Curbside Salute: BMC’s ADO16 Reaches 60!

Sixty is not that old, but it is a milestone, most would probably agree. Reaching it should be marked with something, even if it’s just a trip to the pub. So, as today’s exactly sixty years since 15 August 1962, please raise a glass to the BMC ADO16 family, launched first as the Morris 1100 saloon, but later spawning the Morris 1300, Austin 1100 and 1300,  MG 1100 and 1300, Riley Kestrel,  Wolseley 1100 and 1300, Austin America, Vanden Plas Princess 1100 and 1300, and many other names around the world, in two door, four door and three door Traveller and Countryman forms.

It was a candidate for the most advanced compact car in the world at the time; it quickly became Britain’s best seller and went on to be Britain’s best selling car of the 1960s, taking almost 15% of the home market on its own. It was produced around the world under a complex range of brands and names, with some derivatives that existed only regionally or even nationally, and ultimately sold around 2.3 million copies in 13 years.

CC has looked at the car in depth before, so this piece is purely a celebration of the cars and their appeal, and their achievement. But a few highlights are worthy of repetition.

The design, at least the concept if not the detail execution, is credited to Sir Alec Issigonis (above, being used to promote the Riley Kestrel), perhaps the UK’s only ever celebrity car design engineer, and I have described it here as his masterpiece. It has most of what the Mini had, except more space, a decent boot and an accessible engine bay. One reason for this is that detail design was accomplished at the old Morris Motors design office at Cowley, rather than the Austin design office at Longbridge where Issigonis was based. Issigonis went to Cowley weekly; he prowled round Longbridge daily. The styling was by Pininfarina, the suspension was Hydrolastic and the engine was transversely mounted with the gearbox in the sump.

The official launch was on 15 August 1962, bang in the middle of the summer holiday season, and the magazines duly published the sort of in-depth new car feature we seldom see now.

How many people BMC expected to interrupt their holiday to read features like this from Autocar that week is not clear; in case you missed it at the time here it is again.

The first cars available were the Morris 1100, in two door and (more popular) four door saloon formats.

BMC and Pininfarina had a long standing relationship, so that the new car was styled by Pininfarina was no great surprise. There are several typical contemporary Pininfarina elements on the car – the grille and head lamp arrangement, the rear pillar, the flow along the side and the short stubby fins and rear light housings. Overall, it is usually accepted as a successful design that lasted pretty well too, especially in the basic model forms without a traditional grille added. The home market cost was £661, for a two door; a four door deluxe cost £695 (£9900 to £10500 adjusted).

Autocar got in very early for a road test, and even filtering for the loyalty and the rose tinted glasses, it does read as if the magazine was genuinely impressed. That standard was not, and sometimes still isn’t, always met.

The detailed specification data and dimensioned drawings are always instructive too.

The next version, which came in October 1962, was the MG 1100, which was also exported to North America. This is a 1965 model, spotted in Eugene, Oregon. It’s a personal opinion only, but the traditional grille does not work as well as one Pininfarina used.

In October 1963, the Austin version came to the market, as production now started at Longbridge as well as Cowley. By now, total production was over 5,000 cars a week

There was a different grille (crinkly not straight bars), no chrome bonnet strip and a different dash, with Issigonis’s preferred strip speedometer.

At the same time, the first Vanden Plas Princess 1100 was shown, later exported to the North America as the MG Princess. This was the full British wood and leather coach built interior experience, not a Ford Escort Ghia type dress up.

The Wolseley 1100 came in 1965, giving the UK’s former Nuffield Organization dealers a third brand to sell, alongside the Morris and MG versions. Austin dealers had just two – Austin and Vanden Plas. The Wolseley came with a traditional front end and a smarter, if conservative, interior, actually based on the dashboard with a strip speedometer, and with wood trim and leather, but not the Connolly leather, burr walnut trim and picnic tables reserved for the Princess.

At the same time the Riley Kestrel 1100 was launched, with a fuller instruments set than any other version, even the MG, and more chrome.

From top left – Austin Mk1, Morris Mk1, MG 1100, Wolseley 1100, Riley Kestrel, Vanden Plas Princess. Only the Riley had a rev counter; all but the Morris and Austin had wood of one sort or another. Automatic transmission, as an option, came in late 1965.

The first estate car, known as the Morris  11oo Traveller or Austin 1100 Countryman, was launched in 1966. This was only ever available as a three door car, and the interior was pretty flexible, up to offering a lumpy double bed. Issigonis and Dr Alex Moulton, the man behind Hydrolastic suspension, had intended that this car would have had an electrically powered rear self levelling system, but were over ruled by BMC’s accountants. This cutaway was generated for the London Motor Show and has, perhaps surprisingly, been preserved, and is now owned by one the ADO16 owners’ clubs.

This is a 1971 Morris 1300 Mk3 Traveller, and still carries some evidence of BMC’s fashion for fitting wood trim on the outside of estate cars.

Big change, relatively speaking, came in the spring of 1967, with the availability of a 1275cc engine on MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas models. In October, the full range went to Mk2, with the option of 1100 or 1300 engines,  reshaped rear fins and wider grilles on the Morris and Austin as the key giveaway. The Morris interior now matched the Austin.

And 1968 had a big change too – a fully synchromesh gearbox. This is a 1969 Morris 1100 Mk2, but even aficionados needed to check the badge and the grilles by now, and the car is now being built not by BMC but by British Leyland (BLMC).  Not that that seemed to matter – the home market share for the ADO16 range was still close to 14%.

The Austin America replaced the MG1100 in the North American market in 1968, and featured a 1275cc engine with a modest 3bhp gain over the 1100 in the MG. Blame smog controls, I guess. A four speed manual or four speed automatic were offered but in either case performance was slow, to say the least. Sales lasted until 1971; a total of 60,000 were sold but survivors seem to be rare.

By this time, BL were taking a fairly ruthless view of the old marques that had been inherited from BMC. Riley production ended in 1969; the last Riley of all was a 1300 saloon, the four door MG versions were discontinued in 1969 as well. It was also becoming clear that the Morris and Austin brands would no longer be paired in the same way in BL’s future model plans.

As the Riley and MG four door went, a new higher image version came in – the Austin and Morris 1300GT in four door saloon form.

A black grille, a black dash with a full instrument set very similar to the discontinued Riley, vinyl roof, sports wheels, and an alloy steering wheel and sports seat matched with a 70bhp 1275cc engine made a pretty effective Riley 1300 replacement and competitor for the Ford Escort GT, and a step more modern in image than the MG1300 or the Riley. Strong contemporary colours and some strong marketing images added to the effect.

The blue car above is a 1972 Austin 1300GT; the green(?) one behind is a 1971 Morris 1300 Mk3.

The Mk3 came in September 1971, making this Morris a very early example, and rare in the UK. The main changes were another new grille (the 3 bar design for the 1300, one bar for the 1100), new wheel trims and new colours.

Inside, there was a new dash based on a more contemporary look but still with mock timber. The 1300GT and Wolseley retained their earlier interiors There was some more range and brand pruning, so no more (home market) MG versions. The estates carried on, but still only on the everyday brands of Morris and Austin.

In October 1971, home market sales of the Morris 1100 and 1300 saloons ended, as the Morris Marina came on stream, and with it UK production of Morris cars blessed by the chap whose name was on the bonnet.

The Mk3 was the last home market development for the ADO16; Wolseley production ended in the spring of 1973 UK production. Austin and Vanden Plas production ended in June 1974, with around 2.25 million built, and replaced by the Austin Allegro.

But the ADO16 had some interesting overseas adventures.

The first of these was with Innocenti in Italy, BMC’s established licence building partner based in Milan. As early as the spring of 1963, Innocenti were building the Innocenti IM3 (Innocenti Morris).

Interestingly, Innocenti managed by the expedient of an additional universal joint, to achieve a more upright steering wheel, alleviating some of the “bus driver” driving position. Alongside this, a revised front grille and very different interior created a different feel to the car, perhaps even an Italian one.

The Im3 evolved to the IM3S with minor styling changes, and there was also an Austin I4, with fewer styling changes sold at a slightly lower price point. The IM3S ran to 1970; the Austin I4 and the facelifted I5 ran to 1974, and were replaced by the Allegro based Regent, of which the less said the better.

But BMC’s best and strongest export markets were often in the British Commonwealth, and the ADO16 was no real exception.

Australian production started in 1964, from CKD kits with some variations, notably a bench front seat. The range was similar to the UK market, and development matched it, with a 1275cc engine and automatic option in 1967. But Australia is different to the UK, despite the language and the cricket, and the market needed more.

In June 1969, Leyland Australia started production of the Morris Nomad – an intriguing selection from the BLMC parts bin.

It was a hatchback derivative of the four door ADO16, with a hatchback that looked very similar but was different to that on the contemporary Austin Maxi, and the Maxi’s E series 1500cc engine.

Alongside the Nomad, Leyland Australia also offered the Morris 1500 saloon, a derivative of the existing saloon body but with the Maxi’s 1500 engine and later the five speed transmission as well. Notice the raised bonnet with a bulge unique to the 1500 and Nomad, and different door handles (and door skins) from the UK built cars. In all, around 29,000 cars were built before it was replaced by a locally built Morris Marina, but it was not sold outside Australasia.

Production in New Zealand, again using CKD kits shipped from the UK, continued until 1975, as evidenced by this Austin 1300 Mk3 (with an 1100 spec grille) I saw a few years ago, in a very period colour.

Perhaps more typical is this 1971 Morris 1100 Mk2, albeit with an aftermarket set of cobra stripes

South Africa and Spain may seem an unlikely pairing, but under BL they shared a version of the ADO16 known as the Austin Apache and the Austin Victoria, with new nose and tail profiles designed by Michelotti.  Michelotti was of course Triumph’s preferred stylist, having been behind all the Triumph range since the late 1950s, and Triumph’s Harry Webster was now in charge of Austin-Morris division’s engineering.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the new front and rear profiles were very Triumph like, such that you could suspect the origin of the car. But once you spot the ADO16 central section, from A pillar to C pillar, you cannot un-see it. Still it was a professional looking adaptation. One take on these cars is that the style was rejected replacement for the ADO16, known as the ADO22, but little seems to formally confirm that.

The South African Austin Apache came first, in late 1971. Production lasted to 1977, when again the Marina replaced it.

The Austin Victoria, produced by Authi, BLMC’s Spanish affiliate, was visually and technically very close to the Apache. You have to admit that that four lamp layout just adds to the Triumph feel of the car, as well as the black C pillar.

More Triumph vibes, I suggest. Is that why this design was rejected for ADO22, which never actually came to pass anyway?

Power for both came from the 1275cc engine with the regular ADO16 four speed transmission. Victoria production ended in 1974, after a fire at the factory effectively ended Authi production. There was also production in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and in Central and South America as well.

The ADO16 is now a little overlooked, with relatively few appearing in the classic community and at shows, compared to say the Morris Minor, Mini, or MGB. That is disproportionate with its abilities and the achievement in bringing it to market, its market success and engineering influence, and the regularity with which it features in family photo albums and memories, but maybe is a consequence of its familiarity.

I have said here before that this car was a more than worthy successor to the Minor and Morris Eight, and it was the last unambiguously technically and commercially successful solo effort in the family car market from BMC and BLMC. I nominated it on CC as the most influential car of the 1960s – I suggest you could nominate it for comparison with, not just the Minor, but the Fiat 128, Renault 5 and 16, VW Golf and Ford Focus Mk1 as a truly influential European family market car.

So, thank you ADO16, and Happy Birthday. I’ll be raising a glass to you today!



ADO16 on CC

Curbside Classic: 1965 MG1100 (ADO16) – BMC’s Greatest Hit

CCOTY 1962 Nomination #2: Austin 1100 Family (BMC ADO16) – The Template For The Modern Small Car

Cohort Outtake: Vanden Plas Princess 1100 – When Status Came In Small Packages

Curbside Classic: 1969 Riley 1300 Mk2 – Once, One Car In Seven Was Like This

Cohort Classic: 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100 – Peak Issigonis, With Added Contradictions

CC Outtake: 1975 Austin 1300 MK3 – Please Do Not Adjust Your Set

COAL: 1968 MG 1300 — A Driving Interregnum

Curbside Classic Outtake: 1960/70’s Vanden Plas Princess 1100/1300 – The Real Anglophile

Cohort Outtake: Austin America – What This Country Doesn’t Need Is Just Another Small British Car

QOTD: Advertising Outtake: How To Sell A BMC 1100 Across The World – Which One Works?

Turkey Day Classic: 1968-1972 Austin America – Yankee Doodle Disaster

Biography: Sir Alec Issigonis – The Designer of Britain’s Favourite Cars, Britain’s Favourite Car Designer