Sports car projects : ADO68 Project Condor

Back in the late 1960s, when the influence of ex-Ford man, Roy Haynes, started to take hold, some very interesting design projects started to emerge from the Pressed Steel Fisher design studios in Cowley. The ADO68 was one such platform-sharing product. 

(Picture: "Men and Motors of the Austin", Barney Sharratt).

(Picture: “Men and Motors of the Austin”, Barney Sharratt)

Devised at the Pressed Steel Fisher styling studios in Cowley by Roy Haynes, this series of production car-based sporting coupés was intended to add glamour to BLMC’s range of cars in a relatively inexpensive way. Rather like the Ford Capri’s relationship with the Cortina, the Condor cars were to be mechanically identical to their donor cars, with only the styling setting them apart. As can be seen in this gallery, the success of these projects was rather mixed.

ADO68/28 – the Marina connection

(Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).

(Picture: “MG: The Untold Story”, by David Knowles)

ADO68/14 – the Princess/Maxi connection

ADO68/14 clay model. Although this Harris Mann styled car was Maxi-based, it clearly predicts the style of the Princess, which Mann had just started work on. (Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).
(Picture: “MG: The Untold Story”, by David Knowles)

ADO68/14 clay model. Although this Harris Mann-styled car was Maxi-based, it clearly predicts the style of the upcoming Princess, which Mann had just started work on. Would this model scheme have added glamour to the BL model range in the crisis-hit 1970s? Would it have stolen sales from the Ford Capri?

ADO68/67 – the Allegro connection

Undoubtedly the least successful of the three ADO68 versions, this Allegro-based attempt doesn't really have anything to recommend it. This car's grille arrangement calls to mind that of the Fiat 124 coupé, while its twin-headlight arrangement eventually surfaced on the swansong Allegro 3, although some European-market cars were thus-equipped much earlier. (Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).
(Picture: “MG: The Untold Story”, by David Knowles)

Undoubtedly the least successful of the three ADO68 versions, this Allegro-based attempt doesn’t really have anything to recommend it. This car’s grille arrangement calls to mind that of the Fiat 124 coupé, while its twin-headlight arrangement eventually surfaced on the swansong Allegro 3, although some European-market cars were thus equipped much earlier.

Written with reference to “MG: The Untold Story”, by David Knowles.

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

16 Comments on "Sports car projects : ADO68 Project Condor"

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  1. Hilton Davis says:

    I think ADO68/28 showed real potential and would, as stated here, have been a competitor for the Ford Capri. The car also bears some resemblence to the 1980 Toyota Corolla Hatch version of the Corolla saloon. I think they would have competed well with Ford in the 1970s but, of course, we’ll never know!

  2. Chris Sawyer says:

    The coupe at the top of the page is gorgeous! The rest? Only ADO68/14 has any appeal.

  3. Nate says:

    While the stylish proposal at the top of the page is stunning and could have sold really well, one gets the feeling that the styling seems to be more catered for American tastes.

    Though it is not shown in this article, I personally prefer the “MG Magna”-badged version of ADO68/28 that bore a resemblance to the Fiat 124 Coupe as well as the alternate “Magna” proposal that from the front either resembled an Opel Kadett C Coupe with quad-headlights or possessed slight shades of the Reliant Scimitar GTC.

  4. Paul says:

    Roy Haynes Condor idea was clearly a good one, but it needed a decent platform to share. Dont think the Marina underpinnings – I hesitate to call it a platform – was that!

  5. there is a lot of VW scirocco mk1 and Passat in the 28, And I think the 14 looks like it could have been built on the allegro platform by its dimensions,also used the panel work under the swage line.

  6. francis brett francis brett says:

    Cant say im a fan of the last two pictures.

  7. Chris Baglin says:

    The top coupe would have been very striking in its day but would have dated very quickly.

    The ADO68/28 has an Italianate purity of lines- very much like the Giorgetto Guigiaro penned Mk1 Golf and Passat- and with its good looks it carries off the plain single headlight grille very well (actually there are two headlights but ya know what I mean…). And those wheels are gorgeous!

  8. Glenn Aylett says:

    The ADO 68 coupe reminds me of the Vauxhall Magnum. I wonder if Vauxhall got wind of this potential coupe and designed a car with a similar looking front end.
    Actually the Magnum is one of those cars which deserves more recognition on here when there’s a Vauxhall feature. It was born out of the Viva based Firenza, with a more conventional rear end to save money and bigger engines, but retaining the four headlamp front end. In 2.3 litre form this attractive coupe version of the Viva could really motor and only a V6 Capri, costing a lot more, could beat it.

  9. KC says:

    Text message to check if a logging-in fault has been fixed by Keith Adams.

  10. JH Gillson says:

    Always favoured the car featured in the top photo myself.

    In David Knowles’ book – right at the back in the appendices – there is mention of EX242 – an MG GT version of ADO28 but on a 102″ wheelbase. It says it may have been related to ADO68, but what if it wasn’t? There’s no mention in the rest of the book that the ADO68 models above rode on a 6″ longer wheelbase. Another “lost” project, perhaps?

    Nothing but nothing makes sense about the Marina.

    Here’s something I wrote (much) earlier on the Marina development comments page. It’s culled from the excellent Jon Pressnell’s excellent, “Morris: The Cars and the Company.”

    Eric Lord (Cowley’s Works Manager) “pressed for a reversion to tried and tested mechanicals. I wrote a paper about the Maxi saying ‘For Goodness sake would we please stop working from a clean sheet of paper. Let’s learn from our mistakes on the cars we’re making and learn from these – let’s put a new dress on them. I pleaded that the Morris Minor should have a new dress, but remain basically the same, while we had a chance to catch our breath. It was a reliable car, it didn’t cost a great deal to assemble, and warranty costs were low.’”

    “John Bacchus was one of those who could see the appeal of such a scheme. ‘There was a desperate need for a fleet-market car…Casting around, there it was – the Morris Minor. It had a fairly stable structure, rack-and-pinion steering – and a conventional leaf-spring rear suspension, of course, but so had Cortinas and a lot of other cars. What we needed was a quick and dirty programme. So why not just drop a new bodyshell on the Minor? Bingo! It would only have to live for 4-5 years [that’s four to five years, not 45] anyway…’

    “So it was that under BL the idea of a ‘New Minor’ gathered momentum, with the target – notwithstanding Roy Haynes – being less the Cortina than the Escort and the Viva.”

    Later, an embattled Haynes left BL tired of trying to convince the new regime of the ingenuity of his master-plan: “the tragedy of my life.”

    From a passage entitled “The Prostitution of Engineering”: “In terms of mechanicals it was envisaged as using the 1100cc and, 1300cc A-series engine and the 1500cc E-series Maxi unit with the gearbox being [that] in the 1970 Triumph Toledo. The rest of the running gear would be Morris Minor and here was the first major mis-step” – the adoption of the Minor’s “expensive and inefficient” IFS, “whose failings could have easily have been palliated by the use of telescopic dampers and a conventional upper arm.”

    “With lever arm dampers you have no noise insulation from the road and once you’ve put them on, you’re restricted to one supplier.

    “They were just a nightmare. I can’t think for the life of me why they carried over the lever-arm damper. We should have done better. We were carrying over too much Morris Minor stuff.”

    The reason the E-series was junked: “the E-series was axed from the programme…because the Cofton Hackett facility was would not be able to produce the engine in sufficient numbers.”

    Pressnell says this is hard to believe given the Maxi’s poor sales performance. Another reason for not adopting the E is the unit not having been homologated to meet US emissions regs.

    And so the “heavy and old-fashioned” B-series was adopted.

    Problem: “the transmission tunnel was laid out for the ’58.5mm’ Triumph gearbox, and the B-series transmission would not fit. The Triumph unit thus had to remain. This was in the full knowledge that this rehash of a gearbox that had started life in the 1953 Standard Eight was simply not strong enough to withstand the torque of the B-series engine. The second consequence of installing the B-series was that the antiquated Minor suspension couldn’t cope.”

    [Except in an earlier chapter Pressnell recounts the story of the Morris Major Elite in Australia: a long wheelbase Minor with 1622cc B-series engine described by one BMC Australia old-hand as ’the best thing we ever made‘]

    Pressnell describes BL’s engineering resources as “shockingly deficient” in comparison to Ford and its continental competitors and that what resources the company did have were spread too thin when it decided to split the mid-size market by developing the Marina and Allegro, but that “across the corporation there were men of talent and ability.”

    “This sort of fiasco should not have happened. Part of the reason was that BMC engineers wedded to front-wheel-drive were asked to create the cut-price Marina against their will.”

    Ron Nicholls lamented that there was a lack of communication between the new-recruits from Ford and the old-hands. The Marina, “sort of lost its way, and the engineering was prostituted to keep the costs down. It ended up totally underbraked; the wheel bearings weren’t up to the job. The whole thing was totally inadequate…Had it been just a 1300 it would have worked. Not that brilliantly, but it would have worked.”

    On component-sharing within the BL empire: “Had the new car been based on Toledo underpinnings…then it would have had modern strut front suspension, a coil-sprung rear axle –and a design with a development future. But with everyone fighting their own corner that was never going to happen.”

    “Ray Bates recalls a commonalisation committee of senior engineers from each company, and of which he was secretary. ‘’We never achieved anything. They always wanted to support their own design areas. If we commonalised a few plain washers that’s probably all we did.’”

    Success: the body-in-white weighed less than 500lb and cost less than £100 to make.

    Failure: “the body leaked like a sieve, there was trouble with half shafts breaking, and the gearbox made at Longbridge was a nightmare…

    “After analysing warranty costs on the Marina gearbox by engine type [John Bacchus] discovered a fault incidence on the 1.8 TC of 108% – meaning that on average every car had at least one fault on its gearbox. On the 1.3 the figure was 33% , which was hardly more reassuring

    “. ..quality control was sufficiently lax that one London dealer received a car with a disc brake on one side and a drum brake on the other.”

    The American view: “…it was a real piece of junk.”

    The Australian view: shoehorning the E6 into the car and the engineering it required took resources away from making the P76 the car it should have been. “It was the worst car we ever made.”

    The Aussie E6 Marina: “…the structural strength of the Marina body was bloody dreadful…the body required extensive strengthening…scuttle shake [was so bad] that we actually had to shave the front tyres after assembly to make them dead round.”

    In 1972 BL decided that maybe they needed another crack at it. Getting rid of the lever arm damper, adopting the Toledo rear end – “in other words what the car should have been in the first place.”

    They even played around with Hydragas units – presumably only on the rear. (“’Having done the Marina, the next thing was to put it right with ADO77,” observes Ray Bates.’”) Then it was decided that a new car was needed with the new suspension, the 66mm transmission, and the O-series. This became the ADO77, in development at the same time as SD2. And then it was decided to merge the LT77 and SD2.

    There’s a couple of things that strike me as odd about this account of the car’s development.

    Knowles in his book relates that BL was seriously considering bunging the 3.0 Stag V8 into the Marina. But if the car was designed around the weak Triumph gearbox as stated above then how was the unit meant to have coped with the torque of the bent-eight? And the Condor was proposed to use the E4, B-series, or the E6 all units that, one assumes, would have lunched the ‘box if it was borderline even with the A-series.

    Given that there is a story on this very website about BL cobbling together an O-series Ital with the LT77 transmission then perhaps Pressnell’s account was wrong and larger transmissions could have been fitted?

    The Knowles book states: “According to Roy Haynes…the front suspension of the definitive Marina – derived from that of the Morris Minor – was certainly not what he had intended for ADO28 from the outset.”

    Which begs the question what was intended for the car? Eric Lord’s account has it that the car was intended as a revivified Minor from the outset.

    And what of BL Australia’s contention that the Marina’s structural stiffness was bloody dreadful when according to Ian Elliott’s “Road to Perdition” piece on this website:

    “A graph of beam stiffnesses measured by PSF for various bodyshells is interesting. It shows the Allegro shell having a figure of around 5.5 MN/m, much lower than the surprisingly high stiffness of the ADO 73 (Mk.2) Marina at 9.7 MN/m. However, it was still higher than the 5.2 MN/m of the contemporary VW Golf, the 4.7 MN/m of the Ford Fiesta or the 3.7 MN/m mustered by the Renault 5.”

    Like I say nothing makes sense.

  11. daveh says:

    JH Gillson – I think the contradictions highlight the issues not just within BL but the old BMC. There was too much politics and not enough leadership and the differing accounts highlight the issues that brought about it’s downfall. Another perfect example is the Triumph Stag – Spen King was told that the Rover V8 would not fit by the Triumph engineers! Unfortunately for BL was that Donald Stokes was a salesman and John Barber was an accountant neither were the strong leaders that were needed to grab the organisation by the scruff of the neck. People say that BL was too big for one person to do this but all I have to quote is Lee Ioaca – he sorted a company much bigger than BL – Chrysler.

  12. Quicksilver says:

    Apart from the one at the top, I have to say none of these impress me much and I’m not convinced any of them could seriously take on the Capri. ADO68/28 looks too much like the production Marina coupe, which was hardly a proper sports car in the Capri mould, 68/14 seems to be a cut and shut of the Princess front and Allegro rear (Princegro?), while 68/67 just appears to be a slightly squashed Allegro. Would a potential Capri buyer really have considered any of these on styling alone?

  13. Jemma says:

    I really hope that last one was taken out and shot – I didn’t think it was possible to make something uglier than an Allegro estate, whoever came up with that managed it. What on earth are those wing/strake things? Air brakes or something to cover the cut n shut line?
    I like the first one, would have gone well with the TP version of the v8, or even, the Janspeed turbo version. Did anyone ever use the 215cui/3.5 in a transverse setting? I can’t remember anything that did off hand.

  14. Cliff says:

    All I can say is “oh dear”. How the last two in particular even got to the clay model stage sums up what must have been going wrong within the organisation for a very long time indeed.

  15. Nate says:

    While it is unlikely the Maxi-based ADO68/14 clay model would have worked as a Condor Coupe, would an updated Austin Maxi with downscaled styling from the Austin Princess be considered an improvement over the existing Austin Maxi’s styling?

  16. mm says:

    I worked for a major US computer company during the whole of the 1980s, British middle managers were too fond of sitting on their hands when it came to making decisions and dealing with operational problems. Temporary USA managers would arrive on the scene, brash, self-confident, full of enthusiasm, it made you feel good to be told what to be done by them. Soon had the British managers out of their comfort zone, and running around getting things done. I wonder if BL could have done with a few such Americans borrowed from the USA car industry, dealing with such nonsense as the gearboxes in the Marina and the politics of the Stag engine

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