of the all-conquering Cortina from arch-rivals, Ford.
Conceptually, there was much to like about the Maxi, but Donald Stokes, now chairman of BLMC, would not sanction any serious remedial work, a disastrous decision for a car that had much potential. For his part, Issigonis appeared indifferent and simply abandoned the Maxi to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)”
We continue our examination of Sir Alec Issigonis’ BMC legacy.
While development of the Mini was progressing at Longbridge, the XC/9002 family car project, now carrying the ADO16 development code, was initiated. Issigonis envisaged ADO16 in very much the same austere style as the Mini, simply larger and with four doors. A prototype Big Mini was built at Longbridge and shipped to Cowley for further development.
Success can often be a less clarifying state than failure. Enzo Ferrari famously asserted that he learned more from the fabled Scuderia’s many reversals on the racetrack than its more celebrated victories. Of course, one would never intentionally Continue reading “A Question of Scale”
Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.
The two cars pictured were photographed in the last 12 months. As well as being impressively original and looking as if they work for a living, they’re also examples of the last of their breeds.
The Maxi is one of the final ‘Maxi 2’ iteration, introduced to a largely indifferent world in August 1980, just 11 months from the end of production. The bright colour – ‘Snapdragon’ in BL parlance – suits it well. Far too many Maxis were specified in Russet Brown, Damask Red, or hearing-aid beige (formally known as “Champagne”), 1950s colours two decades on, in a time when BLMC’s Austin Morris colour pallet suddenly became positively vibrant. Tellingly, the archetypal Maxi customer avoided Bronze Yellow, Limeflower, or Blaze Red. Continue reading “Every Day Is Judgement Day.”
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 Maxi 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, although Issigonis’ input to the Maxi project was sporadic and remote.
BLMC’s ill-starred 1969 confection still casts a max-sized shadow.
History judges Austin’s troubled hatchback pioneer harshly. Orthodoxy tells us ADO14 was a terrible motor car – ungainly, ill-conceived, introduced with a litany of serious flaws, 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.
For the second time since the two businesses were merged, British Leyland’s Donald Stokes took the momentous decision to Continue reading “Maxi Twist”
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”