History : When Alex Moulton tried to advise Spen King
This wonderful vignette of a fertile, tumultuous and ultimately forlorn piece of British Leyland history has come to me directly from the archive of Dr Alex Moulton. In 1975, development of the ADO88 was well underway, with Spen King and Charles Griffin leading the programme. But for Dr Alex Moulton, King was on his way to making a fundamental mistake with the new car.
The plan was a simple one: following the abandonment of the ADO74 project the previous year, British Leyland set about building a new supermini, powered by the Mini’s A-Series transmission-in-sump powertrain and suspended by Allegro-style Hydragas suspension. Unlike the ADO74, which was all-new from the ground-up, the ADO88 was to be put together on a budget. Relatively, of course – as the bill for the final project in 1988 was £275m, but that did include a new factory – fully robotized – to build the car in.
However, back in 1975, Spen King – who wasn’t a Hydragas advocate – was putting together a suspension system that wasn’t interconnected, like that of the Allegro. He liked simplicity, and removing the interconnection – like with the Mini – would help achieve this. But in simple terms, that cost- and complexity-saving option might have been a step too far.
Dr Moulton said in his letter (below, which you can click to download the full version), ‘I feel it is appropriate at this stage to reaffirm our unequivocal belief that the right system for this car is the true interconnected Hydragas…’
It’s not recorded what Spen King’s response this letter was, but the mutual ambivalence both men had for each other at the time is well known. However, the correspondence channel remained open, as the following letter from 1976 revealed. As events transpired, Spen King’s non-interconnected set-up (with a vestigial interconnect pipe for the rear to avoid the ‘three-legged stool effect – as well as separate dampers) was employed in the Austin Metro – a compromise that wasn’t put right until 1990, with the R6 Rover Metro/100.
You can, as always, read the full story only on AROnline, but it’s good to know that it’s been bolstered just a little bit more by the archives of the late Dr Alex Moulton.