curbside Austin 1800 photos by CC Cohort poster robadr
(first posted 11/6/2013) The story of the Issigonis-BMC range of bold new FWD cars is a huge one, an ambitious attempt to remake BMC into a builder of leading-edge cars a lá Citroen. It seems we’re on track here at CC to tell it in reverse, but perhaps that’s fitting as the whole effort had so many setbacks. Earlier this month we looked at the Austin Maxi, and considered its origins and history as the smaller offshoot of today’s car, the Austin 1800. A highly ambitious undertaking, Alec Issigonis’ ADO17 was a car of huge contrasts. Colloquially known as “the Landcrab”, it alternated between being the “British Citroen DS” and a “misconceived, unsuccessful Ford competitor”.
Tempted back to BMC from Alvis in 1955, Alec Issigonis was tasked with developing a full range of modern family cars, starting with a new mid-range model and then to be followed up with several smaller cars.
The plan, devised by BMC Chairman Leonard Lord and Issigonis, called first for a saloon car, known as XC9001. It was to be similar in size to the Morris Oxford/Austin Cambridge twins, with the wheels pushed to each corner and a rubber-cone suspension, but with rear-wheel drive; the expectation was that it would be on the market by 1960.
Lord then changed the plan in response to the Suez crisis of 1956 (which was by no means Britain’s finest hour, but that’s a story for another day); as a result, the first Issigonis BMC car to appear was the Mini, in 1959 (CC here). Next came the Morris (and later, Austin) 1100, known as the ADO16, in 1962; the third was the 1964 Austin/Morris 1800, which was known as the ADO17 internally, and as the Landcrab everywhere else.
Defined by Issigonis as the next logical development of the concept of the Mini and 1100, it used the familiar BMC transverse engine/front-wheel drive layout, with the engine and gearbox mounted ahead of the front axle, the gearbox underneath and the radiator to one side, facing the inner wing (fender).
And then it all started going wrong. The B-series engine was the obvious default choice, given the car’s mission as a successor to the RWD Farina range; Issigonis selected the 1800 cc version that was being developed for the MGB, stretched the wheelbase to 106 inches – six inches longer than the Farina saloon’s – and also widened it to match. The ADO17 was now 165 in long and 67 in wide; for comparison, the Cortina Mk1 was 168 in and 62 in; the Hillman Super Minx 165 in and 63 in; the Austin Cambridge 175 in and 63.5 in. The ADO was a widebody in its class. Suspension was by the BMC hydrolastic system, with the control spheres tucked away within a tubular cross member, which in turn was part of the bulkhead. These were very strong cars, structurally.
Consequently, the ADO17 had an immense amount of interior space – I have clear memories, as a 12-year-old, of a four-way, all-in wrestling match in the rear footwell of a Wolseley 18/85, which was stopped only when the Dad driving touched 90 mph and said, “I thought that would get you off the floor!” The fact of its awful driving position seems to have slipped through the net, along with the weight of the thing. It was strong, though, and had a very comfortable ride. This came at the price of increased weight–around 30% more than a Cortina–which would have had to be paid for in raw material and manufacturing costs.
Another disadvantage was that the car’s proportions made it very difficult to style elegantly, since Issigonis had widened the body to balance out the extra wheelbase. The final result was something that was nowhere nearly as stylish as the 1100; in fact, it was downright dumpy, and soon earned the nickname Landcrab, which is still recognised today.
image courtesy aronline.uk
After their successful work on the 1100 and many earlier BMC products, Pininfarina naturally was involved in the development of the ADO17. They created their own design proposals (above), this one clearly reflecting their earlier design for the 1100/ADO16.
There was also a six-light (window) version developed in house, and that was chosen as the way to go, in part to distinguish the ADO17 more thoroughly from the smaller 1100. Pininfarina then continued to work on the front and rear ends, including the distinctive drooping tail that would reappear on the Peugeot 504. The front of this car (above) looked rather similar to the Austin version of the ADO16, and so the Italian styling house undertook a final restyle of the front end to lend a touch of individuality that would associate it with the ADO16, albeit not too closely. One can see the reasoning behind this decision; after all, the ADO16 had been extremely well received, but it also has to be said that Pininfarina was much more involved in styling that car than they were with the ADO17.
In the end, Pininfarina could only actually claim credit for the headlights, grille and front wings; the centre section remained pretty much untouched from the 1958 proposal, and was arguably the ADO17’s most unhappy aspect.
Despite all this, BMC dealers thought they could sell 4,000 a week – a higher sales rate than the ADO16 series had ever achieved in the UK, and four times the rate at which the Farinas were being built – after all, it was named the Car of the Year for 1965. But BMC made a rather fatal flaw in their calculations: 1960 UK registrations showed that only 5% of new cars sold were in the 1700-1800cc class, whereas the 1400-1500cc class had almost a 20% market share. Ford obviously acted rightly on this information, and its Cortina prospered. Not so the larger and more expensive ADO17.
In 1968, BMC upgraded the ADO17 to the Mk 2, with revised rear wings and tail lights, and offered an S version with twin carburettors; in 1972, BL created the Austin and Morris 2200, using a six-cylinder, 2.2-litre version of the Maxi E series engine.
The Austin/Morris 1800s carried on with minor cosmetic revisions, but the Wolseley version of the 1800, the 18/85 (above), was discontinued in favour of the 2.2-litre Wolseley Six, which, interestingly, would outsell the six-cylinder Austin/Morris by 25% over the next three years.
BMC produced the Landcrab only as an Austin for the first two years, as Morris had had first rights on the 1100 when it went on sale in 1964. It was priced at 15% above the Farinas, which stayed in production because the 1800 had strayed so far from its original brief as development progressed. The highest-ever annual production was 57,000 units – a far cry from 4,000 per week – and so the Farina range soldiered on to 1969 in an effort to protect BMC’s market miscalculation versus the Ford Cortina.
However, it did earn a reputation for great comfort, even if a driver wearing a seat belt had to use his left foot to adjust the heater controls. And the odd angle of the steering wheel took some adjustment for those coming to a BMC FWD car for the first time. Mini and 1100 drivers were of course well familiar with it.
One area where the Landcrab was, perhaps surprisingly, successful was in long distance endurance rallying – it proved a strong competitor in the late 1960s, finishing second in the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon and achieving three of the top 20 positions in the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. This is an example in rally specification, including traditional BMC white over red rally colours, retained as part of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Collection, alongside a rallying Maxi and Austin Healey 3000.
The ADO17 had obvious potential as an estate/wagon, given its low and flat rear floor and being built like the Forth Bridge (Brooklyn Bridge?). Preliminary development work was undertaken on one (above), but the plug was pulled due to the development of the Maxi.
To make things even worse, in 1970 Leyland Australia introduced the Austin Tasman and Kimberley (sold in New Zealand as the Morris Tasman and Kimberley – go figure!), which were nothing more than Landcrabs with the E- Series six-cylinder engine and thoroughly revised styling, which featured a much more contemporary front and rear, and a bit of extra length that balanced the look remarkably well while still using the same centre section.
BL, being BL, never brought these to Europe despite the many other reasons to do besides the more modern look and more substantial separation from the Maxi. It may not have been a great car, but it seems the potential benefits of a thorough update would have been staring BL in the face. Thus the Landcrab struggled on, and Leyland Australia was closed in 1976.
So, in summary, the Landcrab was a bigger and heavier car than both its predecessor and its competitors, was unrewarding to drive, unattractive to look at and produced in lower than expected volumes–all in all, not a great recipe for commercial success. The plug was pulled in 1975, and BMC sold around 386,000 in 11 years, with Austin outselling Morris by 2 to 1 and the luxury Wolseley 18/85 and later Six taking around 15%.
The ADO17 was replaced by another disappointing car, the ADO71 “Princess”, touted as “the car that got it all together”. But that’s a (sad) story for another day.
A very interesting story about a car I have only recently learned about.
Someone made the statement here recently about how automotive stylists all plagiarize each others work – well, perhaps it would be more polished to say they all inspire each other. Either way, in the side view from the ad printed in German, I see a rough outline, especially in the rear with the rear shape and set-back axle, of a Toyota from the late ’70’s or very early ’80’s – I wish I could remember which model. With the 1970 Leyland Australia, it could be argued this was the inspiration for AMC’s ’73 Matador front treatment.
Despite the quirky styling of the Landcrab, it does have a pleasing, if less than fluid, shape.
Perhaps you are thinking of the first generation (1978-1982) Tercel 4-door?
I remember these, they were always odd looking to me as a kid and the driving position was rather poor, more like a van.
Its successor could have been great, the Princess series, but unfortunately BL took a wrong turn in organisation, management and quality control.
Just shows that you cannot put a successfull model under the copy machine and blow it up.
Maybe the lesson here is that if you launch a revolutionary model, it should look more revolutionary and it should not have this sort of ol’style looks.
Here I go again about the Renault 16, but with that baby they hit it spot on.
As they did with Princess, but built quality was nowhere to be found at BL back then.
Quality control issues apart, I’m guessing that these suffered the same dilemma as the Mini: being overly complicated to build. I don’t think BMC in that era was big on design cost engineering, which doesn’t seem to have been a strong point of postwar British engineering in general. (The British aviation industry had its share of examples as well; you got things that were terribly clever, but more complex than they needed to be, with attendant consequences in cost and ease of maintenance.) After the Leyland merger, they hired Ford people who at least recognized the problem, but by that point coming up with the capital to do anything about it was a problem. Having a lot of outdated factories and equipment certainly didn’t help.
The lead photo’s interesting, I knew these weren’t sold in the US but apparently they made it to Canada. I wonder how many of those were replaced with Dart/Valiant/Dusters and then Japanese cars…
Nice write up!
They must have sold in very small numbers in Canada as I don’t recall ever seeing one here growing up. The MkIII Cortina was also sold here but again I don’t recall ever seeing one.
The car in that picture is mine. I have the original bill of sale from the dealer in Vancouver, BC. It was $2095. The driver’s side mirror was no charge.
To whomever took the photos, it’ll be back out there in the spring – feel free to stop in for a chat.
It was great fun to come across it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Austin 1100 & 1800 lines and they’re rarely seen nowadays even in ‘British’ Columbia. Who wouldn’t love that smiling front end? 🙂
Either you “got” the Landcrab or you didn’t. When it first appeared I didn’t, and I failed to understand how some folk I worked with thought it brilliant.
When I first visited Ireland the first two cars I drove were a Ford Capri and a Landcrab. At 70-80 mph on a dead-straight but bumpy road it was a struggle keeping the Ford in a straight line. In the Landcrab it was a breeze.
The odd steering wheel angle was necessary because the steering was very heavy at low speed.
No mention of the cable-operated gearshift, which was not a great success.
The Land Crab was a car you hoped your parents wouldn’t buy.It was a Dadmobile available in dull,dreary colours compared to a Cortina,Victor or Hunter.Fortunately for a lot of kids of my generation the opposition was more popular.
ADO 17 was complete rubbish new only fools or BMC aficionados bought them,
There goes another Kiwi sounding off ! Try and find an Austin 1800 UTE in NZ or OZ they are like gold dust – this car WON European Car of the year was vastLy superior in comfort size road holding than any of its contemporaries and unlike you I built these at BMC Cowley 1964- 1966 and they were superb – I have justt bought from OZ my 2nd UTE modified and they are a delight to drive take a look at the real history,
Always love to smack these guys down.
I presume you’re making a light-hearted generalisation about Kiwis there? If you frequented CC you’d know Bryce is fond of hyperbole. It can be annoying, but there are many other Kiwis here who aren’t hyperbolic. And Bryce did find an 1800 ute 3 wks ago, the pics are on the Cohort. Who are you wanting to smack down? Not the sort of sentiment usually voiced on CC… Peace out.
As much a generalisation as “complete rubbish – only fools” and BMC officionados” you guys crease me up I visited North Island in 1999 Te Puru after importing my 1st UTE to GB in 1997.
Now you tell me Kiwi Bryce is full of Hyperbole !? and also did find a UTE 3 weeks ago what a contradiction – just stirring the pot I guess – I come from a different generation son at 72 I have forgotten more about British cars and BMC than Bryce will every know – and that is fact.
Attending the NEC Classic car show from tomorrow and will pass this round the LOCI club they can have a good hyperbole laugh over it, it was aimed at the individual not Kiwi’s in general my whole family are based three generations in NZ I will be out there this April let me know we can meet up OK.
Try to find really, not that big of a problem theres one only a couple of KMs away, NZ 1800s were locally assembled maybe thats why they gave lots of trouble, who knows but give the owners problems they cetrtainly did,A school friends mother bought a 66 Morris 1800 one of the few most were badged Austin on the strength of the fanrtastic run she’d had from a Morris Minor, the 1800 spent most of its time being repaired within acouple of years she went car shopping again and avoided BMC products altogether and bought a used Mitsubishi Colt 1100F which never had a problem, Her story was quite typical the Austin Kimberly and Tasman twins were as bad, little wondwer BMC or Leyland ass the renmamed themselves closed.
Pommie gobshite typical absolutely full of it
My neighbours in Antrim Road, Belfast had one in the most beautiful shade of metallic turquoise; it introduced me to a colour I still love many decades later.
Actually, living in & then visiting my folks in Vancouver I saw a number of these survivors rolling around well into the 1990s, ditto Austin Cambridges, Triumph 2000s, Cortina Mk IIIs (sold in Canada through the 73 model year), Sunbeam Arrows (nee Hillman) and even the odd early 70s Vauxhall Firenza (Viva)/Epic Envoy/Vauxhall Victor. You still see many well preserved Issigonis Minis, which were sold in Canada through 1981, and countless MGs and Triumph sports cars.
The always import and small-car friendly British Columbia lower mainland and Vancouver Island are still a wonderful rolling museum. Rust, harsh winters & summers outside the mild-climate PNW, and a dearth of UK expat mechanics did for the much-favoured British imports in other parts of Canada.
Having said that, I have a picture of a forlorn green Austin 1800 in the Saskatoon VIA Rail station parking lot, taken on a cross-country rail trip with my parents in 1980.
Hmmm… I grew up in Vancouver but I don’t remember ever seeing an ADO17 there – I only remember them from visits to the UK. But I agree about the other British cars that were to be seen from time to time.
Makes one wonder if it would have been less fugly had the boot been squared off, or perhaps (OMG) if the car had been built as an estate. Midsection would have looked far less ungainly with a more square rear.
The Tasman/Kimberley looks a lot better however it’s still a Land Crab in drag with all it’s many problems
Gem, if possible the Tasman/Kimberley was even worse. It suffered from Leyland Australia’s perennial finance problems with half-arsed engineering “solutions” to local problems as well as all the British models sins. The classic described by Joe Kenwright over at “Unique Cars” is the blocked passenger side air vent. These cars suffered badly from vapour lock in summer due to airflow issues. Solution? Divert the fresh air going to the passenger side air vent into the engine bay,block the air vent, pretend nothing happened….70s Fords and Holdens were no engineering masterpieces, but they looked like Rolls-Royces in comparison. http://www.uniquecarsmag.com.au/news-and-reviews/article/articleid/77524.aspx
Thanks Glen,you’re right it’s a dud of the highest order
THeir stuff was truly awful good ideas poorly executed.
Nice write-up Roger, I remember being baffled by these when I first encountered one as a kid – it seemed so much like an (even more) ungainly Maxi (the Maxi being a far more common car in the streets of my childhood) that I couldn’t make any sense of it’s existence. That bothered me as a boy since I was used to being able to quickly fathom the lineage of anything I passed on the street.
Reading about it’s development-drift and relationship with the Maxi later in life made me feel better about my boyish bafflement – these are baffling cars after all.
Pondering why BMC/BL did anything they did is always headache inducing, but these cars especally stand out as epitomes of all that was wrong with our erstwhile behemoth of the British motor industry.
…always fun to see your own cohort submissions used in articles too – I still remember being both staggered and delighted by the existence (not to mention condition!) of that Wolseley on Dalry Road thanks for the reminder.
It baffled me why they would have 2 similar cars fighting it out in the showroom.It’s one of the reasons BL is no longer here
yup, one among many.
There are too many examples of BMC/BL internal sales canibalisation to count, not just the 1800/Maxi but they’re a particularly stark example true enough.
Wrong, The Landcrab moniker came from the 1800S developed for rallying driver Paddy Hopkirk could not drive it straight on gravel surfaces so it was nicknamed thus.
I’ve heard the rallying tale too, but far more often heard the side profile’s crab-ish-ness cited as the source of the nickname.
Whatever the name’s origninal source, the car’s shape certainly fits the name and undoubtably contributed to the name sticking (after all a rally car going sideways is hardly noteworthy)
Fascinating, I’ve never seen this car in person. What was wrong with the driving position? With all that space an ideal arrangement should have been possible.
Why is the steering wheel so big? Was the front end that heavy?
“The Suspension Bible” (link) has a neat animated gif showing why these hydrolastic cars had such a good ride.
Yes it was that heavy and no powersteer.
Power Steering option on the MK2 in the UK
There were a few of these things around when I was a young child in the Ottawa area. I still vividly remember going on a whole family test drive in one, must have been 1970. I dad loved the car; he actually laughed with joy driving it, as he enjoyed the standard shift and good handling compared to the American cars he was used to. Mum put the kybosh on the purchase because the 1800 was just too weird for her. In hindsight, this was probably a good thing. As a young child, I can recall being very impressed it didn’t have a big transmission tunnel. I was the youngest in the family, and I always “got the hump.”
I’ve read on aronline.co.uk that the ADO17 has a torsional rigidity figure of 18,000 nm/degree of flexion. That’s a very, very impressive figure; it would have been above average in the late ’90s/early ’00s. I’ve read that it’s on par with the E46 BMW 3-series, without the folding rear seats. I wish the Japanese cars of the late ’70s-early ’90s which I love so much could boast such figured.
That rigidity combined with the hydrolastic suspension and straight-6 power in larger versions must’ve made for a rather relaxing experience. You really can’t blame BMC for lacking ambition.
Which undoubtedly explains why it weighed 400lbs (!) more than a R16. Yes, it was a tank.
Yeah they are tough bodily most British cars were, Japanese cars were regarded as flimsy and tinny and rusted at alarming speed they kept running but thats not a help when the car has rusted beyond economic repair in only a few years.
1800s were always in pieces due to mechanical ailments broken CVs and early bearing failures.
I wasn’t aware that British cars had a reputation for structural toughness. At any rate, I doubt rigidity on this level was common in the era. Like I said, it was thirty years ahead of its time.
My impression was that in this era, British cars tended to be kind of overbuilt in terms of panel and structural member thickness in part as a stopgap against tinworm: adding metal so that if you couldn’t stop rust, you could at least buy time on it eating through something important. (Of course, in some cases this ended up being counterproductive, resulting in complex and bulky structures that would trap moisture and rust from the inside out.)
Sounds like a reasonable theory. I’d add another couple of factors,
1. A ‘tradition’ of valuing good solid engineering with a tendency to conservatism, together with the whole unitary structure car still being a relatively new thing at this stage.
2. Cars were a fairly large purchase (a lot less affordable than in the USA) and were expected to last.
3. Being pre-computer aided design with relatively few resources to put toward FEA or similar. Design teams were quite small, probably tiny by Detroit’s standards.
4. Knowing vehicles would be exported to Australia, South Africa, etc – “the colonies”. I think there was a similar effect with French vehicles.
I had a Singer Gazelle that was still legally on the road after two rollover accidents the police forced it to endure a WOF inspection after one cop saw it being driven, it didnt look all that wonderfull but certainly tough
XC9001 is a beautiful car, far ahead of its time, and astonishingly similar to the Minis of today. It’s hard to believe there’s a half century between the XC9001 and the Mini Countryman.
Good catch! As you know, styling was changing so quickly at the time.But if it hadn’t been for the Suez Canal incident, the ADO17 would have been built first, and quite likely looking much like XC9001.
Looks almost as if BMW dusted off the original drawings phoned PSA for a powertrain(diesel) and called it good
The BMW guys definitely flipped through the old books; came across this draft and made a saleable version out of it. They did so on several occasions, as Isetta, Glaserati and Aprilia 650 are proof of.
Really an example of Issigonis’ non-styling, it just looks like a blob as the proportions are a bit off – then again it is before it has been widened.
The Mini got away with it because it is a small car – with more sheetmetal involved the vast expanse of plain metal looks a bit dumpy.
Ive driven an Austin Tasman much too fast on sand surface roads in Aussie yeah fun to drive as the car will simply follow the front wheels eventually but the horrible driving position combined with shocking unreliability meant nobody would buy them.
One of my highschool friends family bought a Kimberly new luckily for them they kept their 65 Impala because the new kimberly was almost never out of the dealers workshop long enough to use the continued to drive that old Chev for an extra 3 years it could cope with the poor roads where they lived the much vaunted Kimberly could not
Speaking of the Mini, I have noticed that the Mini went from being a cheap to buy, unreliable(but cheap to repair) everymans car under BL to a expensive to buy, unreliable(and expensive to fix) status symbol car under BMW
LOL,CC effect strikes again,I’ve just seen a new Mini with the AA repair man fixing it
I actually love how these cars look from the front. One of the simplest and prettiest front ends I can think of.
It’s a shame they couldn’t bring together the rest of it to at least make the whole thing look cohesive.
Do you reckon if they had made it lighter and released a 1400-1500cc version it would have sold a lot better?
Maybe, if the gearshift and overall quality weren’t complete nightmares.
There was a 1500cc version in Australia called the Morris Nomad if morphed into the Maxi instead of being successful.
These ADO POS were meant to replace the Oxbridge twins yet they were nowhere near as good an Oxbridge will do 100,000 miles without complaint the diff will begin to whine at 180,000 and it have needed a rebore by now but other than rust not much could kill one the powertrain was in the J4 Van and A60 pickup and panel van they were nigh on indestructable.
n Replacing those was the rubbish 1800 ugly and awkward to drive you cant find gears easily it goes alright on the open road though it sucks gas compared to everything else, in town its a nightmare bulky and heavy to steer difficult to park it rains oil out every orifice shoulda kept the Oxford.
Lots of buyers felt that way one of my friends had a Morris 1800 he was constantly borrowing my Humber 80 to get to work the 1800 very rarely ran well enough to drive anywhere
Going off topic here, but the Nomad was a wagon version of the Aussie Morris 1500, released in 1969 IIRC. It was an 1100 with the Maxi motor and (optionally) gearbox. So it was a size smaller than the 1800 this article deals with. And no, we were spared the Maxi over here.
That Morris 1500 was truly a Leyland disaster. My aunt had one new, and the dealer could never tune it to idle properly – always idled with a “rump-rump” note – not what you expect from a car a seventy-something lady would drive. Also it vibrated a lot, the gearshift was terrible, and Things Fell Off. Typical poor assembly, half-hearted service, and questionable engineering. By contrast, the earlier 1100 seemed much better put together.
The lighter 1500c version was, effectively, the Maxi.
So may be not!
A fascinating car, for sure. Every time I shake my head at some of the unfathomable things that Chrysler did in the US, I guess I need to remember BMC/BL. I don’t have much experience with the British cars and enjoy reading about them, as well as the comments of those familiar with them.
And I love the car’s nickname.
Just curious, what Chrysler gaffes are you thinking of?
Much of the way they operated from maybe 1957 to 1979? One shot in the foot after another between quality, ugliness, missing markets and shortsighted decision making. Their own worst enemy much of the time.
The late 90s Audi A6 always reminds me of the landcrab, and yes, I’m sober.
a6 landcrabby rear
Bring on the story of the Princess. I have a weird desire to get one and stick a decent engine/trans in it (Honda V-Tec?) and surprise EVERYTHING on the road.
I saw a super-rare Woodall-Nicholson stretched Princess on the back of a truck in Cambridge a year or two ago, now THAT would surprise everything on the road!
The two important styling problems with the Landcrab are the ‘running boards’ along the sides which make it kind of hover above the ground like a hippo. Secondly the overly rounded corners of the windscreen which add the the ‘army loaf’ look. The difficult frontal treatment is actually carried off very well.
The centre section has a rather wartime leftover look about it; reminds me of the Whitley and Hampden bombers.
The BMC and later BL colour choices were actually pretty lurid; more so than Ford or Vauxhall (GM). Power steering would indeed have solved the heavy steering and possibly resolved the odd driving position however further expense would have just moved the ADO17 further from its planned market.
The Whitley and Hampden were a pair of strange looking bombers and not a great success also.
I’ve mentioned numerous times previously, but my Dad was a BL dealer mechanic here in NZ through the 70s and early 80s, so I was aware of what landcrabs (and every other BL creation) were from a very early age. They periodically came home at lunchtimes or for weekends if Dad was working on them (including one of the rare Austin 3-Litre RWD versions that occupied our carport for a few days while Dad recommissioned it for the owner). I guess how he felt about BL products was reflected in the successive Cortinas my parents owned through the 70s and 80s… Given how style-less the landcrabs were, the child and teenage me was always delighted we had stylish (comparatively) Cortinas instead!
In fact “style-less” sums up the landcrab in all its iterations. I can see the advertising campaign now: “New from Austin-Morris-Wolseley-Riley-MG-Rover-Triumph-and-we-think-we-just-accidentally-bought-Jaguar: The Austin-Morris 1800, The Car That Style Forgot! Hurry on in and buy one, our salesmen are d̶e̶s̶p̶e̶r̶a̶t̶e̶l̶y̶ ̶b̶o̶r̶e̶d̶ eager to see you!”
Oh! CC effect! Just saw an older chap tootling down the main street of my rural Kiwi town driving an immaculate Morris Tasman! First one I’ve seen in years and I’d left my iPhone on my desk…
Actually, I just remembered, a teenager here iin my town did up an 1800 a few years ago. He de-bumpered it, had it painted bright red, fitted 17 or 18 inch alloy wheels to it (which included raising the ride height to suit), jammed in a large sound system, re-did the interior in fluffy black and white stuff, added the four rally-look front spot lights, welded on a huge exhaust, and finally, and most spectacularly-needlessly, installed racing buckets in the front… Boy was it distinctive, wish I’d taken photos of it.
Could this be a British Deadly Sin? The more I think about it the more it reminds me of the GM X-cars….
We had much more than 7 Deadly Sins,BLs head first rush to FWD is certainly 1 of them.
In defense of the Austin 1800, it is such a great car to drive! As far as heaven steering goes I think it’s fine, you just need to pump up your tires :). Petrol wise, we make the 1000km trip from Melbourne to Sydney on two tanks… just… If we have the roof racks on with a load then it’s two an a half 🙂
Our car has been very reliable, my grandfather bought it new an kept it garaged for the first 30 years. It traveled all over eastern Australia during that time an never once broke down. I recent years I have had issues with the suspension mainly due to me putting too much pressure in for the now 40 plus year old Hydrostatic shock absorbers… The only other issue has been dirty fuel blocking up the carby 🙂
It’s looking a little worse for wear now and so I have taken it off the road for a freshen up… But I fully expect to keep driving it as my every day car for the next few decades 🙂 I just need to stockpile a few spares…. 🙂
Well they actually look quite good as rally cars, I bought this on eBay last week 🙂
I got the same one, it sits with all the other important stuff on top of the fridge in the garage 🙂
Cool, like full size Landcrabs, I think this particular model is becoming rather hard to come by.
Odd-looking, but I do actually like these. Always have, since discovering them several years back (I’ve never seen one in person here in the US mid-atlantic/southeast). I mean come on, it’s smiling at you! How can you not smile back?
“Landcrab” is a fantastic nickname also.
What a pleasant comment, as a builder of these at BMC Cowley Oxford England cars 1964-1966 they were exported to Canada but not the US.The club over here in the UK is LOCI Landcrab Owners Club International http://www.landcrab.net/
I recently imported my 2nd Australian UTE or Pick UP but it is modified to a Panel Van the only one of its kind in the World. Certainly makes me smile when I drive.
Perfectly gorgeous, David. Let’s see the back . . .!
I am sure many would live to see some pics of you UteVan 🙂 do you happen to have any available? Facebook or some website maybe??
In the 70’s I aquired for free an overly abused and neglected Austin 1800 that had been used as a commuter car into Toronto, and yes it was a weird little car at the time. However, after doing all kinds of repairs on it and driving it hard for 8 years, I came to admire the overall design and thought that went into it.
The only issue was that it wasn’t designed for Canadian winters. The wheel wells would get blocked up with snow and the suspension was like a rock at -40 degrees.
I eventually had to replace it when it was 16 years old (the salty winter roads didn’t help). It still would be worth buying a new one today if were updated with newer materials and small design changes for our winters.
As far as I’m concerned, it was an excellent vehicle.
I recall a 1960s comparison in an Australian magazine of the Austin 1800 and Peugeot 404.The journalists rated both highly.My uncle bought an 1800 new and the seats were very comfortable,vast legroom front and back and amazing visibility.Those qualities also applied to the 404,the difference being the 1800 was quite a low car to ride in and the 404 was tall.Later I drove traded-in Austin Tasman and Kimberleys,all immensely comfortable and a good ride but ultimately I would say the Pug 404 was smoother and easier to drive.Neither had power steering,both had large steering wheels in an attempt to minimise the effort at the wheel.1800 being front wheel drive meant more effort than the rear wheel drive 404.Other parameters showed them to be close, in fuel consumption,acceleration,overtaking times etc.The Tasman and Kimberley iterations used 4 and 6 cylinder engines and were not noted for reliability in Australia.
The Peogot 404 was an amazingly tough car and is still going in Eastern Countries ! The 1800 in the UK for MK2 versions was offered power steering, it was a hydraulic system with a pulley off the Dynamo – these now are virtually impossible to repair and my Van /Ute has just been fitted with a Torque sensitive electric power steering and I recently took it Birmingham 170 miles and it is a delight with 17″ wheels and 50 profiles and 215 section it was tough parking! The conversion is torque steer and speed sensitive, so one finger control at all speeds and parking!
Your 1800 panel van looks very stylish.Austin 1800 cars and utes sold reasonably well in Tasmania but I haven’t seen one for some years now.I don’t remember my English uncle,in New South Wales,having any problems with his 1800.He sold it in 1973 when he and my aunty travelled by ship to England after retiring,to take delivery of their new Mercedes Benz camper van and to ship it across the world to travel through many countries.In 1963 they took 12 months off work and took delivery of a Commer camper van which they drove across Britain and Europe and shipped it to the USA and eventually shipped it home to Sydney.I still have the invitation,”The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by Her Majesty to invite Mr and Mrs John St George Lowther to an Afternoon Party in the Garden of Buckingham Palace”. My uncle’s relative was the “Yellow Earl” , the Earl Lonsdale of Lowther Castle who was an early car fanatic who was largely responsible for establishing Britain’s Automobile Association.There is some trivia for you,lol.
There was one still alive in Cygnet in 02, the only 1800 I saw in Tassie, a state where Ford Zephyrs are still a common sight especially in the Channel and Huon districts
Installation of Electric Power steering
In 1965 in Nova Scotia, Canada, my father bought a Landcrab, my mother bought a Volvo PV544 actually assembled in Dartmouth Nova Scotia.
Do I really need to tell you which dissolved into rust in 5 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.
Both cars remind me how heavy modern cars are with all the safety gear. A Miata at 2400 lbs weighs more than the Volvo, and almost as much as the Landcrab.
Thank you for your comment. You really hit the nail on the head when it comes to explaining the real differences between such two different cars. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take your comment and make a brief post out of it.
Bill’s comments about the interiors bits falling off because the bostik glue was not up to the job, remind me that ‘superglue’ first appeared in the early 70s.
The manufacturer boasted in the newsprint ads for the stuff that it is ‘used extensively by motor manufacturers’ as if this was some kind of recommendation. I guess BL took note and bought the damn stuff by the shipload.
One little thing that is missed on this post is the why of the nickname Land crab, BMC built a rally version the 1800S as mentioned above it was driven by Paddy Hopkirk BMC’s top driver but he had trouble holding it straight it was always sideways at speed, Hence the name it had nothing to do with the cars oddball styling merely the 1800S high speed gravel performance.
Was just re-reading this article and had forgotten I’d commented previously. To make sense of this, please read the earlier words first and subsequent comments pertaining to it The 1800 model was ADO 17; the ADO 16 was the Austin 1100/1300. The Maxi was merely a horror, and the Allegro is only mentioned in polite company.
In fall 1969 I went to London UK for graduate studies. That was where I learned the Land Crab moniker – Hopkirk probably preferred his old Healeys and Minis. In the temperate British climate, Minis, 1100s and this subject 1800 were acceptable cars. People joked about rusty Mini subframes failing the annual MOT test but had no idea what real rust was. Judging by comments l read on various forums to this day, the Brits somehow still believe they live in the rust capital of the world, and think the minimal road salt applied there in winter is the cause of decrepit rust. This attitude surely derives from never visiting the North East USA/Eastern Canada in winter and taking stock of a more brutal reality.
(An aside – Honda actually maintained an outpost here in Dartmouth Nova Scotia up to 1996 where a fleet of Accords was driven daily year round by housewives earning pocket money. The idea was to find out why rust was such a problem here. A workmate’s 1983 Accord dropped its engine on the ground in 1988, for example. Worked great up until it didn’t. The Japanese engineers all went away when Honda belatedly discovered galvanized sheet metal, only a decade after Audi, for the 1996 Accord. Earlier, in the late 1970s, I worked with a weather gauge manufacturer from Toronto. Their chief engineer was originally from Germany and would go into rants about the Meteorological Service here in Nova Scotia “ruining” his stainless steel equipment. “My friend,” he would say sadly, “this top-grade stainless does not rust. It is impossible! Those government idiots must be cleaning the equipment with sulphuric acid! Look, brown automatic rain gauges sent back under warranty after only two years! Rust! It is not possible! Nowhere else in the world this exists!” Oh, but it was possible and the actuality too. Eventually I recommended he change to automotive grade stainless; it worked – why reinvent the wheel?)
In fact, back in 1970 England, they regarded me as a raving colonial loonie for complaining about the Issigonis cars and even industrial goods which were regarded as second rate by the engineering fraternity here in Canada. One chap in particular who was kind enough to give me lifts home on occasion, did so in his 1800. He was annoyed that a front balljoint was rattling at 84,000 miles, but never seemed to get around to repairing it!
Bostik glue, actually a contact cement used on kitchen cabinet formica tops, was the go-to fixit for everything in Britain then. It has a peculiar sweet odour and fades to a grey/ brown with age. It is highly elastic when dry. Now how do I know that? Well, it doesn’t stick forever or even that long, that’s why. Cannot imagine why the commenter above is going on about superglue – stored and used correctly from a reputable manufacturer like Loctite or Ciba, it’s fine stuff. Bostik dried too quickly to allow penetration of the two mating surfaces, in my opinion. Hence the 1800’s door card problem.
Over the years, much has been made about how the Japanese adapted their cars to the North American market, how serious they were to get it right. The British, French and Italians, if I may generalize, seemed to be of the opinion in the 1960s and 1970s that what was good enough for them at home was good enough for the world. It patently was not. They could not bestir themselves to learn about foreign conditions and engineer subsequent product adaptation, the very idea being regarded as absurd. I could go on about about the professional sphere l inhabited which showed their indifference, but poor underdeveloped cars tell a wider story. Triumph, Rover, Fiat, Peugeot, Renault, Sterling all left our markets for various reasons of “not fit for purpose”. For owner light relief these days, Jaguar and Land Rover are still a bit wonky in the electrickery departments, as are Fiats on occasion like the rear license plate LEDs on the 500. Sometimes, you can lead a horse to water, but the darn thing will not drink. That reliability is not a black art and can be learned is shown by Hyundai’s progress from dross to mainstream in 30 years.
Issigonis was a designer of great merit, but produced narrow solutions to broad problems which he guarded with great jealousy from interference by management. The BMC development department was asleep at the wheel, and in any case probably hated making recommendations for changes to the great man, who would reject them and go into a sulk, feeling insulted. It certainly wasn’t all his fault, because after they finally eased him out to pasture, one asks did BLMC cars improve? Not really. The company was institutionally mediocre by then, in my opinion. Brits may object to my characterizations, but then they live there and the rest of us don’t. What works there works there, but with a bit of mental cogitation, perhaps they could attempt to see the other man’s viewpoint. Or maybe not.
Issigonis basically hindered BMC’s Research Department from doing anything useful if the quote below from Duncan Stuart is any indication.
“In late 1962 Duncan Stuart of BMC’s Research Department approached the company Chairman. ‘I went to see Harriman at about the time they turned down our V4 engines for the 1100 and 1800. I said “You know we are doing all this research but you don’t use any of it, so why don’t you put the whole of my Research and Development Department on cost cutting the Mini? We could easily take £20 out of the production cost.”’
‘He said “That’s a good idea. Talk to Alec.” I replied “Surely it is you who should talk to Alec?” He answered “If Alec is in favour, I’ll support you.” In effect he was telling me that Alec was running the company. I’m sure that’s where things went wrong, because the gearbox itself was a disaster and the problems of the synchros, and the water and so on, could all have been avoided really.
‘To divorce all our research work from any product planning strategy was almost criminal. We had about a hundred people in East Works (Longbridge), a complete drawing office with test beds and a road test department.’”
Excellent comment and very familiar to anyone who has spent any time in England. They are, for the most part, so insular that they can’t for a second believe that anything English could ever be bested by anyone else. They still believe that and when queried about it, they inevitably spout about their former empire and how the EU has shafted then.
That is not everyone but it is the folks who hold the levers of power.
The Japanese are really intelligent people. Again, I spent a lot of time there and worked for big international companies. They did everything they could to learn about foreign markets. They even kept research institute in all their major markets. They have used that knowledge to produce very desirable products and own a huge share of world industrial production.
I think the Austin has an ugly looking face, which makes an otherwise attractive looking car look ugly.
There is something so deeply ugly, depressing and mediocre about this design.
It reminds me of the Trabant in that way.
I read of a lot of positive memories as it relates to size and drivability of this car and I fully agree; it was like bus inside and it stuck to road like a railcar. A great car, but mine, a 1966 Austin 1800 in Sweden, had to be in the shop once week. After half a year I just had to get rid of it because I couldn’t afford it anymore. The last thing that happened was that I dropped the gearbox. On my way to the office, the stick just fell straight down and that’s when I traded it away. The concept was great but the realization was not up to par.
The ADO 16, to give this range its official BMC name, was never a particularly big seller in Britain due to being too expensive to compete against the Ford Cortina and BMC Farinas, and the 1800 engine was too small to compete against Rover and Triumph. Also it was blighted by its weird styling, bus like driving environment and heavy steering.
However, once the 2.2 six was fitted with power steering and in luxury Wolseley form, this transformed the ADO 16. You now had a car that combined the best attributes of the 1800 model, smooth ride, huge interior and decent handling, but which was far nicer to drive and would easily top 100 mph in near silence.
To clarify and correct what I guess is a typo, this car is the ADO17, and was not a huge commercial success.
ADO16 was the smaller Austin/Morris 1100/1300 and badge engineeered variants (inc Austin America) and was the best seller in the UK for most of the 1960s
These weren’t reliable cars, combined with the strange looks and less than stellar performance, a car that was already misdirected at its target market had no chance.
My dad owned one. It really was a case of it being off the road being worked on more than it was on. It rusted badly, was mediocre on fuel and the 1800 Bseries wasn’t man enough to move the cars bulk with any sense of urgency.
In its favour, they are enormous inside and for such a large car they cornered remarkably flat but in the real world these virtues didn’t really matter, certainly not to the extent of making you choose this car over another. You couldn’t carry any more passengers than (say) a Ford Granada, it just meant that they had more legroom, whilst the Granada gave a similarly supple ride with conventional and trouble free spring suspension.
The 2.2 E series gave the car a little extra shove, but at the expense of an 18 m.p.g thirst, which limited the appeal even more.
Sorry, these were a nowhere car from day one.
Well I bought a 2 owner one a couple of years back and I love it. Plenty of room. Quite happy at NZ speed limit. 100% reliable and turns heads. Many people tell me of family fun had in these cars and it will still pull is rather poor top speed, even after 54 years on the road.
What time did the AA turn up, do you remember?
(Sorry, couldn’t resist! But you gotta admit, it does look a bit stopped-not-necessarily-by-driver-intention here).
Parked it there – not far from my driveway – purely for photographic purposes.
Never needed the AA, you could still drive (slowly) when the hydrolastic sprang a leak or a gear selector cable broke….
It had done a lot of miles before I got my hands on it.
There’s something I like about these things. They are not beautiful in a classical way, but they’ve got a certain “je ne sais quoi”. Pretty rare too in these parts, but still unloved even today. They deserve better if you ask me.
BMC could have adopted a better approach for ADO17 (and even ADO16) by fitting power steering as standard and finding a way of fixing the driving position, especially since ADO17 in XC9001 form originally featured a front-engined RWD layout (being derived from Issigonis’s work at Alvis on the Alvis TA/175 / Alvis TA/350 V8).
It seems Issigonis or more specifically Leonard Lord sought to make BMC into a sophisticated British composite of Citroen and Lancia after receiving criticism from one of the UK Royals over how British Cars compared with foreign marques, the Alex Moulton Hydrolastic suspension and unbuilt narrow-angle V4/V6 engine being the only pieces of evidence suggesting a Citroen/Lancia-like direction for BMC along with comparisons between ADO17 with the Citroen DS.
1 – There was theoretically enough room in the engine bay of ADO17 (and ADO16) to feature an end-on gearbox, particularly in light of the fact it was to receive the abandoned narrow-angle V4/V6 engines (together with ADO16 for the V4).
2 – ADO17 as was it produced was could have been salvaged had it featured a larger 2000cc B-Series engine despite drifting from its original brief to become a much bigger car, however since it was a heavy engine BMC would have been better off developing a slightly enlarged A-Series derived engine displacing 1000-1600cc akin to the Nissan A OHV (later Nissan E OHC) engine with similar elements to the Renault C-Type yet about as light as the A-Series and still capable of fitting into the space of the original Mini. The 1400-1600cc version ideally slotting into a more Austin Maxi sized ADO17 (with scope for 1800-2000cc B-Series engines).
3 – It would have been logical for all of BMC’s FWD cars to feature hatchbacks to further highlight the space efficiency of the transverse FWD layout, with Vanden Plas versions making use of three-box saloon bodystyles similar to the X6 Austin Tasman / Austin Kimberley (and ADO16 based Austin Apache / Austin Victoria)
4 – The original RWD XC9001 prototype precursor to ADO17 meanwhile could have allowed BMC to differentiate between Austin and Morris whilst utilizing largely the same mechanicals and related componentry about a decade or so before the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina.
Austin could have produced FWD hatchbacks with Morris producing RWD saloons all derived from both ADO17 and ADO16 (reminiscent of the FWD Triumph 1300/1500 and RWD Triumph Toledo / Dolomite), with Morris’s conventional RWD entry-level equivalent to the Mini being derived from componentry of both the Morris Minor and Austin A40 Farina as a Riley Elf / Wolseley Hornet type three-box saloon akin to the Opel Kadett A / Vauxhall Viva HA.
And lastly of the view ADO17 (and ADO16) could have benefited from more involvement with Pininfarina with a more Peugeot 404 and 204 styling language, followed by a more Peugeot 304 and Peugeot 504 like facelift instead of the Citroen-like Pininfarina BMC 1800 Berlina Aerodinamica (and smaller 1100 version).
The Mini-based ADO34 sportscar prototype, Peugeot 204 as well as the Peugeot 404 Coupe / Cabriolet by Pininfarina gives an idea as to how three-box versions of ADO17 and ADO16 could have looked at the rear, together with a more modernized Peugeot 204 and Peugeot 504 like style at the front-end.
“best in class or just plain ugly?”. I’m going with “both”.
BMC’s Chevy Citation. Essentially a good concept let down by shoddy built quality, reliability issues and lack of rigorous rectification effort when the problems became apparent. And yes, I have covered considerable mileage in both…
Utterly fascinating comments on this post, many of which end up reflecting the outcomes arising from the ridiculous political structure of the land from whence the Landcrab sprang, a place whereby who you are is what you is, and you shall not rise.
Issigonis was connected to the connected by his vaguely royalish Greekness, and for all his undoubted brilliance, was also yet another influential British nut job. In what other capitalist country could such a deranged gin-soaked beanpole from engineering possibly have any sort of precedence over the MD (as commented on above)? And in what other such country could it matter a sweet fuckle what some other irrelevant and unvoted-for Greek émigré visiting BMC thought of the designs? (I refer to Prince Phillip btw, who, god help us, is still a current influential unvoted-for irrelevance). Bill Malcolm’s comment from 2019 (up above somewhere) is so illustrative, because the same born-to-rule idiocy was inflicted from head office in England upon the engineers complaining from the hot n dusty Oz end of the Empire.
Even when the 1800 was new, even the class-hidebound English journos could not find words to praise the awful styling. Sure, they loved how it drove, because it DID drive very well indeed, and miles in front of contemporaries, but it looked fugly and that driving praise came with a monster caveat: Certain Conditions. Namely, open road, moderate speeds, lots of corners. Super-comfy and brilliant.
But back in reality, a dire gearshift, logjam steering efforts (on a silly angle at that), inadequate go, poor-ish consumption and a turning circle bigger than the island of its birth. In Oz, add total and utter unreliability to this suburban undriveability, with clutches all lasting minutes and any little ray of sunshine causing them to boil and die.
Now, despite my excitations here, I do actually have a great soft spot for them, mainly because they tried to be a better mousetrap so much harder than all the competitors, and succeeded big time in handling and ride and room and astounding comfort.
It’s just that in every other measure, they’re not a stinking crab but more a stinking product of what a crab might recently have eaten.
I’m in the minority, but I like the look of the 1800. It is a little ungainly, probably because of its width, but it has the look of something carefully designed on the basis of very different criteria, which I find engaging.
It also has a peculiarly British design quality about it, whereby mechanical, mass-produced objects get a slightly more hand-built, organic/human look to them. Or possibly BL just hadn’t got the hang of mass-produced objects. 🙂
Regardless, there’s something both intellectually intriguing and emotionally endearing about it to my eye.
Awesome to see this thread still garnering attention! She’s sitting a little crooked these days having rusted through a hydro line but I have a section of replacement ready to go and she’ll be back out pretty soon.
Thanks to robadr! I agree: intriguing and endearing…
Really, the fate of the UK car industry can be boiled down to two words: unreliability and rust.