The biggest criticism normally aimed at the Maxi – other than the early model’s obstructive gear change – is usually reserved for its Plain Jane styling.
The Aquila showed how it could have been made into a far more stylish beast. Alas, it was only ever to be a one-off styling exercise.
What might have been
BL Aquila prototype at the 1973 London Motor Show (Picture: Shahin, www.paykanhunter.com)
As the winning entry in a newspaper-sponsored design competition, it would be easy to dismiss the car as a flight of whimsy, but some of its features – such as the design of the door frames, the absence of rain gutters and the integrated bumper/valance mouldings – would become commonplace on cars of the next decade.
The design may also have influenced Harris Mann in his conception of ADO99 – the Maxi’s replacement, which would eventually emerge as the Maestro. The construction cost of the fully-built Aquila is thought to have been around £26,000 – no mean sum for 1972; the car still exists today, in the hands of an enthusiast.
Chris Field’s finest hour?
Its designer, Chris Field, went on to produce the Lotus 7-inspired, Rover V8-powered, 150 mph Leopard Mirach (10 built from 1988 to 1992). He later became involved in the development of pursuit and time-trial bikes, designing the bike on which Jason Queally won the UK’s first cycling gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
This was followed-up with the Blueyonder Challenger, the aerodynamically-bodied recumbent cycle in which Queally attempted the human-powered vehicle (HPV) world record. Field also founded the Hotta brand, designing and producing hi-tech performance bikes.
The following details have been reproduced from the official brochure issued at the 1973 British Motor Show.
Details of the Aquila
Based on the Austin Maxi underframe and mechanicals, Aquila is a five-door car with a completely new, hand-made body, designed with 1976 in mind.
A severely sloping bonnet line, together with a fast windscreen angle, combined for good air penetration and the least amount of aerodynamic disturbance. Additionally, and to complement this theme, air for cooling the radiator and engine is taken in beneath the bumper level in the area of the number plate housing and through slots just forward of the air-dam.
The passenger area contains a large amount of glass with deep wide windows producing a low waist line. The rear end of the car, with the fifth door, is cut off abruptly for practical and aerodynamic reasons. Both front and rear pillars are slim to allow good all-round vision, but to provide extra strength the B-pillar is very wide; this helps the design visually to give support to the exceptionally long glass area.
Sleek looks, plastic bumpers
The four doors have frames which turn into the roof of the car. This allows easier entry and also eliminates the rain gutter from the outside body surface to produce a much cleaner appearance, with the additional benefit of reducing aerodynamic drag.
Plastic bumpers front and rear extend down to form the underbody valance areas which shroud the otherwise visible mechanical features. The headlights, mounted directly above the line of the bumper, are behind transparent covers that continue the shape of the surrounding surfaces.
At the front, wrap-around direction indicators are mounted within the bumper assembly for protection, while at the rear the stop/tail lights, reflectors, indicators, fog-warning and reverse lights are mounted in a full width panel just above the bumper. To continue the clean design, the number plates are built into the bumper units.
Five-door hatchback, with the latest safety features
Made of steel, the body is fully undersealed and finished in a special bright silver paint. Tinted Sundym glass throughout provides a pleasant contrast to the body colour. The rear window contains a heater element and the windscreen has a built-in radio aerial.
The seating arrangement inside the car can be varied to suit different needs: the front seats, with built-in head restraints, can be made to recline fully, providing a useful sleeping platform; similarly, the rear seat can be folded forward to make a spacious area for luggage. Cloth trim is used for the seat facings, with PVC surrounds.
PVC padded door trims house recessed door openers as well as the control switches for the electrically-operated windows. PVC is also used for the headlining. Both the passenger and load carrying floor areas are fully carpeted. The instrument panel is a self-contained unit with all switches and controls within easy reach, and is extended downwards to form a knee guard.
The British Styling Competition
A joint venture between the Institute of British Carriage and Automobile Manufacturers and the Daily Telegraph Magazine.
In the 1971/72 British Styling Competition designers were asked for a blueprint for a family saloon of a style suitable for 1976 onwards based on the Austin Maxi mechanicals.
The design of ‘Aquila’, submitted by Mr Christopher Field of Headland Court, Lower Rea Road, Brixham, Devon, was awarded First Prize. His drawing was displayed with other prominent entries on the British Styling Stand at the 1972 Earls Court Motor Show.
Between that time and the formal unveiling and presentation of by HRH The Duke of Kent at the Europa Hotel in London on Tuesday 9 October, 1973, the designer, co-ordinator and builder, in collaboration with specialist suppliers, worked to build a full-size car from the winning design as a road-worthy prototype motor car.
- Although proper credit is given below, mention should be made of the generosity of the British Leyland Motor Corporation for not only supplying the Maxi chassis on which Aquila was built, but also bearing a large proportion of the cost of building;
- to Woodall Nicholson Ltd of Halifax, the builders of Aquila;
- to the Daily Telegraph Magazine; and to the suppliers who contributed either or both money and materials.
- Mr G F Moseley, a member of the Institute with wide coachbuilding experience, undertook the difficult task of co-ordinating the building project – a job he did most successfully when ‘Cirrus’ was produced last year.
Aquila can be seen on display at the 1973 Motor Show at Earls Court on the joint IBCAM/Daily Telegraph stand (No.9).
Contributors to the building of the Aquila car
|Institute of British Carriage & Automobile Manufacturers and their British Styling Competiton Committee||Project organiser.|
|The Daily Telegraph Magazine||Project sponsor.|
|British Leyland Motor Corporation||Financial contribution. Suppliers of mechanical and other units; insurance; registration; road testing and transport arrangements; promotion and publicity arrangements.|
|Wilmot Breeden Ltd||Financial contribution. Door locks and handles.|
|Dunlop Ltd (Dunlopillo Division)||Financial contribution. Front and rear seat foam components.|
|Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Ltd
|Financial contribution. Paint (special silver).|
|Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Ltd
(Hyde Motor Group)
|Financial contribution. PVC-coated fabrics (“Ambla” and “Vynide”).|
|Firth Furnishings Ltd||Financial contribution. Carpets and seat facings.|
|Kay-Metzeler Ltd||Financial contribution.|
|British Wire Products Ltd||Financial contribution.|
|Triplex Safety Glass Company Ltd||Windscreen; backlight, door and quarter glasses.|
|Giles Reinforced Plastics Ltd||Front and rear bumpers and valance mouldings.|
|Joseph Lucas Ltd||External lamps; interior roof lights.|
|Rubery Owen & Co Ltd (Motor Division)||Road wheels.|
|Dunlop Ltd (Tyres, Accessory and Equipment Division)||Tyres.|
|Edward Rose (Birmingham) Ltd||Door frames.|
|Clifford Coverings Ltd||Steering wheel.|
|Silent Channel Products Ltd||Glass runs and weatherstrip.|
|Smiths Industries Ltd (Motor Accessory Division & Radiomobile)||Instruments and radio.|
|Britax (London) Ltd||Seat belts.|
|Woodall Nicholson Ltd||Designing, drawing and translating stylist’s ideas; manufacturing of necessary jigs, templates, formers, etc.; manufacture, paint, trim and finish of Aquila body.|
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics 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...
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