Unsung Heroes : BMC 1100/1300…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

…or ADO16 to the aficionados

BMC 1100/1300 remained fresh-looking into the 1970s.
BMC 1100/1300 remained fresh-looking into the 1970s.

For those, like me, who absolutely adore the BMC 1100/1300, it’s actually quite tough reconciling the fact that next month will mark the 50th birthday of this fabulous little car. Not because it doesn’t deserve a big party, and lots of emotional tributes – after all, the 1100/1300 is as ingrained into UK popular culture of the 1960s, ’70s and even ’80s as anything else born of that year – but because it reminds me that we’re all aging far too quickly.

When I was growing up, and my passion and interest in cars knew no bounds (a bit like now, really, but without the ability of being able to consummate this relationship) I loved the 1100. During those formative years, there were rather a lot of of 1100/1300s around – in typical Northern street scene around 1980, you could guarantee that at least one in ten cars was one of these happy-looking smiling blighters. Or a least that’s how I remember things.

Whatever, the true number of 1100s on the road, I think it’s the smiling face that truly endeared the 1100 to me from an early age. Not their ubiquity (I’m still a bit cold on Cortinas, for instance), but that anthropomorphic quality about them that made 1100s stand out. Of course, as a lover of Fawlty Towers and (later), Clockwise, I can’t help but associate 1100s with the second-best Python, but I think I just ‘dig’ 1100s, and just can’t believe that something so appealing could really be really 50 years old.

Thankfully my love of these cars was justified. When ADO16 was launched, it really was something of a tour de force, packing the Mini’s innovative transverse engine, transmission-in-sump drivetrain, combining it with Moulton’s clever fluid Hydrolastic suspension system, and clothing it in a family-sized Pininfarina-penned crisp-looking body. What was not to like?

Certainly, the British public found the ADO16 irresistible, and despite only being available in Morris form from launch, and sold only through the Nuffield half of the BMC dealer network, the new car proved to be an instant hit. By the time the Austin side of the family appeared and the entire range was on on son by 1966, the 1100 was selling like hot pasties in a northern town, and was unquestionably the UK’s most popular car.

But being a best-seller doesn’t mean it’s any good. After all, look at how many Brits bought Cortina MkIVs. In the case of the 1100, however, its popularity was wrapped up in brilliance – here was a car that was cheap to buy (too cheap, as it happens), looked good, drove well, and was capable of giving the average family man everything he could possibly want in a car. More than that, the 1100 proved that technology in a car didn’t put off buyers at all.

In fact, it utterly enhanced the 1100. Keen rack-and-pinion steering and front-wheel drive stability made the ADO16 fun in the bends, but its Hydrolastics equally provided a relatively cossetting drive. Yes, it wasn’t without faults – but an awkward driving position with badly-positioned switches, and a curious propensity to rise and fall like the tide were amiable eccentricities that could be shrugged off with a smile.

But we know what happened. The Cortina grew and became even more family-friendly, while the 1100 and 1300 retained its original packaging. The 1100 gained a reputation for servicing belligerence, while the Cortina’s reliable simplicity and cost-effective servicing won it more and more friends. And by 1970, and the arrival of the Cortina MkIII, the two former sparring partners were no longer rivals – and buyers were growing up with Uncle Henry, and not British Leyland.

But the happy little 1100 and 1300 held on to their best-selling position in the charts right until the end in 1973, which is a remarkable achievement, given the arrival of the Marina in 1971. But then, the ADO16 was a remarkable car.

So, why are we heralding what was effectively Britain’s most popular car for a decade as an unsung hero? Simple really… the poor little thing wasn’t built as well as it could be, and for someone of my age who can remember it, the sight of them fizzing, decomposing and returning to mother earth was all-too common during the 1980s. And that meant that what was once Britain’s best car was now Britain’s worst banger. People’s perceptions of the ADO16 were poisoned by this, and as a consequence, even today, this design masterpiece’s legacy has been tarnished by rust, apathy, and the long shadow cast by its vastly inferior replacement.

So, as the mainstream press heap mountain-loads of praise on 1962’s star launches, the MGB, AC Cobra Ford Cortina and Lotus Elan, the 1100 is being sidelined like the distant cousin with halitosis at a wedding party. And that’s a real shame because it’s neither fair nor justified.

So, come 15 August 2012 – and the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Morris 1100 – let’s get flag-waving, and give this hero the praise it truly deserves!

The delectable Valerie Leon and her Austin 1300GT
The delectable Valerie Leon and her Austin 1300GT
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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43 Comments

  1. I always liked these too, only ever owning them when they were bangers. I still have a hankering for the estate version even with the ‘light the sky’ angle they adopted when you put more than a cig packet in the back.

  2. I remember these with some affection, as it was the car I learnt to drive (and passed my test) in.
    It was, of course almost brand new, so none of the ‘faults’ listed above had yet come to light.
    The way the front rose when held on the handbrake was brilliant for a learner to gauge when the clutch was just biting and you were ready to move off (especially on a hill), it had excellent visibility all round, the ‘boot’ was barely beyond the bottom of the back window for reversing and the dreaded ‘three-point-turn’ and you could see the end of the bonnet in front.
    A great car, innovative for it’s time yet still immensely practical.
    Some years later I had a GT, which was actually quite quick even then and good fun until the gearbox gave up.

  3. Keith’s putting porn on here again!

    My Uncle had one of these in the late 70’s early 80’s, but replaced it with a Mk2 Escort estate. The 1100 had been problematic (the Hyrdolastic went) but the Escort was even more unreliable and he replaced that with a brand new Maesto – which he had no probs with.

    The 1100 prob was that it continued to look the same. It needed to be given a facelift, but by time Leyland had taken over they were not interested and wanted to start again. Shame as it could have been the base of car to rival the Escort, which was regularly up at the top of the sales charts – instead we got the Allegro!

  4. As ever, there was a lost opportunity by not simply re-clothing it in a stylish Pininfarina hatchback body, and fitting a larger engine- that would have been probably enough to have kept it going into the late 70s, removing the need to ‘develop’ (if thats what you call it) the Allegro, and the change could have been used to develop the Marina properly. Same could be said of the Maxi and the 1800.

    Ah hindsight, ’tis a wonderful gift…

    Growing up in Bath and Cheltenham in the 70s and 80s these cars were less in evidence. Indeed the one time I ever got to ride in one was in the 80s- wheras I’d probably been in dozens of Minors, which were extremely popular in Bath, partly owing to Charles Ware’s famous Morris Minor centre. So my ‘rose tinted nostalgia’ tends to be centred on the Minor rather than the 1100.

    Still, wouldn’t mind a pristine VDP 1300!

  5. As mentioned elsewhere some of the early ideas for the Allegro was an ADO16 with fully updated bodywork.

  6. Here in the U.S. they were sold as the “Austin America” and were a pretty common sight back in the day. Unfortunately they did not hold up well under American driving conditions or our car owners’ tendency to neglect maintenance. Never owned one myself, but would be sorely tempted if I found one for sale that wasn’t a basket case.

  7. The ADO16 would have made a perfect hatchback to be honest. The rear styling does look like it would have been a fairly simple job to make it a hatch. BL really did know how to miss opportunities.

  8. We were on a family holiday in Bournemouth at the time of the Morris 1100 launch. Dad was a car enthusiast and this had rubbed off on me even though I was just under 5 years old. We drove to the Morris Dealers on Christchurch road in our trusty Morris 1000 (PUT 261 – is it still going?) to see a sheeted down 1100 in the showroom (obviously this was before launch day). However, around the back were a number of the new model, which we were able to look at more closely.
    Also around the back were a number of second-hand sales cars, and a pale blue over grey, F Type Vauxhall Victor Deluxe (5794 EL – that can’t still be around), which we ended up returning home from our holiday in!
    As other have said, throughout the 60’s & 70’s the ADO16 was a popular and friendly face on the roads of Britain, but eventually they mostly turned to dust. I can’t remember the last time I saw one…

  9. Ah ADO16, which definitely doesn’t get the praise and place in history it deserves, indeed was it the last great British mainstream volume car?

    Great styling too, was the early sixties a golden era when you consider the E type, Elan, MGB, Mk1 Cortina etc?

  10. My father once had a Morris 1100 many years ago, though his experience was clouded by the fact that the chassis was broken and went around in circles the moment he tried to drive off the forecourt.

    On prolonging the life of ADO16 with rebody and larger engines in place of the Allegro, lookng around this site I’m aware that they had plenty of options to go for with cars such as the the Austin Apache / Victoria, Pininfarina 1100, Morris Nomad hatchback, rebodied 1100, enlarged 5-door Issigonis 9X and the mk2 Cortina-like facelift as well as the 1.5 E-Series being fitted to the Morris Nomad though could the 1.8 E-Series or 2.0 B-Series also fit into ADO16’s engine bay?

  11. A couple of my friends had Austin 1100’s and I always remember how roomy they were. In the early 70s my brother owned a Morris 1300GT in a “burnt orange” colour and it was a good performer with fairly rapid acceleration for its engine size. It wasnt that old so rust wasn’t an issue

  12. I remember them in the days when they were “modern”, and at times I would’ve liked the idea of owning a 1300GT.

    I’ve seen a few of them around in recent months in various states of maintenance, and the main thing which always strikes me is how SMALL they are alongside almost anything else on the roads. Today’s small cars are massive compared to these things.

  13. I still have one, Austin 1300. It was bought as new by my father in 1970. It is all original and with standard engine with over 140K miles. My personal opineon is, that if well maintained, it is excelent car. I live in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, so there is no spare parts available here.

  14. @11 If the 1100 was put up against the escort it would not have needed a bigger engine except for the sporty models, as both the escort and viva only had 1.1 and 1.3 jobs.

    It’s a shame we all don’t have a time machine and could go back and make BL the motoring giant to match the rest. A range of Austin-Morris, Innocenti, Triumph, Rover and Jag could have made them a rival to VW but instead it faded away like most of Britain’s great industry. Thing is we know it’s not British design and manufacture that let’s us down, it’s our management. All for a quick buck and too many sales people but in charge ‘cos they can talk the talk, but unfortunately they can’t walk the walk.

  15. My first driving lessons were split between a Mini Clubman and a venerable Austin 1100. I think my first actual drive was in the Mini, but my first bunny-hop was in the 1100! I remember both cars very fondly. Sadly, due to the ignorance and irresponsibility of youth, I missed a ripe opportunity to save that very Mini Clubman from death and burial, something that plays on my mind constantly in my sensible middle age. I don’t know the fate of the 1100, but in 1986 it was 20 years old and in very good shape. No rust! Maybe it still lives today…

    So, Keith, who was the BEST Python?

  16. I am a huge fan of ADO16. My first car was a Vanden Plas 1300, and I have owned an MG 1300 Mark 2 with the 70hp cooper engine – the best, and a Riley 1300 Mark 2. Engine and suspension wise they were relaible. It was just the sills, rear subframe and front panels that went. Kept many small garages going in the 70’s! BLMC really should have introduced the hatchback version to the UK around 1968, then the booted Austin Apache Version. The Apache front end accross the range together with 1500 and 1750cc e series with 5 speeds would have kept the model freesh until the late 70’s when the Maestro should have been launched. No Allegro in the national BL Psyche would have done wonders.

  17. I’ve never agreed with the commonly heald view that the driving position was awkward. Maybe I’m a strange shape but I found them very comfortable indeed…

  18. My first car was a K-reg Austin 1300 in Teal Blue. What a rot-box that turned out to be, rotten sills, rear subframe mounting under the back seat, those ‘trumpet’ things under the arches on the front inner wings, and only 10 years old at the time. Much worse than the older Cortina which followed it. I reckon the previous owner must have bunged someone a few quid to get it MOT’d!
    Good little motors though, but yes, as commented by KC, when you do see one on the road these day they do seem very small indeed!

  19. @Carter,

    In addition to the Austin America we had these in the U.S. as the MG (1100?) as well. A good friend of the family had one for years along with several other examples of foreign car exotica that fascinated me as a young child. They used to advertise these in National Geographic quite frequently as well as the usual car magazines. Good memories.

  20. I bought a tartan red Morris 1100 in March 1965, it did 48,000 miles in three years. Then I chopped it for a ford escort 1300 ‘super’ with 00048 miles, OMG.
    I suffered 11 months 11,,000 miles in the ford then threw it away.
    It felt that I had sold a new 1100 with 00048 miles for a ten year old ford with 480,000 hard miles behing it.
    The engine was coarse, lots of backlash in the transmission, the suspension tossed and pitched and rolled and shook and shuddered.
    ‘Man and machine in perfect harmony’ What utter rubbish.

  21. @ 15 daveh

    For me, I always felt that BMC and LMC should have somehow remained two distinct entities that would initially collaborate with each other on certain projects (i.e. cars, engines, platforms, etc) before over time going their own separate ways.

    – With BMC / Rover Group being comprised of Austin (with Authi being an Iberian/Latin-American-market subsidiary of Austin), MG, Rover / Land Rover (that became part of BMC instead of LMC with Sterling being the North America subsidiary of Rover) and Wolseley (which is an Australian / New Zealand subsidiary of BMC)

    – While LMC / British Leyland would be comprised of Innocenti, Morris, Triumph and Jaguar.

    I’m aware the history is way more complex then I’ve made it out to be though such a scenario imo would of been equitable and minimised or prevented the competing models, underdeveloped cars, bad investment, mismanagement, etc (strikes are other matter however) and would have allowed at least one of the two companies to stand on its own two feet as a VW Group-rival, while the other at best ends up being state-owned like Renault or even foreign-owned due to its bad decisions.

  22. Surely part of the reason that the 1100/1300 failed (eventually – I acknowledge it was the best selling British car for a large proportion of the 60s) had nothing to do with the car – after all it was an excellent (if expensive to build) car, with great handling, crisp looks and superb packaging. But maybe that was part of the problem – maybe FWD Austins/Morris’s with clever suspension and packaging were too much for the average Joe British motorist – bear in mind that the big selling cars in the 70s were all front engine, RWD, with slightly transatlantic styling, and lots of optional extras, then you start to see the possible ‘problem’ with BL’s FWD range – it was ahead of its time! I’m not saying that producing a range of middle of the road RWD saloons and estates was the way to go – it didn’t help Hillman/Chrysler/Talbot, or (until the Cavalier came along) Vauxhall – but the big selling UK cars in the late 60s/early 70s were – Escort/Cortina/Hunter/Avenger/Viva/Victor – all very conventional, very simple for the average man to understand (and importantly maintain himself), and, almost disposable when they eventually (and astonishingly quickly) disintegrated through corrosion – against this back-drop, could the FWD BL car really compete?

  23. @ Simon – Yes I think they could. If you look at the sales success of the 1100 in the 60’s it was an equal for it’s main competitor. The problem was it stood still while the blue oval changed, even if they were not mechanically improved, the consumer saw it as a new car that they wanted. The problem in the 70’s was the Allegro was a design from the ugly tree, that was badly developed and missed what the consumer wanted. The funny thing is a sorted Allegro lasts at lot longer than most of its competitors. It’s a shame BL went for a insular design brief and did not use the design houses, which had served BMC so well, as Bl might have had a Golf instead of VW.

  24. My uncle had 3 newish ones from the mid 60’s onwards. He had problems with all of them mainly transmission and rust
    Then in 1975, he bought a Toyota corrolla. Hardly the fist word in “cutting edge” technology. However it had a radio as standard and the 3 others he had never let him down. His last car was however a Rover R8 which was lamost a Honda anyway!
    My point being my uncle was a typical British car buyer of the time. Cant say he did not give them a go

  25. The 1100/1300 was not only the best selling car in the UK but also in the top league in Switzerland, as was the Mini.
    My father got a MG 1100 in April 1963 and bought a 1300 lateron. The 1100 was a new car in all aspects: transverse engine, hydrolastic, size, design etc.
    It took Volkswagen 12 years to come out with the Golf, a good copy of the 1100 but with the great advantage of having a hatch.
    If only BMC and BL had put a hatch on the 1100, the car would still exist in some form today. built by a BMW subsidiary in Longbridge or Cowley.
    I can only recommend to all the aficionados to go to the 1100 club website and buy the book: The story of the BMC 1100. very detailed book including all the figures and derivatives, including the Innocenti 1100.

  26. @29, Eduard Preiswerk,

    I doubt that the 1100 (or its derivatives) would still be on sale today- for one thing, conventional (ie non hydrogas/hydrolastic) suspension has come a long way.

    I think the Mk1 Ford Focus had an absolutely spot-on ride/handling balance- although it did use more advanced ‘Control Blade’ suspension at the rear as opposed to torsion beams found in the competition at the time. The Focus even managed to have a far better ride than the rather firm Mondeo. You probably need a typical Cotswolds British B road to fully appreciate just how good the Focus suspension was- the worse the road got, the more the Focus amazed with its capacity to deal with it.

  27. not that many years ago I was offered a real nice GT for NZ$3000 which, while I was tempted, didnt take up. i did find later though that it sold for a LOT less than that, and I would have paid more than it sold for. bugger I said. I also know it still had its “cooper – s” block in it and a slightly widler grind and it used to fly. the GT’s look nice I really like the now. I wasnt keen on the 1300s when i was younger. I could never work out though why austin never “named” them properly – eg Mini – Minor – Oxford, Healy Sprite, MG-A, Maxi, Marina…and….a car with an engine out of some of them,,,? (1100 1300) I guess thats one of the reasons they get called landcrabs….alex

  28. When I was a VERY young lad my Dad had an ADO16. Was it an Austin or a Morris. Too young to remember but it was one of these two.

    I can remember thinking it was cool. One of my lasting memories is of it being pulled out of a tiny quarry/piece of wasteground. It had been parked on a slope and the handbrake either failed or hadn’t been put on hard enough!

  29. @30 Chris you are right about the Original Focus. I had two and they were great handling cars (though the diesel model struggled with the extra weight upfront) which unfortunaley Ford have diluted with each subsequent model. Funny thing is the Rover 200 had a similar design prior to Ford and that was a fab handling motor as well.

  30. hi, i just aquired a 1970 morris 1300 loads of welding done.going mot thurs morning,think i may have to remove have rear subframe.great site, wonder if anyone can help with hydrolastic suspension dont know how to charge or discharge.
    i engoyed the reading always had victors before this and it baffling me with suspension.
    any help much apprciated.
    ta terry

  31. My Father worked at Cowley for 32 years in that time he bought a brand new BRG 1965 Morris 1100 AJO 486C. He worked in the Wages Department and had the opportunity to follow the car along the Production Line. The car was “up specked” by the Workers with two coats of underseal and smart red leather seats. My first memories of the car were in the early 70’s, the paint still had great lustre although there were a lot of corrosion bubbles around the front end. My father owned the car up to 1976 until corrosion had affected the bulkhead panel causing it to fail a pre-MOT. He sold the car I think for about £100 with 68K on the clock and bought a second-hand 1972 VW Type 2 Bay Window Delivery Van in which he converted into a Camper Van. I had fond memories of the 1100 and can remember my father commenting how very reliable the engine and gearbox were. He did mention though that when new after the initial 1000 mile run in it burnt vast quantities of oil, so it got booked into the Service Department at the Cowley Works and after that it never burnt oil. The only thing about the car I didn’t like was the motion sickness feeling I used to get travelling in the back, reckon there must have been a generation of kids that suffered the same thing. I can remember going along with my Parents to an early 70’s Cowley Works Open Day and watching the 1100’s going on the roller test and the finish lines. Great Times.

  32. @36 nick Chung,

    There might be something in your motion sickness connected to the hydrolastic suspension. Although I’ve never been in an 1100 for more than a brief local trip, the last time I threw up in a car (and I was about 14 at the time so should have known better and got the driver to pull over sooner) was in the back of a hydropneumatic Citroen GSA whilst accompanying my French Exchange family back from a week’s retreat at a monastery. In hindsight, probably good revenge for a very boring week!

    My French exchange student Cyrille and I never liked one another even before I barfed all over him…

  33. my very first car was a j reg austin 1300gt in teal blue , i was 17 and just passed my test , it was my own rolls royce .. very very fond memories of it still remain with me , loved it

  34. It has to be the Vanden Plas 1300, a miniature limousine that threw away the rulebook that said small cars had to be basic and unpleasant. 100 mph performance, enough to keep up with a two litre then, a cossetting ride, quiet engine and the wood and leather are what attracts me.

  35. I have owned a couple of Vandenplas 1100’s over the years. I now have an Austin 1300 Countryman from March 1973. The car was sold by Dobbs Garage in Necton, had a couple of owners and came to Ireland in 2003. The car is gold incolour and now has 25,400 genuine miles and has never been restored. they are great little cars. I am searching for a new old stock front grille panel, no luck so far! The only problem is the Basil Faulty connection.

  36. I am in the process of restoring my late grandad’s 1967 MG 1100 Mk1 automatic. It has the classic ‘swinging sixties’ duotone paintwork and should look great when finished. Only 36,000 miles on the clock too.

    My dad had just about every derivative of the range, Morris 1100, Austin 1100/1300, Traveller/Countryman, Riley Kestrel, Riley 1300 Mk2, MG 1300 Mk2, Wolseley 1100, Vanden Plas 1300 and extended family had the 1300GT amoungst others.

    I pride myself on being something of an 1100 ‘anorak’ having grown up with them, though I also own two Minor 1000s and a Midget (my wife is very tolerant!). The 1100 is a great car, and I believe it set the standard for many transverse cars that are produced now. Interesting how Minis have massive popularity given that they are simply a smaller version of essentially the same design.

    Yes, they have many shortcomings, namely corrosion, but don’t deserve the bad press they often get. My dad struggles to have quite such fond memories!

    BL should definitely have updated the design and abandoned the ‘All-agro’. The seventies was a very bad decade for the British motoring industry!

  37. Its great to read the warm affectionate comments about the 1100 range above . Like many of my generation it was my first car (LOV 365) Sadly it rotted around me, and I couldn’t afford to get her through an MOT at the time. Wish I wish I still had the reg number plate! I did have a spate of owning Vanden Plas 1300s in the 80s as they were so cheap at the time, I was buying them needing work for £20 to £50 which I thought was so cheap. I was intoxicated by their beautiful burr walnut wood and quality thick leather seats with the cute little pick nick tables. Despite that being over 30 years ago, they are still in my system because I recently saw a very sad but original and unmolested MK1 Vanden plas with a very rare steel sliding sunroof for sale on Ebay, I just had to buy her. I’ve started the restoration which is going to cost double what the car will ultimately be worth but I’m doing it out of respect for this wonderful little car, which has given me so much fun and enjoyment over the years, another one saved has got to be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Its quite alarming how few of these cars are left considering how many were produced. I have also just bought a late Riley 1300 which although tatty to look at is remarkably sound body wise and is a joy to drive. I intend using this as it is, warts and all, until I finish the VP. Looking at the classic car market as it is at the moment, I think these cars will start getting peoples attention again , they are a very practical classic with cute good looks, they are even appearing in TV adverts again! Above all when they are out and about they make people smile.

  38. I recall Our neighbours fell out with each other.; Doris insisted she wanted a Morris 1100. Bill her husband however insisted on buying an Austin 1100. This sadly, was the final nail in the coffin of an already shakey marriage.

    ( unable to have her wish, Doris departed, with her possessions all packed in the back of a friends Renault. 4 !)

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