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

If you’re in the market for a new family car, there are perhaps 20 or more brands you can choose from, all offering credible, no apology or excuse needed, products. But fifty years ago, there was a much more limited choice.

In 1969, life was in some ways, almost incomprehensibly different. In the UK, you would most likely choose a BMC/BLMC, a Ford, a Vauxhall or a Rootes product, or be one of just 10% who chose an import, which was most likely to be a VW, Fiat or Renault. Toyota, Datsun? I think not.

40% of British buyers choose a BLMC product, from a range that went from the Mini, through the Austin-Morris range, Triumph, Rover and Jaguar saloons, and a selection of sports cars – a choice of over a dozen models with endless variations within them. And within that 40%, a total of 133,455 chose something from the Austin-Morris 1100/1300, or ADO16 (sold in the US as the Austin America), family. That one model took a third of BLMC’s market share, and held an overall market share of almost 14%, or close to one car in seven. And did so from 1965 to 1971. Today, Ford, as the market leader, has a total market share of around 12%.

Perhaps, family is the key word. In the UK market, there were Austin, Morris, MG, Wolseley, Vanden Plas versions, as well as this Riley version. First introduced in 1962 as the Morris 1100, the Morris and Austin (from 1963) versions were all but identical, were offered in de Luxe and Super de Luxe trims, and were perfectly adequately equipped for entry level and most private buyers.

From late 1962, MG added a sport touch, with a twin carburettor 1100 engine and more elaborate interior. Then came the Vanden Plas in 1963 with a full coachwork standard wood, leather and West of England cloth interior fitted at the Vanden Plas works in London.

The Wolseley 1100 with luxury trim, by this time perhaps Britain’s Buick, and the Riley Kestrel came in October 1965, picking up an old Riley name. But you could easily play spot the difference between the MG, the Wolseley and Riley.

The Riley brand was previously part of the Nuffield Organisation, acquired when Nuffield had purchased the bankrupt Riley Company in 1939, largely for its manufacturing capacity and for his friendship with Victor Riley. Nuffield did not need the brand (he already had MG and Wolseley after all) but in the event maintained a truly separate range of Riley cars until after the BMC merger.

By the early 1960s, the Riley name was reduced to three models – the Elf, a Mini derivative with the odd longer boot, the One Point Five, a small slightly dumpy saloon based on the floor pan of the 1948 Morris Minor but with a larger engine and a sporty-cum-luxury air, and the 4/72, a derivative of the Morris Oxford-Austin Cambridge Farina saloon range, again with luxury trim and a slightly sporting air.

The ADO16, for a quick recap, was Alec Issigonis’s follow up to the original Mini. It took the Mini concept, of a transverse engine with the gearbox in the sump, a wheel at each corner, a focus on packaging and space efficiency not on style, and an innovative suspension, in this case the BMC/Moulton hydrolastic system. The style was actually defined by Pininfarina, and it showed. It quickly became Britain’s best seller, with production being ramped up to 4500 a week within a year. Arguably, it was Issigonis’s highpoint.

The Kestrel was purely an 1100 with a traditional style radiator grille and a wood veneer and some leather pleated seat facings. It was the first ADIO16 to have a rev-counter in what was for 1965 a comprehensive instrumentation set, ahead of the sports MG which still had a strip speedometer(!).

Mechanically, the car was otherwise identical to the MG 1100 and Wolseley 1100, which was introduced at the same time. It was priced at £781 (£15500 adjusted) compared to the Morris de Luxe at £644 (£12700 adjusted), the MG at £742 (£14700 adjusted) and the Wolseley at £754 (£14930 adjusted).

The Kestrel went to 1275cc in the spring of 1967, and to a twin carburettor version of the 1275cc engine in late 1967, with revised trimmed fins and rear lights as did all other ADO16 variants. 1968 saw an all-synchromesh gearbox on all the cars.

The feature car is a 1969 Riley 1300 MkII, first registered in June 1970. The Kestrel name was dropped in late 1968, and the car known as the 1300 in line with the rest of the family.

But in July 1969, BLMC finally laid the Riley name to rest, as the Elf was replaced by the Mini Clubman, the 1300 by the Austin (or Morris, take your pick) 1300GT with a vinyl roof and sharp modern colours, and the 4/72 quietly allowed to die with the dignity its age permitted. This car is therefore one of the last Rileys registered, almost certainly originally from dealer stock.

So, one car in seven was like this, except only 22,000 ADO16s in 2,365,420 were Rileys. So, closer to one in a hundred.

As an aside, a note on the size of the ADO16. The red car beside our feature car is a 2017 Vauxhall Corsa – Vauxhall/Opel’s supermini – a car that is five inches longer in wheelbase and a foot longer in length. And 600lb heavier.

Related ADO16 reading:

CC 1965 MG 1100  (ADO16)  BMC’s Greatest Hit   R.Carr

1962 Austin 1100 – COTY Nomination  P. N.

Jeff Nelson’s colorful take on the Austin America

Cohort Outtake: Vanden Plas Princess 1100  PN

CC Outtake: Austin 1300   R.Carr