Supermini projects : ADO74

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

ADO74  – the first attempt by British Leyland at replacing the Mini never saw the light of day. It was one project, but had many faces: a wide variety of styling exercises were produced before the programme was cancelled in 1973, as British Leyland could not raise the £130m needed to produce it.

Would it have worked had it been launched in 1976/’77? We can only speculate now.

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 a 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 interesting 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 in 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

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

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

21 Comments

  1. 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. 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. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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..

  7. 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…

  8. 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?

  9. Hmm, not impressed with any of these, when you compare them with the dull but smart Fiat 127 or stylish Renault 5.
    It does seem that BL design got stuck up a blind alley in the 70s, when you look at what was launched and some of the cancelled programmes, such as SD2, and compare with what VW and Audi produced, or Vauxhall/Opel.

  10. From the autobiography of Lee Iacocca,at the time of the ADO74, Honda were looking to supply a complete FWD engine and transmission package for export, they offered it to Ford for the Mk 1 Fiesta, but Iaccoca could not get it past the Board, due to anti-Japanese feelings, Ford took the same Not-Invented-Here line against the ground-breaking French Michelin radial tyres. Iacocca wrote it was a superior unit and being sold for less than Ford could manufacture.
    If ADO74 had gone ahead, and not just a might-have-been, think of how it would have entered the market, competitively-priced with a class-leading drive train under the bonnet.

  11. There are some grim looking vehicles there, either bulbous or just odd. The one you highlighted (B?) is probably the best

    Most of the rivals launched around this time or afterwards mainly show that a neat but plain angular design sold well. 127, Polo, Fiesta, even the 104. All of them have completely conventional window lines

    Was the option of powering AD074 with the A series ever considered, surely this would have drastically cut development time as the A series was still competitive?

    • It is possible at least initially for ADO74 to carry over the existing A-Series though it seems an all or nothing approach was taken regarding the project.

      Yet would the A-Series engined ADO74 have been competitive against rivals at the top end of the range, especially after the project grew to being almost as long as ADO16 at 11 ft 6 inches or virtually the same length as the original Renault 5 (from initially a direct 10 ft Mini replacement)?

      Range-topping ADO74 models would have needed larger engines whether a 1.3 Turbocharged A-Series or if possible even a 1.6 E-Series.

      • Most superminis of that era had small engines anyway, 900/1100 cc, and many of these engines were pretty elderly units as well. The original Ka in the mid 90s still used a Kent derivative!

        • Agreed, just thinking in that an A-Series engined ADO74 had it featured a length of 11 ft 6 inches (instead of 10 ft) would have likely been significantly slower then both the Metro and Mini Clubman with the same engine as well as the class average in general.

          That is unless the long length of ADO74 in 11 ft 6 inch form was somehow mitigated by lower than expected weight and an improved gearbox (assuming the latter was an end-on layout).

        • Interestingly given the Triumph origins of the ADO74 project, it is surprising that Triumph’s own 803-1493cc engines or at least a properly updated variation (where the Triumph engine’s weaknesses are remedied) were never considered over the existing A-Series engine or proposed ADO74 engines.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. AROnline » The cars : BMC 1100/1300 development history

Add to the debate: leave a comment