The fact that I have a bit of a “thing” for ADO16s is something of a surprise given the secondhand one my mum ran when I was a kid. It was absolutely the car to prejudice you against them for life: Austin 1100, beige (or Harvest Gold as they preferred to call it) and fiendishly unreliable. I was of such an age that we barely undertook any journey of more than a few miles either to playgroup or the shops and I still can’t remember us ever completing one successfully. Only the fact that her previous car had been a Hillman Imp that broke down even more regularly and with even more determination, made the BMC car acceptable. That said, with the white Imp at least my brother and I could spend hours entertaining ourselves by clambering through the opening rear window while we waited for the breakdown services and then, inevitably, the recovery truck.
You can’t entirely blame the cars, of course, as much as family’s habit of paying bottom dollar for dodgy secondhand scrappers that weren’t exactly renowned for their reliability when new. Anecdotally, when after years of Mum’s silent (at least until the kids went to bed) suffering with this situation, Dad finally stumped up for a brand new car for her… she bought an Alfasud that made the previous Brits seem bulletproof. Because you are clearly dying to know, the second choice to the ’Sud was a Citroën GS. See a motoring masochism theme developing?
Anyway, Britain’s best-selling car or not, I never warmed to the tepid-cup-of-char brown 1100. I did, however, still massively lust after a 1300GT (Morris or Austin). I think it was the lurid colours, the badging and the outlandish sexiness of the rather optimistic GT claim (which similarly explains my near-lifelong penchant for Mini 1275GTs). But mainly it was the lurid colours.
When James Page bought his MG 1300 last year, I was pretty jealous because it is such a beautiful, grown-up car. But if it had been a lot less sober, painted in Florida Green or Snapdragon and bedecked in garish decals, I might just have cried with envy.
Besides, I had already got my fix that year when I visited the James Hull collection. There, among the cosmetic dentistry tycoon’s 550-car collection of every example of everything – shortly thereafter to be sold lock, stock and ADO16s to Jaguar-Land Rover – was the perfect car for me.
The Signal Red MkIII Austin on the twin SUs and with that misleadingly racy interior (in black, not feeling dissimilar to an early Porsche 911) and sporting wheel was the business. For a design that was already a decade old when this example was built, it must have still seemed remarkably modern in the early 1970s. Then there was that unique performance package, the transverse-engined, front-wheel-drive and hydrolastic genius of the common or garden variants hopped up with . There was nothing quite like it… except the MG, Wolseley, Riley, Morris and Vanden Plas.
It seems weird to say, but the 1300GT has an unmistakeable Issi-ness about it, despite Charles Griffin, Alex Moulton and Pininfarina really taking the job from paper to reality.
It was a hoot as I blatted it around his driveway – and this was a driveway long enough to genuinely get some speed up – after a downpour, slithering around on the skinny tyres and enjoying the underrated Brit immensely. Except the gearchange. I never did get on with that sense of remote detachment from the A-series in my first car – a Mini 1000 – and I certainly don’t welcome that pillow-baulked vagueness now, after a couple of decades of driving Lotuses. Which is a shame, because that aside – and the fact that, in effect, Pagey has already got one – there would probably be one in my garage by now.