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.
When this series began first I used stock photos. Since then, I have switched to ones I have taken myself (or have been sent by our local correspondents). Today, I revert to stock images but with good reason.
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.
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.
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.