The cars : Mini 850 (1972-1973)

Chris Cowin remembers another entry-level model from British Leyland: the distinctly ‘base-spec’ Mini 850 as it existed in the early 1970s.

Was there still room for such a minimalist Mini in such an affluent era?


Mini 850: the bare essentials?

Mini 850
Mini 850 for 1972/73

There have probably been more variations on the Mini during its long career, and around the world, than any other car. But the Mini 850 model found in the UK market catalogue for 1972/73 must count among the most basic.

Back to basics

In the glam-rock year of 1973, with men on the moon, British Leyland could sell you a car with 16 valves, with fuel injection, with novel Hydragas suspension and with standard air-conditioning (though not all together). But it’s reassuring to know that the company also offered a car with rubber mats, lacking either a temperature gauge or a proper fresh-air heater.

It’s perhaps no surprise Sir Alec Issigonis, no fan of creature comforts in a car, chose a 1973 Mini 850 (registration NOJ 911M) as his personal car in this period.

Mini 850
Sir Alec Issigonis with his 1973 Mini 850 – identifiable by the lack of chrome windscreen trim

As a Mk3 Mini it of course incorporated a few features he’d left off his original ADO15 Austin Seven/Morris Mini-Minor of 1959, like wind-up windows. On the other hand, there were features of the original Minis that a 1973 Mini 850 lacked – like a hinged rear number plate.

Price-leader

There have been many Mini variants over the years that could claim the title of ‘base model’ but here we are looking at the Mini 850 as offered in 1972/73. Specifications evolved over the years so a Mini 850 from other periods will differ.

Mini had become a standalone brand on the British market in the autumn of 1969, with Minis no longer being badged as either an Austin or a Morris. This allowed Minis including the 850 to be despatched to either Austin or Morris dealers with no worries about badging. All Minis for the UK market were built at Longbridge in this period.

Mini range
There were five Minis to choose from in the early 1970s in Britain (once the rare Mini Cooper S Mk III was dropped in 1971). The 850 is on the right

Unlike both earlier and later periods, when both a base and better-equipped version of the 848cc Mini existed in the catalogue, the Mini 850 was the sole car with that engine in the five-car Mini range of the early 1970s and acted as the price-leader.

And with a price sticker of £695 in late 1972 it offered quite a saving over the £797 Mini 1000.

Deductions

So, if you walked into an Austin or Morris showroom at that time, what would you find lacking on the standard Mini 850 compared to the Mini 1000?

Well, it had a smaller 848cc engine obviously and, as mentioned above, it lacked a fresh air heater (though one could be specified as an option). A restricted amount of heat was still provided by the basic recirculating heater. The fresh air heater was something that had been standardised on all Minis except the base Standard model back in 1962 and, ten years later, it was still denied the Mini 850.

Also missing from the 850 were:

– A remote control gear change, the 850 still retaining what adverts described as a ‘direct action floor gear change’ until 1974. (That was the original ‘magic wand’ Mini gear lever, which by this time had been replaced on all other UK market Mini cars by a shorter, vertical gear lever mounted closer to the seats – requiring a more costly remote control linkage – something first seen on the 1961 Cooper).

– An oil pressure gauge and temperature gauge, the 850 retaining the original single-dial Mini instrument binnacle.

  • A door mirror and passenger sun visor (both available as options).
  • Radial tyres – the 850 still sticking with cross-plies in 1972/73.
  • Carpets – the 850 sticking with rubber mats.
  • Chrome wheel trims.
  • Opening rear side windows.
  • Chrome windscreen surround trim.
  • A few other fripperies such as a boot floor – though such details are hard to pin down.
Mini range
Advertising for the five car Mini range from 1972. Perhaps surprisingly, this advert spells out the (rather technical) difference in gear lever arrangements between the ‘direct action’ 850 and ‘remote control’ 1000. A heater is mentioned as a feature that separates the 1000 from the 850 – by which they mean a fresh air heater

Along with the Mini 1000, the 850 also lacked the face-level air vents found on the Clubman (you could get them as an option on the 1000), and over-riders which were still being fitted in some overseas markets.

Needless to say, a heated rear window, rake-adjustable seats and laminated windscreen were also lacking – let alone such luxuries as integrated reversing lights, even though Italian-built Minis had them already.

Riding on cones

Suspension was by rubber cones, the hydrolastic system that had appeared on Mini saloons in 1964 having disappeared again, from them all, by 1972.

And the AP automatic transmission once available in conjunction with the 848cc engine was dropped as an option for the Mini 850 – so, if you wanted an automatic Mini, it had to be a Mini 1000 or Clubman.

Its unlikely many Mini 850 cars came off the production line in 1973 without either the optional fresh air heater or the ‘Extras pack’ with combined the fresh air heater with a heated rear window, door mirror and passenger sun visor.

Thresholds

If a thrifty customer insisted on only paying the base price for an option-free car then they’d probably have to wait longer. However, keeping such a ‘stripped’ model as the base of the range allowed British Leyland to advertise Mini prices as starting below various psychological price thresholds, which changed rapidly as rampant inflation took its toll – in the late 1972 advert shown above that threshold was £700, with the 850 coming in at £695 (prices including tax).

Such a simple machine would have helped British Leyland win fleet orders – as seen in the advert below, the Armed Forces and Police were keen, with all the Minis pictured appearing to be an 850 (the RAF one being rather older).

A life of service – the Mini 850 with the Armed Forces and Police

Things can only get better

Many of the above deprivations of the rather stripped 1972/73 Mini 850 would be corrected over time, with a fresh air heater becoming standard in early 1974. By the end of the 1970s the Mini 850 had become plush enough to create a space for the spartan Mini City below it in the catalogue, with the original renamed 850 Super.

Mini advert
The 1979 Mini 850 Super offered luxury the owner of a 1972 Mini 850 could only dream of. This allowed space for the more basic Mini 850 City to slot in below.

A loss leader?

Whenever the history of the Mini is discussed, you can be sure somebody will bring up the claim that it was always sold at a loss, often citing the cost analysis performed by Terence Beckett of Ford in the very early days.

At a time when production volumes were still low, and cross-subsidisation with the BMC 1100 lay in the future, BMC was sensibly pricing to both establish, and achieve dominance within, a new market segment, rather than make short-term profits. That’s a strategy followed much more recently by Tesla amongst others.

It’s a complicated subject, with Mini profitability (or otherwise) being highly sensitive to the methodology by which overheads are allocated among other things. Various people have made what appear to be conflicting claims on the subject.

Graham Turner in the Leyland Papers cites an internal study from 1968 showing the best-selling Mini to be profitable (£16 per car) while the Morris Minor, then a fading force, was posting a loss (£9 per car).

Donald Stokes in the early 1970s claimed the Mini made a small profit ‘in a good year’. However, his Finance Director, John Barber, claimed it made a loss unless the bigger picture (including sales of spare parts) was accounted for, in which case it broke even.

Conversely, Michael Edwardes, interviewed in 1979, saw the Mini as making a healthy profit seen in the round, while emphasising the only profit figure that matters is the company bottom line.

That divergence of views reflects as much as anything their different ways of looking at it. While apparently not profitable when viewed in a narrow sense, the fact the Mini massively boosted production volumes of the A-Series engine (to take one example) realised scale economies which would have lowered the production cost of all other cars equipped with that engine (and that was a lot of different models).

Moreover, by providing an important ‘base load’ for dealers, it helped keep the dealer network together both at home and crucially in Europe (where without the Mini few dealers would have stuck with the company in the 1970s) and that of course helped sales of other more profitable cars.

Fortunately, this issue has already been covered in much more detail by another of my articles for AROnline, Did Mini cars mean Mini profits.

Mini 850
The 1972 brochure spells out how the 850 (with single dial) differs from the 1000. This is a page from the catalogue for Austin cars, so the opening line contains a rather charming reference to the original pre-War Austin Seven…

However, suffice to say the base Mini 850 would not have been much of a money-spinner for British Leyland in the early 1970s, being the bottom rung on the ladder, priced to appeal to consumers otherwise unable to afford a new car. If getting them into the showroom, and thus into the British Leyland family, resulted in them trading up in future years to a bigger (and more profitable) model – well then all to the good.

Record breakers

British Leyland was knocking out the Mini in record numbers in the early 1970s, with the three millionth Mini (a Mini 1000) rolling off the line in October 1972. What’s not always realised, though, is that around half of production left the UK in pieces, either for assembly at Seneffe (Belgium) or as kits (CKD) for assembly elsewhere, some of those kits containing little more than half a car due to the ability of assemblers to source components locally.

The three millionth Mini was built in October 1972. Seen here with (left to right) George Turnbull, Filmer Paradise, Donald Stokes. It was a Mini 1000

So, while UK Mini production surpassed 300,000 cars in both 1971 and 1972, the number of Minis that rolled out of Longbridge under their own steam in fiscal 1971/72 was only 154,575. (Cowley had stopped building Minis by 1969).

The UK market Mini 850 would have accounted for a substantial share of those 150,000 cars.

Mini 850
Mini 850 – 1972 (foreground)
Chris Cowin
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39 Comments

  1. The joys of minimalist motoring, a car with abolutely no luxuries or comforts at all, and even the heater was the most basic that could be fitted. I’m surprised even this was included, as the Mini 850 was so basic, but by the seventies, even buyers of the cheapest cars demanded a heater and some ventilation. Otherwise, like the similarly priced Volkswagen Beetle, the sort of car that someone would buy just to say they had a new car.
    The Mini wasn’t exactly alone as most base model British cars of the time came with only the most basic of fittings, but the Mini 850 seems to have outdone its rivals by not even having a fresh air heater and a temperature gauge

  2. These poverty spec Minis were the sort of thing that health authorities bought for district nurses and health visitors, or gas and electricity boards gave to meter readers and the like.

    I remember seeing loads of them going through auctions, receiving pitifully low bids – at one such auction near Stafford I remember the auctioneer was so desperate to get rid of the 30 or so basic Minis in the yard that he was doing a two for the price of one offer! Once people realised that this meant there was actually no reserve on the Minis, the bids plummeted even lower.

    Two 850 Minis, four years old, yours for well under £100 the pair including all fees. Some of them were in truly horrible condition though.

    • In the days of purchase tax Mini vans were popular with people who wanted an cheap way to buy a new vehicle, even with the spec often lower than the base level cars.

      Many early base model Ford Fiestas were used by the NHS for staff who needed to be mobile, but with the low compression 950cc engine they weren’t fun to drive up hills!

  3. The 850 Mini was revisited in 1979/1980 in City and Super form. I seem the recall the City variant was quite popular, there certainly seemed to be a lot of them around.
    Undercut for the title of Britain’s cheapest car by the 2CV, the Fiat 126 and perhaps the lowest rungs on the Lada or Skoda ladder but not much else.

    • I remember the City in that loverly yellow and City stickers. Don’t think I remember another colour?

      • Now you’re asking! Also beige, and blue perhaps? There must have been others. Can’t remember the last time I saw one though!

  4. My first car was a new 1973 Mini 1000 in Damask Red with Spanish Rose trim. Fitted with the Extras Pack HRW and drivers door mirror, it cost on the road £840. I added overiders and amongst other things a Rookee walnut dashboard.
    I loved it, ran it for a year covered 8000 miles and sold it privately for £800. Went out and bought another new Mini 1000 in Blaze (orange) for £940. Followed in 1975 with a 1275GT.
    The 850 just never appealed too basic and not much of a saving over a 1000.

  5. The problem with rock bottom spec cars was the resale was poor, particularly as cars became better equipped later in the seventies. You could increase the value of one slightly by having a radio and an after sales rear demister fitted, but it couldn’t take away the fact you’d bought a base model with the weakest engine and least equipment in the range. By 1978 people who could afford a recent used car would probably opt for one that had a standard rear demister, a two speed heater, reversing lights, cloth seats( vinyl was rapidly going out of fashion) and a lighter at the very least.

  6. What’s the difference between the ‘direct action floor gear change’ on the 850 and the ‘remote control gear change’ on other Minis?

    It seems quite expensive to have a separate gearbox variant just for one model, or did other models like the vans use it as well?

    • Basically the direct one was the original design from the 1959 Mini – but when the first Cooper models were introduced in 1961 something better was seen as needed – and this was progressively rolled out to all other Mini cars – the 850 being the last in 1974 …. Somebody (BRG) in a Mini forum explains it as follows: “The early 850 and 998 Minis had the ‘pudding stirrer’ or ‘magic wand’ gear lever which ran forward directly to the gearbox, but was a bit vague due to its length and flexibility. When they brought out the Cooper models in 1961, it was realised that this simply wasn’t good enough and the remote change was designed, using a casting bolted to the gearbox and running under the floor back to the seats, with a short vertical lever that gave a far more positive change”. ….. The van (certainly the 850 van) would still have used the older ‘magic wand’ lever in 1972/73 as well as the 850.

      • If the remote gear linkage was “ far more positive “ I can only imagine what the original system was like. I’ve never owned a Mini but I drove two that were both new in 79/80. One was my aunt’s car and the other a van belonging to the estates department of the local hospital. Both had infuriating vague, rubbery changes that I assume was the norm.

      • Thanks.

        I understand the logic of leaving things off to save money for the base model (like the passenger sun visor), but it seems bizarre to keep in production the inferior gear shift mechanism 10 years after an improved version had been developed, as surely the extra cost of having to produce 2 different mechanisms would have eaten up much of the saving?

        • the cost of the direct shift would have been less as it did without the additional linkage and associated housing. the rest of the gearbox was the same. if you google photos of the two gearboxes you can see how simple the 850s direct change looks next to a remote change box

        • Bizarre is probably the most appropriate word to describe most things BMC/BL did generally, unfortunately

    • the direct action shift was the original Mini gearbox as designed in the 50s, the remote change of the 1000cc models was the same gearbox but with an additional linkage that allowed the gear-lever to be upright and closer to the driver giving a better, more precise shift quality, it was introduced for the original Mini Cooper and fitted to other 1000cc and above Minis as they appeared. All 850cc Minis were “magic wand” gear shifter up until 1975 including commercials variants. after this they changed to the same direct linkage as larger engine models.

  7. My first car was a 1967 Austin Mini 850 bought in 1975. Yes was very basic but looked better when I added some nice wheeltrims and had a few paint jobs done. However I only kept if for 11 months and re-sold it for £260

  8. I learnt to drive on one of these plus a Fiesta (normal change) and Renault 16 (column). The magic wand jumped out of gears if you lifted off – but synchro was broken on 2nd gear. Great fun as a learner on a roundabout trying to turn the wheel, indicate and double declutch to get it back into gear – but then hold it in gear with one hand. THIS was multi tasking

  9. The last car not to have a heater was the base model Hillman Imp, where a heater was an option until the early seventies. I’d imagine these must have been harder to sell used than out of date milk and only a masochist or someone trading up from a 1950s car would have purchased an Imp without a heater.
    At the other end of the scale, and the Imp collectors class as most desirable as only 2000 were made, is the run out Caledonian model with its bright red paint and tartan cloth upholstery and that most popular of seventies options, a push button radio.

    • @t Glenn… my brother did actually trade in his 1956 Austin A35 for a 1963/64 Imp, which didn’t have a heater as you say. He added the heater fan soon after.

  10. I remember my mum changing her ’75 Mini 1000 for an ’83 Mini City (now with the 1000cc engine from the Metro) and it was actually a step back to what’s mentioned here in terms of spec with a single dial, no opening back windows and no boot liner. it was also in a basic white (or perhaps beige) compared to the lovely Harvest Gold of the 1000. surprisingly it lasted almost 20 years! but by then it had been resprayed to metallic blue, gained Mayfair seats, a wooden dash, a smaller 3-spoke steering wheel, wider white wheels, bonnet stripes, a white roof, the number 88 on the side, a radio/cassette and fluffy carpets! it never did get a boot floor though

  11. The Mini 850 was phased out in 1980, an odd move considering it was an ideal engine for a city car, and the 1000 overlapped with the Metro, but maybe the engine was too old fashioned by 1980 and not powerful enough. Interestingly while all the attention was on the Metro, Mini Metro for the car’s first year on the market remember, the original Mini continued to find buyers and sold on price and its chic urban image. ( Parisians loved it).

      • Would it have been worthwhile converting the 850 to A-Plus or a “new” square version based on the 998 A-Plus for a decade shelf life?

        Lower-spec versions would be little-changed, yet in relatively higher states of tune an 850 A-Plus would be pretty competitive with the post-1990s 39 hp Fiat 100 Series engine in the Panda, Cinquecento, Seicento and possibly the original run-out Unos.

    • I think the 848cc engine was never updated to A+ spec because at the time of the Metro development it was expected to replace the Mini completely, it was only quite late on that the decision was made to keep the Mini in production as well, and even then it was only expected to potentially be a short-term overlap and sell in much smaller numbers, therefore it made the most sense to simply slot in the same 998cc A+ as the Metro was using, it was probably cheaper than building two different capacities. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that Mini production was confirmed to continue with the success of the various special editions and the “Indian summer” of sales in various niche export markets like Japan.

      • That is probably the case. Although would contend the drop in sales for the Mini was not simply due to the introduction of the Metro, but also the discontinuation of the 848cc engine (despite some other uses in commercials etc) and decline of overseas sales.

        It is entirely possible that sales of the Mini would have held up even more with a 848cc A+ had it been feasible (more so if it could have been carried over to the Metro in a moderate state of tuning), provided there are ways of breaking down pre-1980 Mini sales further into number sold by engine size.
        https://www.aronline.co.uk/cars/mini/essay-mini-production-many/

      • There are some intriguing references from around 1980 to a proposed Metro 850 for export to Chile (and possibly other South American markets). But as far as I can ascertain – after doing quite a bit of digging – that never happened. The Mini sold very well in Chile – as the Mini 850 – with bigger engines being heavily penalized.

        • Considering the Chilean made Minis had fibreglass bodies because of the local content rules & there wasn’t anywhere suitable in Chile to press the steel panels, I wonder what they would have done to export Metros there. Either the rules had changed or they would have had fibreglass bodies, unless the steel industry were capable of making the body panels.

          • The rules did change in the late 70s following the arrival in power of Pinochet who had a more “free market” approach. BL exported a lot of cars fully built up from the UK to Chile in the late 70s/early 80s including the Mini 850 and Allegros. Chile’s glass fibre venture had ended … that took place in Chile during 1969-74, but it also took place in Uruguay (1973-76) and (much later) in Venezuela (Mini Cord 1991-95).

  12. Central/South American car manufacture was always fascinating in the 60s and 70s; many countries imposed weight/engine-capacity restrictions [or serious tax-penalties if you exceeded these!] in order to foster a domestic manufacturing of small “Peoples’ cars” often arrived at in odd ways [do a google for ‘Gurgel’ and see their small flat-two engine derived by sawing a VW flat-four in half!] – the non-indigenous manufacturers who set up plants in places like Brazil always seemed to end up taking-each other over so you got Renault designs being sold as Fords, Chrydlers badged as VWs etc… most confusing!

    • There have been some odd badge engineered cars in Latin America over the years!

      South Africa, Australia & New Zealand also had some odd ones over the years.

    • Brazil is probably the most interesting car market, mainly because of its zero import rules. The country had their own sports car manufacturers creating some seriously interesting cars, though many were based on the humble Beetle.

      As to “normal” family cars, We had the Corcel, which started life as a Willy Overland project with Renault to create a new car for Brazil. The Corcel was based on the Renault 12 which was being developed at the same time, but then Ford bought Willy Overland’s Brazil operations and continued with the project, which actually come out 2 years before the Renault!

  13. So the Mini 850 had no temperature gauge. Have we progressed much? – My Jaguar XF Portfolio also didn’t have a temperature gauge. I was advised that it isn’t necessary in today’s world of reliable transport, yet the Mk II XF does have one!

  14. Until a couple of months ago I owned a 2015 Renault Kangoo. It also did not have a temperature gauge, despite being equipped with such items as switches to engage diff-lock and disable the rear bumper sensors. I replaced it with a 2019 Vauxhall Combo Life which has the former, but not the latter….

  15. The question of whether the Mini made any money can never be answered fully. One powerful indicator that it didn’t, though, is that BMC essentially ran out of cash in the mid-60s: though they held a dominant market share and volumes were healthy, margins were poor (this is true for both the Mini and 11⁰0 ranges, and probably the 1800). So the company simply ran down like unwound clockwork. The BL “merger” was a necessity, not a choice, for Harriman and his gang of second-raters. BMC didn’t have a standard costing system until the mid-60s, and what they did have was based on Leonard Lord’s famously “such it and see” approach: Graham Turner, in the work you quote, said that Lord “didn’t understand finance”. Michael Edwardes did understand finance, and in Back From The Brink he admitted that the 1970s Mini only made a contribution to BL cash flow as its tooling and build costs were fully depreciated after nearly 20 years. It was no longer expected to receive any major revisions or updates, which would be big cash drains from the Metro project. So I’d say Terry Beckett and his early-60s Dagenham analysts were bang on the money. Or lack of it…

  16. I don’t know Tim if you’ve had a chance to read the much longer article on Mini profitability I linked to – ( https://www.aronline.co.uk/opinion/essay-did-mini-cars-mean-mini-profits/ ) and the associated (quite intense) debate in its comments section – but in that article I emphasize how BMC profits increased during the early sixties, in line with increasing Mini and 1100 output …. Essentially, above a certain level, increasing production of those two correlated to improving profits – which is the opposite of what Terence Beckett would have expected.
    BMC (contrary to popular belief) only recorded a loss in one year of its entire existence (1966/67) while 1963/64 was strong and 1964/65 stronger (as Harriman said “a very good year”) with profits comparable to – if still a little below – Ford.
    That was when Mini and 1100 output was also strong. The problem was that the front drive family (which accounted for three quarters of their car output by then) was heavily dependent on scale economies – when volumes were as strong as expected at the start of the sixties all was set fair – but when volumes slumped they got into trouble … in a nutshell BMC’s problem wasn’t that it was building the Mini and 1100 – it was that it wasn’t building enough of them.
    The breakeven level was very high. …. Hence a slump into loss in the very bad year for BMC (and for UK car sales) of 1966/1967. (Ford of Britain only just broke even in calendar 1967, the calendar year being their fiscal year).
    It’s true that profitability at BMC in the mid sixties was poor but it’s unfair to lay that solely at the door of the front-drive cars. Profitability was poor across the industry with the principal reason being stagnation of the UK car market which didn’t grow at all between 1964 and 1970, being stuck at approx. 1 million units annually – in stark contrast to constant growth in West Germany, France and Italy – and confounding expectations. Rootes and Vauxhall were recording results no better than BMC.
    Having a high market share (like BMC did in the UK) can’t protect you if the market itself is contracting – as it did most dramatically in late 1966.
    On top of that stagnation there was the volatility that came from the car industry being used as a “regulator’ of demand by government – which also was bad for profitability….
    Meanwhile until devaluation in late 1967 provided a boost, exports faced obstacles which prevented them being quite the strong second pillar of sales BMC had anticipated at the start of the sixties.
    It’s notable that when Mini (and 1100/1300) production picked up again in 1968 and 1969 (devaluation-fuelled exports being one reason) the profitability of BMC (which became the Austin Morris division of British Leyland) also improved markedly. All those people you find in forums saying “they lost money on every Mini they built” would expect the opposite to happen – but it was much more nuanced than that … as said earlier – above a certain level increased output of the front-drive cars correlated to increased company profits.

    A couple of other points worth underlining are that Beckett was basing his analysis on the base price of the early Mini – but BMC was quick to add variants which raised the average transaction price considerably above that. Whenever this issue comes up people tend to focus on the price of the entry-level Mini which (as this article on the 1972 850 shows) tended to be priced as something of a loss leader … that can give a misleading impression of Mini profitability in the round.
    And also – as stated earlier – the strategic argument. At the time Beckett analysed their pricing, BMC was aiming to both establish a new market sector and become dominant within it before competitors (like the Imp) arrived. You don’t price for short-term profit in those circumstances.

    • Put an ADO16 and a first-generation Cortina on lifts beside each other, or an Anglia and a Mini, and you can immediately see the power of Beckett’s argument. Then add in poor BMC build quality and high warranty costs, then add in the insistence on making volume models at so many sites… you can see where the margins, and the theoretical economies of scale, went. The factories were under-invested and famously inefficient. After ADO17 was signed off in 63, there was no serious product plan, and no cash. The 67 Mk2 Minis and 1100/1300s were thinly refreshed just at the point where there should have been new models. Instead BMC gave us the MGC and Austin 3-litre, both of which were expensively-retooled failures. There simply weren’t the margins to generate cash for new cars. Meanwhile Ford were on a four-year cycle. By 1970 the Cortina was into its third generation, and the Anglia had been completely superseded by the Escort, a European project technically unexciting but very successful. The rest was bound to be history….

      • I don’t dispute that margins were insufficient on the Mini and ADO16, or inferior to Ford. But I do dispute that those two cars (or just the Mini) were doomed to generate losses – which is rather a different point.
        As detailed already, BMC (or the Austin Morris division of British Leyland) didn’t post a loss during nearly all the years the Mini and 1100/1300 dominated production. They posted profits (the only exceptions being when production of those two models slumped) … In 1968/69 for example Austin Morris contributed £6 million towards BLMC’s corporate pre-tax profit of £40.4 million. They were building little in volume beyond Mini and 1100/1300 in 1968/1969 so it’s hard to see how that could have been acheived if those two models were incurring a substantial unit loss.
        What I’ve set out to attack is the “down the pub” trope that the more Minis and 1100s they built – the deeper their losses became. The profit record simply doesn’t support that – either that or MG (and the few other low-volume vehicles within the 25% of BMC production that wasn’t front-drive) were so amazingly profitable that even when Mini and ADO16 production grew strongly as in 1964/65 the implied mountain of losses that brought was more than cancelled out by a stellar profit contribution from those other models leading to the jump in BMC overall profitability that was recorded …. and that seems highly unlikely.
        On the multi-plant issue (and just to put an opposing point of view) – having two plants building ADO16 in volume wasn’t perhaps quite as stupid as it may seem. Beyond a certain volume economies of scale tend to level off and can even go into reverse. And ADO16 was being built in very high volumes approaching 8,000 per week at the peak which might justify two plants ….. it’s worth noting that in the same period (late 1960s) Volkswagen had six separate plants in different locations in West Germany building the Beetle.

      • The ADO16 by the early seventies was facing competition from the much newer Escort, Avenger and Viva, which were eating into its market share. OK the ADO16 was a far more advanced car mechanically, but the design was little changed since 1962 and the Avenger and Escort were offering bigger engine options. Also the Viva could be specified as a 2 litre sports coupe called the Firenza. Probably Leyland rested its hopes on the Allegro, which continued the fwd and Hydragas layout of the ADO16 in a new body and with bigger engines, but the car’s ugliness, poor driving experience and questionable reliability meant sales never reached expectations.

  17. The Mini was a huge success, along with the bigger ADO16, and without them, BMC would have been in big trouble as their other models were worthy but dull grey porridge like the Farina models that were outclassed by the Cortina and Vauxhall Victor. These two advanced cars were genuinely good and very popular./

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