Around the World : US and Canadian BMC 1100s

Declan Berridge and Chris Cowin explain the long and sometimes complex history of the much-loved BMC 1100 in the US and Canadian markets.


BMC 1100 – fit for North Americans

USA: MG Sports Sedan / MG Princess

Within a month or so of the its UK launch, the MG-flavoured version of the BMC 1100 was being exported to the US to be sold as the MG Sports Sedan (perhaps providing inspiration to the Rootes Group, who later launched the Hillman Imp in America as the Sunbeam Imp Sportsedan). Launched in the autumn (perhaps we should say fall) of 1962, the MG Sports Sedan initially used the two-door bodyshell that would not become available in the UK until 1968; four-door models were also available, but in rather fewer numbers.

The launch came at a time when BMC had decided to rationalise its US range, and the 1100 was intended to provide the dealers with a car to compete with the ever-popular VW Beetle. However, with sales of less than 35,000 over its five-year life, the MG Sports Sedan was never really up to this challenge.

USA: MG Princess

Image supplied by Graham Arnold
Image supplied by Graham Arnold

In 1964, the Sports Sedan briefly shared its showroom space with the MG Princess, basically a Vanden Plas Princess 1100 with some rather incongruous MG badges added to its grille, hubcaps and bootlid. Only 154 of these models were built before BMC decided to concentrate efforts on the Sports Sedan.

The MG Sports Sedan was phased out in late 1967, when production of the Mk1 bodystyle ended. The final cars were fitted with the 1275cc engine (which also became an option on the Mk1 MG 1100 in the UK during 1967).  The model was showing its age by this time, and moreover, it would not have been able to meet the new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards which were looming on the horizon. BMC had also decided to reserve the MG marque in America for use on sports cars, but the US dealers, still keen to steal sales from the Beetle, started lobbying for a replacement for the Sports Sedan. This led to BMC shipping a small quantity of Austin 1100s to the US during late 1967, while they readied a new version of the car aimed specifically at this market.

USA: Austin 1100

Launched in the summer of 1967 as a stop-gap model as the MG Sports Sedan was phased out, the US-spec Austin 1100 differed from its UK counterpart in several respects. From the front, it can clearly be seen that it lacked the usual Mk1 over-riders and grille-mounted ‘Austin’ badge, while the clear-lensed indicators also mark it out. Unlike the MG, this car was available only in two-door form (as was its main rival, the Volkswagen Beetle), reflecting its main role as a second or third car in the US market. Colour availability was limited to White, Tartan Red and Connaught Green.

However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the car was the fact that it used the central instrument pod which would not make its debut on home-market cars until the introduction of the MkII 1100 a few months later. This, combined with the export-only two-door MkI bodyshell, makes this model something of a hybrid, looking rather curious to British eyes.

It is not currently known how many of these models were built, or when production was halted, but it seems that it was partly devised as a means of using up excess two-door MkI bodyshells, so production is likely to have continued alongside that of the MkII cars for a time. It is also thought that the model remained on sale in the US until the introduction of the Austin America the following year.

If you have any further reliable information on production numbers and/or build dates, please get in touch.

USA: Austin America

1971 Austin America

Introduced in March 1968, the Austin America was essentially a two-door Austin 1300 fitted with a de-toxed, 60bhp version of the familiar 1275cc A-Series engine. In October that year the car gained front seat head restraints, while later modifications included body-side running lights and rubber inserts on the overriders.

The America was also offered in Canada and Switzerland and sold steadily, if not in large numbers, until its withdrawal in 1972. It was replaced in the American markets by the Austin Marina, a federalised version of the UK’s Morris Marina.

Declan Berridge

The original, 1968 US-specification Austin America in Chartreuse Yellow (above) and Riviera Blue (below).
The original, 1968 US-specification Austin America in Chartreuse Yellow (above) and Riviera Blue (below)

A later, 1970 USA-spec America, now featuring extra safety equipment such as front seat head restraints and side marker lights. The above pictures were supplied by Todd Miller
A later, 1970 USA-spec America, now featuring extra safety equipment such as front seat head restraints and side marker lights. The above pictures were supplied by Todd Miller

BMC 1100s in Canada

BMC and later British Leyland in Canada differed in many ways from the USA. A major example is the ADO16 1100/1300 range. From 1962-67 these cars were marketed in the USA only with MG branding (MG 1100 Sport Sedan plus a few MG Princess versions). However, Canada received both the Morris 1100 Mk1 and Austin 1100 Mk1 in four door form. The Morris brand was dropped in Canada in the mid-1960s, so only the Austin 1100 Mk1 was offered during 1966/67.

When BMC in Britain introduced the Austin 1100 Mk2 and Austin 1300 in late 1967, they were not exported to the USA, where instead consumers during 1967 were being offered a choice between the MG Sports Sedan (detailed above) and a spartan two-door Austin 1100, which was a hybrid of the Austin 1100 Mk1 and Mk2.

Canada was again different. North of the border the Austin 1100 Mk2 was introduced for 1968 as a four-door sedan but not it appears as a two-door (or estate). Unlike the hybrid car already on sale in the USA, this was a proper Mk2 car with cropped tail fins and larger grille. Availability of the new AP automatic transmission was a major selling point, a fully automatic box not being available at that time on the rival Volkswagen Beetle. Although an Austin 1300 sedan was now in production in the UK, this was not exported to Canada (until the arrival of the Austin America).

The Austin 1100 Mk2 in Canada, and the two cars offered in the USA, were bridging the gap before the arrival of the Austin America (below), which was a new version of the Austin 1300 Mk2 two-door saloon adapted to meet the federal requirements on emissions and safety that came into force in the USA in 1968. The Austin America was launched in the USA in the spring of 1968 but it appears rather later in Canada.

Once the Austin America was launched, it flew the flag for the ADO16 in all of North America until it was replaced (in both the USA and Canada) by the Austin Marina (which arrived in Canada in February 1972 and the USA six months later). Thanks to Todd Robin Ziebell for the Canadian Austin 1100 Mk2 advert.

As always, if you have any more info on this subject, please send it in. Although this article refers to the vehicles officially marketed in the USA and Canada, quite a few other 1100/1300 cars found their way across the Atlantic with returning servicemen/diplomats etc.  and also because, prior to 1968, there were fewer barriers to importing a car chosen from the UK/European catalogue.

Chris Cowin

A 1970 Canadian-specification Austin America.
A 1970 Canadian-specification Austin America

Pictures for this section supplied by Graham Arnold, Declan Berridge and Chris Cowin

Chris Cowin

28 Comments

  1. The US 1100/1300 could’ve been the BMC Beetle.
    The Metro could’ve been the BMW Rabbit/Golf.

    In fact, BMC could’ve been an early VAG if they’d managed to consolidate platforms and engines, instead of having different platforms competing for the same market share, and differing engines that can fit different models.

    Imagine

    Seat – Triumph
    Skoda – Morris / Austin
    VW – Austin / Rover
    Audi – Rover / Jaguar
    GTi / VRS / FR / Lamborghini / Bugatti / ‘S’ – MG

  2. A great feature with nice pictures… I never realised the ADO16 was sold in Canada & USA. They were always one of my favourites in all badge versions particularly the Riley Kestrel & Vanden Plas.

  3. My MG 1100 4 door in Virginia was great fun but let down by a non-existent dealer network, and the roof lining was constantly falling down because of the heat.

  4. Assuming the following was able to conform to US regulations, could some composite of the Austin Apache and Morris Nomad (plus rebodied ADO16 proposal) have fared any better compared to the Austin Marina in North American markets?

    • Interesting question. Whatever they sold, it needed to be reliable and have good parts availability. The Marina had the advantage of being rear driven (perceived as more robust by most BL dealers), being easy to service, and sharing its engine with the MGB which was a big seller and where parts availability was good. The ADO16 family were held back in North America by a reputation for fragility with the AP auto box being a big culprit.

      • Using the Allegro as a rough guide it seems such a car like the former could have been fundamentally reliable with significant better rust proofing compared to ADO16 despite the potential for also being troublesome and suffering from niggles like the Allegro.

        Not sure whether the AP automatic was fragile in the Allegro though know it has a reputation for being as such.

        For better or worse it is surprising the Austin Allegro never made its way to the US as another alternative to the Austin Marina despite the E-Series allegedly being compliant with US standards.

  5. I’d imagine another barrier to large sales in America was the ADO16s reputation for rust after a few years. In the harsh winters in the Northern states, road salt would have been a real killer for bodies and subframes. However, an ADO16 in a snow free state like Califronia would have been a more modern and better to drive car than a Beetle.

    • Although just as it happened in Australia’s got dry climate they would then most likely overheat and cook themselves

  6. How did the name “Austin America” go down over there?

    If in the 60s we had been offered a “Renault England” or “Toyota Europe” it would have seemed odd to me!

    • About 15 years earlier there was the Austin Atlantic, which didn’t sell well mostly because for the same money you could have bought a Buick.

      There was the Nissan Cherry Europe, again a low seller because it ended up being a “worse of both worlds” between Nissan & Alfa Romeo.

      • In the pre oil ctisis era, most Americans wanted large cars with engines of at least three litres and a long list of luxury options, and the Beetle dominated the small market for sub compact European cars as it was a known quantity by the late 1960s. The ADO 16, with its fwd and Hydrolastic suspension was probably too unconventional for America at the time, and not being very well rustproofed and the dealer network being sparse( I’d imagine breaking down in Kansas would be a nightmare) counted against the ADO16 in America.

        • VW made a lot off effort to build up a dealer & spares network in the USA away from the big cities, helped by making a reciprocal deal with Chrysler to sell from their showrooms, while VW dealers in Europe would sell Chryslers.

          This deal worked well for VW so much that many Chrysler dealers switched to selling VW full time.

          • Agreed

            We should also not under estimate is the role of advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach and in particular their Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig in literally revolutionary advertising with their Beetle adverts of the 60s, which created an identifiable “VW” look and used humour against the product,

            Krone decided to use a specific template, “Layout A,” that consisted of two-thirds image, one-third copy, and a bold headline stuck in the middle of the two. While not new to advertising, it was a fresh approach in auto marketing. Most of the Volkswagen ads to come out of the campaign adhered to the format, which also mandated three blocks of text. Unlike most recurring ad series of the era, Bernbach opted not to have a slogan. Instead, the “VW” logo appeared as their way of branding.

            Krone and Koenig’s early efforts with “Layout A” were nothing short of revolutionary. Car marketing at the time was almost interchangeable; Volkswagen’s had both a distinctive presentation—one that Krone believed could be identified from up to 30 feet away—and a winking approach to their inventory. The ads often acknowledged how absurd the Beetle looked with its rear-mounted engine and highlighted its shortcomings: there was no air conditioning, it was small, and it was slow.

    • I’ve never heard of any objection to the use of “America” as a name for the Austin 1300 in North America, even from American Motors – who might have had grounds to complain : ) It probably helped emphasize the Austin America was a “value” car, not least because there had been a “Rambler American” in the recent past which was an “entry level” value for money car. Another question which sometimes comes up is – “Was the MG Sports Sedan sold in Canada as well as the USA during 1962-67 ?”. It seems it was not officially (although as stated in the article, if somebody in Canada really wanted one, their dealer could probably arrange it in the 1960s).

  7. The 3rd book in the very good Chronicals of the People’s Car has a few reprints of those Beetle posters.

    Quite a few of them mention how the do things differently from the rest of the industry at the time, such as having more quality checkers than cars produced per day. & the lack of model years, meaning they would introduce new innovations as soon as they were ready to be brought into production.

  8. The Austin even had an air conditioning option, never seen in the UK a it was considered unnecessary , until now.

  9. BMC ‘Headrests’ would sit either between the shoulder blades or at full extension in the worst ‘neck break’ position. A true head restraint as to go almost up to the roof.

  10. The owner of the petrol station I worked at in New Jersey in the early to mid-70’s had one, hoping to fix it and sell it on but sadly is was a bad car. The automatic transmissions were part of the engine sump so impossible to ever get right, of course the usual horrible build quality, especially the electrical system. Even with the petrol crises of 1973-74 it was unsellable. Too bad as was years ahead of time in terms of use of interior space in a small outside package.

  11. II wonder how a car like the Triumph 2000 would have fared in America, if it was ever sold there. While small by American standards, it had a six cvlinder engine for refined cruising, but being a 2 litre was capable of 30 mpg on a long journey, similar or better than many American compacts. As well, the 2000 was quite a robust car and had none of the reliability issues of Austin products in America, and the Triumph name was well known due to the TR range.

    • I think that is another example of missed opportunities. Only issue was the regulations it would have had to meet to be sold there. I think had it been sold there Triumph could have been seen as more than a sports car brand and could have been a proper rival to Jag, Merc and to a lesser extent in the 70s BMW, which saw its growth in the states during the 80s.

      • The 2000 and 2500 could have been what America wanted, a quality British car with six cylinder engines for less money than a Jaguar and as the fuel crisis hit, relatively good fuel economy. I think there would be far more profit in the Triumoh than a dead end like the Austin Marina.

    • The Triumph 2000 was sold in the USA briefly, being introduced by Leyland Motor Corporation, owners of Standard-Triumph, for 1966. Donald Stokes thought it would do well and advertising positioned it as a sports sedan, sharing much with the popular and well-known TR4A.
      But it ran into the same problem as other “sedans” from the UK – which was that Triumph were obliged to price it at a level where the same money would get you a much bigger and more powerful domestic sedan. It was a lot more expensive than the US “compacts”.
      The economies of scale of the US industry dwarfed the UK industry and the pound was over-valued (until Nov ’67).
      Sales staff indifference was also a problem as many (most) Triumph dealers were multi-franchise operations where Triumph was the sports car brand, but another sedan brand (such as Volvo) was already entrenched.
      Approx. 2000 were sold before it was withdrawn when Leyland Motor Corporation acquired Rover in 1967 and resolved to concentrate all their US sedan efforts on the Rover 2000/2000TC. Most of the final Triumph 2000s were “dressed up” as the Triumph 2000SE. This involved a bunch of accessories and vinyl roof all of which could be fitted at the dealer to cars already in stock. Withdrawal before 1968 meant the Triumph 2000 did not need to be (expensively) revised to meet the federal regulations introduced for 1968.
      All of this pre-dated British Leyland of course.
      In the ’70s the concept of a “premium” European sedan selling for as much (or more) than a V8 Buick or Pontiac became better established by BMW etc. but in the ’60s it was a hard sell.

  12. I agree selling the T 2000 & 2500 in USA might have ben more logical than the Marina. In Washington in 1978 I saw a LHD Marina and was surprised. it looked out of place compared to all the typical US home built cars and Datsuns / Toyotas.

    • The Austin Marina never really took off in America, even if it was more conventional than the ADO16. I suppose the Japanese were making inroads into the sub compact market and the Marina had to take on subcompacts from AMC, Ford and GM. Also buyers who had issues with ADO16s were probably warning people away from the Marina.
      Triumph OTOH could have been a success in America as they made sporting large saloons with decent quality and good performance, and using engines from Triumph sports cars would have meant spares back up would be good, compared with the standalone Austins.

  13. I was working at the Austin experimental Longbridge at that time and i remember a panic as the plastic fan on an Austin 1300 had lost a blade and hit a mechanic in USA, they converted to the steel fan.

  14. In 1978 I was asked by a Canadian friend if I would drop him at his office in Downtown Toronto. He lived in Don Mills, about 12 miles from the office and take his car back to his house. The only time I drove a Marina was on this 24 mile trip. I thought it was a horrible car, though only a few months old and therefore not worn, the steering was stodgy and the car was a sluggard, probably not helped by the automatic gearbox. I was only on holiday in Canada and at the time living in the UK. Compared to a Ford Cortina or a BMC 1100/1300 , Renault 12, Peugeot 305 it was from a different era, even my 1969 Rambler American which I had owned when I was in Canada in 1975 was substantially better to drive.

    The build quality of many British cars in the 1970’s was disgraceful.

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