The cars : Austin/Morris 2200 in Europe

The smooth six-cylinder version of the BMC 1800 (ADO17) could have been a hit across Europe. It was a great long-distance cruiser. However, held back by a body changed little since 1964, sales were modest and confined to just a few countries, despite variations from UK cars intended to strengthen appeal. 

Chris Cowin looks at what they were, and delves into the background of the 1972-75 Austin/Morris 2200 which would be ‘the last of the continental Landcrabs’.


Austin/Morris 2200: Last of the continental Landcrabs

Continental Europe Austin 2200 - 1972.
Continental Europe Austin 2200 – 1972

As detailed elsewhere on this site, the Austin 1800 (ADO17) was not a great success in sales terms. A British launch plagued with ‘teething troubles’ was one problem. A bodyshell many considered ungainly (or downright ugly) another. The Mk2 ‘facelift’ of 1968 made little difference. It did indeed give the Austin and Morris 1800 a rather happier ‘face’ through tinkering with the grille, but added tailfins at a time most other manufacturers were dropping them.

A much more ambitious styling overhaul was in the works, giving the 1800 a squared-off new front to match the Mini Clubman and Austin Maxi, and a rear rather resembling the Hillman Hunter. In a recent interview for Practical Classics magazine, Harris Mann recalls working on this update, at one point proposed for the Mk3 version of 1800 together with the new 2200 as meeting records reveal. However, with British Leyland barely breaking even in 1969/70, when these issues were on the table, such a revamp was hard to fund.

Only in Australia did the locally-manufactured Austin 1800 receive the new bodywork (and a three inch increase in wheelbase) when it evolved into the X6 Tasman/Kimberley of 1970. The X6 cars had an important role to play, being one of only three core models manufactured by Leyland Australia. They were intended to pave the way for their replacement, the Leyland P76 of 1973, by establishing a presence in the market for big six-cylinder ‘family sedans.’

Scaling up for Australia

In the transverse-engined, front-drive Austin 1800, Issigonis had designed a brilliantly packaged vehicle with a large-car interior but compact exterior dimensions. Now Leyland Australia was stretching the exterior to approach the look of the (rear-driven) Ford and Holden, while leaving interior dimensions unchanged. Consistent with this ‘up a segment’ positioning, the 1800 engine disappeared, both Tasman and Kimberley being powered by the new 2227cc in-line six version of the E Series engine. Those engines and the body panels were Australian produced, these cars having very high ‘local content’.

The 2200cc Austin Kimberley. An Austin that thinks it’s a Ford?

A more modest approach

Although the 1800 was a slow seller in the UK, production volumes nonetheless far exceeded its Australian cousin (Only 12,000 examples of the X6 Tasman/Kimberley were ever built). Major additional capital investment in tooling would have been required before the Mk3 1800 and 2200 could appear in UK showrooms with the new look (and presumably the new plastic fascia) of the Australian cars.

Such an overhaul might have made them stronger competitors for rivals like Ford’s svelte Consul (also launched in 1972), but with money short and a more complete replacement already on the drawing board, a frugal approach was taken. This was turned into virtue when the Mk3 1800 and 2200 were launched in the spring of 1972, the press release explaining how rejection of a frivolous and expensive restyle enabled British Leyland to price the revised range more affordably. Avoidance of the heavy cost of new body tooling was referred to explicitly.

Bit of a problem 

Looking at the UK market in isolation, the low-cost approach would appear to have been the right one. Arriving two years after their Australian cousins, the Austin/Morris 2200 suffered fewer of the problems in service which gave those hastily developed X6 cars a poor reputation. Even if the styling turned no heads, the Mk3 1800 and 2200 could boast an improved gearchange and (at last) a centrally-mounted handbrake, so investment had not been totally confined to the new six-cylinder engine. They were really just holding the fort until the 18-22 Series (Princess) was ready in early 1975.

The upscale Wolseley Six variant (with the 2200 engine) sold well. Few of the gentlefolk who favoured that model were clamouring for a restyle, and perhaps that’s why 25,000 were built, ahead of the Austin/Morris 2200 of which only 20,000 were completed. The Austin and Morris 1800 Mk3 accounted for an additional 23,000 units resulting in production of 67,000 for the entire Mk3 range over three years. A decade later the Austin Ambassador (despite investment having been made in a reskin) notched up just 43,000 orders in its two year life – a comparable level of demand.

The Ambassador was not marketed in continental Europe (or in any export market except Ireland). However, in 1972, with Britain on the cusp of EEC entry and a brand new six-cylinder power unit to shout about, it would have seemed rather feeble if no effort was made to market the Austin/Morris 2200 across the channel. But with the car looking dated, and with the pool of potential repeat buyers small in most countries beyond Denmark and the Netherlands (where the 1800 had been popular) a very modest campaign was mounted.

Improved specification

Austin 2200 – Continental brochure 1972. Rostyle wheels were standard on the continental 2200

By 1972 British Leyland had eliminated any differentiation between the Austin and Morris versions of a car, where both still existed, except for badging. British customers therefore plumped for an Austin or Morris 2200 based on dealer (there was still a ‘two-channel’ Dealer Network), tradition, or the toss of a coin. Both were equipped with a rather spartan dashboard which, though ostensibly new, was clearly based on the architecture of the existing Wolseley item. But it was deprived of the Wolseley’s clock and finished with formica-like ‘simulated woodgrain’.

The Wolseley marque had been phased out by British Leyland in continental Europe. There was minimal brand awareness of Wolseley in most countries, exceptions being Denmark and the Netherlands where ‘Nuffield’ imports had fared well in the 1950s and 1960s, helped by keen local import companies. But even there the Wolseley Six was not to be marketed, which gave an opportunity to upgrade the standard specification of the Austin and Morris versions.

Accordingly, the Longbridge production line fitted the highly-polished walnut veneer dashboard of the Wolseley Six to Austin and Morris 2200 cars bound for the continent. This was not the only change with several items from the options list becoming standard equipment including reclining seats, heated rear window and, most strikingly, Rostyle wheels (which were an option on the 2200 and Wolseley Six in the UK). Automatic transmission and power-assisted steering could be specified. The Wolseley’s plush seats (with individual front armrests) sadly were not included in the continental specification of the Austin/Morris 2200 – nor was its steering wheel with ‘wood’ insert and badge.

Dashboard of the UK market Austin/Morris 2200 – 1972
Continental 2200s adopted the polished walnut veneer dash of the Wolseley Six (with clock between major dials). Seen here in a surviving Morris 2200 in Denmark

Limited distribution

You were lucky if you spotted an Austin or Morris 2200 in  continental Europe, even when they were new. With British Leyland a minor player in most countries, this big old barge (as some might have seen it) wasn’t something dealers wanted cluttering up their usually small showrooms. The 2200 wasn’t offered at all in the major markets of Germany and Italy, now was it to be found in Sweden or Norway where British Leyland was still a significant force. But France did get them, with both Austin and Morris badging.

The most important markets appear to have been Denmark (where British Leyland could still claim 20% market share in 1972) and the Netherlands. Both those countries had local names for the preceding 1800 but, although some Dutch people still refer to the Austin 2200 as ‘Austin Balanza 2200’ and some Danes refer to the Morris 2200 as ‘Morris Monaco 2200,’ those were not their official titles, British Leyland having dropped such local names by the time of the Mk3 range.

French advertising for the Austin and Morris 2200 (In fact an extract from a larger range advert). Few appear to have been sold…

What of the 1800 Mk3 ? 

The Austin and Morris 2200 were, of course, flanked by the 1800 Mk3 in British showrooms, a car which retained the strip speedometer of the original Austin 1800. But on the continent, with British Leyland also keen to sell Maxi 1750 and Marina 1800, there was little room for the Austin/Morris 1800 Mk3. The only country where it was possible to buy one was Denmark it seems, where a specific Morris 1800 Mk3 brochure was printed.

The Mk1 and Mk2 versions of the Austin/Morris 1800 had garnered more respect than customers since winning the 1965 European Car of the Year award. Sales in most EEC markets had been hampered by import tariffs which made competitive pricing a challenge, especially as (unlike the Mini and 1100/1300) there was no mitigating continental assembly. Much greater sales expectations would be attached to the Princess when it was launched in continental Europe for 1976, and the 2200 could act as a ‘place holder’ until that time.

Most 2200s sold in the Netherlands appear to have been Austin badged, and most sold in Denmark Morris badged though such distinctions were becoming a little silly when new competitors with strong consistent branding like Toyota were making fast inroads. The Morris 2200 brochure was a (not very convincingly) retouched version of the Austin item. Some 2200s survive in the Netherlands (including one oft-photographed example that seems to live in the tourist quarter of Amsterdam) and, at the last count, five 2200s were still on the road in Denmark. It’s believed that at least one Wolseley Six was ‘special ordered’ and supplied to a Dutch customer.

Was that it? 

Austin 2200 for Europe – looking good in white

It would be wrong to imply the 2200 was a car almost totally ‘confined to base’ as the later (RHD only) Austin Ambassador was. Many global markets that had taken the 1800, including Canada and South Africa, never received a 2200. But they were sold in the Republic of Ireland and in New Zealand, which imported a significant number in ‘built-up’ form in 1973/74. New Zealanders could also buy the X6 Tasman/Kimberley (which was assembled locally) so were able to compare Australian and British interpretations of the 2200. Those right-hand-drive Irish and New Zealand cars appear to have conformed to the UK specification. No doubt other ‘sightings’ will be reported.

In addition, this was a model favoured by the diplomatic service and armed forces (both the 1800 and 2200 made excellent staff cars for senior officers) and quite a few made their way overseas through those channels. A pair of Mk3 cars provided transport for the embassy in Stockholm, even though they were not marketed in Sweden.

Footnote in history

The history of the Austin and Morris 2200 in continental Europe is an obscure chapter, concerning the sale of only a few hundred cars, almost 50 years ago. The 110bhp overhead camshaft power unit was a good one, allied to twin carbs it served up lively acceleration and a top speed of 105mph (170km/h). But the car as a whole was an ageing design in the twilight of its years, and such models tend to fall back on domestic demand (The FIAT Croma lingered on in Italy for years, for example). When British Leyland wrapped the same power unit in a sleeker more aerodynamic body a surge in exports to Europe might have been expected. But the Princess 2200HLS did little better than its Austin/Morris 2200 predecessor, which appears to have been dropped in Europe some time before Princess arrived, due to low demand.

The higher tax, which larger engines attracted in many countries, was still a negative (meaning the Princess 2200 was never offered in markets like Italy), while fuel consumption had become more of an issue by the mid-Seventies.  Consequently, most Princess cars sold in continental Europe were 1800s (or later the O-Series-powered 1700/2000 models).

While the Austin/Morris 2200 had been held back by its dated appearance, the Princess suffered from quality glitches, supply problems and (on the continent) patchy distribution. Neither made a significant impact on Europe’s vast and lucrative market for ‘upper-medium’ family saloons, but at least they tried.

Author’s note: ‘Landcrab’ is a nickname given to the Austin/Morris 1800 and derivatives such as 2200 and Wolseley Six. It supposedly dates from the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon where the 1800 performed very well. An Australian journalist looking down from a helicopter remarked how they ‘crabbed’ through turns like the crustaceans. It usually refers purely to the ADO17 family, but in the southern hemisphere, ‘Landcrab’ is used by some to refer to the whole range of related BMC saloons including Maxi, 3 Litre and 1100/1300. (And as it was always just an unofficial nickname, who can say they’re wrong?).

As ever all comments or additional info. are very welcome. With thanks to Kaare Frank, Tommy Dahl Paulsen, Graeme Roberts and Maarten Kempen. 

Chris Cowin

32 Comments

  1. I think the ADO17 has grown on me. The styling is very distinctive, you couldn’t mistake it for anything else on the road, and it was a tough old bruiser that seemed to last better than its contemporaries. In 2200 form, you had the silent and effortless six cylinder engine to power you along and 105 mph in 1972 was up there with rivals like the Vauxhall VX 4/90, another often maligned car. Also fwd meant handling, particularly in the wet and ice, would be more assured, preventing accidents.

  2. I did think the Landcrab could have done better if it been smartened up at the front end and had the boot from the 3-Litre as standard to be a bit more pleasing on the eye.

  3. The front of the Tasman/Kimberley looks too dull (reminiscent almost of the Vauxhall FD) to belong on a smaller UK/European version of X6 as the Mk3 1800/2200.

    Still of the view a UK/European X6 (and even ADO17 itself) would have benefited from a 2-litre B-Series / B-OHC in place of the 1.8 B-Series to capitalize on the fact it was a much larger car, together with 2000cc/2400cc versions of the E6 for more upmarket versions.

    In some ways the rear of X6 reminds me of the rear from the Mini-based MG ADO34 by Pininfarina, would have to agree with richardpd the mk1 ADO17 could have benefited from a rear more like the Austin 3-litre followed by an X6 like rear on the mk2 ADO17. ADO16 could have also benefited from a new rear end from the mk2.

    The front end meanwhile as with the 3-litre, ADO16 and the Mini to a lesser extent always looked rather dated and out of step compared to the competition from the mid-1960s onwards apart from the pre-Bertone Innocenti Mini, Innocenti I5 and mk3 ADO16 to some degree.

  4. I have to say that BL cutting the face lifted car was just part of Leyland’s not invented here mentality, and not about cash. If cash was an issue, a rebodied ad016 would have gone ahead instead of the allegro (which Webster had already started on). The P8 would have been dropped instead of spending money on preparing it for production as they had the Jag XJ on board. Anyone with half a brain would realise that the looks were why it didn’t sell, not just its size. A major face-lift to bring a look that matched the market would see an increase in sales, while the size by this time would not have been an issue as cars were growing at this time.

    • Yes I find it dubious that Australia could afford to tool up for the X6, but that the UK couldn’t…

      • I was expecting that comment : ) Without access to the Australian archives of Pressed Steel (or something similar) one can’t be sure. But I suspect, given the much lower volumes involved, the X6 panels were pressed on much cheaper dies than would have been required for the UK. Kirksite dies being an example. (as used by Ford for low volume products like the Classic Capri).
        The other contrast is that (as one of just three core models) the Australians couldn’t really plan to let their ADO17 (which became X6) fade away gently. They didn’t have many other cards to play.
        Where as in the UK there were many other projects competing for the limited funds available. Investment was made in the Marina estate for example – also launched in 1972 – which required new press tools etc. And (arguably) that was a better use of resources than face-lifting the old stager 1800/2200 – when they were already quite advanced in work on its replacement.

        • However if pressed steel did the tooling for Australia, wouldn’t it have made more financial sense to do both UK and Australia, as making even dyes for down under would cost a lot for such a short run. It just looks like BL’s lack of joined up thinking.

          • What you say would be true in the absence of Australia’s local content requirements. The Mini, ADO16 and ADO17 product lines were part of an arrangement between BMC Australia (later Leyland Australia) and the Australian government.
            In return for achieving 85% local content on those three model lines by 1970, the company was rewarded with reduced import duties on the components it continued to import from the UK.
            So to meet that target, it was essentially mandatory to press the bodies for the X6 cars in Australia from Australian steel, even if that involved duplicating the body pressing activity conducted in the UK.
            Looking at the big picture, the financial benefits gained outweighed the extra cost of doing so.
            The whole point of Australia’s import regulations was to “force” companies like BMC/Leyland to “manufacture” cars locally from mostly Australian components – rather than import components including body panels from the UK for mere “assembly”.

          • I think we crossed wires. I understand that they had to press the bodies, but if your making tooling it is cheaper to make more set of the dyes which would have spread the cost? Ford did this as reduced the cost.

          • An interesting question to look into, relevant to this “tooling” discussion would be: Did British Leyland renew any of the existing body tooling before putting the Mk3 1800 & 2200 into production? . (I’m sure someone knows). My hunch is they produced those final 67,000 cars (out of total production of almost 400,000) – on the pre-existing (Mk2) press dies. That would be the implication of the statements made at the launch – about having saved money ….

        • Australia also managed to put a hatchback E series ADO16 in production!

          When you consider all the ADO16 derivatives other countries had (Nomad, Victoria) and Innocenti producing a completely rebodied Mini, it does seem that other countries were able to tool up new models more cheaply…

          • How easily did they managed to fit an E series in to an ADO16 considering the Allegro had to have the bonnet line raised to fit one?

          • The aussies did the same, there’s a massive power bulge which does look a bit silly.

    • No doubt you’re right about the “not invented here syndrome” in many instances. But it’s worth noting that the “X6” facelift was “invented here” as it came out of British Leyland’s UK design studios where (at that time) Harris Mann worked with Roy Haynes (who had a good relationship with the Australians reportedly). As I hinted at in the article, the meeting minutes of the “BMC board” from the late ’60s (which continued to meet under that name into 1969) refer to plans to adopt the new styling for the UK manufactured cars.

      • The x6 was developed under Joe Edwards, prior to the Leyland takeover? You can’t tell me that it was done in less than a year?

        • The X6 cars were introduced in Australia in late 1970 – approx. 2 years after the formation of British Leyland – if that is what you mean (?). During 1968-1970 Australia manufactured the Austin 1800 Mk2.

          • What I meant is that the x6 project was started prior to the Leyland merger, so the new board saw it as not invented here, it was a issigonis machine just being tarted up so was rubbish.

  5. The Wolseley Six actually looks pretty swish with the optional Rostyle wheels – I find myself wanting one, or maybe one of the last Wolseley wedge saloons…

    • My housemaster had a 1973 Wolseley Six with cloth seats that he kept until 1984. Even at 11 years old, the body had largely resisted rust, unusual for a car made in 1973, and mechanically it was still good. I’d love to know what happened to it as the Wolseley was the most distinctive car in the car park and better than the headmaster’s Sierra that looked so dull in comparison.

  6. Back in the day, I always thought they looked pretty good when they had Rostyle wheels – and I still think that now. But seing the photo of the Austin/Morris dash….. I can’t believe how spartan and basic that is.

    • The Austin/ Morris cars had little in the way of luxuries and were no better equipped than a basic Maxi or Marina Super. You needed to move up to the Wolseley Six, although with its high quality cloth seats, walnut dashboard, extra driving instruments, clock and better carpeting, it was a very nice place to be. In automatic form with PAS, this was an ideal cruiser for long journeys and an interesting alternative to a Rover 2000 or big Triumph.

  7. Remember spotting a blue 2200 outside a hotel in Southport, Lancs a few years ago and remarking on its headlamp wash/wipe … that long ago I can’t be specific. Good looking car on those Rostyles though.

    • Distinctive car and from the back, always looked like a llimousine. I will admit I’ve referred to the Landcrab as a diesel locomotive before, but maybe not a bad thing as a Deltic was certainly something to behold. Also like the Deltic, in 2200 form an effortless performer and probably able to cruise all day at 100 mph.
      One thing I would praise the Landcrab for was its solid construction and good rustproofing and apart from some niggles at first, it never suffered from the same horror stories you heard with its successor. Many seemed to live on well into the eighties.

      • Normally I have a soft sport for industrial design, but it didn’t seem to work so well on the Landcrab.

        I wonder what someone like Raymond Loewy would have done with it, hopefully something not as radical as the Studebaker Avanti.

        The Dad of one of my school friends had an bottle green 1800 in the late 1980s, which looked quite dated at the time. His Mum had a latish Maxi at the same time.

        • @rixhardpd, the Austin 1800 would have been at least 14 years old then, which proves they were durable cars. I doubt something like a Mark 3 Cortina would have lasted as long.

  8. The 60s models with the big grill look smart (Wolsley, Riley, MG, VDP), the Wolsley landcrab looks better then the ordinary models

    With 70s wedge design, these grills look all wrong, e.g. the Wolsley wedge or the VDP 1500, they just don’t fit the styling

    Interestingly, helped by cars now having much higher fronts (for pedestrian safety rules I suspect), big grills are all the fashion, especially in China and Asian counties, with even BMW going down that path. If BL had still been around now, a Wolsley model with the traditional grill would now be very fashionable!

    • The later Lancias have their traditional shield shaped grille after years if it simply being a shape on a rectangular grille.

    • Have you seen the new BMW 4 series? Basically they have made the gril full depth and put the number plate half way across! Yuck

  9. been looking at autocar buying secondhand.the 2200 appears to had top speed of 104 man 100 auto. the rover 2200tc 107 man 101 auto.triumph 2000 98 .shame the landcrab wasn,t to far of the mark.the wolsley is the better looking.and yes they lasted well remember seeing them in the mid 80s.as for the 2200 princess it was bigger but no faster,and no better mpg.love this site.

  10. These cars always look much better with Rostyle Wheels – By 1972 they should have standardised these across the range. I remember seeing these at Earls Court in the early 70s when I was around 10 years old. Even then I thought the veneered plywood dashboard looked like something my Dad could have knocked up in his shed!

  11. I can’t think why they didn’t import the panels for the X6 Tasman to enable that version of the 2200 to be assembled here wIthout going to the cost of tooling up over here. No doubt that may have been unpopular in some quarters, but it would have been a low cost way of acquiring a new model. Vauxhall did this to create the successful Cavalier mk2 estate. I don’t think they rustproofed the rear panel though! I remember seeing a fair few rusty tailgates in the late eighties!
    To appease those who may have objected to this idea at the time the 1800 could continue as before along with the Wolseley. Indeed the Wolseley would have benefited greatly in terms of graceful looks from having the the boot and rear wings of the Austin 3 litre added. I presume a jig would would be needed to join up the boot floor, given the 3 litre was rear wheel drive, but that’s about it.

  12. Could have the X6 being badged as a Rover with the 2000/2200 engines? it could be the fwd companion to the P6

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