Concepts and prototypes : LC8 supermini (1977-80)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

British Leyland was working on a new supermini throughout the 1970s. It settled on an updated Mini with a hatchback, called the ADO88 – the only problem was that it didn’t clinic very well with potential buyers. 

That’s why the ADO88 transformed into the LC8 – a restyled version penned by David Bache, creator of the Range Rover and the Rover SD1.


LC8: Expanding the ADO88’s appeal far further

The David Bache studio quickly produced a car based on this image. The shape was not vastly different to the final ADO88, but the detailing was much better.
The David Bache studio quickly produced a car based on this image. The shape was not vastly different to the final ADO88, but the detailing was much better.

The LC8 was not an entirely new supermini by any stretch of the imagination. It used the ADO88 as a starting point. The project was basically a restyle job – with Harold Musgrove cracking the whip over the Austin-Morris development team, ensuring that it was in production by the proposed launch date: the Birmingham Motor Show of October 1980.

By 1977, and with the ADO88 all-but finalised, David Bache, fresh from the successes of his World-beating Rover SD1 was brought in to oversee final styling and production engineering: the Metro was now entering the latter and drastically vital stages of development.

But there were problems. When Sir Michael Edwardes and the new Austin-Morris chief, Ray Horrocks looked at the ADO88 for the first time in January 1978, both realised immediately that it needed re-evaluation. It was too late in the development cycle to drastically change the car.

Making it look better – a necessary step

Luckily the basic ADO88 concept was good, but disastrous customer clinic results were backing-up Edwardes and Horrocks’ own feelings that it was too utilitarian when compared with sophisticated rivals like the Volkswagen Polo and the new Ford Fiesta.

What potential buyers at the Paris and the UK customer clinics were telling the marketing department in no uncertain terms was that the car looked too unsophisticated. Main points of contention were that the almost-vertical tailgate made it look too much like a small van and the flat sides of the car sadly backed-up this impression.

This Roger Tucker drawing demonstrates that the company initially thought of the five-door variant during 1978. Its eventual launch in 1984 was so far behind the three-door version because it had never been part of the original ADO88 programme, and thus involved much previously uplanned re-engineering work.
This Roger Tucker drawing demonstrates that the company initially thought of the five-door variant during 1978. Its eventual launch in 1984 was so far behind the three-door version because it had never been part of the original ADO88 programme, and thus involved much previously unplanned re-engineering work.
By the end of 1977, the Metro's shape was set in clay (above, below).
By the end of 1977, the Metro’s shape was set in clay (above, below).

1979/80, and a pre-production model undergoes wind tunnel testing. It emerged with a drag factor of Cd0.41, better than all of its contemporary competitors. Within three years, however, this figure began to look decidedly poor when compared to those of the slightly larger Peugeot 205 (0.34) and Fiat Uno (0.33/0.34).
1979/80, and a pre-production model undergoes wind tunnel testing. It emerged with a drag factor of Cd0.41, better than all of its contemporary competitors. Within three years, however, this figure began to look decidedly poor when compared to those of the slightly larger Peugeot 205 (0.34) and Fiat Uno (0.33/0.34).
This image will be familiar to anyone who followed the pre-launch stories of the Metro's development in the motoring press. The canvas tilt makes an effective, if unsubtle, disguise for the car's new rear end styling.
This image will be familiar to anyone who followed the pre-launch stories of the Metro’s development in the motoring press. The canvas tilt makes an effective, if unsubtle, disguise for the car’s new rear end styling.
BL's top brass go for a ride and drive around Longbridge. Here they are seen emerging from the Kremlin, and are about to hop into an LC8 and an ADO88 - a Volkswagen Polo and Morris Ital (out of shot to the rear) have been brought along for comparison... (Picture: BMIHT)
BL’s top brass go for a ride and drive around Longbridge. Here they are seen emerging from the Kremlin, and are about to hop into an LC8 and an ADO88 – a Volkswagen Polo and Morris Ital (out of shot to the rear) have been brought along for comparison… (Picture: BMIHT)

The famous last-minute restyle

The Arrival of the new management and the very poor showing in Customer clinics were the catalyst needed to get the required changes made. Harris Mann along with Roger Tucker and Gordon Sked, overseen by David Bache were charged with giving the ADO88 an emergency restyle. They managed successfully in Five weeks.

At this point, the ADO88 project was renamed LC8 (for Leyland Cars), in order to tie the car in with the upcoming LC10, but also to reflect the car’s changed focus. This was more than a simple panic-induced prelaunch facelift.

What had been seen by potential customers at the Paris customer clinic as the prototype’s uncompromising shape led to every external panel being revised. This resulted in a more stylised and aerodynamic car. More definite and upmarket features were added, making it less of a Renault 4 rival and more of a supermini in line with the best of the continental rivals.

Styling updates give the LC8 more class than ADO88

A new nose and more aggressive front spoiler was added, chiselled sides echoing the SD1’s side swage lines were also incorporated and the tailgate angle was altered, being less upright – less van-like. The interior was upgraded and safety lessons from the ESV prototypes were incorporated.

The LC8 was considered by Product planners to be different enough from the ADO88, that testing and development was practically restarted.

Pre-production testing

Cold weather testing - an undisguised prototype hits the road.
Cold weather testing – an undisguised prototype hits the road.
Pre-production testing at Gaydon. (Picture: BMIHT)
Pre-production testing at Gaydon. (Picture: BMIHT)

What the buyers thought…

Customer clinic - more positive results than with ADO88... (Picture: BMIHT)
Customer clinic – more positive results than with ADO88… (Picture: BMIHT)
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up 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 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...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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