The cars : BMC 1800 (ADO17) development story

Big and ungainly it may have looked, and it struggled to capture the imagination of the car buyers of the 1960s, but there’s no doubting the 1800 was one of the most advanced cars in its class. Keith Adams tells the BMC 1800 development story.

However, it has now matured to the point at which we can look beyond those early issues, and marvel in the genius of Issigonis.

BMC 1800/2200: The rot sets in

The cars : BMC 1800/2200 development history

Once development of the BMC 1100 was well established and heading rapidly towards production, the question of producing a mid-range car to replace the Farina cars raised its head again. Unlike in the past, when BMC would have re-bodied an existing car and launched it in a multitude of badge-engineered variations, the idea this time, with the ADO17, was to produce an entirely new car from the wheels up. In terms of configuration, the set-up of the new mid-sized car would follow the same transverse engine and transmission-in-sump arrangement as the BMC Mini and 1100.

Obviously, the larger car would be built around the 1.5-litre B-Series engine and, as such, would directly replace the 1.5-litre Farinas and boost the popularity of the mid-range BMCs as the Mini and 1100 would prove to do in the small car market. Before Leonard Lord had re-directed efforts towards producing the Mini, Issigonis had been working on his own mid-sized car, which by 1956 was denoted the XC9000.

That car that was driven by its rear wheels – ‘driven at the wrong end’, as Issigonis put it – but it did sire some ideas for the later ADO17, such as its long wheelbase in relation to the length of the car and quite elegant Citroën-like styling. Actually, had it not been for the intervention of the events in the Suez Canal, the mid-sized car probably would have appeared by about 1960, but as it was the Farina cars were introduced in 1958 and served as a stop-gap until Issigonis could resume work on his ADO17.

BMC 1800 development: XC9001 prototype

 First Issigonis thoughts of a 1500cc B-Series powered family car can be traced back to the 1956 XC9000.
First Issigonis thoughts of a 1500cc B-Series powered family car can be traced back to the 1956 XC9000. The model on the left shows clear Citroën inspiration, with its long wheelbase and low build stature – the picture on the right depicts the running prototype of this car, which then retained a rear-wheel-drive layout. Shortly after the XC9000 was completed, Issigonis would change tack and tread the front-wheel-drive development path
Once Mini development was all but finished, Issigonis turned his attention back to the larger car in 1958. This version of the car was now called the XC9001 and following the work on the Mini, had now become a front wheel drive car – styling still bore a similarity to the Mini/XC9000, but this was probably an expression of Issigonis
Once Mini development was all but finished, Issigonis turned his attention back to the larger car in 1958. This version of the car was now called the XC9001 and, after the work on the Mini, had now become a front-wheel-drive car – styling still bore a similarity to the Mini/XC9000, but this was probably an expression of Issigonis

BMC 1800: Work on the new car begins

After a gap of two years, big car thinking resumed in earnest in the Autumn of 1958 and, after the successful development of the XC9003 (Mini), the obvious direction for Issigonis to take the new big car was down a front-wheel-drive path. The new front-wheel-drive design went under the project name XC9001 (above) and, in short order, a prototype was soon built to appear under the code number XC9001.

The first car looked remarkably like the original XC9000 project of 1956, but clothing front-wheel-drive mechanicals. Because the XC9001 in its initial form looked rather like an elongated Mini, management instructed that the basic car needed a restyle – and, as the styling house of choice at BMC at the time was Pininfarina, they were invited to forward their own version of the car.

In the Autumn of that year, two competing XC9001 prototypes were evaluated; the first to appear was a Pininfarina proposal that looked rather like an enlarged ADO16, whilst the second one, produced in-house – a larger car – was more recognisably an 1800, with its characteristic six-light bodywork and cropped-fins.

Making use of a bigger B-Series engine

The latter of the two was the model that was eventually pursued by BMC, because it was felt that the bigger car would make better use of the upcoming enlarged version of the B-Series engine. The development of the MGB had required the enlargement of the B-Series engine from 1622cc to 1798cc, as the new car was turning out to be heavier than anticipated.

It was this decision to switch to the larger version of the engine that influenced the company’s thinking in going with the larger proposal. In doing so, the project began to move away from its desired market slot – a replacement for the Farina.

Instead of keeping the dimensions of the car to the same level of those of the Farina, and consistent with the rest of the cars in its class, Issigonis grew the car’s wheelbase and (thankfully) its width to take full advantage of the extra grunt that the 1.8-litre engine.

Larger engine means a bigger car…

The wheelbase of the car was now a full 106 inches – some 6 inches longer than the car it was supposed to replace. The trouble was not so much the absolute size of the ADO17 – it was over ten inches shorter than the Farina – but its proportions and its size perception with customers.

Actually, with such a long wheelbase, the interior accommodation was truly impressive, rivalling much larger cars, such as the Austin Westminster. During the development of the ADO17, George Harriman replaced Leonard Lord at the top of BMC, but continued to have complete confidence in the judgement of his design chief at Longbridge (if anything becoming more dependent on the views of this man), believing that the 1.8-litre car would be exactly what the market wanted, trusting that Issigonis had the magic touch when it came to the creation of new cars.

If Issigonis and BMC had fully investigated new car registrations for 1960, they would have noticed that a mere 5% of cars were in the 1700cc-1800cc sector, while 19.6% were between 1400cc-1500cc, a statistic that did not go unnoticed by Ford UK’s Product Planners led by Terry Beckett.

BMC 1800: development of a Landcrab

October 1958 and the styling is radically changed as the XC9001 is grown to accommodate the upcoming 1.8-litre version of the B-Series engine – the styling (above and below) is now very recognisably a Landcrab, although the frontal treatment has some way to go from this unsatisfactory Rootes Group proposal.
October 1958 and the styling is radically changed as the XC9001 is grown to accommodate the upcoming 1.8-litre version of the B-Series engine – the styling (above and below) is now very recognisably a Landcrab, although the frontal treatment has some way to go from this unsatisfactory Rootes Group-like proposal
Pininfarina also prepared their version of the XC9001 during October 1958 – and this mock-up, which was being prepared concurrently with the in-house Rootes-style Landcrab would show in what direction the Italians wanted to head. Styling shows a strong likeness to early versions of the XC9002 – and this four- light style was eventually dropped in favour of a refined version of the Landcrab.
Pininfarina also prepared their version of the XC9001 during October 1958 – and this mock-up, which was being prepared concurrently with the in-house Rootes-style Landcrab would show in what direction the Italians wanted to head. Styling shows a strong likeness to early versions of the XC9002 – and this four- light style was eventually dropped in favour of a refined version of the Landcrab.
Pininfarina’s more developed version of their four-light version of the XC9001 concept was presented to BMC in 1959 – unlike in the ADO16, where this style went on to form the basis of the final car, it was passed over by management. Pininfarina were now asked to refine the six-light Landcrab concept produced in-house in October 1958
By June 1960, Pininfarina had produced this version of the (re-named) XC9005. The style is almost set and it is very evident, that this is little more than a modified version of the 1958 in-house effort. Only minor styling tweaks required now in order to imbue the car with some much needed character, in order to distance it from the ADO16.
By June 1960, Pininfarina had produced this version of the (re-named) XC9005. The style is almost set and it is very evident, that this is little more than a modified version of the 1958 in-house effort. Only minor styling tweaks required now to imbue the car with some much needed character, to distance it from the ADO16
And here it is, the final version of the XC9005, pictured in March 1962. As is very evident, the style is a yet further refined version of the 1958 Landcrab, but with a far more stylish front end. This more stylised grille arrangement would later be employed (in a modified form) on the Mk II version of the Austin and Morris incarnations of the ADO16.
And here it is, the final version of the XC9005, pictured in March 1962. As is very evident, the style is a yet further refined version of the 1958 Landcrab, but with a far more stylish front end. This more stylised grille arrangement would later be employed (in a modified form) on the Mk II version of the Austin and Morris incarnations of the ADO16

ADO17: excitement under the skin

Development of the ADO17 continued apace, although its designation changed from the XC9001 to XC9005 in June 1960 (XC9001 signified the 1.5-litre option, XC9005 indicated a changeover to the 1.8-litre version) – and, by this time, it looked almost like the finished article.

Actually, the ADO17 project name was first seen in pictures of the new car, but according to Alex Moulton’s own documentation, the ADO17 codename had been in use since before September 1958. What this means in all probability is that BMC referred to the project as the ADO17, but Issigonis (who was still based at Cowley in the late-1950s) referred to the car as the XC9001, in order to differentiate it from what was being developed in Longbridge.

By now, Issigonis was using a cell system to develop BMC’s cars. Each cell was a group of engineers with responsibility for a particular model. A-Cell, headed by Jack Daniels was responsible for Mini development, B-Cell, led by Chris Kingham, was tasked with developing the ADO17; while C-Cell, led by Charles Griffin, was responsible for the ADO16, which was under development at Cowley until the team moved to Longbridge in May 1962.

Issigonis sticks close to the ADO17

With the development of the ADO16 centred at Cowley, Issigonis was only able to check up on progress once a week, usually Thursdays. This enabled Charles Griffin to have a relatively free hand, and the ADO16 was probably the better for it. With development of the ADO17 based at Longbridge, Alec Issigonis was able to adopt a more hands-on approach.

The appearance and execution of the ADO17 was already set in the mind of Issigonis as it had been since 1958, but the trouble was that, as development on the car continued, it moved further and further away from being the car that could replace the Farina saloons on the market place. After their successful work on the ADO16, Pininfarina was involved in the latter stages of the car’s styling programme, and would prove to be responsible for some of the last minute revisions to the design of the ADO17.

The car already looked rather similar to the Austin version of the ADO16, so the Italian styling house undertook a final restyle of the front end (which would result in the final solution which was also adopted later and, ironically, for the ADO16) and give it a touch individuality that would associate it with the ADO16, but not too closely.

BMC 1800: giving it a little Italian flavour

One can see the reasoning behind this decision – after all, the ADO16 was a car that had been extremely well received, but it also has to be said Pininfarina did not influence the overall design enough. As can be seen from the accompanying photographs, Pininfarina wanted to take the XC9001 in a different direction.

However, because BMC management preferred the internal proposal, Pininfarina’s role in the creation of the ADO17’s styling would be quite superficial when compared to what he had done with the ADO16. In the end, Pininfarina could only really claim responsibility for the headlights, grille and front wings – the centre section was pretty much untouched from the 1958 proposal – and that, arguably, was the ADO17’s most unhappy aspect.

As mentioned, the four-cylinder engine was basically the 1.8-litre version of the B-Series engine found in the MGB, but in the standard single carburettor incarnation, it was seen as being too unrefined for use in a saloon car. In the pursuit of that extra refinement, it was therefore reworked completely to take a five-bearing crankshaft, despite the fact that the engine had only recently been bored-out to 1.8-litres.

Work done on the B-Series engine

Unusually, the cylinders were Siamesed in two pairs; an expedient adopted with the increase in bore size from 76.2mm of the three bearing crankshaft version of the B-Series engine to 80.3mm of the new variation. With this re-working, the single SU carburettor version of the new engine gave a healthy 85bhp at 5300rpm and was enough to endow the new car with more than acceptable performance.

Technically, the rest of the story with the ADO17 was pretty much as with the ADO16, with one major difference: Issigonis finally had his wish for a subframe-less car realised with the new car. Minor refinements were, of course, implemented, especially in the gearbox: compared with the ADO16, the ADO17 transmission was set further back in relationship with the engine.

In order to aid packaging – by fitting beneath the front suspension cross-tube (the Hydrolastic units sat in this tube, horizontally across the car). Apart from that, refinements were made to the lubrication system within the gearbox – to ensure that there would be no more instances of the weaknesses in the Issigonis transmission-in-sump arrangement.

BMC 1800: Losing the subframes

The front suspension layout differed from the ADO16 and is demonstrated above. All the stresses imposed by the weight of the car are contained in a tubular cross-member which is welded to the dash and adds great strength to the bulkhead structure. This was an elegant and novel solution that meant that the car could forego the need for a front subframe and was one of the contributory factors in the cars great structural rigidity.
The front suspension layout differed from the ADO16 and is demonstrated above. All the stresses imposed by the weight of the car are contained in a tubular cross-member which is welded to the dash and adds great strength to the bulkhead structure. This was an elegant and novel solution that meant that the car could forego the need for a front subframe and was one of the contributory factors in the car’s great structural rigidity.

The ADO17 differed from the Mini and ADO16 by not having subframe assemblies – as mentioned before, this had been a wish of Issigonis. He believed that subframes added weight and cost and, certainly in the case of the Mini, they were only added because of failures in the early prototypes, where the suspension had been mounted directly to the body.

In the ADO17, the front suspension and engine were mounted directly to the body (by thinking laterally in terms of place), which meant that Issigonis designed the ADO17 to have an incredibly stiff structure. In the Mini and ADO16, the subframes added strength to the structure and also served as an effective insulation from road-induced noise. Without these, Issigonis ensured that there would be no criticism against the car in these areas by over-engineering the car’s hull.

Such was the effectiveness of the ADO17 design, its replacement, the Princess actually could not quite match the car’s structural integrity (and certainly not its hewn-from-granite feeling), even with the benefit of the computer aided design that was used during its development.

Launching the Landcrab in style

Austin 1800 on display - In Mark I form this car certainly looked set to continue the styling theme established by the Mini, while the Pininfarina front end tied it in with the recently launched ADO16. The proportions may have been unconventional but it certainly looked different to the porridge offered by Vauxhall and the Rootes Group at the time. (Picture reproduced and supplied by Declan Berridge)
Austin 1800 on display. In Mark I form, this car certainly looked set to continue the styling theme established by the Mini, while the Pininfarina front end tied it in with the recently launched ADO16. The proportions may have been unconventional but it certainly looked different to the porridge offered by Vauxhall and the Rootes Group at the time. (Picture reproduced and supplied by Declan Berridge)
1800 interior followed the 1100 and Mini
1800 interior followed the 1100 and Mini’s minimalist design. As plush as this version was, the odd angle of its steering wheel and the almost unreachable switchgear mounted on the centre console weighed heavily against it in this more elevated sector of the market
 The power pack was nicely compact. (Picture: Ian Nicholls)
The power pack was nicely compact. (Picture: Ian Nicholls)

However, when the ADO17 was launched in October 1964, what emerged from Longbridge was, therefore, a car that was faster, heavier, much wider and more expensive than the car it was designed to replace. With that in mind, BMC quite sensibly kept the Farinas in production, although that was not an expedient move as there was little profit in these cars and, being a product of a bygone era, they did not fit-in readily with the rest of the range.

It also meant that, had the Farina not remained in production, there would have been a huge, gaping gap in the range between the small and perfectly formed ADO16 and the oversized ADO17. Of course the ADO17 was actually a quite compact car in terms of its length; its space efficiency remains to this day absolutely astounding in relation to its length.

The fact remained, though, that the car was larger than the buyer of a mid-sized car was looking for at the time. What particularly set the ADO17 apart from all its rivals was the massive width of the car.

BMC 1800 development story: grandiose sales predictions

Unabashed, George Harriman accepted the view given to him by the dealers that the car could be sold at a rate of 4000 a week and they would be able to sell these cars without difficulty. Initially, the production target was 2500 a week, building up to 4000. Also, a working life of 150,000 miles, low depreciation rates, and a ten-year model run was to be expected from the new model. The truth was somewhat different – the ADO17 was priced at some 14% above the Austin Cambridge and was pitched at a point in the range where it more resembled a gap-filling car in the range between the Farina and Austin Westminster.

This was despite the fact it was just as roomy as the larger and more expensive car. As it was, demand for the car was slow to build and it gave the management time to realise that it was never going to meet the anticipated sales targets – and would never have done so, even if it had been the direct replacement for the Farina that it was envisaged to be.

Like the ADO16 before it, the ADO17 was not offered through the entire dealer network – in a quid pro quo arrangement, the Austin dealers got the first crack of the whip with the ADO17 in September 1964 and it was not until 1966, that the badge-engineered Morris versions made their appearance on the market. Of course, looking at that situation retrospectively, it was a quite ridiculous situation to offer your new and drastically important mid-sized car through half of the company’s available dealers, but that is exactly what BMC did twice during the decade.

Press launch is a mixed result

The press got their hands on the ADO17, now known as the Austin 1800, in July and August 1964 at the Strathgarve Lodge Hotel at Garve in Scotland. Here they drove 16 pre-production cars. The actual launch day was 13 October 1964. It was openly stated in the media at the time that the Austin 1800 was an addition to the BMC range, coming in above the A60 Cambridge, and would not replace any existing models.

Geoffrey Charles, the Motoring Correspondent of The Times wrote, ‘I would sum up the Austin 1800 as a ruggedly built car, adequately powered, comfortable, offering exceptional passenger space, and thoroughly well-designed for modern traffic and touring. It should earn the highest placings in export markets.’

This was typical of many reviews, and it seems that most contemporary pundits thought the ADO17 would be another triumph for Alec Issigonis and BMC. On 27 January 1965, BMC announced some production changes. Some of the Minis being made at Cowley would be produced at Longbridge and, in return, Cowley would build Austin A60s then being built at Longbridge. Some of the A60s built at Longbridge were made on the same production line as the 1800. To enable production of the 1800 to be increased this work was moved on to a line at Cowley already making other models in the 1.5-litre Farina range.

Issigonis on the ADO17 and its rivals

BMC 1800 development story: Sure footed front wheel drive chassis ensured that the ADO17 continued the tradition for exemplary road manners started by the Mini and then augmented by the ADO16.
Surefooted front-wheel-drive chassis ensured that the ADO17 continued the tradition for exemplary road manners started by the Mini and then augmented by the ADO16

In October 1965 The Times Motoring Correspondent toured the London Motor Show with BMC’s Technical Director and the resulting article offered an insight into the mindset of Alec Issigonis. ‘I am filled with nausea at the dearth of any kind of technical development in the family saloons here, with certain honourable exceptions, of course.

‘They are so dull, uninspired, and unimaginative, It’s all very depressing,’ he said. ‘You can be as critical as you like,’ he said as we passed the Austin 1800, ‘but that car is way out ahead of them all. Styling? I don’t approve of the word. It tends to date a car, and I hate designing cars that date…’

Disappointing sales – and a drawn-out launch

By the time the Morris and Wolseley versions had made their appearances, in March 1966 and March 1967 respectively, it was quite clear that the ADO17 was never even going to get close to its sales targets and in fact it never managed more than the modest total of 40,000 sales per year.

Compare that with the projection of some 200,000 or so sales per year and it demonstrates just how much of a failure on the market the ADO17 really was. The problem does not, of course, always lie with a car’s styling alone – some ugly cars do sell well, but it is generally because they are regarded to be good cars and sell despite their looks. In the case of the ADO17, the car’s odd styling and somewhat inappropriate proportions were not the only problems.

Okay, so it was a fabulously space-efficient car, but the list of ergonomic shortcomings far outweighed its commodiousness. Firstly, in trying to give the car the greatest possible interior space, Issigonis had saddled the ADO17 with the same rather compromised driving position that was found in the Mini and ADO16.

This may be considered an amiable eccentricity in an inexpensive car like the Mini, but it was a major flaw in a car with more upmarket pretensions. Also the steering was unacceptably heavy and low-geared, but as Issigonis was breaking new boundaries in launching such a large front-wheel-drive car, it was accepted that the steering would have to be given a lower ratio rack to keep effort down.

Unfortunately, it was not taken into account during development of the ADO17 that there would be the requirement for power steering because none of its domestic rivals had it – at the time. The only comparable car at the time with front-wheel drive was the Citroën DS and that came with power-assisted steering anyway.

Reliability issues start to become public knowledge

The other problem was that the ADO17 suffered from reliability issues that proved troublesome for the company to fix – most notably, its propensity to burn oil at alarming rate; a problem that took a considerable amount of time to cure, being attributable to the car being over-filled with oil due to its incorrectly calibrated dipstick.

Such stories made great press and were widely circulated, which had the predictable effects on sales. Customer confidence in the ADO17 – and BMC – was dented by such stories and, although these maladies were eventually fixed, it proved too late; the damage had been done. The Times reported in 1969 that the 1800 had a bad launch in 1964, and 70,000 first-batch samples sent BMC dealers frantic with customer complaints.

So low was demand for the 1800, it took until 1966 to build the first 70,000 examples – a crushing disappointment for BMC. The peak production year was 1965/66 when 56,876 left the factories.

Problems designed in, not ironed out

In 1999, journalist Ronald ‘Steady’ Barker wrote about how he stumbled by chance on the awful truth about Alec Issigonis’s attitude to prototype development: ‘Shortly after the 1800’s launch in 1965, Autocar‘s party borrowed one for the annual trek to the Turin Show and, as we arrived outside the Palace Hotel, a black Peugeot 404 driven by Sergio Pininfarina drew up behind us. Out stepped Issigonis, his engineering deputy Charles Griffin and BMC styling chief Dick Burzi. Smiling broadly, Issigonis straight over to us.

‘No one told me you were bringing one of these. How did you find it?’ he asked

‘A curate’s egg, good only in parts,’ I replied, then challenged him.

‘Alec, you’ve never actually had one of these in France, have you?’

‘My dear, of course we have – what makes you suggest that?’

‘Because for every ten miles along the French roads we must have travelled half a mile up and down! It gets very wearing.’

‘Let’s have a chat over Martinis before dinner’ he suggested.

An hour later he drew me out of earshot of the others.

‘You’re quite right, we haven’t had an 1800 in France. You see, I’ve always thought it a waste of time and effort to build two dozen prototypes and send them all over the world on proving trials,’ he admitted.

‘So we built only three 1800s, thinking we could do everything with them.’

Over breakfast next morning, before flying home to Longbridge, he called me over. ‘I promise ‘Steady’, we’ll have at least two cars in France within a few weeks.’ Perhaps they did, but it was too late.’

BMC 1800 development story: a case of zero development?

Estate study made it to full-size prototype – the plug was only pulled on it when it became evident that it would end up being almost identical to the Austin Maxi.
Estate study made it to full-size prototype – the plug was only pulled on it when it became clear that it would end up being almost identical to the Austin Maxi

Once the Austin and Morris models were launched, the badge-engineered Wolseley 18/85 version followed in March 1967 but, unlike the ADO16 and Farina models, that was the extent of the badge engineering for this car. There was some work undertaken on the development of a Riley version, but it did not make production because it was felt that it would clash with the Wolseley version.

Further variations of the ADO17 were felt to be pointless because of its poor sales performance from the day of its launch. So the development of the ADO17 continued in a marketing sense – there was obviously no way that there could be an MG version – the ADO17 was an excellent passenger carrier, but a sporting saloon it was not.

There was also some preliminary development work undertaken on an estate version of the ADO17 (above), but two factors ruled out the production of this variation: the fact that management considered that it would be in direct competition with the Countryman/Traveller versions of the Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford and when it became clear that the Farina would be replaced by the ADO14 (which was now in the early stages of development), a car that would heavily resemble an ADO17 estate.

Improving the breed: an abandoned concept

The ADO17 that did get away was the Vanden Plas 1800 (above). Initially, Kingsbury worked on a badge-engineered version of the ADO17 similar in spirit to the Vanden Plas Princess, and produced a luxuriously appointed car with a unique front-end style. However, the styling of this car was not an entire success, being too similar to the car it was based on, and its awkward styling resulted in a re-think by the Kingsbury stylists.

Soon after, the reworked Vanden Plas 1800 made an appearance – and it proved dramatically different to its forbear, being based on the body shell of the Australian Austin X6 Tasman/Kimberley. Not only did this incarnation of the Vanden Plas 1800 look sufficiently different to the ADO17 to be adjudged a suitable Vanden Plas, but it also proved to be a styling success – and that was an achievement, given its rather mixed parentage.

However, like the Riley version of the ADO17, the Vanden Plas version did not make it to the market – production volumes would have been small but, more tellingly, after the creation of British Leyland in 1968, it would have competed in the same area of the market as the upmarket stablemates produced by Rover and Triumph.

Abandoned late-model developments

BMC 1800 development story: BMC designers tried to make the ADO17 more palatable to buyers with this facelift proposal. It didn
BMC Designers tried to make the ADO17 more palatable to buyers with this facelift proposal. It didn’t progress beyond this stage…

Following the launch of the Wolseley 18/85, the the Mk2 Austin and Morris were launched May 1968; although it was to be another year before the equivalent Wolseley was revealed. The Mk1 had 13in wheels with 4.5in wide rims; the Mk2 moved to 14in rims. This was done to try to lighten the steering. At the rear, the car now had vertical tail lights. In October 1968, the Morris 1800S made its debut.

This twin-carburettor car featured a cylinder head designed by Daniel Richmond of Downton Engineering, a BMC consultant. The engine produced 96bhp at 5700 rpm, which was enough to propel the car to 99mph. It has been speculated that the ADO17 would have been badged as a Cooper, had the BMH/Leyland merger not taken place.

However, Cooper, Downton and other consultants were now out of favour at BLMC – this was the era of the long-distance rally and the 1800S would be pressed into service as a reliable and rugged, if slow competitor.

Morris 1800 made a rugged competition car, suited for long distance events (Picture: Gerard Brown, courtesy the Endurance Rally Association)
Morris 1800 made a rugged competition car, suited for long distance events (Picture: Gerard Brown, courtesy the Endurance Rally Association)

Market failure revealed

By 1969, the extent of the ADO17’s failure in the market place was exposed for all to see. Below are the BMC/Austin Morris UK sales figures for 1968.

  • 1100/1300: 150,000
  • Mini: 90,000
  • A60/Oxford: 30,000
  • Minor: 22,500
  • 1800: 20,000
  • A40: 2750
  • Total: 315,250

At the time of the production of the two millionth Mini in June 1969, The Times recorded the fortunes of the Issigonis front-wheel-drive cars: ‘The Mini, which was designed by Alec Issigonis, pioneered the concept of front-wheel-drive, transverse engine design in Britain, a formula followed by several Continental car makers. After the Mini, the 1100/1300 and 1800, BMC models embodied the same layout, and in less than 10-years more than 3.7 million of these cars and their derivatives have been built.

‘As well as two million Minis, the total includes 1.5 million 1100/1300s and 200,000 1800s. Between them, these models now account for 25.7% of the British new car market. The 1100/1300 is the best-selling car in Britain, with 14.6 per cent of the market, and the Mini the fifth best seller, with 8.1%. The 1800 holds 3%.’ The ADO17 had managed to sell around 200,000 examples in roughly the same time as the Mini and ADO16 had each managed to sell nearly a million.

In May 1969, the Wolseley 18/85 Mk2 was announced and, in July 1969, the Austin 1800S appeared, followed by the Wolseley 18/85S in September. The S models embarrassed BMC’s own luxury barge, the Austin 3 Litre in performance terms and the Wolseley offered the upmarket trimmings. The 3 Litre cost £1507, while the 18/85S retailed at £1273.

Six-cylinder Landcrabs unveiled

BMC 1800 development story: The 6-cylinder 2227cc E-Series engine found a natural home in the plush and roomy Wolseley Six. The trouble is that no-one found the car to be what they wanted and even though in many ways, this ultimate incarnation of the ADO17 was a better car than such alternatives as the Rover 2200 or Ford Granada, it fell victim to badge snobbery. This 1974 model demonstrates perfectly the odd proportions of the car, with its long wheelbase, truncated front and rear ends and huge width.
The 6-cylinder 2227cc E-Series engine found a natural home in the plush and roomy Wolseley Six. The trouble is that no-one found the car to be what they wanted and even though, in many ways, this ultimate incarnation of the ADO17 was a better car than such alternatives as the Rover 2200 or Ford Granada, it fell victim to badge snobbery. This 1974 model demonstrates perfectly the odd proportions of the car, with its long wheelbase, truncated front and rear ends and huge width.

It was not until 21 March 1972 that the first major mechanical addition to the ADO17 range was made, with the launch of the 2.2-litre E-Series versions. This engine had already seen service in the Australian Austin X6, launched in 1970, but the UK and Europe had to wait – another example of the intelligent policy of bedding in a new engine by releasing it in a limited production form, even if the dealers may have disagreed.

The straight-six was actually conceived in the BMC years and was basically a six-cylinder version of the E-Series engine that was being used at the time in the Maxi. For anyone who saw the compromises in original four-cylinder version of the E-Series engine with its siamesed bores with no water jacketing between the cylinders, it became obvious that it was designed that way to be as compact as possible.

The reason for its compactness was that, when stretched to six cylinders, it needed to fit across the engine bay of the ADO17. A Product Planner for the company related an interesting tale regarding the E6 engine and its installation in the ADO17: ‘I was told that, originally, the 2200 was going to have the radiator on the side. When it moved to the front, it freed up more width, so they needn’t have made the E-Series quite so short.’

The Wolseley Six was the best of the new cars, an armchair on wheels with the contents of a timber yard for furnishings mated with a smooth six-cylinder engine. It was the best-selling of the 2200s as well. At the same time the 2200/Six models appeared, the ADO17 went into MK 3 guise. Like the Mk3 Minis and ADO16s, these were blander versions with cost taken out. These Mk3 versions would see out ADO17 production. Production of the ADO17 1800/2200 ended in early 1975 to make way for its more stylish ADO71 replacement. 387,283 were produced in a decade.

In conclusion: was the BMC 1800 a big, fat failure?

BMC 1800 development story: On the left is an early (1964 vintage) Austin 1800 and on the right is a late (1974) Austin 1800 Mk3.
On the left is an early (1964 vintage) Austin 1800 and on the right is a late (1974) Austin 1800 Mk3

So, why was the ADO17 such a poor seller? Well, looking at the situation logically, the car failed on a number of counts: it was not the car that the mid-sized market needed – its engine was too big, it cost significantly more than the Ford Cortina and it was also too commodious. The mid-sized buyer (the company car man) liked a car that they could understand.

It also failed because it was too obviously mid-sized to be considered an alternative to the large 3.0-litre saloons that were on offer at the time. Certainly, when the Austin 3 Litre was launched in 1969, the 1800 in twin-carburettor form could outperform it and offered more interior space. The ADO17 was as much a miracle of packaging efficiency as the Mini was and it offered something to the motoring world that should not be underestimated.

However, buyers simply did not understand the car and, on that basis perhaps, BMC should have not rested on its laurels when designing it. It should have accepted that larger cars would encourage more demanding motorists and so should have given it a more effectively styled bodyshell. BMC and Pininfarina had worked closely in the past and it is a shame that the company did not employ the Italian master to style the complete car, instead of simply altering an Issigonis-penned design.

Could Pininfarina have saved it?

Perhaps, when BMC saw just how badly the car was faring on the marketplace, it should have committed to a re-body along the lines of the BMC-Pininfarina prototype that was shown to the world in 1967 (above). The company knew it was heading for a takeover by Leyland Motors and so should have thrown caution to the wind, accepted that the BMC 1800 was a moderate seller and given it the beautiful body it so richly deserved.

This would perhaps have given the company a significant presence in the junior executive market that was emerging from the shadows with the success of the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000. The styling of the car does not address the issue of the unsuitability of the basic model in the marketplace. It was designed to replace the Farina and yet the company thought it was a good idea to make it bigger and considerably more expensive – BMC should have stuck with the 1622cc version of the B-Series engine and sat it on a 100-inch wheelbase.

Again, being an expert after the event is an easy game to play, but it does clearly illustrate in this case that the ADO17 marked the time when the fortunes of BMC took a sharp and sudden downturn. The immediate failure of the car on the market rang alarm bells at Longbridge and, immediately, steps in the Marketing Department were taken to avoid repeating the faux pas of developing a car that the market patently did not want.

BMC 1800 development story

Keith Adams


  1. Great site. Lots of useful info here. I’m sending it to some friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks on your sweat!

  2. Those XC9000/9001 prototype pictures, especially the colour one, are incredibly like present-day BMW Minis…

  3. Which fits in with everything I have ever said. BMW MINI is a successor of all of BMC, not just MINI. BINI’s vehicles are very similar to the cars that I think that BMC would be producing were it still around today. Do you think BMC would produce a car like the 2200 today?

  4. Having owned my Wolseley 18/85 for 18 months now, I must say it’s one of the best cars ever made. It’s not a rocketship, but has plenty of power for what I want it for. Was awesme to have when we moved flats, carried so much inside it! It’s also going to be perfect in the future when the mrs and I start having children (until they turn into teens and will be ashamed to be seen in it lol) If anyone is considering one, give it a go, you won’t regret it.

  5. loved my 18/85 too, it towed my trailer full of granite with ease. If the cost of fuel hadn’t gone silly It would still be outside now.

  6. I came across an 1800 in a car park in Bristol on Monday and I was amazed at just how modern it looked! What was bulky and fat in the 1960’s, looks completely at home in 2012; it fitted in more than I would ever have imagined! It really didn’t look out of place in the way that something like a Farina would have done.

    I would like to see one parked next to something like a MINI Countryman. Obviously, the 1800 would be much better looking and hugely more desirable, but I’d really like to see how their dimensions compare.

  7. That first 1800 picture ( the Green one ) same shade as my dad,s and the car I learned to drive in. Beautiful memories !!!

  8. There car that could have been so much better for the attention to relatively few points.
    I’ve fond memories of a Austin 1800 dealing with snow and ice that had proved the better of many cars on hills and corners.Superb road manners and a tardis like interior.

  9. Enjoyed that write up a lot, many thanks.

    I had two Land Crabs, first a mk2 1800 which being a struggling young dad bought for peanuts as it needed a clutch and a lick of paint.
    So the mammoth task of clutch done outside my house i hand painted the rusting white body in red on the driveway with RePaint (remember that muck chaps?)
    Burst the long hydrolastic pipe too, that was a nightmare to fit.

    I loved it, you could have a party inside the thing, good on fuel and handled well enough.

    Then bought a 2200, oh boy what a mistake that was, bought cheap as the mains were rattling (still broke young dad but nore more kids to provide for..;)

    So engine lifting gantry up again, but the weight of the engine and box combined was simply staggering gantry sunk in road, new shells and rings whilst in there the engine ran beautifully.

    However, transmission wear loomed in the form of the inner plunge joints (no longer those robust and simple roller bearing large H/S type inner joints as 1800), couldn’t afford new shafts so off i toddled to the bearing factor and imported a bag of 50 (min) ball bearings measuring 25/32nds” from Germany…how come that measurement has stuck in my head for 38odd years?

    Despite all the work i hated that car for some reason, even needed reinforced 6 PR van spec tyres due to the weight of it, however in 6″ of snow that front end weight saw it passing everything else.
    Another thing that sticks in my head but i’d like it confirmed, i’m 99% certain the engine/box oil capacity was a whopping 22 pints!

    Eventually my Landcrab days morphed into an early Princess with another 1800 B series, good car that was too.

    Happier days when you could diagnose and fix your own cars.

    My first post here, sorry it been so long.



  10. This car was one abiding memory for me and not pleasant. There used to be a PIF about 40 years ago where a mother is sewing and her daughter decides to go out to play while a Mastermind style clock counts down the last seconds of her life. Running into the road, the girl bounces off the front of an Austin 1800 and the clock stops. It was a very scary PIF and I was always nervous when I saw a Landcrab at the time.

  11. Actually apart from that advert, the Land Crab could have been a great car if you overlooked the styling, the ponderous steering, and the tendency for early cars to burn oil, and also the PIF. The ADO 17 had a fantastic ride, massive interior space, the 2200 versions were very refined and quite powerful and the Wolseley versions were finished like a Rolls Royce. Also once the oil burning problem was sorted, here was a good family car. However, buyers and mechanics seemed to prefer the simpler and cheaper rwd Cortina over the hydrolastic fwd ADO 17 and sales never really took off.

  12. My father owned 2 Landcrabs n the 1970’s. The first was a Morris 1800S, OEY 308K. I remember our first trip in it was on holiday from North Wales to Scotland. The tracking hadn’t been set correctly at the factory, and it wore through 4 tyres in 400 miles, requiring a trip to the local BL garage. Over the next 2 years, the car lurched from one fault to another, including the burning oil issue. When it was good though it was fantastic. The second was a Wolseley 6, OCC 351M. What a difference!. 4 years of faultless luxury motoring! It was a lovely, fast, strong car, and I learnt to drive in it. Great memories!

  13. After a Minor, Oxford,three 1100s I bought an 1800 in 1969. Loved it and had no trouble with it at all. We found it comfortable and spacious and always felt very safe in it.
    It was sold on when I bought a 2200 and the chap who bought it had a violent shunt accident. The car was a write-off but it was said that the driver only survived because of the strength of the car’s body.
    The 2200 was nice, loved the six cylinder engine and the car had detailed improvements eg a thermostatic cooling fan.
    The mpg was a bit of a killer 18- 25 and, with the increased cost of petrol, it had to go, sadly, to be replaced by a 1750 Maxi. But that is another happy story.
    Still running a completely original D reg Classic Mini. A real joy.

  14. Alec Issigonnis – Famous for 5 cars. The Minor, Mini, 1100/1300, 1800 and Maxi. The Minor was a success. The Mini and 1100 sold well but at minimal, often negative profits and the 1800/Maxi where complete and utter disasters that effectively broke the company. Not sure thats my definition of a great Engineer.

    • Between the mind of a genius and the mind of a madman, fine partitions do divide.

      Issigonnis did what he did, his managers failed to manage him. Some within BMC were worried about taking FWD too far and this big red flashing warning light somehow didn’t make it to the board of directors. Management failure. Ford were selling in the hundreds of thousands at the time of the crabs design.

      The crab had its merits but for a lot of people it was a ropey unreliable car. I remember my Mother detesting the crab but she loved the Hunter! The RWD Hillman Hunter was practically a better car in my opinion, reliable and nice to drive with an overdrive too if you wanted it. 80mph in an overdriven Hunter compared to a Crab lifting its nose!
      The London-Sydney marathon was won by the Hunter, it beat the Crab again in my Mothers mind!

  15. In the late 60’s my father worked as a sales rep for BOAC, then BA, in New Zealand. A car came with the job, an early Austin 1800. It replaced a Valiant Regal V8.

    Once the oil burning problem had been sorted out, it was a great vehicle. About twice a month dad would do a trip from Christchurch down to Invercargill and back, a round trip of about 1200 km. Dad always said that while other reps Ford Falcons, and Holden Kingswoods (with biggish straight six engines) would leave him on the straights, he would catch up with them through the hills, and be sitting on the back bumper.

    He could fit all the posters, and display material he needed inside, and said it was a very comfortable car to drive on a long trip.

    As a family car it was superb. There was trouble getting two kids, and all the holiday stuff in the Valiant, but with the 1800 (and a third child), it all fitted into the boot, leaving the interior free for the passengers.

    His was one of the first in the South Island, and he said the attention it attracted was quite astounding.

    He then got a series of Cortina’s as company cars, but they didn’t have the room of the 1800.

    A few years later (after several motorcycles) I bought my first car, an Austin 1300. It had the roominess of the 1800, but also the mechanical reliability and ease of service that BL was so well known for!. The 1976 Honda Civic that replaced it demonstrated why the British Motor industry was such a disaster in the latter part of the century.

  16. I drove a couple of 1800s. I was very impressed with the interior space, but less impressed by the ergonomics and could never get comfortable. Almost all of the minor controls meant bending forwards from the waist and rooting round in some obscure location. In particular, the heater controls were somewhere near my left calf and not at all convenient to reach or operate. I did not mind the steering weight but the wheel angle was uncomfortable and made the low geared steering a real annoyance round town.

    The strip speedo was also pretty naff, even for those days. IIRC, Roots Group had a short love affair with the strip speedo that ended in the late 60s.

    As for the mechanicals… the 1800 lump was pretty robust but once rust got a hold, the Land Crab was a disaster. My particular hate was the hydrolastic suspension. Problems with the suspension (and frequent they were) inevitably meant ££££, scraped knuckles and gallons of penetrating oil to remove rusted bolt heads. Usually followed by a visit from the welder to fix the inevitable holes found when the bits had been removed.

    I’m not a huge fan of Issy. As someone mentioned above, he had a couple of really good cars, the Minor being probably the best in terms of profit and longevity. The Mini was a great car but underdeveloped and early versions were very troublesome. The 1100/1300 was another great car, but not very profitable and the Maxi / 1800 were pretty disastrous in terms of sales and profitability.

    All cars rusted in the 1960s/70s but fixing the expensive hydrolastic suspension components made the job unnecessarily costly when compared to conventionally sprung competitors. I would much rather work on a Cortina Mk2 suspension than an 1800!

    In the final judgement, I would say that Issy was an innovative engineer who was out of touch with what customers wanted and let down by the practicalities of engineering the complex syspension systems he used. His reluctance to embrace styling and interior ergonomics turned many buyers (including myself) away from his designs. He also failed to have a clear understanding of production costs and the practicality of actually producing his designs. Stronger BL management may have reined in his excesses and produced good competitive cars.

    As a final comment, I would say that I wish some modern designers would show some of Issy’s innovation in current car design. At least then we might get away from the current crop of bland Oriental influenced clone SUVs and the like.

  17. Interesting how you single out the strip speedo for criticism. They were widely used in the 1960s by Mercedes ( in both horizontal and vertical planes ) , Rover in the 2000 and 3500 , Rootes in the Vogue , Austin 1100 ( but not Morris interestingly which had the much less classy uneven arc type of needle ) , Vauxhall in the Velox/Cresta , and so it goes on. I liked them, not least because they tended to be better damped than circular arrangements

    Also, I would be interested to know waht evidence there is for your suggestion that the 1100,1300 was unprofitable. Some model must have been contributing BMC’s very substantial profits in the 1960s !

  18. The top photo of the white Austin 1800 is interesting in its depiction using the couple in formal evening dress standing alongside the car with a street canteen & customers in the b/g. Looks like they’re drinking mugs of tea! An unusual approach for a publicity shot?

  19. i have owned a 1973 morris 1800 landcrab for two years and it is the best classic car i ever had and i have had a few. i intend to hang on to it for a while yet.

  20. If there is one thing this car will be remembered for, it will be the fantastic ride quality, which it passed on to the Princess and the Ambassador. Whatever else people thought about the big BMC/ BL cars, nothing except for a Rolls Royce had the same ride quality and massive interior space.

  21. Although I was too young to drive at the time, I fondly remember that one of my dad’s mates (who was our local pub land lord, strangely enough) had an 1800 S from new.

    Knowing I was a car nut even then, when my dad and his mates went to the pub – on foot I may add – sometimes I’d go too. I’d be left in the vast interior of the 1800, with a bottle of pop, and the radio on, waiting for them to finish.

    Never knew if it was an Austin or a Morris; seem to remember that it said Austin on the grille, but elsewhere it was badged Morris – could have been the bonnet badge, or the steering wheel boss.

    Happy Days!

  22. I was living in Coventry in 1990 and there were still a few Landcrabs on the road, very good for a car that had been phased out 15 years earlier and proved one thing, they were durable. Although the styling was a bit gawky, I would probably in the early seventies favoured an 1800 S over a Cortina GXL as the quality was better, it had a better ride, handled well and was massive inside.

  23. A great explanation of the development of the 1800. I preface my comments with the statement that I really love the 1800. My grandfather had 2 and I bought mine in 1992, I owned it for 7 years and in those years I cared for it but never spared it; I drove it hard. I loved putting it through tight windy roads where it handled very well, particularly compared to cars of a similar age. The space inside was amazing, but here in Australia it was considered underpowered, you had to drive it harder to get performance cause it wasn’t a lazy 6 cylinder that Aussies were used to. Here in Australia it sold much better (per capita) than it did in the UK, the larger car was more to our taste. But then they replaced it with the Austin X6 which promised to be better but never sold as well.

    So much could be said about where the 1800 went wrong, and believe me I’ve pondered this lots. Essentially I think it failed to neatly fit into a spot in the market. Too big inside to be a medium car, too small outside and too spartan for the larger car market. It proved the viability of large FWD cars at the expense of its own sales success. Styling is not the killer some suggest it to be, it just never found a clear market.

    Many comments above criticise Issigonis and not knowing the market, he didn’t give a toss about the market. He had a concept in mind and wanted it executed, no market research would tell him what was needed. There was a reason he was nicknamed Arragonis. But in terms of greatness he gave us the Mini which rewrote the layout of cars for the future, and the 1800 proved that formula worked for a larger car. The Spartan interior layout however did not.

    Anyway cheers for the great article and the great site. Hours of joy for a die hard BMC fan.

  24. My dad had three of these as company cars, first was a Morris 2200, followed by 2 Wolseley 6s. As a child passenger these were just the comfiest things you could ride about in, and the Wolseleys were just the coolest thing when you were giving your mates a lift! Walnut veneer picnic tables with inset metal cupholders? Look for those in a Cortina GXL!

  25. Even the controversial front end styling is growing on me now and I think, if I was a successful member of the middle classes in the early seventies, I’d ask for an Austin 1800 S over a Cortina GXL just to be different and also to get a car that was better made, better rustproofed, quieter and had masses of space. While Mark 3 Cortinas of the early seventies variety rusted away by the start of the eighties, the lesser selling Landcrab always seemed to be around somewhere, proving this was a better car than the market believed. Indeed as I’ve pointed out earlier, a few Mark 3 models were still being used as daily drivers in the early nineties.

    • Whats clear is that even back then, cars where being sent out to motoring journalists with obvious faults.

      I have to think that at least a couple of the quibbles mentioned in this road test were the fault of sending out cars without either pre-checking them or even giving them a cursory once over.

  26. The Landcrab’s main problem was it was left to wither on the vine with little development with the design and the interior, which started to look stark and old fashioned by the seventies( bar graph speedos were largely gone by about 1971). Also the rather ponderous handling, thirst for petrol and bus driver like driving position counted against it.
    Yet compared with the Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Victor FD, its main rivals, the Landcrab rode far better, was more spacious inside, quieter, had similar performance, and in 1972 had a luxurious six cylinder alternative that Ford and Vauxhall did not offer on their family cars. Also they seemed to last a lot longer than their Ford and Vauxhall rivals due to better rustproofing and reliability seemed acceptable.

  27. I think now that the ADO17 was a car aimed at European buyers who demanded more sophistication than the made to a price tin cans that the UK fleet buyers wanted.
    As related in my article “The decline of BMC: the European dimension”, the failure of the UK to gain EU entry was catastrophic for BMC and led to them falling into the clutches of Leyland.
    Had the UK joined in 1965 or 1966, it could have made a world of difference.

  28. I’ve never been sure what to make of the 1800/2200, an odd mix of technically advanced for the day mecanical parts with a slightly odd styling, sort of Ford in reverse.

    The Dad of one of my friends had on in the mid-late 1980s, when they were getting very rare.

    Vauxhall Vivas had ribbon speedometers right to the end of production in 1979 IIRC.

  29. I always wondered why BL did not use the Australian update to a Tasman/Kimberly model until they could produce a replacement. The investment was already made by Leyland Australia, and the car looked more contemporary than the ungainly 1800. They were good cars with my great Uncle owning a Wolsley 2200 in the late 70s/80s.

  30. Best model had to be the Wolseley Six, a very refined, capable car with PAS to make driving more bearable( the non PAS models were criticised for heavy, ponderous steering). Also the Rolls Royce like interior with wood and leather( later velour seats) made it a very nice place to be.

  31. Aside from not using those doors, would ADO17 have been better off powered by a more powerful 2.0 B-Series or 2.0 B-OHC engine in place of the 1.8 B-Series until the arrival of the E-Series?

  32. It’s easy to be a general after the war, but if this car had been launched with the 1600cc B engine and an eventual 2000 cc. instead of the 1800 could had better sales.
    But if it had a X6-like saloon from start, a estate and transform the original short car into a hatchback, along with the 1600-2000cc engines, it would be reach true success. R-16 was only a hatchback, while the Peugeot 404 was a handsome Austin Cambridge with a longer wheelbase. Besides, BMC with that many body styles could easily replace the Cambridge and even the Westminster, whitout any need to developing the Maxi. Even more, by using always the same platform, they could afford to build the Berlina Pininfarina or any such advanced car of the like, again without spending much more money on a all new model like it was the 3 Litres.

    • Short of being a B-OHC, would the 1600cc B-Series have been able to adequately power ADO17 had it remained as it was when it reached production instead of being 6-inches shorter as originally intended?

  33. “being attributable to the car being over-filled with oil due to its incorrectly calibrated dip stick.”

    That is one of the more unusual teething/design problems I have come across for a new car.

  34. I was watching a Top of the Pops from 1983 and a bright orange Mark 1 ADO 17 appears in a Human League video. Apparently the car was painted in this colour to match the bright orange paint on the outside of the house and the car was scrapped shortly afterwards( the house was semi derelict and was demolished as well).

  35. Yes I watched that as well, the Human League seem to be a jinx for cars featured in their videos, with a Rover SD1 & Saab 99 Turbo in Don’t You Want Me.

    I did read the Saab was Phil Oakey’s own car & it’s supposedly still around, but owned by a friend of his & off the road.

    • Well I think the ADO 17, which had been painted completely orange, including the windows and would have been 15 years old in this video, wasn’t going anywhere, but the Austin badge was to go five years after the Fascination video was recorded, so maybe another jinx there. However, Sheffield’s biggest band did find the going a bit rockier after their early eighties heyday, Fascination proved to be their last top ten hit for three years, and Phil Oakey must have been fuming that distinctly un synthesised rockers Def Leppard took over as Sheffield’s most successful group.

  36. Should ADO17 have been produced with RWD as was the case of the initial prototypes that were inspired by Issigonis’s work at Alvis instead of FWD?

    Such a car especially in X6 form with a 2-litre B-Series / B-OHC unit would have been a more appropriate challenger to the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500 instead of the Austin 3-litre, additionally the Aussies also developed and tested a version of ADO17 with a Rover V8 (albeit in FWD) meaning it was feasible for an ADO17-sized car with RWD to feature larger V8 engines should it be required.

  37. My grandfather only owned two cars in his life: a Hillman Imp, followed by K registered Teal blue Morris 1800. I have very fond memories of that Morris. It was an auto, and easily accommodated my mother, my brother, myself, and a caged budgie across the vast back seat.

  38. The ADO17 estate prototype should have been sold as a 5-door hatchback from the outset to further capitalize on the space-efficiency of the FWD layout, with the 5-door estate variant being instead derived from the larger X6.

    One could argue an ADO17 hatchback would conflict with the Austin Maxi though not if the latter was restyled and received a 5-inch reduction in wheelbase (via different doors amongst other things), which would additionally allow for a Maxi 4-door saloon variant without the former overlapping with ADO17 thanks to the latter remaining only a 5-door hatchback.

  39. The group test of the Morris 2200 against the Ford Cortina MkIII, Ford Consul and Vauxhall 2300 said it all. Despite having an engine described as ‘cammy and intractable’, handling that was ‘the worst of the bunch … a real handful’ and a ride quality that was ‘appalling on bad roads’, the Ford Cortina was selling in vast quantities. Why? Buyers don’t really care about all that stuff if a car is reasonably reliable, well-priced, has comfy seats and looks ‘great’.

    • The truth is that for many of those Ford drivers they had never driven anything better, so did not know what they were missing. They also did not have a choice, Ford offered a one stop shop for the fleet manager, he got the small number of 2 Litre plus cars he bought the middle management at a heavy discount and embellished with options (afterall he was likely to be driving one of them) in return for putting the service engineers in Escort Vans and the reps in Cortinas.

      • That’s something that can’t be over estimated. Wasn’t Britain the European market with the highest portion of company cars? Then most drivers wouldn’t have had a chance to opt for something different than what their fleet manager gave them.

        • I understand the fleet car was much a British thing, a product of tax and wage policies of the time. Tax policies drive a lot of car culture, in France and Italy the small car and need for high powered low capacity engines due to aggressive taxation on high capacity engines, in Germany the large quality car driven by favourable tax policies for business owners to offset car costs in small businesses.

        • Now that the British Company car has been taxed into history, we should not underestimate the car park politics it created and how it influenced the cars we drove in the UK and I am old enough to have been on both sides of the issues. My first job in the early 80s at a machine tool company involved me helping out the FD with his fleet management tasks and later on the recipient of both a Fleet managers choice and then reaching the lofty heights of being a “user chooser”.

          What I would highlight is the influence Ford had on the fleet market, specification and budget etc was based around Ford’s offer, so my first employer put Service engineers in a Sierra 1.6L estate or equivalent Alpine, Cavalier, Montego as all four manufactures were our customers we spread the business around. Sales team got Sierra 1.6 GL 4/5 door or equivalent.

          In my youthful ignorance (in truth I could not be arsed with the petty minded politics of these middle aged children), I made the cardinal sin of lending a service engineer in urgent need of a car a GL 1.6 car that was awaiting disposal. I kid you not, but with a couple of hours, two department managers had tramped their way up to the FD’s office to get an explanation as to why Service Engineers in another department were being given a GL spec and theirs were not. To my disbelief I was instructed that I should have hired a 1.6L and left a perfectly good car sitting in the car park doing nothing.

          But with this sort of politics you can see how you could as a manufacturer cut yourself out of the market by say offering something different to Ford in pricing structure or specification ie a 1750 engine, the Fleet Manager simply did not want the hassle of being seen to have given somebody something outside the policy.

          However as a receiver of a “policy car”, I can remember the hate I created, as I managed to use my “petrol head knowledge” to exploit the timing of the receipt of my car to benefit from a spec change. We were gifted in the policy for our grade Zantia Turbo diesels, but if you want to know what it is like to be hated, delay delivery of your Zantia by a month, so when your arrives it has full leather seats and your 3 peers in your department who received their issue a month earlier are spending the next 23 months sitting on cloth.

          Then you get into the dark arts of the “User Chooser”, for example do you make the fleet manager your friend or a potential enemy by getting your manager to force through a policy exception. For example I wanted an Alfa 156, the fleet manager would rather die than give me an Alfa as he knows it’s just going to be one long warranty claim, however my manager, would push it through just for the pleasure of annoying the Fleet Manager. However the Fleet Manager likes his Saab and I know he would go the extra mile to get me a good deal on a 95 turbo, whereas it will be list price plus for the Alfa. Decisions Decisions. I went for the 95, which always seemed to be broken in some way when it was not busy trying to kill me with torque steer, unlike an utterly sublime 159 I was to enjoy later.

          • Thank god those days are over – probably explains why the UK failed so miserably against all its competitors in the 70s and 80s. Instead of doing their jobs, middle managers where wasting time stressing over bits of plastic wood and boot lid badges.

        • Indeed. When I joined the model of Cortina was determined by your status, unless you were QC manager and only got an Escort.
          Overnight Cavaliers started appearing on the same basis but the fleet manager, who was not entitled to one himself secured a 1.9 GLS as a ‘pool’ car that no-one could borrow.
          Only with the coming of full service lease deals in the mid eighties did we branch out into Peugeots.

      • It seems odd when your domestic market was so dominated by the company car, the DOMESTIC manufacturer could produce a range of cars so unsuited for fleet sales. The Marina was in some ways a start, but then the true Cortina rival ADO77 was canned.

        Indeed, for all its flaws, the Montego on paper was at least an attempt to target this market, with its choice of trims, engines sizes (1.3, 1.6, 2.0 and diesel) and body styles (saloon and estate)

        • Trouble was the Montego wasca botched job in that great Leyland tradition, I used to joke that they were 2 stroke they burnt so much oil, and if left long enough the dip stick went rusty.

          The truth was if you got a driver who was gentle they were ok if you did mind the rattles and the odd bit of trim falling off, but few had gentle drivers, when driven hard they could not take the abuse in the way a Cavalier and Sierra or even an Alpine and so were a constant source of trouble.

    • Over 50% of Americans voted for Trump. English people vote for the Torys despite the fact they *know* they’ll screw teachers, the NHS, and use single mothers as a cheap source of aquarium gravel. Collectively people have about the same level of independent thought as bullet ants and are often about as likeable – and the thought of buying *anything* on its merits if it’s not what your mates or neighbours have would be an anathema if they could spell it.
      People buy the clubfoot and the new Fiat 500, despite one being the size of a small scout hut and about as appealing and the other being less reliable than a politicians promise (such as eating 3 sets of front brake discs in 45,000 miles).

      • Might as well add Jemma, Labour mean nothing to working class people now. A lot of us consider them to be a bunch of middle class left wingers who are only interested in benefit claimants, uncontrolled immigration and political correctness. Also having a leader who is stuck in the early eighties and couldn’t run a bath doesn’t help. I’ll never vote Labour again and must have suffered a moment of madness last year when I did.

        • If that’s the case then why is nothing being done about it. If the two opposing parties (labour and liberals) are utterly hopeless, and I don’t disagree with you there, why aren’t there other parties forming?
          And precisely how is the UK “democratic system” any different from a dictatorship if everyone votes for one party because the other two options are crap. To be blunt that makes Theresa May into the equivalent of Bobby Mugabe with better legs..
          It’s just depressing is all, this slow spiralling down into iPhone syndrome aka “I bought it, or voted for it, or have that opinion, cos my mates do”. Wildebeest can manage that level of mental processing…

    • It was but I think it was hurt more by the economic crisis of the mid 70s which meant the fleet car did not half a size up again. However Ford, Chrysler and Vauxhall did not make that mistake so why did Leyland.

      But even if it had, I struggle to see that it could have been built and sold in the numbers at a price that could have been competitive. I also question if it was strong enough to take the abuse of fleet car life, like the Montego it would not have taken kindly to abuse some fleet drivers dish out and so would have earned a reputation of being unreliable.

      • I did wonder if BL should have taken a gamble on launching the Maxi saloon, aimed at the fleet market, with the gear linkage & other early problems sorted out.

      • You had a range of cars that appeared in the seventies that were in between the Cortina and Granada in size, and were aimed at people who wanted an alternative to a top of the range Cortina with more space, but didn’t want a basic Granada. The Princess was in this class, as were the Vauxhall Victor/ VX, Chrysler 180/2 Litre, Datsun 200 L, Toyota Corona, Renault 20 and Peugeot 504.

      • Cars that were created before the energy crisis were getting bigger. The FD and FE Victors were a lot bigger with bigger engines than their predecessors, while the Mark 3 Cortina was a bigger car than the Mark 2 and had 2 litre engines. It’s possible had the energy crisis not happened and the economy kept booming after 1973, that buyers would be wanting six cylinder engines in family cars and the Mark 4 Cortina could have been Granada sized. Also it’s likely sales for cars like the Princess could have been far higher.
        However, it wasn’t to be and the dreary hair shirt of energy shortages and recession arrived in 1974 and the emphasis was on smaller cars and cars like the Vauxhall Victor, which had no engine smaller than a thirsty 1.8 in a heavy body, found the going difficult.

  40. I have a question. Is there actually any differences between the two Austin and Morris models in specification?
    They both have the strip speedo dash and the interiors look similar, the engines are the same. So what exactly are the differences?

    • It was just a few minor trim details, badges and the radiator grille that were different. The Wolesley was a lot plusher with lots of wood inside and better carpets. Mechanically they were all the same apart from the twin carb 1800’S’

  41. It’s a shame these cars aren’t better recognised. It’s also a shame they didn’t do an MG version, since let’s be fair – what is the 1100/1300 but a family saloon? The ‘S’ 1800 has practically the MGB engine and the power that could have been shoehorned out of the E6 with triple carbs and an ‘S’ tune (between 130-140hp I suspect) would have been more than useful.. (so long as I’m not paying the petrol..).
    Or even if BMC threw the boat out with the supercharger kit that was available for the 1800 B (since remanufactured) and a version with an ?HS8? single for the 6?. 120hp for the MG 1800 SC and let’s say an even 160hp for the 6.
    I suspect they’d sell – annoying contortionist switches and all.

    • Would have preferred a version with a 106 hp 2-litre B-Series or 112-115 hp 2-litre B-OHC, topped by a 120-134 hp 2.4 E6 (potentially capable of being further uprated up to 155 hp).

      The 2-litre unit would have compared well with the Rover P6 2000/2200, while the 2.4-litre unit would have compared well with the Triumph 2500.

  42. I always thought that the ‘landcrab’ range could have been further refined and developed the way Saab did with the 99/900 (revised styling front and rear, hatchback option etc.). But apparently the money and vision wasn’t there.
    The Kimberley/Tasman was definitely a golden opportunity wasted.

    • I suppose you could argue that the Maxi (with those doors) was an attempt by BMC to evolve the ADO17, and again they missed the mark. Nobody I think was strong enough to sideline Issigonis and allow Pininfarina reskin (may be more 504 than CX).

      However then Leyland reskinned it into the Princess thinking the fleet market would upsize half a size again in the mid 70s and promptly missed the market again when the fuel crisis meant it did not.

      • The Maxi was a revolutionary design for its time, though, a hatchback with a five speed transmission, which was very rare in 1969, and in 1750 cc form was a relaxed cruiser. However, it was let down by its tank like styling, heavy steering, underpowered and thirsty 1500 models, and poor gearchange. Yet the Maxi did seem to resist rust quite well and wasn’t as unreliable as other British Leyland cars. Then there was the enormous boot and commodious interior that won some buyers over.

  43. I’ve never found the steering too bad – since I replaced the old tyres on mine. It’s a bit of a pig for very slow speeds but anything without PAS is – but up to speed it’s better than most speed sensitive PAS and worlds better than the old “point & pray” Super Snipes and Imperial.
    I’ve been thinking about PAS (since you can get all the bits to convert a landcrab to PAS) and it strikes me that for 90% of the time it’s just a parasitic draw. It’s only needed at slow speeds 0-5mph so why don’t manufacturers put it on an electric motor & have it switch off at speed?
    This could have been done with the ADO17 – disconnect the PAS pump from the back of the dynamo & power it from an electric motor that is switched to work in first & reverse gears. Best of both worlds – you don’t get a hernia @ Sainsburys and you have the brilliant manual steering the rest of the time.

    • The PAS of the Landcrab is a big disappointment over the manual rack. It is very light, but also very insensitive. The excellent feedback of the original car is completely lost. The steering was much improved to give some positive centre feel, but that only found it’s way into the 3 Litre. Maybe a conversion of the Landcrab to the 3 Litre rack could be made to work. On the other hand there are specialists out there who have made electric power steering work very well on classic cars – these have the advantage of not losing much of the original feel of the car.

    • I prefer non-PAS steering for feel and stabilty, the answer to our prayers ofor road-feel and precise control at speed with assistance when needed would be the Citroen system of power steering, I think it is called the Douvrin valve system and was used on the DS

  44. I had an Austin 1800 in 1966, with the higher gearing which prevented the engine being over-revved in top gear and thus overcame engine problems. As said many times, ideal for kids and paraphenalia, with superb long distance cruising and handling on ‘B’ roads. Strip speedo and switchgear a bit of a nonsense though.

    When the ‘S’ engine came along I bought a new 1800S (one of the few) and after a few years decided to rally it (previously using a ratty Mini) on the basis it could take anything thrown at it. Chucked all instruments and switchgear out, new seat in better position and an estimated 120bhp easily obtained, to make it somewhat competitive. The only problem was the bodywork was well-banged most weekends due to that massive width and over-exuberant driver. At that point I reverted to bikes!

  45. Those 1968/69 sales figures are a real eye opener. The Oxford that the 1800 was supposed to replace was exceeding its volumes by 50% – 5 years later! The 1800 was another of those cars BMC/BL just abandoned, similar to the Maxi and the Princess. It failed out of the box and received no real development to rescue it. Contrast this to how the likes of Ford came down on any underperforming product like a ton of bricks to try and get things back on track via facelifts and marketing.

    • The Landcrab ended up being bigger & heavier than it should have been, which was one of the reasons the Farinas were kept in production.

      BL should have put it out of it’s misery when the Maxi 1750 was launched, with the planned saloon added to the range.

      As it was the Maxi was left to it’s fate in the 1970s with hardly any development.

      The Princess had occasional tweaks, but it took until 1982 to get the Ambassador, which was how it should have been a lot earlier.

      Ford were quick to kill the Classic off in place of the Cortina. The Zephyr Mk4 was oddly left to limp along, but the Granada soon changed things.

  46. It appears that if Pininfarina had their way with the 1800/2200, their vision of a smaller Landcrab would have essentially been an early Pininfarina styled 1.5-1.8+ B-Series powered 4-speed Maxi that loosely resembled an enlarged ADO16 (although it is easy to see how a three-box bodystyle could have been developed), if not ultimately drifting towards a more modern styling language as utilized by other marques during the decade by the time it reached production.

    Its potential lightness via a similar 99-inch wheelbase (to the Farina B) against the larger 106-inch wheelbase proposal BMC gave approval to, would suggest the 1275cc A-Series could have possibly served as an entry-level engine option for the smaller Pininfarina proposal along the same lines of how both the Ford Anglia and Cortina made use of the 1.2 Kent engine (and what BMC / BL planned with the 1.3 E-Series before it was discarded).

    BMC had an opportunity to develop a more direct challenger to the Cortina with the smaller Pininfarina Landcrab proposal than the much smaller ADO16 was. In some respects it would be as if an incompetently managed Ford UK allowed Project Archbishop to drift way from the Cortina during its development towards the larger yet low selling Corsair without the 1.5 engine.

  47. The ADO 17 could have done better if it was better equipped for its high asking price in the sixties. I know the Wolseley 18/85 was launched to answer some of these criticisms, but the sporting 1800 S should have had a full set of driving instruments, front foglights, sports wheels and maybe leather seats and overdrive to get more buyers, not been merely a more powerful 1800 with the same trim. These were fundamentally good cars aimed at the upper part of the family car market, just basic for the money and cheap looking inside unless you bought the Wolseley.

  48. We all know how bad UK cars have been over the years, and the 1800 is a good example. The designer, or ‘stylist’, had no thought towards aerodynamics. The B series engine was poorly engineered. It leaked oil, used pushrods, had only three main bearings, etc, etc, etc,. We read above about the poor seating position, the uncomfortable seats, the awful gear change, awful steering system, etc, etc, etc,. But. The biggest problem was the suspension! Hydrogas was never going to do the job! Too complex, too expensive, and unreliable. The above only mentions the Citroen DS as a comparison. The DS was another wrong direction to take. The hydraulic suspension, the brakes, using a ‘rubber’ button, the single spoke ‘flexible’ steering wheel were never going to make it into a car the worked!
    NOW. Look at the SAAB 99. Made at the same time. It had brilliant aerodynamics, outstanding suspension, great brakes, and superb seats. It had ‘state of the art’ German instruments and electrics. Unlike the Lucas stuff fitted to UK cars. OK. It had an awfully badly designed Ricardo engine, built by Triumph, but SAAB soon got their act together and made their own outstanding 2 litre motor that was second to none.

    • A little learning is a dangerous thing, David Daly. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the B series engine which stayed in production from 1948 ( Austin A 40 ) until the end of Princess 1800 production in about 1980 . Further, the Austin /Morris 1800 was the 5 bearing engine, not 3 bearings as you suggest. You sneer at Lucas electrics, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with them, as the first one-third of my motoring career without a single failure ( about 0.5 million miles ) attests. Quite what is wrong with pushrods is not specified by you – since about 90% of all ohv engines of whatever nationality up to the early 1980s used pushrods there must have been something to commend them, not least being ease of maintenance

      • I have to add that SAAB developed the 2 litre engine from the same unit that Triumph/Ricardo had designed. The problem with the engine was the poor manufacturing by Triumph, which was rectified when SAAB mergered with Scania and had the resources in the new combined company to build the engine themselves.

  49. The 1800 did not have hydrogas but had hydrolastic, appears to me that you are full of pub talk!.

  50. The 18/22 was an odd car; I always thought it was much too wide for its length – with a column-change they could have done three-abreast seating in the front and three abreast in the rear. But why?

    Horrible ergonomics [steering-wheel angle, strip-speedo!] and distinctly ugly – particularly the early ones with horizontal rear lights [thankfully fixed in the MkII with the vertical angled rear lights in the wings]. At least the 1800/2200 version of ‘those doors’ didn’t come disfigured by the quarter-lights that were inflicted on the poor 3-Litre.

    If the 1800 had been made narrower it would have looked better proportioned – but that might have prevented the fitting of the six-pot engine? Does anyone know if, when the 1800 was being designed, future fitment of the six-pot engine was one of the design mandates? If so, that might possibly explain the ungainly width.

    Pragmatically, the 1800 was too big to go head-to-head with the likes of the Cortina/Corsair/Victors of the era, and too much of an oddity to woo upper-middle-class types away from their Crestas/Viscounts/Zephyrs/Granadas.

    Add in the BMC/BL build-quality/unreliability issues [not helped by a rather unimpressive dealer network who often seemed to think that the term ‘customer service’ was some sort of obscenity], and the rest is history.

    If only they’d done a narrower, RWD version [basically using the MGB engine/gearbox/axle they already had in production] with a decent driving position, and conventional springing, it might have sold. But 1800cc was always going to be a bit of an orphan – the market expected 1.6 and 2-litre.

    • The 1800 was not the 18/22 and you seem to be confused as a result . Did you ever drive one ? If you had , you would have found that they had attributes which few if any other cars of the era had – most noticeably that you could travel for miles on motorways with only very very occasional need for steering correction. Also, few people realise that they were actually shorter than the Farina cars which they superseded . I would agree that their looks were, to put it mildly, an acquired taste, but in terms of space, comfort and driveability there was little to rival them . And no, I never owned one so I have no axe to grind

    • I think the issue was ugliness and perception. The 1800 was a 1.8l car in a market that fielded 1.3 and 1.6 litre engines (the Cortina did not grow until the Mk3), so it was closer in aim at the more luxurious Corsair. However look at the facts about size – Mk1 Cortina Wheelbase 98 in (2,489 mm)
      Length 168.25 in (4,274 mm)
      Width 62.5 in (1,588 mm)

      Wheelbase 106 in (2,692 mm)
      Length 165 in (4,191 mm)
      Width 67 in (1,702 mm)
      Height 55.5 in (1,410 mm)

      The 1800 was a full 3 inches shorter, but because of its long wheelbase maybe people had the perception that it was bigger.

      I know that the project was originally planned to use the 1600 B series engine, and that Issigonis got permission to upside the car to the new 1.8 being developed for the MGB. I don’t think the E-series six cylinder was in development when the 1800 was signed off, so think width was more to do with Issigonis love of space.

  51. Several people mention the width of the 1800, as if it were a disadvantage. Have you ever seen one rolled? It was easy enough to roll a “Farina”, and I have pictures of a very bent Riley 4/72 to prove it!

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