BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

| 5 Sep 2022
Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

On 15 August 1962, a major new product was launched by the British Motor Corporation.

The Morris 1100 is a prime example of the right model offered at the right time, and it more than fulfilled the brochure’s bold claims of ‘fresh, progressive and exciting thinking’.

The Motor predicted that if it did not sell in phenomenal numbers then a lot of people would be eating their hats – and, sure enough, the ADO16 family became the country’s best-selling car for many years.

It was also the first BMC product fitted with Hydrolastic suspension and, above all, it captured the zeitgeist of the early ’60s as much as The Beatles’ Love Me Do or the BBC’s That Was The Week That Was.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Davies acquired his Connaught Green 1100 in 2013

Such an important product – for the ADO16 could be one of Britain’s most significant post-war cars – merited a special 60th-anniversary celebration, so Classic & Sports Car invited eight examples to the Cowley plant, the home of the BMC 1100 and 1300.

Each represents a different aspect of a narrative that encompasses automotive genius, corporate in-fighting and, frequently, confused marketing.

And each, in its own fashion, demonstrates why the Austin, MG, Morris, Riley, Vanden Plas and Wolseley were once encountered on virtually every high street.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Morris’ superb packaging helps to boost cabin space

Familiarity with a vehicle can sometimes blind us to its significance, and when encountering William Davies’ 1963 Morris 1100 it is difficult not to indulge in Jonathan Meades-style prose.

Almost every detail evokes countless memories, from the Pininfarina styling to the flashing indicator stalk and an engine note familiar from several dozen public information films.

Yet those first 1100s were virtually unique in the market, with front-wheel drive, a transverse A-series motor and engineer Alex Moulton’s pioneering interconnected-fluid suspension.

In the words of Motor Sport, it was set to: ‘Slaughter all rival small cars, both British and Continental.’

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Adam Marshall bought back his MG after selling it in 2008

Davies may be fairly described as an ADO16 devotee, with childhood memories of his parent’s 1972 MkIII Austin Countryman.

“For me, the best aspect of ADO16 motoring is the bounciness of the Hydrolastic suspension and the transmission whine,” he explains, “plus the front seats tip forward, despite my car being a four-door!”

But, most important, 9194 DF perfectly illustrates BMC’s aim: presenting the groundbreaking ideas of designer Alex Issigonis in a sharp Italian suit.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The MG 1100 sports a stylish cabin

Six decades ago, a Morris such as this would have tempted many conventionally minded drivers to invest their £695 7s 5d in the car with a ‘sideways engine’.

The MG 1100 made its debut on 2 October 1962 and, for £713 9s 7d, it offered a heater, a pair of SU carburettors, and a wood-veneered dashboard with an illuminated ashtray.

The first front-wheel-drive Octagon-badged car certainly would have made any rival Triumph Herald owner look decidedly square.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The four-door body was added after the MG’s initial launch

Adam Marshall’s immaculate 1966 example is a reminder of just how smart the MG looked, with the black paintwork augmenting its clean lines.

“It’s the sort of car an estate agent would have driven,” laughs Marshall, and you really can imagine a young property developer behind the wheel of the ‘Safety Fast’ ADO16, en route to oversee the transformation of a Victorian slum into a concrete, Le Corbusier-inspired slum.

BMC also built a two-door ‘Sports Wagon’ for the US export market, although larger engines would take several years to arrive.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Vanden Plas Princess 1100 and its owner, Andy Beavan

As it was, the brochure’s claim that the MG was ‘an outstanding contribution to the development of the modern car’ was not entirely hyperbole.

And the 1964 Pathé short film Road Manners vividly illustrates the MG’s dangerous charisma – taking the wheel was apparently to risk a transformation into a sunglasses-wearing cad.

In 1963 there followed the launch of the Austin 1100 and, at the London Motor Show, the model once described by Autocar as ideal for the successful businessman ‘who still has to find his own parking niche’.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The regal Vanden Plas features a walnut veneer dash plus reclining front seats

Production of the Vanden Plas Princess 1100 commenced a year later with an asking price of £895 14s 7d: on a par with a Vauxhall Velox PB, but excellent value for a car transformed by Vanden Plas of Kingsbury.

Andy Beavan’s 1967 example wows with its sheer opulence: leather upholstery, a wool headlining, deep-pile carpeting, reclining front seats, courtesy lamps, a cigar lighter, a folding armrest, fresh-air vents, picnic tables for the rear passengers, fog and reversing lamps, and full instrumentation for the driver.

Beavan’s Vanden Plas has belonged to his family since 2018.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Fold-out picnic tables are a pleasant addition for passengers in the Vanden Plas

“I learned to drive in an ADO16, and the Princess was given to me by my brother,” he recalls.

“The MG-spec engine means it has a bit of extra performance above the Austin and the Morris, and I do like the interior, especially the front seats with their folding armrests and the integrated cupholders in the glovebox lid. It’s all of these small details that really make the Vanden Plas 1100 stand out.”

In 1965, BMC unveiled a vehicle that it modestly described as ‘superb’: the Wolseley 1100.

Succeeding the 1500, for £767 9s 10d the Wolseley version of the ADO16 featured leather trim and the famous ‘ghost light’ radiator crest.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Ian Mackenzie and his restored Wolseley 1100

In the range’s elaborate hierarchy, it ranked above the MG, with which it shared an engine, and below the Riley Kestrel, the replacement for the One-Point-Five.

Although the line-up encompassed six marques by then, the Wolseley’s genuine charm transcended the chaotic marketing: it epitomised haute suburbia.

Ian Mackenzie was inspired by memories of his father’s Austin 1100 MkI and bought this Wolseley 1100 in November 2016.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Wolseley’s smart strip speedometer

Since then, it has undergone welding of the floors, inner sills and boot, along with a general restoration to its excellent condition today.

Mackenzie has discovered that his car is the only surviving model with the duotone paint option, and it must be said that the Toga White and Island Green ADO16 looks as though it has just emerged from a 1960s promotional film.

‘Buy Wisely, Buy Wolseley,’ urged BMC – or to quote Mackenzie: “I do like that strip speedometer and the way it wafts gently as you drive along.”

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Green leather seats compliment Mackenzie’s duotone Wolseley 1100 nicely

An estate version was a surprisingly late addition to the BMC 1100 line-up.

Due to delays in its development, the manufacture of the Morris 1100 Traveller (and its Austin Countryman twin) did not begin until March 1966.

The sole British-built, front-drive small station wagon in its class cost just £711 11s 3d, and suffered a mere 40lb weight penalty over the saloon.

One clever feature was the two-way folding rear bench, which combined with the optional reclining front seats to transform the interior into a double bed – an ability later offered by the Austin Maxi and Fiat Panda.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Morris 1100 Traveller and owner Gordon Diffey

Gordon Diffey is a long-term ADO16 fan. “I’ve had 1100s for most of my life,” he explains, “and I own an MG 1100-based Magenta kit car that I built in 1979 and still run.

“I bought my Traveller about four years ago, and the Arnica Beige paint finish is both original and unusual.

“The estate doesn’t really handle any differently from the saloon, and I particularly like its versatility: you can transform it from a two-seater van into a five-seater that still has room for your luggage.

“And, despite the scare stories, the angle of the headlamp beam is only really affected if you carry a lot in the rear.”

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Morris 1100 Traveller’s boot capacity can be increased with the novel folding seats

In June 1967, BMC introduced the MG, Riley, Vanden Plas and Wolseley ‘1275’ models, each with a single-carburettor 1.3-litre engine.

When the ‘cropped fins’ MkII arrived in October, there were also Austin and Morris versions and, by April 1968, the four upmarket marques had gained twin SUs, with MG and Riley boasting 70bhp and close-ratio transmissions six months later.

Exchanges between Leo McKern and Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner are less confusing, but the Riley 1300 MkII owned by Paul Le Blique is still a very appealing machine.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The transverse A-series engine is a hallmark of all ADO16s

At £955 6s 11d, it was the penultimate member of the ADO16 family.

In many respects it was following in the tradition of the pre-war Riley Nine, while also appealing to former Mini Cooper ‘S’ owners who needed more space.

Sadly, as Le Blique reflects: “My car was one of the last made and, of course, among the last to carry the Riley name.”

In July 1969, one of the oldest brands in motoring history became a casualty of the recent BMC/Leyland merger.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Paul Le Blique’s bechromed Riley 1300 MkII cuts a sporting dash in ’60s style

Only three months separate the last Rileys from the October 1969 launch of its successor, the Austin 1300GT, but they are entirely different in ethos.

The outgoing model belonged to the twilight of blazers and flat hats, while the sporty Austin was apparently the cure for what the advertisers called: ‘The Motoring Equivalent of The Seven-Year Itch.’

In other words, it was ideal for the chartered accountant who had suddenly decided to adopt Jason King’s fashion sense.

There was also a Morris-badged version, as British Leyland managed to replace one car with two in the name of rationalisation.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The twin-carb 1275cc unit gives the Riley a surprising turn of pace

 The GT featured a matt-black grille, a vinyl roof, lowered suspension, a light-alloy steering wheel clad in ‘simulated black leather’ and even ‘rally-style upholstery’ for a very reasonable £909 13s 1d.

TUJ 214H was registered on 1 January 1970, and is one of the finest surviving examples, having won several prizes.

Terry Waller bought the Flame Red Austin in September 2012.

“It was more or in less in the condition you see now,” he says. “I find it very comfortable to drive, and so nippy that you only have to touch the throttle to reach 60mph.”

And few cars boast such flamboyant hubcaps.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Austin 1300GT and owner Terry Walle

No ADO16 group would be complete without a version from the overseas factories, so here we have an Austin Apache.

Instigated by a Leyland Motor Corporation of South Africa sales director, the Apache was a sort of prologue to the ADO22, an ill-fated 1100/1300 replacement.

Content laws stipulated that 85% of a car’s weight be domestically sourced, so Leykor cast the 1.3-litre engine in its Blackheath plant.

In 1972, Authi of Spain used the same bodyshell for its Austin Victoria.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The sporty 1300GT features a matt-black trim and ‘rally-style’ interior

A facelifted MkII Apache and twin-carb ‘TC’ model followed in 1973, with production ending in 1977, making it the last of the ADO16s.

The most notable aspect of Ian Creese’s 1976 model is its resemblance to a third-generation Triumph 1300 or 2000 MkII.

He discovered it on eBay in 2016, when it was in a poor state of repair having languished in a London garage since 1994.

“It drives pretty much the same as a British 1300 MkIII,” says Creese, “but a bit pokier because there is higher compression, a bigger-diameter exhaust and a slightly larger SU carburettor.

“We attend several shows in the Apache, and it attracts so much attention that we’ve had to produce an information board.”

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Ian Creese has owned the Austin Apache since 2016

British production ceased on 19 June 1974, 15 months after the launch of the Austin Allegro.

Few of those 2,250,757 ADO16s survive, many of them having fallen prey to rampant corrosion and others to the tender attentions of banger racers.

A further problem was that so many once-popular cars suffered from neglect, their owners often regarding them as consumer goods on a par with an old refrigerator or washing machine.

As a result, each member of our octet is now both rare and highly collectible.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of this story is the opportunity to further an appreciation of an unsung great.

Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

The Austin Apache has a long profile, with a Triumph-like nose and tail elements

The saga was problematic from the outset: BMC reputedly launched the Morris first to appease Nuffield Group dealer principals, and 10 years after the corporation’s formation, it still hadn’t integrated its sales outlets.

As the ’60s progressed, deployment of different marque identities took precedence over product development.

Yet the ADO16 manages to transcend the many and various troubles of its maker.

In 1962 it had no front-drive, transverse-engine competitors; six decades later, any car park is a landscape of its legacy.

Images: Will Williams

Thanks to: The 1100 Club and BMW Mini Plant Oxford


Classic & Sports Car - BMC ADO16: lateral thinking

Morris 1100

  • Sold/number built 1962-’74/2.25m (all ADO16s)
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-iron, ohc 1098cc ‘four’, single SU carburettor
  • Max power 48bhp @ 5100rpm
  • Max torque 60lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, FWD
  • Suspension: independent, at front by double wishbones rear trailing arms; interconnected Hydrolastic units, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs front, drums rear
  • Length 12ft 2¾n (3675mm)
  • Width 5ft ½in (1534mm)
  • Height 4ft 4¾in (1339mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 9½in (2375mm)
  • Weight 1820lb (827kg)
  • 0-60mph 22.2 secs
  • Top speed 78.5mph
  • Mpg 32
  • Price new £695 7s 5d
  • Price now £3-6000*

MG 1100
Where different to Morris 1100

  • Engine twin SU carburettors
  • Max power 55bhp @ 5500rpm
  • Max torque 61lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Weight 1848lb (838kg)
  • 0-60mph 18.4 secs
  • Top speed 89mph
  • Price new £713 9s 7d
  • Price now £7-12,000*

Morris 1100 Traveller
Where different to Morris 1100

  • Height 4ft 5in (1346mm)
  • Weight 2191lb (993kg)
  • 0-60mph 22.9 secs
  • Top speed 80mph
  • Price new £711 11s 3d
  • Price now £4-7000*

Vanden Plas Princess 1100
Where different to MG 1100

  • Weight 1973lb (895kg)
  • 0-60mph 21.1 secs
  • Top speed 86mph
  • Price new £895 14s 7d
  • Price now £6-10,000*

Wolseley 1100 
Where different to MG 1100

  • Weight 1820lb (826kg)
  • Top speed 85mph
  • Price new £767 9s 10d
  • Price now £5-8000*

Riley 1300 MkII
Where different to MG 1100

  • Engine 1275cc
  • Max power 70bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Max torque 77lb ft @ 3000rpm
  • Length 12ft 2¾in (3727mm)
  • Weight 1810lb (821kg)
  • 0-60mph 14.1 secs
  • Top speed 100mph
  • Price new £955 6s 11d
  • Price now £4-8000*

Austin 1300GT
Where different to Riley 1300

  • Max torque 74lb ft @ 3250rpm
  • Length 12ft 2in (3708mm)
  • Height 4ft 5½in (1359mm)
  • Weight 1885lb (855kg)
  • 0-60mph 14.5 secs
  • Top speed 96mph
  • Price new £909 13s 1d
  • Price now £5-9000*

Austin Apache
Where different to Riley 1300

  • Max power 62bhp @ 5250rpm
  • Max torque 69.5lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Length 13ft 4in (4060mm)
  • Width 5ft (1530mm)
  • Height 4ft 5in (1350mm)
  • Weight 1856lb (844kg)
  • 0-60mph 18.8 secs
  • Top speed 88mph
  • Price new R2325
  • Price now £4-8000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication


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