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
I can’t unsee the ill aligned front bumper on the 1300 GT ad. Thank you Roger for an interesting late night read.
Perhaps caused by a seven year ditch?
Just a little truth in advertising.
It’s amazing how often you see things like that in period ads. Misaligned parts, odd panel gaps, even paint on adjoining panels that doesn’t quite match.
Nowadays we wonder that nobody – from the workers, the foremen, the advertising staff, the photographer or whoever in management approved the final shot – cared.
The Riley certainly has a nicer interior than the standard Austin or Morris versions. It wouldn’t surprise if it has more legroom (in total) than the Corsa either.
While Ford’s Cortina is remembered as the success stories of the ’60s, that this front-wheel drive, unconventionally suspended car was the top-selling model for several years was quite an achievement, but one that was largely negated by the replacement Allegro being both late and such a dud.
So sad that Riley was reduced to a re-badged Austin/Morris. That lovely One Point Five has wider wheels than standard I see. I considered buying one of those in the 60s, but I thought something with 2-doors would be more sporting.
Amazing that they used that 1300GT photo !
The last bit is great, the Corsa next to it would be (by many) considered far too tiny to serve as normal transport for more than one or two persons today, whereas it simply dwarfs the Riley. What a difference 50 years makes.
Interesting that Ford supplies still 12% of the fleet today, with nary a pickup (or Mustang) in sight over there.
Always good to see a Riley though, thanks for this, each of my kids have one of their first two names rooted in British motoring history and this is one of them.
Did you hear that the European Fusion has gotten the ax too?
I did! I’m wondering if not being able to amortize the continued development over two main markets (Europe and US) played into that. Europe always had far more variants (hatch, wagon) than we did but I assume sold a lower overall volume. After the Focus (still available elsewhere but here), I reckon the Fusion was their best car.
Continued development? I think it was all too obvious that this was going to be the last generation. Sales for this category have been drooping for some time.
Ford EU is going to go 100% electric (as they’ve said) so this was a dead end anyway.
Yes, I understand that, even 100% electric doesn’t necessarily preclude developing an Electric Fusion (Cold Fusion edition?) to replace the existing one. I don’t myself believe that Ford is anywhere near being able to have even 10% of their fleet be all electric within the next five years, let alone 100% nine years from now as they announced.
I assume they will be using VW’s EV platform, right? That’s the plan last I heard.
I can’t conceive of them developing their own EV platform for a vehicle this size for EU only.
Interesting to note that the original 1993 Mondeo had a wheelbase of 106 inches, the current car (about to be discontinued) has grown to 112 inches, which is old Granada territory.
The current Euro Focus has a wheelbase of 106 inches……
It was weird here in Australia to have the Mondeo (never a good seller) grow to be much the same size as the final Falcon, and on a longer wheelbase. It used to be sized between the Focus and the Falcon. Maybe part of the problem is that it grew too big for the market?
Its wider than the last Falcon the Mondeo just kept growing.
The Fiesta is now heir to the Escort, and the Focus to Cortina/Sierra/early Mondeo. The saloon car isn’t dead (in the UK at least), it’s just down to two or three basic sizes (all hatches) with SUV-types taking over the high end and infiltrating all the other classes.
I recently traded in my proper V70 estate for an XC60, first-time into that sector. It’s very nice, but I do prefer being closer to the ground when I’m driving. So I hope saloons stick around for a few more years yet.
Didn’t I read somewhere that today’s Minis are bigger than Maxis?
We do get Rangers and (V8 only) Mustangs but the numbers of the latter are pretty limited. Top Ford sellers are the Fiesta and Focus, market leader (in normal periods) usually the Fiesta but the new Corsa has been doing well. The Focus outsells the Astra fairly clearly and edges the Golf and Qashqai. But BMW 3series, M-B C and A Class often make the top 10 too.
I spotted a Riley Elf in Florence, Oregon a few years ago.
Weird, the DVLA still has this registered as a Riley Kestrel 1300 🙂
The Mini gets all the glory, but these cars were ideal family cars for the UK roads, in their day. Had they been more robust and less mechanically cantankerous as they aged, they would have taken a place as a British car for the ages. The useable and functional interior space was incredible for their size, and they had a good combination of economy, reasonable power, and nimble handling. These were something akin to the early Honda Accord, but they debuted a decade and a half earlier, and came with less of a reputation for reliability and durability, and rightly so. Drive a restored or well maintained example, if you get the opportunity, and keep in mind the era these cars represent. They were really well done cars, for their day.
looks cute to me .
Never realized how popular this basic vehicle platform was at the time in the United Kingdom. Form followed function, but turning over design to the Italians meant that the resulting vehicle was still quite handsome.
I still have my green Matchbox MG 1100, which featured a dog sitting in the back seat behind his owner.
Sales of ADO16 apparently increased when customers saw its replacement, the Allegro. Due to their popularity, ADO16s were the car most frequently used in UK public information films, including a whole series about driving, involving a fictional family called the ‘Blunders’. Here are two other examples.
ADO16 also appeared in the USA with a small quantity of MG 1275s in 1967. Twin carb 1275cc engine. One story had the quantity at 3 , one red, one black and one white for the entire USA. I don’t know the truth of that. For MY 1968, the all became Austin America with a single carb 1275. Almost all had automatic transmissions.
This morning my wife came in from a walk and said that there were 2 kestrels (birds) putting on quite a show. They were swooping and screeching loudly. I then looked at this posting. Does this qualify as a CC effect?
The basic car was familiar to we in the US young enough to own Matchbox cars (I certainly had one) but the number of variations on the theme were not.
That grille treatment reminds me of the face mod being seen on quite a few Jeeps in my area – I think of it as the Angry Birds edition. This one is more docile, with just a tiny furrow in the middle of the brow.
The dip in the top line of the grille is the traditional shape for Riley. It is an easy way to differentiate Rileys from Wolseleys.
Yes, I had the Matchbox MG 1100 and a nursery school classmate’s parents had a BRG MG 1100 just like the Matchbox. I didn’t learn the myriad variations until I started reading Practical Classics in the late 80s
Also available in European countries as the Innocenti im-3 and Innocenti Jm4 ,
assembled in Italy of course
Wow. This is smaller than a Opel/Vauxhall Corsa? Or VW Polo?
Only on the outside.
Besides, both those cars started out considerably smaller than they now are.
Bought an MG100 in the early 70’s, a 1964 car. Had it for a week then a bus hit it a glancing blow and the front completely shattered – it was mostly rust and cataloy filler as were the sills [ rockers] !
Insurance company gave me £70 [ which was a tenner more than I’d paid for the damned thing] and the salvage of the vehicle which I then sold for £40 to a guy who wanted the engine and the sporty steering wheel.
The Austin 1300 GTs actually went quite well, we had one as a runabout when I was detailing used and prepping new cars for sale someone traded it on a 1300 Viva Magnum dont worry if youve never heard of those it was a dress up kit for plain jane HC Vivas,
Anyway being a BMC product it wasnt going on the used car lot with proper cars so it was pressed into service untill the guy who bought all the unwanted trade ins turned up for it nothing wrong with as such even the front bumper was on straight but it could do 100mph indicated and actually drove quite well,
Riley and Wolseley versions are rare here though survivors are out there,Im going to a British European car show on Sunday so I’ll see if any turn up I’ll have my unrestored Superminx estate there looking used and scruffy to lower the tone, should be fun.