BMC 1100/1300 : Japanese variations

The Japanese took the ADO16 to their hearts in a big way, leading to a mass exodus of decent examples to Japan in the 1990s. And when the demand for the cars began to outstrip the supply of pukka models, a gaggle of ingenious reproductions began to appear…


 A selection of images from BLMC's range catalogue for the Japanese market in 1970. The ADO16 was available in MG, Wolseley and Morris versions, with the last of these marques being represented by the standard 1300 and 1300GT models.

A selection of images from BLMC's range catalogue for the Japanese market in 1970. The ADO16 was available in MG, Wolseley and Morris versions, with the last of these marques being represented by the standard 1300 and 1300GT models.

BACK in the late 1960s/early 1970s, BLMC’s Japanese distributors Nichiei Jidosha offered a limited range of models from the group’s Morris, MG, Wolseley and Daimler marques, including the Mini, 1800, MGB/MGBGT, and of course, the ADO16 in 1300 guise. Four 1300 variants were offered (see caption above), and as a result the ADO16 built up a certain following there, riding largely on the reputation and universal appeal of the Mini which was much the bigger seller. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1970s, a wide range of ADO16 variants had established themselves on the Japanese classic car circuit. Examples of the Austin, Riley and Vanden Plas models also found their way to Japan’s shores, presumably brought in by those looking for something a little different, and the car was fast acquiring a reputation as the ideal interpretation of the Issigonis small-car concept.

Emerging classics: some cherished examples of the upmarket ADO16 varieties, as captured by the camera in the late-1970s.

Emerging classics: some cherished examples of the upmarket ADO16 varieties, as captured by the camera in the late-1970s.

Bread and butter: the standard ADO16s – seen here in 4-door Morris 1100 Mk1 and 2-door Austin 1300 Mk3 forms – also have their adherents in Japan, although they are nowhere near as popular as the "posher" versions.

Bread and butter: the standard ADO16s – seen here in 4-door Morris 1100 Mk1 and 2-door Austin 1300 Mk3 forms – also have their adherents in Japan, although they are nowhere near as popular as the "posher" versions.

However, it was not until the 1990s that the ADO16 – and in particular, the Vanden Plas Princess – was to enjoy a massive revival in Japan. Again, it was the Mini that proved to be the catalyst for this renewed interest, as during the late 1980s it had become the car to be seen in on Tokyo’s fashionable streets; indeed, it was this Japanese interest in the Mini that led to the eventual relaunch of the Cooper version. By the early 1990s, though, the Mini was beginning to be seen as rather passŽ by the more fashion-conscious, and those seeking something more distinctive and exclusive turned their attention to the Princess 1100 and 1300, no doubt charmed by its quintessentially English ambience. With its faintly ostentatious grille up front and the leather-and-walnut interior, it provided the essential elements of a pocket-sized Rolls-Royce: just right for the overcrowded city’s tight streets and even tighter parking spaces.

Support system: many of the aftermarket suppliers who handled the Mini also catered for the ADO16. Front seat headrests were a popular addition in Japan, with some owners choosing to have them added to the standard seats while others opted to have the entire front seats replaced.

Support system: many of the aftermarket suppliers who handled the Mini also catered for the ADO16. Front seat headrests were a popular addition in Japan, with some owners choosing to have them added to the standard seats while others opted to have the entire front seats replaced.

Back in the UK, word of the Japanese interest began to spread and prices of well-sorted Princesses soared as Japanese buyers scoured the classic car dealers, sometimes in person but often by remote control. At the height of the craze it was not unusual to see reportedly pristine VP 1300s advertised at prices of £8000 and upwards, occasionally hitting five figures; in the mid-1990s, one fully restored Princess was reported to have been sold for 2.5million Yen, which was then the equivalent of around £14,000, while another was optimistically advertised for a ginormous £30,000… Several classic car delaers began to specialise in acquiring Princesses specifically for the Japanese market, and they would offer a fully-managed service, including making the shipping arrangements, for their very particular clients. Some would also offer a complete restoration service, which allowed customers to have a car rebuilt pretty much to their own specification. One such company, Broadspeed Engineering of Colchester, Essex, had a long history and honourable history with the Mini, having produced the legendary Mini Sprint in the 1960s. In the 1980s they had started to specialise in exporting top-notch Mini-Coopers and Travellers to the USA and Japan, so they were well placed to cater for Vanden Plas Princess buyers.

Of course, many of those purchases made at the height of the market would have been accompained by the no-so-sweet smell of burning fingers. By the turn of the millennium, the bubble had burst and things had begun to settle down again. Today, there remains a steady trickle of exports to Japan, but prices are now far more realistic.



Faking it…

At the height of the ADO16’s mid-1990s popularity in Japan, a handful of specialist companies decided to cash-in on its success by producing a variety of lookalike models, which used the second-generation Nissan March (or Micra, as it was known in the UK) or the Daihatsu Mira as their basis…

Lotas Princess March

LAUNCHED in November 1995, the Lotas Princess (also referred to as the “Otua Princess” in some sources) was the first of the Princess lookalikes. Available in both 3- and 5-door forms, the front end of the car was transformed into a fairly convincing copy of the original Vanden Plas version, although the circular indicators clearly owed more to the MG 1100.

At the back, the standard March tailgate was used, but it was embellished with an elaborate boot handle and twin number plates lights, all of which were given a chromed finish. The rear wings were drawn out to form vestigial fins, which were topped-off with MGB-like rear light clusters (which resemble those of the MkI 1100), while the chrome bumpers, both front and rear, carried overriders which were styled to (loosely) resemble the original items. The picture was completed with chrome hubcaps and a rather heavy-handed gold-coloured coachline. The options list included a wood-rimmed steering wheel, wooden door cappings and gear knob, spotlights and bucket seats. Standard colours were blue, black, white, yellow, green, silver and red, with two-tone paintwork was available to order. In 1998 the hatchback models were joined by a convertible version, which was based on the recently-launched March convertible.

Front and rear views of the Lotas Princess March.

Front and rear views of the Lotas Princess March.

This convertible version was owned by one of the designers who worked on the transformation from March to Princess. (Image kindly submitted by Michael Turner)

This convertible version was owned by one of the designers who worked on the transformation from March to Princess. (Image submitted by Michael Turner)

Copel Ministar and Bonito

SPECIALIST company Copel concentrated on turning out modified versions of Japanese production cars, and were already building the Antiguo (basically a Toyota Corolla estate with bespoke front-end styling that faithfully resembled the series 1 Jaguar XJ6), when in 1996 they turned their attention to the Princess, launching a brace of tribute models in the September of that year.

Front and rear views of the Copel Ministar. Click on the above image to view the brochure cover.

Front and rear views of the Copel Ministar. Click on the above image to view the brochure cover.

The Ministar was a sort of half-way house: all panels ahead of the windscreen were replaced, with the rounded front wings, bluff front panel and grille, and the deftly fluted bonnet all providing a very acceptable imitation of the original design. However, the rear of the car was much closer to the standard Nissan March, although it borrowed the cute rear light clusters from the Autech Bolero (another March-based special), and featured similar chrome fittings to those that adorned the Lotas Princess (see above). The Ministar also aped the Lotas in using circular front indicators, presumably beacuse the cost of making authentic replicas of the original wrap-around units would have proved prohibitive.

The Copel Bonito (pictured above) used pretty much the same front end styling as the Ministar, but was also heavily re-worked at the rear. The March’s taligate was reskinned, with the lower half being modified to approximate to the angular shape of the 1100’s distinctive bootlid, while the rear wings incorporated slanting light clusters similar to those found on the Mark II ADO16s. In fact, bearing in mind that this was, after all, a modern hatchback in drag, it has to be said that the resulting design was quite faithful to the original (moreso from some angles than others), despite its having to retain the March’s entire middle section. The Bonito certainly went further than any other such car towards recreating the look of the Princess.

Both the Ministar and the Bonito were available with either 1.0 or 1.3 litre Nissan engines, and in a range of five body colours (red, royal blue, white, black and silver). The interior was left pretty much standard, apart from the application of (probably imitation) wood trim to the dashboard, although Copel offered leather upholstery at extra cost.

In May 1998, Copel further expanded its range by offering the convertible version of the Lotas Princess as the Copel Bonito Fresco. Like the Crayford ADO16 from which it surely drew its inspiration, the Bonito Fresco was available only with the 1.3-litre engine. Three colours were offered: wine, silver and the bluey-green metallic seen here.

Mitsuoka Ray

FOR those who preferred their latter-day ADO16 to be Wolseley-shaped (well, sort of), there was the five-door Mitsuoka Ray. Mitsuoka are best known for their oddly named &#150 and even more oddly formed – Viewt, a March-based interpretation of the Jaguar Mark II. The Daihatsu Mira-based Ray was a rather more straightforward affair, with most of the changes reserved for the Wolseley-pastiche front end and the wood-clad interior. There was also a three-door version of the Ray, based on the smaller Mazda Carol, which was intended to evoke the Wolseley Hornet, having a more rounded interpretation of the Wolseley front end. In 1999, the Mitsuoka Ray moved away from the overtly Wolseley-inspired styling when a revised version (based on the new Mazda Carol) was launched.

Front, rear and interior views of the original, five-door Mitsuoka Ray.

Front, rear and interior views of the original, five-door Mitsuoka Ray.


This page was contributed by Declan Berridge


Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

2 Comments on "BMC 1100/1300 : Japanese variations"

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  1. Cedric Talbot says:

    Congratulations Declan on sorting out what was happening in Japan with ADO16. Let me add my penn’orth and perhaps clarify a few points.

    I was the BL Export Sales Manager for Japan based in London from 1972 until 1977, when I joined Leyland Japan in Tokyo. This was a joint venture with Mitsui Bussan holding the majority share. LJ changed its identity to BL Japan and then became Austin Rover Japan when ARG bought out Mitsui’s shareholding in 1983. I had the privilege of being appointed President (CEO) of this company. By this time we had escaped from the nightmare of trying to sell US spec TR7s and Rover 3500s and our only reasonably successful ‘volume’ models – MGB and Midget – had gone out of production. As there were no suitable ARG models homologated for the US market, we were in the odd position of having only Jaguar and Daimler to sell. The Mini was in demand and was being grey imported in quite big numbers so we worked hard to get it officially homologated. It’s another story, but in the end we succeeded and I was very happy to secure an initial order for 1,000 Minis, which I believe was at the time the biggest single order ever taken for a foreign car. Subsequently we took over Nichiei Jidosha, thereby doubling the size of our operation, and finally signed up Peugeot as well because the ARG-Honda models were still years away!

    Going back to the ADO 16 story, there were originally two BMC importers: Capital Enterprises with Austin and Nichiei Jidosha (meaning Japan-British Motors) with Morris & MG. The emission standards introduced around 1973 were so severe that only models which already met the Californian standards could be easily homologated in Japan. Everything else had to be fitted with exhaust catalysts locally and the cars were approved one by one at local MoT test stations, at significant unit cost. The numbers of ADO16s imported at that time were tiny and these were sold at surprisingly high prices to a limited clientele of British car enthusiasts.

    As you say the ADO16 did far better as a classic than as a new car. The craze for the VdP Princess really got going at the time of the ‘bubble economy’ which peaked around 1990 with property and classic car prices going crazy. At that time the cars were relatively new and many low mileage examples found their way into the market, again with local emissions modifications and usually with local aircon fitted too. Cars with the AP auto transmission were especially sought after. The extraordinary thing is that here we are 20 years later and some of those very same cars are still being sold at retail for around the same price of Yen 1.5m. In that time the pound sterling has dropped from around Y350 to Y127, which is why these cars now appear outrageously expensive from a UK perspective.

    Finally, I wouldn’t say the Mini was looking passe by the 1990s at all – it went from strength to strength as a Rover Japan model with numerous special editions including Coopers, Mayfairs and the like and ultimately sold around 12,000 per year.

  2. Hilton D says:

    I think my favourite has to be the Lotas Princess March, at least when viewed from the front 3/4 angle. The Mitsuoka Ray is interesting too. Great to have a glimpse of these cars..

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