Concepts and prototypes : Austin Maxi ADO14 (1965-1969)

The Austin Maxi ADO14 is one of few cars that received a substantial facelift before it went into production. In this case, the work followed the arrival of a new Design Director months before its launch.

Here are a number of prototype images of the ADO14 project before and after it received its final Roy Haynes-penned front and rear ends.


Austin Maxi: a troubled gestation

Austin Maxi

The Austin Maxi emerged in 1969 as a substantially different car to the one that Alec Issigonis had conceived late in 1964 following the introduction of the BMC 1800 mid-sized saloon. As discussed in the BMC 1800 development story, that car had grown away from its ideal size as a Ford Cortina fighter to replace the ageing Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford, thanks to the fitment of a larger 1.8-litre version of the B-Series engine.

It could be argued that, if the BMC 1800 had stuck to its original brief, the Austin Maxi would never have been needed at all. However, be that as it may, it soon emerged that a smaller car to plug the gap between the 1100 and 1800 was going to be needed – and ADO14 was its codename. It was developed to sit on a new platform, be powered by an all-new engine, but use the passenger doors of the recently-launched 1800. That would mean that the new mid-sized saloon would sit on an unusually long wheelbase for its class.

Interestingly, while Jeff Daniels confirms that consideration was given to fitting a hatchback to the BMC 1800 and marketing the model as a stylish alternative to a more conventional estate car in his 1980 book British Leyland: The Truth About The Cars (as shown in the image below), that thinking was not adopted when work began on the ADO14 project in early 1965.

The idea of creating the Maxi as a hatchback would come later, in response to the launch of the Autobianchi Primula and the Renault 16 – new cars that combined the practicality of an estate without losing any of the visual appeal of posher saloon models – which led to it becoming one of Europe’s more forward-thinking models when launched in 1969.

As early as 1965, BMC's design studios looked at creating a five-door estate version of the ADO17 – but the idea was canned.
As early as 1965, BMC’s Design Studio looked at creating a five-door ‘estate’ version of the ADO17 – but the idea was canned. The work would be retained and reprised for the ADO14 project in 1967

1965: ADO14: styling sketches

There's no disguising the fact that it was always going to be a tough task to incorporate the BMC 1800's doors on an all-new car...
1965: There’s no disguising the fact that it was always going to be a tough task to incorporate the BMC 1800’s doors on an all-new car…

Austin Maxi ADO14 sketch (1965)


ADO14: scale model in clay

At this stage in the proceedings, ADO14 still had a separate bootlid, like the 1100 and 1800, although the latter car's side doors were present and correct.
1965: At this stage in the proceedings, ADO14 has a separate bootlid, like the 1100 and 1800, although the latter car’s side doors were present and correct. This is a clay model, and it appears to be a scale version, not the full-sized model shown below
The Austin-Morris story 1968: Forthcoming Austin Maxi was far from resolved, design-wise
Now a full-sized clay model, the ADO14’s front-end styling is far less ornate than the smaller 1100 and larger 1800. Pininfarina struggled with the BMC design process in this case, and it’s painfully obvious in this image

ADO14: full-sized design mock-up

Closer to the final production car, but still not resolved around the nose
1966: Closer to the production car, but still not resolved around the nose, although the rear-end styling has been tidied up, and the rear-side windows have their definitive form finalised. At this point, it’s still very much a four-door saloon

ADO14: full-sized design mock-up with interior

Full-engineered Austin Maxi ADO14 prototype from 1966
The character is starting to come through now. By now, a fully-engineered Austin Maxi ADO14 prototype from late-1966 (wearing a 1967 ‘plate for the benefit of a viewing). Note the stubby front-end styling remains in place, with an even more prominent V-kink in the grille on full view
Full-engineered Austin Maxi ADO14 prototype from 1966.
Another view of the fully-engineered Austin Maxi ADO14 prototype from 1966 and, as can be clearly seen, it’s still not received its hatchback rear end, possessing as it did, an ADO17-like bootlid. It has also gained prominent air extractors aft of the sixth-light windows at the rear of the car

Post-Roy Haynes facelift in 1967

This is when the Maxi story gets interesting, because within months of its launch and shortly after the appointment of Roy Haynes as Design Director during the BMH years, a freeze was put on the ADO14 programme. Firstly, the firm ended up with two independent Design Studios during this time – the existing one under Dick Burzi in Longbridge and a new one under Haynes in Cowley.

Haynes was so horrified by what he saw with the ADO14 project that responsibility for the Maxi’s styling was transferred to the new Cowley Design Studio. Cowley was rapidly emerging as the dominant Design Studio and a number of projects, such as the Mini Clubman and ADO22 redesign of the BMC 1100/1300, were already underway there.

Secondly, at this point, the ADO14 project was redesigned to incorporate new front-end styling and a hatchback rear as first devised for the BMC 1800 (above). The front-end redesign was often cited as an emergency facelift in response to the dislike that Lord Stokes’ management team had for the car in the aftermath of the creation of BLMC in January 1968. However, the timeline for this doesn’t stack – this work was clearly instigated following the appointment of the brilliant Roy Haynes after the formation of BMH in 1966.

Obviously, Stokes’ team had some influence over the Maxi in its final months before its launch. And truth be told, they wanted to stop it – but it was far too advanced. Some further changes were made, not least in its interior, but most of those engineering and styling updates would have to wait until the launch of the Maxi 1750 in 1970.

Austin Maxi character comes through following Roy Haynes' pre-launch facelift of the front-end styling of the ADO14 in 1967
Austin Maxi character comes through following Roy Haynes’ pre-launch facelift of the front-end styling of the ADO14 in 1967. There’s a tougher-looking front, and a hatchback now incorporated into the rear, making the car a whole lot more practical than before

The four-door Morris Maxi

Once the hatchback rear was engineered into the Maxi in 1967, the original saloon idea was developed into a more traditionally-shaped three-box model that would have been sold as a Morris to complement the hatchback Austin. However, rather late in the day – towards the end of 1968 in fact – this model was dropped, leaving the way for the hatchback Austin to fly the ADO14 flag. Morris dealers were told that this car was to be replaced in the model line-up by the Morris Marina (ADO28) and they would have to wait until late 1970 at the earliest for that.

One suspects that, with the benefit of hindsight, the former Nuffield dealers weren’t too unhappy with the decision.

Four-door Maxi was dropped because of the management's desire to avoid direct competition with the Ford Cortina. The failure of the Maxi to sell in sufficient numbers may well have nailed the coffin door shut on this derivative. (Photo: Men and Motors, Barney Sharratt)Four-door Maxi was dropped because of the management's desire to avoid direct competition with the Ford Cortina. The failure of the Maxi to sell in sufficient numbers may well have nailed the coffin door shut on this derivative. (Photo: Men and Motors, Barney Sharratt)
Four-door Maxi was dropped because of the management’s desire to avoid direct competition with the Ford Cortina. The failure of the Maxi to sell in sufficient numbers may well have nailed the coffin door shut on this derivative. (Photo: Men and Motors, Barney Sharratt)
Maxi saloon out testing in Portugal before the launch... (Photo: Maxi Marathon, BMIHT)
Maxi saloon out testing in Portugal before the launch… (Photo: Maxi Marathon, BMIHT)

Thanks to Ian Nicholls and Nigel Garton for the pictures

Keith Adams

16 Comments

  1. I thought the Maxi was unappealing looking, but those early prototypes are awful, and completely devoid of any visual style

  2. My brother had a Maxi, it was recalled due to a fault on the front flexible brake pipes, depending on if they were smooth or ribbed, dealer declared no problems with his car, a few months later descending a hill one of the pipes burst whilst his wife was driving. Vehicle overturned and was written off, said dealer denied ever having the vehicle in for this pipe check, it must be said the reply to the check up was verbal and no paperwork was ever issued declaring it had been checked over. Then not too long after that the dealership went bankrupt and was closed down completely.

  3. I always thought they were ugly things, but my great uncle loved his and only replaced it with a mk1 astra when my great aunt and him decided to go to one car after he turned 70. Though he preferred his previous car, an Austin 3000.

  4. It was during the development of the Maxi when BMC should have gave consideration to replacing the in-sump layout with the end-on gearbox layout introduced on the Autobianchi Primula, engineer’s pride aside Issigonis himself worked on a similar layout in the early-1950s on an experimental FWD Morris Minor prototype.

    • As well as a more appealing body, better developed engine, better pre-production testing, more versions and variantions, better build quality, …

      • Of course, yet even a change in gearbox layout would have potentially been filtered down to other FWD models like ADO20 and the unbuilt ADO22 (notwithstanding the other changes needed for all the aforementioned vehicles).

  5. My dad had a two Maxis in succession and it was certainly a practical load carrier and was a well-respected tow car – I think it got several awards from caravan magazines if memory serves correctly. My problem with it was not the styling – which compared to the super stylistic Renault 16, was a little ‘dowdy’ – but the driving experience. At the time I was driving a Ford Escort MK one or later a MK two estate. Many words has been written about the porridge in a Maxi’s gear linkage and certainly verses a Ford gearbox it was awful! Gearbox aside it was still not nice to drive whereas the Escort just welcomed you in and felt so competent – you just wanted to play with it.
    All a bit of shame for a BL supporter like my good self!!!!

  6. Fascinating story. Fine concept but the execution of the Maxi was wrong from the start.

    The picture of the dark “AUS 66” at the top of the article is suggested to be a five-door version of the ADO 17 but, to my eyes, looks too narrow to be an ADO17. On Page 205 of the Barney Sherratt book “Men and Motors of The Austin” the same picture is captioned as an early ADO14 prototype created from a cut-down ADO17 body.

  7. Great concept, awful execution. A real shame. Four years later came the first VW Passat, in the same market slot, showing how it should have been done.

  8. BTW: I recently saw a very nice and clean ADO14 prototype drawing in in old Thoroughbred & Classic Cars (October 1981 issue).
    @Keith Adams Could I upload a picture of this drawing, or send it to you?

  9. The kink in the front is horrendous, the late ’66 concept is almost scary! Perhaps they shoud’ve stuck with an ADO17 estate. The ADO17 is no looker but at least BL could claim it was an early/mid 60’s design they’d inherited. They could have ditched it then once the Marina Estate was in production. Thank goodness for Roy Haynes!

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