Supermini projects : ADO74

The original Metro

One project, many faces: a wide variety of styling exercises were produced before ADO74 was cancelled in 1973, as British Leyland could not raise the £130m needed to produce it.

The project suffered from having indecisive leadership – it was led by Harry Webster, but because he had worked previously at Triumph, he had little experience of packaging a small car. As a result, the project drifted, directionless: in short time, ADO74 grew from being a Mini replacement into something rather larger. Indecisiveness over the styling also resulted in many proposals being produced, none of which BLMC management were entirely happy with.

This gallery demonstrates this more graphically than mere words ever could – and the car’s unprecedented growth is most evident when one compares the first packaging diagram with Harris Mann’s final incarnation.

These outline drawings date from the very early stages of the project. The configuration of the K-series engine and its 72 degree backwards slant is very obvious in the lower diagram, although it has to be said that the passenger accommodation looks decidedly suspect.

These outline drawings date from the very early stages of the project. The configuration of the K-series engine and its 72 degree backwards slant is very obvious in the lower diagram, although it has to be said that the passenger accommodation looks decidedly suspect.

It is important to produce a stylish car when competing in the image-conscious supermini market. This frontal proposal might have been quite bold-looking, but was certainly neither stylish nor aerodynamic. Note the hint of Leyland P76 about the shape of the indicators.

It is important to produce a stylish car when competing in the image-conscious supermini market. This frontal proposal might have been quite bold-looking, but was certainly neither stylish nor aerodynamic. Note the hint of Leyland P76 about the shape of the indicators.

One of several ADO74 prototypes that were evaluated at Longbridge during 1972: this smooth looking proposal was not at all derivative of the contemporary opposition. The most noteworthy point of this design is the skillfully integrated bumpers – whether these would have made it into production on such an inexpensive car, mooted for launch in the mid-Seventies, is open to debate. In the version of this car shown below, its bumpers appear to have been painted to match the body colour - an even more expensive option in production terms. Also, note the rather American-esque ADO73 Marina facelift proposal in the background.

One of several ADO74 prototypes that were evaluated at Longbridge during 1972: this smooth looking proposal was not at all derivative of the contemporary opposition. The most noteworthy point of this design is the skillfully integrated bumpers – whether these would have made it into production on such an inexpensive car, mooted for launch in the mid-Seventies, is open to debate. In the version of this car shown below, its bumpers appear to have been painted to match the body colour – an even more expensive option in production terms.

Another effort from the dipped window-line, bulbous school of thought, with more than a hint of the later Fiat Ritmo about the front. One possible indicator of “project drift” is the plethora of wildly differing styling sketches on the wall behind.

Another effort from the dipped window-line, bulbous school of thought, with more than a hint of the later Fiat Ritmo about the front. One possible indicator of “project drift” is the plethora of wildly differing styling sketches on the wall behind.

Arguably the best in-house effort, being rather reminiscent of the Princess.

Arguably the best in-house effort, being rather reminiscent of the Princess.

Harry Webster commissioned Michelotti to produce a version of the car – this smart and stylish proposal was the result.

Harry Webster commissioned Michelotti to produce a version of the car – this smart and stylish proposal was the result.

Smooth and rather utilitarian in style - did it have the character to succeed on the marketplace? It is now obvious that there were two schools of thought – the bulbous, rather featureless look incorporating a dipped window-line, and the later Harris Mann “Wedge” look (see pictures below).

Smooth and rather utilitarian in style – did it have the character to succeed on the marketplace? It is now obvious that there were two schools of thought – the bulbous, rather featureless look incorporating a dipped window-line, and the later Harris Mann “Wedge” look (see pictures below).

 This Harris Mann sketch looks rather better than the full-size models which resulted (see below), providing an intersting parallel with the Allegro's transition from paper to clay. The smoothly-integrated detailing on this car would probably have been too expensive to achieve in production.

This Harris Mann sketch looks rather better than the full-size models which resulted (see below), providing an intersting parallel with the Allegro’s transition from paper to clay. The smoothly-integrated detailing on this car would probably have been too expensive to achieve in production.

This version is fairly close to Mann's sketch, but those round headlamps only serve to empahsise the car's passing resemblance to American Motors' AMC Pacer Wagon.

This version is fairly close to Mann’s sketch, but those round headlamps only serve to empahsise the car’s passing resemblance to American Motors’ AMC Pacer Wagon.

Possibly the worst-looking ADO74 proposal, one has to wonder what Harris Mann was thinking of to allow this monstrosity to make it to full-size. Next!

Possibly the worst-looking ADO74 proposal, one has to wonder what Harris Mann was thinking of to allow this monstrosity to make it to full-size. Next!

Classic Harris Mann – look at the side feature line, which plunged from high at the rear to lower at the front. This styling trick had already been used on the yet-to-be-launched ADO71 with some success.

Classic Harris Mann – look at the side feature line, which plunged from high at the rear to lower at the front. This styling trick had already been used on the yet-to-be-launched ADO71 with some success.

A little more work on the “Wedge” theme resulted in this, the three door hatchback version of the Triumph TR7. In all seriousness, this Harris Mann creation is rather stylish, although the car’s desirability on the marketplace would have been rather dependent on that of the TR7. (The badge on the side of this car reads "Mini 1300")

A little more work on the “Wedge” theme resulted in this, the three door hatchback version of the Triumph TR7. In all seriousness, this Harris Mann creation is rather stylish, although the car’s desirability on the marketplace would have been rather dependent on that of the TR7. (The badge on the side of this car reads “Mini 1300″)

Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

11 Comments on "Supermini projects : ADO74"

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  1. Hilton Davis says:

    I expect that others may disagree, but I think the early mock ups of ADO74 look a little like the original Fiesta Mk1, at least in the profile view. The later versions seemed to go well off course. Had the project been successful, the earlier incarnation might have been a dominant rival to the baby Ford, especially if launched in the late 1970s.

  2. Joseph says:

    I think one of those prototypes looks a lot like the Fiat Strada at the front but that, in general, the design looks quite Japanese and bang up to date for the 1970s. They should have gone for it – yet another lost opportunity!

    Incidentally, is that ADO73 in the first picture – another design idea for the Marina? They should have gone for that one as well – it looks great!

  3. Jack Yan Jack Yan says:

    @Joseph
    I seem to recall reading elsewhere on AROnline that ADO73 was indeed a Marina facelift proposal.

  4. James Riley james says:

    Yet another article on BL and yet another huge disappointing what if – can you imagine BL’s lead in the market if they had got almost any one of the above cars out in the mid-70’s? This is just another one of those nails in BL’s coffin that in hindsight you can so clearly see would happen.

  5. James Riley james says:

    The other thing is that most of the above proposals look like global cars that would have sat nicely in many more markets than just western europe and the UK.

  6. Nate says:

    Personally, I can easily envision ADO74 as an upmarket Triumph-badged supermini to sit below the Triumph Dolomite 1300 instead of as an Austin and could see it do rather well in light of the impact the 1973 oil crisis had on the buying public at the time.

    Fwiw, I quite like the look of the TR7-like 3-door hatchback prototype from the last image (at least from the side), while the yellow utilitarian “Austin” prototype does look the most production worthy out out of the other stillborn ADO74 prototypes.

  7. Steve says:

    The Michelloti proposal was absolutely vile, awkward, angular and fussy, having said that there is not one good looking car in this lot, they are all gawky and cross-eyed..

  8. Steve says:

    Sorry but all of them are a mess.

  9. Jemma says:

    Good Gods but they’re ugly, and whoever the person was who ever thought that a Fiat Strada-esque design was worth drawing, let alone mocking up, “One Lobotomy, please…”
    As has been said before there’s not a decent one among them although the side view of the last one with the faux B pillar grilles looks just about bearable..
    The original Metro wasn’t exactly the height of beauty when it came out (depressing that I can remember them with a mini-metro badge) but these disasters make the Allegro Estate look like Elle MacPherson on wheels…

  10. Pedro the Parrot says:

    Elle McPherson’s ‘struts’…now we’re talking good design. Photo no.2s frontal treatment is very reminiscent of the wonderful AMC Pacer (dont knock em!) which came out in ’73-74? There are strong tastes of the Civic, mk1 Polo and not suprisingly a bit of R14 (any left this side of the channel??) and R5. I cant believe separate designers spontaneously produced ideas with so much in common. Its widely believed the R16 was stolen from Citroen, so was there a low level of espionage going on continuously?

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