The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)

The story continues: BMC struggles with the failure of the 1800 and Maxi, but Issigonis has moved on.

(c) curbside classic

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)”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)

We continue our examination of Sir Alec Issigonis’ BMC legacy.

ADO16 Press photo. (c) Autocar

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.

Issigonis visited Cowley regularly, but was still a step removed from the detail development work overseen by Charles Griffin, who headed the ADO16 engineering ‘cell’, so he had much less opportunity to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)”

A Question of Scale

Some things simply don’t enlarge well. 

(c) autoclassiques

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”

Every Day Is Judgement Day.

Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.

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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.”

128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song

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.

Image: BMC

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.

That disregards the detail, which is significant in the understanding of the designers’ mindsets. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song”

128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form

We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt

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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”

128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans

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.

In Dante Giacosa’s words, “On 3rd January 1970, the chequered flag signalled my arrival at the finish of my career”. He had reached the age of 65, and resigned in compliance with company rules. Continue reading “128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans”

Maxi Twist

Austin’s ill-starred 1969 confection still casts a max-sized shadow.

(c) wroom.com

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.

For the second time since the two businesses were merged, Leyland’s Donald Stokes took the momentous decision to Continue reading “Maxi Twist”

Harriman’s Folly

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? 

Quadruple headlamps quickly replaced the more modern looking ovoid units fitted to the car at launch. Image: Oldtechnology.net

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”