It may seem remarkable now, but in the early 1960s (indeed most of the 1960s and into 1970s), BMC, and later BLMC, was the most confused and unfocussed manufacturer in Europe, maybe the world, measured by the contrasts within its model range. Or maybe it doesn’t.
VW was still sticking to rear engined knitting; Citroen was offering a range of exclusively front wheel drive cars, in a rather disjointed graduation of models (2CV, Ami and, then, the DS); Ford (in Britain, Germany had its own Fords then) and Vauxhall had ranges of consistently conservative, rear drive cars, with a dash of style; Rootes pretty much the same; Peugeot something better but still conservative, with front wheel drive at the lower end; Renault was rear engined and then leading the way with the front wheel drive hatchback Renault 16; Fiat had rear engined small cars and conservative larger cars. BMC, the front wheel drive innovator, offered the Mini, the ADO16 (Austin/Morris/MG 1100/1300, the Austin/Morris 1800 (the Landcrab), alongside a confusing range of sportscars (how many small 2 seat roadsters do you need? There were 3 to choose from), and the innovative (and poorly executed) Austin Maxi that came in 1968. Alongside them, BMC also had the unusually configured semi hatchback Austin A40 which soldiered on, as well the featured cars, both essentially cars of earlier eras that should have given their pension books some time previously. The Wolsely 16/60 was the top of the range version of the BMC Farina saloon, first shown in 1957 as the 15/50, and significantly revised in 1961 to become the 16/60. The key differences were a 1.6 litre B series engine, in place of a 1.5 litre with 60 bhp instead of 50 bhp (you spotted that, though, from the model designation), a lengthened wheelbase and widened tracks, and slightly toned down styling, showing a little more Farina elegance and a little less North American pizzazz. But, underneath this, this was as conservative as the idea of keeping pounds, shillings and pence, or asking the BBC newsreader to wear black tie to read the news (on the radio!). Against the Cortina, it was like wearing blazer and cravat instead of a suit and tie on dress down Friday. The Farina saloon was the zenith of BMC’s 1960s badge engineering addiction, as previously reviewed on CC, being offered in 5 brands and through two dealership chains in the UK at least. It was not a great car, being slow and heavy compared with later cars such as the Cortina, and by the mid 1960s the car was looking old, both outright and in concept compared with a Cortina, Victor 101 or Hunter. Poduction finally ended in 1971, when the last Morris Oxford was superseded by the Marina. Progress, of a sort. BMC had actually planned to replace the car by the early 1960s with the concept that became the Landcrab, but were overtaken by events (notably the 1956-57 Suez Crisis and subsequent oil supply situation) and prioritised the Mini and then the ADO16 ahead of it. So, in 1958, instead of Issigonis’s take on the Citroen DS we got a determinedly conservative car with Pininfarina styling, albeit rather heavily done at first. The Minor, however, dated from 1948. This example is a 1960 car, showing almost all the developments embodied into the car – the A series OHV engine in lieu of the old Morris side valve, the enlarged windows and revised interior. This car is perhaps Britain’s best loved car, certainly Britain’s favourite family car since the war, ahead of the Cortina and Escort, Austin 1100 or even the Mini, which is often recalled as either being a family’s second car or as a first car. There are still many Minors is frequent use, as well as it being a favourite first or low cost classic car choice. The Minor is a significant landmark car for the British industry in many ways – the first car Issigonis masterminded completely, the first Morris that Lord Nuffield had to be persuaded to produce, the last compact Morris produced before the Austin merger that created BMC and the first British car to sell a million. Technically, the Minor has a strong to claim to being as innovative for 1948 as the ADO16 was for 1962, with a monocoque construction, independent suspension, light weight, good handling and ease of driving. It was certainly as large a step forward in compact car design as had been seen before or than we’ve seen since, and more than a match for the VW Beetle as car to drive or be driven in. The Golf, in 1948, if you wish. It was also the car that was the basis for the perhaps the best known small British van ever. One of which was parked just one Ford Focus’s length away. Curbside Classics indeed!