(Every so often, someone really spells something out in the comments that really drives home a point through personal experience which trumps all. Last night Bill Malcom left the following comment at our Austin 1800 “Landcrab” CC that I just had to share, as it encapsulates the huge difference between these two cars, on so many levels)
In 1965 in Nova Scotia, Canada, my father bought a (Austin 1800) Landcrab and my mother bought a Volvo PV544, actually assembled in Dartmouth Nova Scotia.
Do I really need to tell you which dissolved into rust in five years, while the other looked and ran like new?
Which one needed the front trailing radius arms replaced after a year (at least it was free) because under braking, the wheels toed in and quickly ruined the tires?
Which one never started when the temperature went down to 8F (-12C), and which one just needed a whiff of choke?
Which one at 3 years old with a flat rear tire, when the jack was placed in its point and operated, the car did not lift, but the jack went right through the rusty rocker (sill) much to the amazement of onlookers including myself?
Which one had the vinyl spontaneously roll off the doorcards and hang forlornly? Memo to Brits – Bostik contact cement does not work long term outside the UK.
Which one had the sewing unravel from the seats?
Which one developed 2 inches of ground clearance and the lowrider look as the Hydrolastic units expressed their displeasure at being pressed into duty in the colonies?
Which one had a near horizontal steering wheel for that city bus look? And a gearshift that required the dexterity of a chiropractor to operate?
Which had the better ride? Which was better in snow?
I was studying mechanical engineering at the time, and these two cars were utter contrasts. The Volvo was old fashioned, built like a tank, had an amazing shifter and clutch, went as well as an MGB, got great mileage. The Austin was bleeding edge technology except for the engine, and weighed 2550 lbs versus 2250. Its build quality was very low, and it gave every impression of not having been thoroughly developed, right from the drawing board to production.
Dad got rid of the damn thing when he couldn’t bear adding up the repair bills in his head any longer, and when every seam in the white paint was bubbling iron oxide. Just five years.
You buy on specs and anticipation, but you remember longevity and reliability with a touch of dash much more fondly than the engineering nightmare that fell apart. But yes, it sure did claw through deep snow, that Landcrab, and rode as if it were on a cloud.
CC 1965 Austin 1800 Mk1 (ADO18) “Landcrab”- Best In Class or Just Plain Ugly?
I could never figure British cars out. I have been to the UK and am familiar with the UK’s weather patterns.
You would think based on the climate in the UK, that the the British would have perfected the art of rust resistance but you had 4 year old cars that would not pass a MOT test simply due to rust.
The ENGLISH don’t get that much freezing weather, so in many places no salt is required on the roads in wintertime.
The SCOTS do, but we all know how much the ENGLISH keep SCOTLAND in mind!
We salt our roads on just a whiff of suggestion that will be a frost in the morning.
My 1980 Spitfire still had paint only frame!.
Lack of rust protection killed most BL cars withen 6 years in the Uk. Canada no chance!
Simple. British Leyland had the GM attitude – before GM thought of it. BMC was well in trouble by the mid-60’s which is why the government-pushed merger with Leyland (which was reasonably healthy). Too much badge engineering, cars that weren’t completely thought out, an over-willingness to use the customer as the final development, etc. Lousy labor relations. What profit was made went to the shareholders rather than being spent upgrading the factories.
One must keep in mind that the Mini (came out in 1959 – and was underpriced to the point that BMC couldn’t make money on it) and the Austin/Morris/etc. 1100 (came out in 1962 if my memory is still good) were the last successful cars by any British manufacturer not owned by an American company and selling for under the price of a Jaguar.
1962. That’s a long, long time ago. And the tattered remainders still managed to hang on until 2004 before giving up the ghost once and for all.
It would be hard to say that the Metro wasn’t successful, but you’re otherwise totally correct.
Rover P6, 1963? Yes, I’m splitting hairs, it’s only a year younger than the 1100.
Ah yes, the Rover 2000. Like the poster, I’m in Canada. When I was 9, in 1965, a friend’s dad (a Brit ex-pat) bought one of the first 2000 TCs in Toronto. I thought it was really cool, with leather and wood, a Webasto roof, a stick shift, so unlike the Buick wagon we had at home. And I seem to remember he kept it less than 2 years, as it was always in the shop (and I’m certain the bolt on panels rusted off). He replaced it with a ’66 Barracuda (the one with the huge rear window) with a V8 and, still, a stick, which he liked a lot more – maybe because he actually had the opportunity to use it.
In American, the Rover 2000TC was considered one of the disaster cars of all time. Sub-Yugo reliability, pathetic dealer support, probably the big reason why we got Stirlings in the 80’s instead of Rovers – the name had that bad a connotation. I managed to talk myself out of buying one in the mid-70’s, as much as I liked it, due to reputation.
Feeling the love here! We had two P6s (a 2000 and a 3500), and they were both great cars. We toured Europe in the V8, crossed France in a day. But I do appreciate that we were lucky, and that build quality/reliability couldn’t be trusted.
I saw this blog post titled “British Leyland: the Grand Illusion”
I guess if the government didn’t pushed the merge with Leyland, BMC would had been under receivenship or bankrupt and Leyland or Ford or Rootes would had picked the renmants.
I think they were less afraid of another British firm picking up the remnants as of BMC ending up in foreign hands (which of course more or less did happen much later) or just going under, which would have been economically calamitous.
I’ve always heard it was the 1100 they couldn’t make money on, because they priced it under the (original) Cortina and below cost. But, the 1100 was truly the last successful British-designed, British-firm built mass market car.
As noted elsewhere, in addition to all the quality problems, BMC and BL had a particular knack for odd product packaging, creating segments that awkwardly fell between market standards. Also, a trait in GM’s deadly sin era.
The MGB came out in ’62, & was a success in the US market. One author claimed Abingdon-on-Thames, though old-fashioned, had relatively good labor relations, & taking into account the MG was a lashup of off-the-shelf parts (as they always were), I’ll cautiously say it wasn’t bad, esp. by early ’60s stds. It was one of the 1st cars with crumple zones. Don’t know about its rust resistance, a non-issue where I lived.
Good summary. The most surprising part I learnt on aronline, what that even with all the success of the 50s and early 60s, BMC decided to invest in duplicating production sites, to avoid having to stop production due to strikes, instead of investing on new models. That and the little profitability of cars like the Mini and ADO 16 family (Austin 11/1300) meant BMC would never again be competitive. From around 1968, the company only survived because of successive rescues and government intervention.
Another question should be “which one is better built than the other?” “Which one will fall apart first?” I would think the answer would be “Volvo”. I find the Volvo PV544 more attractive than the Austin.
“The Austin was bleeding edge technology…”
“Bleeding” would be right! Sadly the same kind of “feel” accompanies a lot of British-made tech products of the 1950s-1960s. Many of their designs seem to be like taking
the long way around the block to get where you’re going, only the “block” is like
many in London…twisting, winding, until you don’t really know which direction
you’re going in…at which point you don’t care to go where you wanted to, any more.
Yes, I’ve been to London several times, and I still love exploring the place even as, like many old cities, its modernization is draining it of its character. But sometimes the British mindset is hard to comprehend!
Volvo started making some of the same mistakes, just later. They seemed to hit their low point in the late 90’s/early 00’s – 1st-gen S80s seem to be getting rare before their time, and the late 850/s70 had their share of problems.
How much of this, if any, had to do with Ford’s purchase is an open question.
I think they’re doing better lately, but I’ve not taken a close look at the current lineup. Pretty, but way out of my price range.
No car company is perfect, but you’d think they’d know better than BL how to build good quality cars, cars that don’t self-destruct shortly after they leave the showroom.
The Land Crab was the epitome all that was wrong with BL but there was some real shockers to come.When worse cars are made BL will make them
Years later BL tried to a build a Volvo … and got the Marina.
I think the closest BMC ever got to building a Volvo was with the Oxford/Cambridge Farina range. Not very close, but (until they disintegrated) they were warhorses of a sort.
They were sold alongside the land crab they were due to be replaced by!
Standard BMC policy – launch a replacement vehicle, and keep on making the car that was meant to be replaced. You could go as far as to argue that the Morris Minor should have been replaced by the Farina A40, which in turn should have been replaced by ADO16. In BMC-World, they end up manufacturing all three of them (and the Minor outlasts the A40 to boot).
It all got worse once Heralds and Toledos were added to the mix. And all of these cars had their good points, but to have all of these models effectively competing with the Ford Anglia, or the Vauxhall Viva, was madness,
In Australia the Minor was replaced in 1958 by the Major (and Austin Lancer), basically a restyled and de-contented Wolseley 1500. That effectively removed complaints about the Minor’s lack of go, and gave contemporary body styling as well. The Major Elite further updated the styling. The Major was effectively swept away by the 1100.
So perhaps the Major was the missing link BMC should have used at home? Here’s the early Major.
And the later Major Elite, a 1600 by now.
The contrast in appearances is remarkable. By American standards, the Volvo appears to have the archaic design of a 1940s automobile, while the Austin appears to have 1970s styling. Yet both cars were manufactured new in the mid 60s. One seems 20 years behind the times and the other 5 years ahead of its time, by American standards that is.
I am stunned any manufacturer would name their car “Landcrab”.
Note to self: In the future when shopping for new cars, if there is a make/model which appears to be horribly outdated, keep in mind that there must be a VERY VERY good reason it has resisted obsolescence and replacement by something fresher and newer.
BMC didn’t call it “Landcrab”; that just became a popular nickname for it.
I’m not a fan of Volvo’s current line-up of cars.
I explained where the nickname land crab originated it was given to one particular ADO17 model but was later attributed to the entire range.
Landcrab was the derisory nickname applied to the 1800, on account of its only-Issigonis-could-love-them looks – it was never formally known by that name!
Internally it was known as the ADO17 – kind of like W123 for Mercedes.
Used to be the last thing one could accuse Volvo owners of was ostentation; the 240 in particular was the epitome of boxy, dull, incremental design evolution, but it lasted & seemed to have a devoted following of long-term owners in the US. I call them “Volvo Survivalists.”
All I can say for modern Volvos, so far, is that they gave up on resisting styling fads & look like everything else.
I might have just become an antique Volvo fan.
Years ago a relative of mine, who was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam war, came home with a Volvo P1800ES. Everyone thought he was nutty. He got rid of it after his second child was born and bought a large American station wagon, but continued to claim the old Volvo was the best car he’d ever ridden in. Everyone rolled their eyes whenever he said that.
Maybe he wasn’t such a nut.
“The contrast in appearances is remarkable. By American standards, the Volvo appears to have the archaic design of a 1940s automobile, while the Austin appears to have 1970s styling. Yet both cars were manufactured new in the mid 60s.”
I’m not sure about that. The Volvo does look late-1940s but the Austin does look “1960s.”
Ironically at the angle in the lead photo, the Austin’s 4-door greenhouse looks…VOLVO!
“the Volvo appears to have the archaic design of a 1940s automobile”
There is a simple reason for this – it was designed in the 1940s! Apart from the change to a single piece windshield and other detail changes.
Having owned driven and repaired dozens of British cars the best of them came from Rootes group tough reliable cars everything BMC rubbish wasnt, BMC cars were good at one point in time but then Issigonis was given free range with his poorly designed FWD stupidity, nothing bigger than the 1100/1300 range was any good and even those were a reliability nightmare many of my grandmothers bowls cronies bought Minis and 1100s their tales of woe kept my grandy in her Morris Minor until it fell apart at 43,000 miles( second and third gears refused to stay engaged) a legacy of constant steep hill starts. Issigonis sank BMC almost single handedly his greatest design was the Morry Minor after that it was downhill into bankruptcy.
There are many reasons Austin/BMC/BLMC/Rover no longer exists in any recognisable from, and this piece touches on 2 of them – build quality and durability, and suitability for market were just 2 of them.
BMC built the cars Alec Issigonis wanted to build, from 1959 onwards, which were not always what the market wanted, were not costed properly and the detail design execution left a lot to be desired.
Add to that a depressing quality of build (not just the part of the assembly teams, but the tooling, the material preparation, the specification of th materials and ancillary components, the manufacturing processes….) that offered they type of story Bill Malcolm recounts, you can se why BMC was broke by 1968, was bailed out by Leyland who had to rush the Marina and Allegro to market, in time for the oil crash of 1973, Britain’s inconsistent policies on hire purchases, the discovery of Japanese cars, the opening of the UK to European makers, and more………I could go on, and often do…….
The point I’ve seen about the Issigonis era — particularly the Mini — was not so much that it wasn’t costed properly (although there was probably that too), but that a lot of the cars weren’t designed with production expediency in mind, which made them more expensive to build than they needed to be. I can well imagine how Issigonis would have reacted to some production engineer telling him that, but obviously if you have a product that’s expensive to build and sells for an aggressive price, something has to give.
Having read British car magazines for nearly 45 years, I got a few impressions that may or may not be correct:
British engineers in many fields are/were brilliant. They managed to come up with a lot of “cutting edge” ideas….but never seemed to be able to develop and/or refine them.
In the British car industry, there were A LOT of men with HUGE egos, in management and labor. Some folks in the U.S. think ( rightly or wrongly?) that the unions are/were responsible for nearly wrecking the car industry….our labor unions are/were “pikers” compared to the British unions.
The car magazines, in many cases, refused to believe car manufacturers in other countries were building better cars than the local manufacturers. Even today, a British branded car RARELY loses in a multi-car comparison test in a British magazine.
There was a time when specs on a new car were VERY important when I went car shopping. Now, I look at the design and how “bug-free” it is.
Someone posted the link to this on a TTAC Comment Thread a last week:
Das Auto: The Germans, Their Cars and Us
Its a 1hr documentary of how the decline and collapse the UK auto industry and the rise of their German competition.
Bad products and even worse labor relations are the themes of the video. IIRC The Germans had ~ 1/10 of the lost time to strikes as the Brits in the 70s.
As an American car historian and enthusiasts I saw a lot of parallels with how the US Domestics OEMs lost the tune of the market and created an opening for the Japanese to offer small, high quality small cars.
I saw that documentary, and the presenter gives VW way too much credit for allegedly changing the British buying habits.
Other car brands (German and other nations) also did their part to change the tide of purchases. Much like the vaunted Japanese brands here in North America, the German brands get a pass on certain things. Based on that documentary, it makes it sound like everyone in Great Britain is driving a German car. It’s as if no one sells Fiats, Renaults, Dacias, Skodas or Toyotas over there. Which we know isn’t true.
Also, here in North America, we use our cars in an entirely different manner than the Europeans. Here you need a car to get around and conduct your business. In most of the “old country”, if the car breaks, meh… Just take the bus, train or trolley. But only in two or three major cities in the US can you easily get around town without a car.
I really think that documentary is about how the (hated) Germans managed to take over a big chunk of British pride and run it even better than the British did. I’d like to give it about 20 years and see how the Brits feel about the Indians (Tata) owning Land Rover and Jaguar… Or how they will feel about the Chinese owning Rover and MG… Will we get a similar kind of film out of it?
I watched it too. Like most shows of the type, it’s much two one-dimensional, as geozinger points out. But try to explain all the various issues that caused the decline and fall of the Brit industry would be too dense and complex for the typical viewer.
Well the Land Crab’s transverse FWD design certainly exists today, in virtually every car currently made in fact, including… *drumroll* …Volvo. The PV? Err not so much. Another case of the pioneers get the arrows and the settlers get the land.
I thought the ADO17 had its transmission in the sump, though, which is a practice that has largely disappeared.
Indeed it did, and it has
BMC : snatching defeat from the jaws of victory almost as long as GM has been .
I still love my little LBC’s tho’ .
I owned a 1964 PV 544 Volvo much like the one in the picture. It was a very tough car. I tried to run the wheels off of it but couldn’t. I have also owned my fair share of British cars, beginning with a Hillman Minx and ending with an MGB-GT. No comparison to the Volvo with regard to reliability, toughness, durability, and even performance.
No question that the Volvo was the more reliable. But to be fair the rear fenders of my 1965 Volvo 544, bought second hand in Halifax NS in the fall of 1969 (did I buy your mother’s car??), were already bubbling when I got it, and one of them rusted through the following year.
I sold it when the floor on the front passenger side started going soft in about 1972. Admittedly, that is better than rotten sills by 1968. That same shocking event with a jack happened to me with a 1969 VW bus in 1975. Halifax was/is a salty town 🙂
Mechanically the Volvo never had any major problems. It had 50 000 miles on it when I bought it and I put on another 30 000, mostly in the summers. The only real repairs I remember were kingpins and a problem with the clutch linkage – which a guy with a blowtorch in rural Quebec fixed while we waited.
I had both a Landcrab and the PV544’s grandchild, the 144S (which to me is more appropriate Volvo to compare it with) when I was living in the UK, so I think I am qualified to voice my opinion. I did not find the 1800 worse reliability-wise than the Volvo. The suspension displacers were generally maintenance-free; once a year you’d fill them up but then I knew a local garage who had the becessary pump and it was something like 10 quid. Yes, there were the CV joints up front to do up but not often and that was the same as for any other FWD car. Both had very similar engines and the same displacement (1.8L); the Volvo had slightly more power but in normal driving conditions you hardly noticesd it. Both engines were just as coarse and vibratory. Both had 4sp g/boxes. Where they were however very different was in the roadholding/handling department and – as good as the Volvo was – there is no question the 1800 had a more modern feel; in fact it would be easier to get used to for any Generation Xs and Ys, as it basically has the same layout as 75% of all cars on the road today. And… it was far more comfortable than the Volvo, that hydrolastic suspension did work. Space inside was enormeous – you felt as if you drove a far bigger car than it really was. All in all it was NOT a bad vehicle. But… That Landcrab has been partially restored by the PO and many of the non-working bits and pieces have been replaced, repaired and/or rust proofed. In other words, it has gone through proper development at the hands of the owner. And that (as noted by others) was the problem: they were just not developed when they came on the market. I believe that – and that applies to GM with the Chevy Citation (which actually, particularly when fitted with the Iron Duke, is not unlike a later development of the Landcrab!) – had they got the reliability sorted right from the start, a lot of what happened later would have been prevented. And as my 1800 proved, it was possible. Of course, not only that, but – typically for many UK manufacturers – they failed to properly update it. That chassis could have handled 130 hp with ease; a 5 sp g/box would have made it into a highway cruiser in the mold of a large Citroen. But nothing came up until the 2200 and by then it was too late. And then those fools rejected Pininfarina’s proposal for a replacement, which paradoxically became the Citroen CX (see below)… I could go on and on and on.
PS: Oh, an ex G/F once flatly and almost violently refused to get in the Landcrab; being seen in one of those would have severely damaged her Sloan Ranger credibility. Old Volvos did not generate such reactions…
Very enjoyable article.
I can agree with some that the 444/544 series were not the most attractive of designs, but in every other category it was a standout – superbly engineered, thoughtful Swedish design, quick for its day, etc. They were (and are) great fun to drive and were routinely rallied.
Regarding Volvo today, the company seems to have turned things around – neglected and starved of development money by Ford, the folks at Geely seem to understand that providing checks to the engineers and designers in Gothenburg is smart business strategy. The recent concepts it has shown are beautiful (kudos to designer Thomas Ingenlath), and the switch to a solely four cylinder lineup seems like the right call. The linkup with Polestar has also brought forth some very nice products.
And an item on any “great car experience” list we all keep, should be “try a Volvo seat”……..
140-240 Volvo will do over 500,000 klms on the engine, just put oil and water in .
You never need touch them.
Then none of you mention the safety of Volvo?
Great brakes and the wagons can fit half a house inside.
We had a ute version here in Australia, this example was one of the cars I learnt to drive in.
Being FWD it much smaller wheel arch intrusions than the Holden/Furd/Valiant utes of the era, resulting in a larger tray.