(first posted 6/1/2015) BMC’s attempts to maintain a significant presence in the Australian market were fascinating. Until I spotted this 1800 Utility in Brisbane a couple of years back, I had no idea they engineered a ute for the Aussie market. I’ll leave the detailed ADO17 story to our man in the UK, Roger Carr, but let’s take a look at this distinctly Australian offshoot.
BMC’s new ADO17, launched here in 1965 as the Austin 1800, had earned high praise from the motoring media for its balanced handling, high-speed stability, compliant ride and excellent packaging. Of course, it was a modern FWD product with challenging styling doing battle with three very conservative and conventional RWD six-cylinder/V8 sedans, so it didn’t storm to the top of the sales charts.
BMC’s Australian operations tooled up a ute version to compete with the ute offerings from Ford and Holden, as well as the new 1965 Chrysler Valiant Wayfarer ute. The light pickup market was a space BMC had not been involved in, and 70% of the market was dominated by Ford and Holden in 1964. The 1800 Utility was launched in 1968 into this growing market, at a time when the Japanese utes were steadily increasing their market share. Although FWD utes were a rare breed, and remain so to this day, the ADO17 platform actually lent itself well to the ute treatment. The lack of a live rear axle allowed a large, flat cargo bay: you could fit a 48” sheet of plywood between the wheel arches. The ute body also looked much more conventional than the frumpy “Landcrab” sedan, and the advanced Hydrolastic suspension ensured a more pleasant ride than the jittery Japanese utes.
1968 marked not only the launch of the ute, but also the arrival of an automatic transmission. Sales hit 12,665 units for the entire 1800 range, its best year, but only 5% (639) of those were utes. Ute sales would experience a slight uptick for 1969, but they still didn’t account for a significant volume of 1800 sales. All up, over five years of sale the Austin 1800 range sold 56,918 units. A total of 2,331 of those were utes.
Although the 1800 series had been a modest success for BMC, the company realized that if they wanted to go for Ford and Holden’s jugulars, they needed to offer a more conventional-looking sedan. Accordingly, the 1800 was replaced by the Kimberley/Tasman series. These were 1800s with boxier styling and a six-cylinder engine, as well as evocative Australian names. Although the basic platform remained much the same, BMC didn’t bother to introduce a ute version of their new family sedan. It was a shame, as the 1800 Utility was definitely an interesting alternative to the conventional offerings.