Vintage R&T Road Test: 1968 Austin America Automatic – An Exceptional Four-Speed Automatic Made It “The Biggest Bargain In The Imported Car Market”

The Austin America (ADO16/Austin/Morris 1100/1300) has become one American journalists/blogger’s favorite whipping boy, along with the more recent Yugo. In both cases, they were not actually as bad as one might think, even from CC’s own post on the America. Of course it failed in the very competitive US market, arriving just when the Japanese ascendancy was getting seriously under way.

The ADO16 cars were ahead of their times in a number of ways, as we’ve covered here a number of times, but one of the most outstanding was its unique four-speed automatic, offering significantly better performance than the two and three-speed automatics available in the competition. R&T tested one, and the were impressed with it. Of course, the test car also exhibited evidence of the lackadaisical quality that had come to define BMC products.

R&T was so impressed they went as far as calling it “the biggest bargain in today’s imported car market”. The America was of course just an updated Austin 1100, now with the larger 1275 cc engine. It had been previously sold in the US as the MG 1100/1300, but in quite modest numbers. Americans just weren’t biting Issigonis’ highly advanced FWD products.

The Power Products four speed automatic was quite different than most, as it used bevel gears along with a torque converter; so a bit like an automated manual. And it could be shifted manually too. The resulting performance was still slower than a true manual version, but its 0-60 time of 18 seconds was quite decent for a small car at the time, and faster than a stick-shift VW.

The engine is a detuned version of the 1275 cc unit first used in the Mini Cooper S, now sporting one carb and rated at 58 hp, but more significantly, 13% more torque than the 100, which allowed a higher (lower numerical) final drive ratio, which was very helpful in reducing engine revs at American highway speeds.

Of course R&T loved the many other qualities of the ADO16; it’s superb space utilization, stiff body structure, excellent ride from its Hydrolastic suspension, superb visibility and its fun-to-drive nature. The fact that last quality was not diminished by its automatic is a real tribute.

R&T also noted a number of issues with their short-term tester: poor ventilation, rattles, paint flaws, left side mirror head missing (?), and some other niggles. They were expecting to get another with which to do a 24,000 mile extended test.

Related reading:
Turkey Day Classic: 1968-1972 Austin America – Yankee Doodle Disaster

Curbside Classic: 1965 MG1100 (ADO16) – BMC’s Greatest Hit

Curbside Salute: BMC’s ADO16 Reaches 60!