The cars : Austin Maxi HL (1972)

Chris Cowin looks back at the ‘sporty’ Maxi – the twin-carb Austin Maxi HL introduced in late 1972.

The HL badge would be applied to various other versions of the Maxi in later years. However, in 1972 High Line still stood for something rather special.


Austin Maxi HL: The sporting life

Austin Maxi HL

With the UK car market booming in 1972 even the Austin Maxi – originally launched in April 1969 and facelifted in October 1970 – was doing well, after a troubled start.

Almost 54,000 were sold in the UK during 1972, which would be Maxi’s best year on the domestic market, coinciding with peak Maxi production, as relatively few were exported. During the year the Austin Maxi range of 1500 and 1750 was joined by a third member: the new Austin Maxi HL.

Austin Maxi HL
And then there were three: the Maxi HL joined the existing 1500 and 1750 in late 1972

A ‘sporty’ Maxi might seem something of an oxymoron to those who picture the Maxi as a worthy family workhorse, but in 1972 when the Austin Maxi was still fairly new and performance still ranked higher than fuel economy, it made sense.

The 1972 Austin Maxi HL was powered by a higher compression version of the 1748cc E-Series ohc four cylinder engine, utilising a twin SU HS6 carburettor set-up with increased valve lift and flat-topped pistons – according to figures claimed in the 1973 brochure, these changes resulted in an output of 95bhp compared to 84bhp for the regular Maxi 1750.

Austin Maxi HL
Seat of power: the twin-carb 1748cc E-Series engine, transversely mounted in the 1972 Austin Maxi HL

Like the other Maxis, it featured a five-speed gearbox, still a novelty, as well as other established Maxi virtues including front-wheel drive, Hydrolastic suspension and a versatile five-door body. So, the HL was quite an appealing package, launched at a time when British Leyland seemed to be on a roll – with production rising and the recently launched Morris Marina being hailed by the business press as a masterstroke.

They could have called the new sporty Maxi a GT like the Mini 1275 GT and Austin 1300 GT, or they could have called it TC like the Morris Marina 1.8 TC and various Triumphs. Instead, the new HL (for High Line) name was chosen – this had been used internally in Design Studios for years to designate top-level trim packages, but never as the actual badge of a car in the showrooms. Until now…

Austin Maxi HL
The Austin Maxi HL of 1972. This launch-time press photo is unusual in spelling out ‘High Line’, something rarely done in later years

Quite some effort was taken to make the Austin Maxi HL stand out from the crowd, as detailed below, but in those glam rock days of matt black bonnets and false air scoops perhaps they erred on the conservative side. The Renault 16 TX, developed around a similar brief and launched a year later, was rather more of a head-turner.

So, there was now a choice of three Austin Maxis: the Maxi 1500, the Maxi 1750 and the Maxi HL, which was marketed at first without mention of its engine capacity. Automatic transmission also became available on the Austin Maxi 1750 (though not the twin-carb HL) during 1972.

Identifying the HL

It wasn’t hard to spot a Austin Maxi HL when it was originally introduced as the sporty twin-carb Maxi – there was a central red chequered grille ‘shield’ badge whereas the Maxi 1500’s shield was silver and the Maxi 1750’s chequered gold.

Austin Maxi HL
The Maxi HL could be identified by a red chequered grille badge, hinting at the red-hot performance promised by the twin-carb engine

The grille itself was matt black with chrome upper and lower strips and a red HL badge on one side.

The tyres were upgraded from 155/13 to 165/13 radials and new HL wheel trims featured a circular black band, while front under-riders and a chrome exhaust trim appeared.

Austin Maxi HL
1972 Austin Maxi HL, with unique grille and badging, and under-riders as they were called

Inside, there was a black padded vinyl dashboard (also brown or olive on early cars), brushed nylon seats (so goodbye to sticky vinyl), and a leather-clad sports steering wheel with three drilled spokes and a rakish red HL logo on the hub.

Austin Maxi HL
Somebody say sporty? Interior of the 1972 Austin Maxi HL with sports steering wheel and padded vinyl dash

Not to mention a cigar lighter, dipping rear view mirror, vanity mirror on passenger sun visor, front door companion boxes, heated rear window, electric screen wash and simulated wood gear lever knob – none of which were standard on lesser Austin Maxis in 1972. A little surprisingly, hazard warning lights were still an extra cost option.

Colouring set

Another feature of the Maxi HL, and something rather lost in the mists of time, were the intriguing ‘side trims with contrasting colour PVC inserts’ mentioned in 1972 brochures.

This refers to the side rubbing strips later fitted to all Maxis which also ran across the tailgate. They usually had a black PVC insert, but on early HL cars other colours were used, Flame Red on an Aconite (purple) car for example.

Dave Evans has kindly supplied a copy of the parts list which confirms these strips came in four colours apart from black which were Harvest Gold, Flame Red, Brown and Blackberry.

Austin Maxi HL
The moulded PVC rubbing strips for the Austin Maxi HL came in a choice of five colours. Try finding them now. Parts microfiche photo: Dave Evans

A Flame Red Austin Maxi HL could have Blackberry strips. A white Austin Maxi HL could have Brown strips, as seen on the picture of Brendan Dooley’s car below.

This peculiarity of the Maxi HL echoes the trim treatment of the old Austin/Morris 1800 S but seems to have been very short-lived, and survivors with these coloured PVC strips are rare. One imagines they caused quite a bit of complication on the assembly line.

Austin Maxi HL
Brown PVC rubbing strips on a white Austin Maxi HL – Photo: Brendan Dooley – thanks. Another example (Flame Red on purple) is posted at the end of the article

However, there were some items the ‘sporty’ Austin Maxi HL lacked and Maxis always would. This included a rev counter, rear wash-wipe and head restraints. No Maxi for the British market ever left the factory with head restraints right through to 1981, although some Maxis sold in Sweden were fitted with them (borrowed from Volvo), together with headlight wash/wipe, to meet local regulations.

This seems odd given the availability, at least as an option, of head restraints on other cars in the range – perhaps that reflects a desire not to complicate the Maxi’s ‘double bed’ ability with the seats folded flat.

Austin Maxi HL
Lap of luxury: the 1972 Austin Maxi HL introduced brushed nylon upholstery to the Maxi range. No head restraints, even as options – but you did get a simulated wood gear lever knob

Blurred High Lines

British Leyland’s naming strategy evolved over time, so although in 1972 and for a few years after the name Maxi HL signified the sporty twin-carb range-topping Maxi, in later years it didn’t .

For a while the Austin Maxi range appeared quite logical with the HL being clearly the most powerful model and the range-topper – the ‘ultimate Maxi’ one might have said in 1975, or 1976.

Not a great deal changed on the HL or other Maxis for several years, although detail revisions to air vents and the like did occur, and some changes were introduced on the assembly line to lower costs.

Rather as the Austin Cambridge (and its relatives) had been allowed to continue largely unchanged during the Sixties while the company’s attention was directed elsewhere, so the Maxi range trundled on through the Seventies with only the most enthusiastic car-spotter or salesman able to distinguish a 1977 model from a 1972 version.

However, for 1977 the Maxi lost its Austin branding in the UK becoming effectively the Leyland Maxi though adverts and the badging on the car always used the Leyland ‘plughole’ symbol in place of the actual word ‘Leyland’. Some export markets – notably Denmark, where the Maxi was popular – continued to market it as the Austin Maxi, and it’s fair to say most people in Britain frustrated Leyland’s marketing men by continuing to use the Austin Maxi name.

Austin Maxi HL
A 1977 Maxi HL was no longer an Austin. Badges on all three Maxis had been changed for the Leyland symbol, as seen here. Otherwise there was little to differentiate a 1977 car from a 1972 model.

There was still a three car range of 1500, 1750 and HL, with all Maxis quietly making the switch from Hydrolastic to Hydragas suspension in 1978, which increased component commonality with the Princess, also built at Cowley.

By 1978, though, it was clearly judged the boy-racer interior of the original Maxi HL had served its time, and the padded vinyl dashboard and three-spoke wheel were absent, with the twin-carb HL now boasting a more traditional burr walnut veneer dashboard with a luxury matt finish, while the steering wheel was now a more banal two-spoke item though still leather-clad.

The coloured side strips were also long gone (now all being black), and the simulated wood gear lever knob seems to have been lost along the way as well.

Austin Maxi HL
A bit of a comedown? By 1978 the Maxi HL had lost its sports steering wheel, padded vinyl dash and simulated wood gear lever knob. The HL remained the range-topping twin-carb Maxi – but still no head restraints

The High Line moves lower

Then, in May 1979, a revised Maxi range was introduced in which the HL was downgraded, losing a carb and becoming the intermediate model between the standard 1750 and the new range-topping 1750 HLS. Reflecting the new hierarchy, from now on it was referred to as Maxi 1750 HL rather than simply Maxi HL.

The HLS was now the twin-carb model so the HL badging no longer denoted extra power and the 1750 HL was a little plainer, the matt finished burr walnut veneer dash now transferred to the HLS, with the 1750 HL reduced to the plainer walnut veneer dashboard of lesser Maxis. The chrome tail pipe finisher had migrated to the HLS as well.

The red chequered grille badge had become history, with all Maxis now sporting the same coppertone emblem.

However, the 1750 HL did gain tinted glass, and was allowed to keep its companion boxes, leather steering wheel and black-banded wheel trims while sharing the plush velour seat trim of the 1750 HLS. Automatic transmission – which was not compatible with twin carbs – could now be specified for the 1750 HL.

There was thus briefly a four-car Maxi range as the 1500 model remained available alongside 1750, 1750 HL and 1750 HLS.

But the 1500 version was dropped in late 1979, and the Maxi went into 1980 with three versions: Maxi 1750, Maxi 1750 HL and Maxi 1750 HLS, with the HL now firmly positioned as a family hack with only a few items of superior trim to distinguish it from the base 1750. A great deal of importance was attached to the vanity mirror on the passenger sun visor, which was one creature comfort buyers of the base 1750 were still denied.

It’s fair to say that, at the time, the fine detail of all this shuffling of the pack was lost on most car buyers. Essentially the same hierarchy of trim names was preserved in the Maxi 2 range announced in mid-1980, with the 1750 HL falling between the base 1750 L and the twin carb 1750 HLS.

That explains why some people who had come to think of a Maxi HL as a model promising extra power would end up disappointed in those early days of the Thatcher Government, with the Maxi 2 remaining in production until mid-1981 but available from stock for a while after that, the range catalogues continuing to feature them into 1982.

It’s pretty clear from all the above that, when referring to the Maxi HL, one has to be very specific about which year or model.

Overseas

Maxis, including the twin-carb HL, were assembled at Seneffe in Belgium for a period from 1971 to 1974, but overall sales on the continent were modest, concentrated mostly on northern Europe and Scandinavia. After Seneffe assembly ended, Maxis continued to be supplied direct from the UK.

Austin Maxi HL
A West German publicity shot for the sporty twin-carb Austin Maxi HL of 1972. Who needs BMW?

Italy dropped the Maxi as early as 1972, while France and Sweden dropped them in 1976. One reason was to give the new Princess a clear run, which is a little ironic given that the Princess was supposedly denied a hatchback to avoid stealing sales from the Maxi.

For the remaining left-hand-drive European export markets it was decided to concentrate all Maxi sales on a single model from 1976 onwards. This was called the Maxi HL and looked almost identical to the original twin-carb Austin Maxi HL, some of which had been sold in Europe in earlier years, as seen in the German picture above.

But somebody familiar with the UK market Maxi range might have been disappointed if they had ordered a Maxi HL on the continent in the mid-1970s, as unlike the home market at that time, they were single-carb cars.

Austin Maxi HL
Some Belgian police forces operated the Maxi HL, a consequence perhaps of British Leyland’s Belgian assembly plant at Seneffe, which assembled Maxis for a period. It’s unclear if these are twin-carb Austin Maxi HL cars or the later Euro-spec. Maxi HL which was single carb

The Euro-specification HL retained the ‘sporty’ black vinyl dash initially, though not the three-spoke wheel.

By the time the Maxi 2 range arrived in 1980 exports had almost ceased. That said, a few overseas markets – one being the Netherlands – did receive a sole Maxi 2 HL model which, as had been the case in Europe since 1976, was single carb.

The Republic of Ireland usually mirrored the UK product line-up more closely than other export markets, but the Maxi was one car where that wasn’t always true. Although some twin-carb Austin Maxi HL cars were sold in Ireland in the early Seventies, in later years they disappeared from the official Irish price list. The late Seventies Maxi HLS with its twin carbs is also notable by its absence in the Republic of Ireland, and it appears the Maxi 2 range wasn’t offered to the Irish in any form, even though its contemporary stablemate the Morris Ital could be found at dealers south of the border.

Meanwhile, New Zealand, where they were popular, also assembled the Maxi between around 1970 and 1978 (after which they disappeared from the market), but only a small number of the twin-carb HL model as discussed here were sold. As Graeme Roberts tell us, they were imported built-up from the UK under 1973’s extra import licence allocation for assembled vehicles rather than being assembled locally.

Australia, South Africa and North America never received the Maxi in any form – nor the Allegro or Princess. The Morris 1500 Nomad manufactured in Australia during 1969-72 looked similar to the Maxi, but was a very different ADO16-based car.

What’s in a name?

The HL name had legs – usually slotting in between L and HLS in later years. Broadly speaking, HL for High Line came to be British Leyland’s answer to the GL badge used by competing manufacturers.

After appearing on Maxi in 1972 it popped up on a new version of the Allegro, the Allegro 1750 HL, in September 1974, which replaced the previous Allegro 1750 SS model.

Then in 1975 the HL badge appeared in the new 18-22 Series (later renamed Princess) and the new Marina 2 range was capped by the Morris Marina 1.8 HL.

Fast forward a few years and HL was a badge applied to versions of many BL cars from Mini to Montego. However, from the late 1975 introduction of the Princess onwards, HLS had become the name for a trim level even plusher and (sometimes) sportier than the HL cars offered.

By the late 1980s, when HL finally faded away as a trim designation for cars built at Cowley or Longbridge, the badge had definitely lost the aura of excitement that surrounded it when first attached to the Austin Maxi HL in 1972.

With thanks to Brendan Dooley, Dave Evans, Martin Chamberlain, Ian Pennick.

Austin Maxi HL
Details of the 1972 Austin Maxi HL in that year’s brochure
Austin Maxi HL
Nothing says ‘early 1970s’ like a metallic purple Austin Maxi HL with Flame Red PVC strips – they seem to have survived better than the rest of the car…
Chris Cowin
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68 Comments

  1. New Zealand only assembled the standard 1750 manual (not Maxi 2) but some HLs were imported from England during the 1973 ‘extra import licence allocation for assembled vehicles’ era, all vehicles had to be landed in that year but stock carried over into 1974. I remember that lurid 1970s purple and contrasting side trim, padded dashboard and so on.

  2. What BL didn’t get was what the market wanted. As a sportier version, it should have got better wheel trims and twin headlamps.

  3. @ daveh, if it was a sportier Maxi, it should have had a rev counter fitted as standard, so people could see how fast the car could go before it hit the red line, not to metion sports wheels and front fog lights. Also radios were becoming standard in top of the range cars by 1972, but the Maxi HL never had one as standard until 1978. It seems to me there was a bit of penny pinching going on, as a top of the range sporty Maxi could have done better with all these as standard. Nevertheless, the Maxi did benefit from the lift in power, which made it a good motorway car, and by 1972, the gearchange was acceptable, if still not one of the best.

  4. My boss had a 1975? Maxi 1750 (HL I think). It was in metallic blue (as the german pic). I got to drive it a few times and its performance was brisk on an open dual carriageway.

    If I recall, it was replaced with an Alfasud about 3 years later.

  5. Loving these model and trim specific essays Chris, please keep them coming.
    I’d love you tackle a story about the Maxi 2 though I suspect it probably wouldn’t be too long

  6. The Maxi was quite popular in the Netherlands and Belgium in the mid seventies, and you saw quite a few.
    Never saw any in France or Germany though.

    • The Low countries were quite a good market for British cars going by old photos.

      I guess with the Renault 16 & VW Passat France & Germany were much harder markets to sell Maxis.

    • Yes – it flopped in France despite being launched with great fanfare – the Renault 16 dominated the segment and the Maxi was withdrawn in 1976. But the Germans did keep on buying Maxis – in small numbers (less than 500 annually) – until almost the end. The Dutch, Belgians and Danes were keen. But conversely the Swiss not at all and (as mentioned) the new Leyland Innocenti organisation in Italy dropped the Maxi in 1972.

  7. The Autocar road test highlighted a key issue with Maxi – prices. The original 1500 was priced nearly identical to Cortina MK2 1600 estate and Victor 1600 estate. The Maxi 1750 HL had in-house competition from Marina 1800 estate which was far cheaper with similar performance/economy.

    • “Marina 1800 estate which was far cheaper with similar performance….”

      It had similar performance as long as you did not want to change direction, in which case the Maxi was two generations of car technology ahead of it, with its flat cornering and for the time very impressive grip levels.

      But you touch on Maxi’s problem, it was a generation ahead of the Cortina, and Viva estates in dynamics and even the measurably better Avenger estate (also launched in 72), but it was wrapped up in a very dull clothes that denied it an opportunity to justify a higher price point.

  8. Nice article. My inner Maxi nerd found a few inaccuracies though. Aconite was a solid colour. Metallic colours became available only later in the Maxi range. There were also more colours to the dashboard, like the side trims these were colour coded to the interior. The parts microfiche shows the colours.
    I have not witnessed any LHD car with other than black trim, although they might have existed.
    To me it seems that all continental European HL Maxis had single carb engines, a normal steering wheel, but padded dash, wheel trims, tail pipe finisher and cloth seats from the UK model.
    I know of a single HLS with twin carbs in the Netherlands.
    Interestingly the twin carb was homologated in Germany with 90 DIN PS.

    • Hello Alexander and thanks … the West German 1973 range catalogue shows the Maxi 1750 HL with twin carbs, and drilled three spoke steering wheel / padded dash in line with UK spec. The Maxi with “sportische Luxusausfuhrung & 2 Vergasser” they declare. But it has disappeared in the 1975 catalogue …. They pop up elsewhere in Europe so I believe a few twin carb cars were sold on the continent with LHD during 1973 & 1974. I was under the impression the only alternative to black for the padded vinyl dashboard was brown as mentioned but I’ll have to look into that – what were the other colours? Not Flame Red I hope 🙂

      • I do have the German 1973 brochure covering the HL, that scan above was most likely supplied by me in the early days of ARonline.
        The brochure shows a Teal Blue car with the typical olive green interior – and the dash is olive green. I do not have my parts book here at the moment, but it lists all the dark colours as used to door liners or carpets (on light interiors). I remember Navy Blue, Brown, Spanish Rose and Olive.
        But having a brochure did not automatically mean that the car was on sale. Austin 3 litre brochures existed in Germany, but it never went on sale.
        My father seems to have only been offered 72PS Maxis (so single carb) when looking for a replacement for his 1800S in 1974. The 1800 was discontinued in Germany, the 2200 not for sale either. So he settled with the only used 1800S he could find at the time.

  9. My late Dad bought a brand new Austin Maxi HL reg no: VIO 119, from R Chapman & Son, Ltd, Dublin Road, Kildare in November 1973. It was one of the few HL version sold in Ireland. It was finished in “Limeflower” with matching interior trim & it really looked well & went well too!!! It was the car that I learned to drive in! Ah! The memories!!!!

  10. It would have been better looking if they had fitted the later Landcrab’s Rostyle wheels along with low profile radials, instead of the plain-jane wheels with chrome pie-tin hubcaps and tall tyres.

    Did the Maxi in any variety ever get power steering?? It might have been necessary to cope with the extra drag of 185/70 tyres. At least with power steering you could have also fitted a quick rack to sharpen up the steering response.

    Add in a revcounter, adjustable wiper delay, a radio, and Maxi HLS might possibly have been a competitor to the Pinto engined Mk.3 Cortina GL/2000E/Ghia. Would the six cylinder E-series engine have fitted?? Destroked to come in at just under two litres to match the company car scales of the time.

    • I think I can say without fear of contradiction that power steering was never available on the E-Series powered Maxi 1750 even as an option. Even though it was on the (B-series powered) Austin 1800 (from 1967) and E-Series powered Austin 2200. …. The Allegro never came with power steering either (including the 1750 versions) which is one reason all those comparisons one sees with modern cars with similar “Quartic” steering wheels are comparing apples with pears rather – as modern cars have PAS and therefore fewer turns of the wheel “lock to lock” than Allegro (which had 3.5 compared to 2 for most moderns) – which implied a lot more wheel-twirling (the clumsiness of the wheel in such situations being at the root of most criticism of the Quartic wheel).

  11. Could the 6 cylinder engine be fitted, No, the battery and radiator are in the way, no room at the front for the radiator, i assembled the first prototype in 1967, did not think much of the styling then but have since grown to like it.

  12. As appealing as the six-cylinder idea is, what was really needed for both the Maxi and Landcrab was a 2-litre OHC four-cylinder, had a way been found to resolve the conundrum without the long wait for the O-Series. Maybe a B-OHC could have fulfilled role had tooling been in better condition.

    Output of a 2-litre OHC four would have been comparable to both the 105.7 hp 1750 Downton tuned engine as well as the 110-115 hp 2200 Six, with the 2-litre in the Ambassador putting out about 100 hp.

  13. Love these articles. I had no idea that the “HL” badge actually meant something (a bit) special initially!
    Those wheel trims do look slightly smarter and more modern than the ones on the base model, but are still pretty ordinary for the top of the range version. Base Allegros had a similar wheel trim.

  14. Thankfully they averred from producing a Vanden Plas Maxi. Somehow a tacky sit up and beg chromed radiator grille, along with the raised bonnet line to match, folding wooden picnic tables in the rear, and deep pile carpet all round would have been as incongruous in the Maxi as it was in an Allegro.

    (I have never been a fan of the faux-posh VP treatment as applied to downmarket Hyacinth Bucket cars. Lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes. ).

    • @ MOWOG, the Maxi was intended to haul families and large amounts of luggage, so the Vanden Plas treatment wouldn’t have been appropriate for it. I think the best version was the HLS that added luxury touches like velour seats and tinted glass, but a Vanden Plas version wouldn’t have sold.

      • You say that but Ford’s Ghia treatment was one of the defining reasons that Austin was losing sales. Ford sold you a plush version of its reliable motor, whole BL gave you very little, hoping you would upgrade to a Triumph or Rover. Vauxhall did similar, just changing the model name, so we got luxury and sport, such as the VX/4 and the Viscount. After the demise of Triumph, we got VP M cars, but they missed a trick early on. I know my great Uncle, who downsized from his 3 litre to a Maxi due to the fuel crisis, would have clearly loved a luxury Maxi. Though I do agree the dodgy grill on the Aggro was not the way to go externally.

        • “I know my great Uncle, who downsized from his 3 litre to a Maxi ”

          Was he a fan of the doors, who insisted his next car should have the same ones? 🙂

          • No he was a BMC nut. My great aunt had a Marina Coupe at the same time. However when they did their next change in the 80s they got a Mk1 Astra!

        • The Wolseley Six( ADO17) had some strange omissions for a luxury car as well: it had no radio or rev counter and had plain glass, yet came with an interior like a Jaguar. I’m sure it would have only cost £ 50 more to fit these as standard. However, I’m sure prospective buyers could have haggled with the dealer to fit a radio, but the rev counter is a strange omission.

          • This omission of equipment was probably all down to Issigonis. He had some weird ideas on cars, and loved them spartan, just wanting a speedo, cigarette lighter and ashtray! As my mother in law would say weird old bachelor!

  15. Possibly the ADO 17’s relative lack of success was due to the car being priced highly, as it was seen as an advanced car, but without any luxuries. The 1800 S would surely have benefited from a full range of driving instruments, but came with the bare minimum of equipment like the basic 1800. Right to the end, unless you bought a Wolseley Six, the ADO17 came with nothing above the basic driving instruments and a heated rear window. By then, you could specify a mid range Cortina XL that would have a lighter, a clock and fabric seats.

    • Unless you’re a bit of a BL fan the trim level names are simply confusing. Mimicking the Ford approach, which I doubt would have caused any patent infringement issues would have steered buyers to what they wanted. The original HL should have been called GT. It often seems the last thing that BL wanted to do was to give people what they really wanted.

  16. The adoption of the HL nomenclature did indeed extend to the Marina and other BL models. I recall there was also a rather special but short-lived Marina 2.0 HLS (auto only) before the subsequent Ital range which had SLX as its top-end model.

    • The car you’re referring to is the Morris Ital 2.0 HLS (saloon and estate) introduced in October 1980 (a bit later than other Itals) and dropped less than two years later. As you say it was auto only – and only around 1000 were built. In the initial Morris Ital range of 1980-82 there was also a 1.3 HLS and 1.7 HLS (as well as L and HL models) – but in the preceding Marina range the top trim level for saloons was HL (first introduced with the Marina 2 range in 1975). Marinas never got the 2 litre O series engine.

  17. The Republic of Ireland market was heavily dictated by motor tax which was dictated by engine capacity, a 1.3 marina or cortina would be viewed far more favourably than a 1500 or 1750 Maxi.

  18. From what I recall the 2 Litre auto-only Marina/Ital was done because the torque of the 2 litre engine was too much for the Triumph-esque manual box used in other Marinas.

    (as a gearbox it wasn’t really that good from the reliability perspective even with the 1.8 B-series engine, why didn’t they use the MGB box in the Marina, which could have offered an overdrive too.

    I guess that would have intruded on the five speed unique selling point of the Maxi though.. )

    • The odd thing, though, is that another 2-litre car in the BL canon was fitted with the Triumph single rail gearbox: the TR7. Quite why they thought it wasn’t man enough for the 2-litre Ital is anyone’s guess.

      Then again, I remember something from years ago, it was a quote from Syd Enever made during the time the Marina was being developed (I can’t find it now.) He was aghast that they were planning to use the Triumph gearbox with the 1.8 B-series and warned it would never be able to handle the engine’s torque.

      This is from Jon Pressnell’s book on Morris, and explains how the Marina was lumbered with a transmission that couldn’t cope with the B-series:

      “In terms of its mechanicals, the car was envisaged as using the 1100cc and 1300cc A-series engine and the 1500cc E-series Maxi unit, with the gearbox being the new corporate rear-drive four-speeder that would first be seen in the 1970 Triumph Toledo…

      Worse was to come. For what seems to have been a combination of reasons, the E-series engine was axed from the programme…this was because the Cofton Hackett facility would not be able to produce the engine in sufficient numbers. Given that at this time the E-series was only being fitted to the Maxi, which at its best would only sell in a quarter of the numbers planned, this is hard to believe. John Bacchus feels that another possible explanation is that it was decided to sell the Marina in the States, and the E-series was not homologated under US exhaust-emissions regulations.

      The only other mid-size Austin-Morris engine available was the heavy and old-fashioned B-series. So this was schemed into the project, which was as a result now mutating into the Cortina rival that Roy Haynes had originally envisaged. The first snag was that the transmission tunnel had been laid out for the ‘58.5mm’ Triumph gearbox, and the B-series transmission would not fit. The Triumph unit thus had to remain. This was in the full knowledge that this re-hash of a gearbox that had started life in the 1953 Standard Eight was simply not strong enough to withstand the torque of the B-series engine.”

      • My understanding is that with the E Series planned for the Allegro and with the 1500 expected to be the centre of gravity for the range, this would take all E Series production capacity, so the Marina was steered to soak up B series capacity.

  19. There was never any consistency with trim levels with British Leyland cars well into the eighties. City meant the rock bottom spec Mini, Metro and Maestro, but the base Montego did without a badge( similar to Ford and Vauxhall), the base model Acclaim was an L, and the SD1 was base, S, SE and Vanden Plas. At least Ford settled on a trim line up in the mid seventies that stayed consistent fot over 10 years.

    • Vauxhall had a fairly consistent set of trim levels for many years, I remember my Dad’s 1983 Brochure had Base, L GL, GLS, SRi & CD for the Cavalier. Later an LX was added to the range, & many named trim names like Merit, Commander, Club & Diamond among others.

      • @ Richardpd, there was also E for base model Chevettes and Astras and a shortlived completely stripped out Chevette ES in 1981.
        The Astra E added an interesting twist as a base model. It was redesigned at the rear so the hatch became a boot, making the car far less practical, and was given the 1200cc engine used in the Nova. I never saw many as most buyers opted for the 1300 hatch, but the Astra E was always recognisable by the two hinges on the back for the boot door. Vauxhall did see this car was a bit of a dead end and the next generation had a proper saloon that was marketed as the Belmont.

        • That generation of Astra/Kadett always had the slightly pointless saloon option, with an Allegro style boot, so it wasn’t something specifically designed for the Astra E.

        • The Astra MK1 was initially GL trim then SR & GTE models followed. I recall the booted E version with those obtrusive hinges… not very nice looking.

          I still think the MK1 was a better looking car than MK2

  20. I also remember the Maestro Clubman which often came in diesel versions. A neighbour in our street had one.

    At launch the Acclaim was in HL, HLS and CD trim. The L model came a little later. Ford had a good trim regime of Base, L, GL and Ghia. quite easy to understand

    • And before that the base model was the Maestro Special, which replaced the City and City X!

  21. I never knew the HL badge had such significance. Always thought BL was just trying to be different by having an H instead of a G like all other manufacturers had at the time.

  22. What I can’t understand is how the Renault 16 TS (let alone the TX!), with less power than the twin carb Maxis, had better top speed / acceleration. Was it better aerodynamics / lower weight in the Renault? Or the Maxi gear change slowing things down?

  23. Yes, for years Ford have had a logical model line-up. Once Ghia reached its ‘sell by’ date, we had Titanium as the top end luxury model for some while, alongside ST for sporty versions. Then Vignale for top-end. So far so good. Today, however, the entry level Kuga is called the Titanium! How about a Metro City Vanden Plas X or a Vauxhall Astra Merit CDX to confuse everyone.

  24. It’s confusing, isn’t it?

    Audi now have numbers like 35, 40, 45 which supposedly represent some sort of engine-power [which is a mix of electric/diesel/petrol output].

    Volvo have done likewise for a decade or so. What is a “D3?” or a “R5”?

    BMW were once sensible, a 320 was a 3-series with a 2.0 litre engine, a 540 was a 5-series with a 3.0 litre engine. Now their designations are meaningless.

    Same goes for Mercedes with their “AMG” series where the numbers once indicated engine capacity but are now seemingly random.

    Oh for some transparency! I don’t want to buy a Mercedes with an AMG63 badge to discover it comes with anything less than a 6.3 Litre engine!!

    • To be fair for manufacturers that previously based model names/numbers on engine size, it all went a bit messy when smaller turbocharged engines came in. When instead of a 2.0L, a 2.5L and a 3.0L range, you just have a turbocharged 2.0L engine with varying power outputs, you have find a different way of showing the variants.

  25. Typo above: “540 was a 5-series with a 3.0 litre engine” should have read “with a 4.0 litre engine”

  26. The best car ever. Had three.
    Don’t worry about the sporty styling, it’s the only car that had a double bed in it. Such fun!

  27. Then come the eighties, Austin Rover revived the Vanden Plas badge for its top of the range cars and they certainly made the interior of a Metro look good with the wood dashboard, door cappings and velour seats. Also leather seats made a return on the bigger cars, which made a Rover 213/216 look especially upmarket inside.

  28. I have always been perplexed by the BMC/BL designations of their performance versions.

    Rover had SC and TC versions of the 2000/2200 to designate Single Carb and Twin Carb, the performance version of the Landcrab 1800 was badged 1800S, or 18/85S, the Marina had TC to describe its fast versions. Triumph used TC on its
    Fast version of the little FWD 1300 had carried the TC tag and this went over to the 1500/Toledo/Dolomite, as well as the later 2000/2500 once the 2.5PI had left the scene.

    So how come the Maxi got lumbered with HL or HLS for the fast versions?? And who can fathom the disparate tags used on the Allegro??

    I guess that the BMC/BL marketing types must have had a reason, however obscure and delusional it may seem to us punters.

  29. The world of British Leyland marketing was bizarre and since there were so many rival parts to it, they seemed to have theit own way of identifying trim levels. Also the De Luxe and Super trim levels were used for entry level Allegros and Marinas until 1978, but never used on the Maxi or the Princess that were either base or HL and there was no intermediate trim level like Super. Luckily some kind of coherent trim levels were introduced in 1978/79 when all these cars were given L, HL and HLS trim levels.

  30. HL, GT, SS, TC: no consistency. No doubt a Maxi GT wouldn’t sound right, but BL specialized in making uncool cars. You bought them with your head, not your heart. With Ford, you knew where you stood: a GT was a GT (or later, an S, or an XR) There were exceptions, like the Escort Mexico and RS1600, but those were extra sporty models.

    • @ Ken Strachan, Escort Mexico was always a cool sounding name and the cars often came with a blue and white paint scheme and Mexico decals. The Allegro tried with the Equipe, which at least had a great paint job, but the Allegro was never going to be as desirable as a sporty Mark 2 Escort and it was withdrawn after six months. Also at the time, deeply unhip Talbot made the Sunbeam into a hot hatch that did get people talking when they teamed up with Lotus and made the Sunbeam Lotus, a name that sounded great as well.

      • The Mexico had the credentials because the Escort had won the London to Mexico rally, albeit that had a BDA engine and not a 1.6 crossflow. Ford knew the power if marketing. In the 60s, Walter Hayes, the head of PR at Ford GB at the time, got as many 1600Es to Jeff Uren to create Savages, as they sold to a different kind of buyer.

      • Luckily the Sunbeam Lotus had a 2.2 litre engine mostly for rally use, though they did also make a hottish 1.6 litre model to replace the Avenger Tiger.

        • Again, Rally success was what sold the Sunbeam. As John Barber said while at Ford’s “You must assess where motor sport can help in areas where your company is weak. For example, in 1959, Ford had the Tin Lizzie image and young people were buying the Mini”. The Cooper really helped Mini sales. Rootes/Chrysler saw that benefit, that’s why they employed Des O’Dell to run that department

          • Donald Healey keen to promote his cars in motor sport coined the phrase, win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday.

        • I actually thought the Sunbeam Ti was a fuel injected version of the car, but the Ti meant Tiger and was a carburated engine. It was still a rapid car, being able to reach 110 mph, which was very good for a 1.6 in 1979 and its success led Talbot to approach Lotus.
          Otherwise Talbot followed a logical badging scheme of LS. GL and GLS for its cars, and in 1980 introduced the SX for the Alpine and Solara, this being a luxury model with automatic transmission as standard, a trip computer and central locking.

    • Producing a GT version of the ADO16 Austin/Morris was way more successful than the previous MG/Riley equivalents.
      I think a Maxi GT with similar kit and appearance to a 1300GT would have drawn in more customers.

  31. My father had a harvest gold 1750 before we moved to the US and ordered a Cortina estate before moving back to the U.K. in 1978. He then had a moment of clarity that the Cortina’s driver’s seat would be too low for my 5’2” mother so hurriedly ordered a Carmine Red 1750HL as he knew she could fit. It took four months to come but had clearly been sitting in the sun somewhere as the seats on one side were bleached a paler shade of Mink (?). The car had ridiculously high oil consumption and the engine was rebuilt a number of times under warranty and finally replaced. We didn’t see it for a good couple of months. The new one was painted gold. By 1978 the interior was way off the pace. Ironically my mother refused to drive it as she’d experienced the wonders of power steering in the US and didn’t see why a car had to be so cumbersome to drive.

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