Car of the Month : December 2007

For 2007’s final Car of The Month, we take a look at a rather special ADO16 – one you couldn’t buy an IM3 in the UK, but it is now seen as the ultimate collector’s item for anyone with 1100s in their blood…

German BMC>MGR enthusiast, Alexander Boucke, managed to secure a prime example to add this car to his collection. And what a happy man he has been since… Just as we are for getting such a nice car ‘in the family’…

Words and pictures: Alexander Boucke

The ultimate ADO16?

TAKE a quick look at BMC’s price lists in the 1960s, and it’s easy to see which car stands head and shoulders above the rest – the Vanden Plas Princess 1100 was the daddy of the range. However, if you wanted turn of speed as well as luxury, there was another choice. Even before the Vanden Plas appeared on the scene, Innocenti’s licence-built IM3 had hit the market in mainland Europe.

Priced above the Fiat 1500, the little Innocenti was quite clearly a premium product. In fact comparing prices from the few markets where both Innocenti and Vanden Plas have been available, both cars fought for the same customers’ money. So which one is the ultimate 1100 then? To decide, we pitched Alexander’s recently acquired 1965 IM3 with another car from his harem, the former car of the month, Karin Lukaszewicz’s Vanden Plas Princess 1300.

Side by side

Even a cursory glance at both cars reveals that a couple of styling changes have created cars with very different characters. Both received revised frontal treatments compareed with the original Morris 1100, but while the Vanden Plas managed to blend a traditional grille and fog-lamps very successfully into the modern shapes of the body, the Innocenti IM3 goes on to sharpen the Italian style of Pininfarina’s design with a more modern evolution.

The most obvious difference between the two, and something of a styling signature has to be the Innocenti’s new front end. The vertical headlamps in the style of the contemporary large Mercedes-Benz W111 and Facel Vega certainly added a great deal of prestige. The chrome flashes added to the bonnet and the sides are very much in tune with – then – current Italian car fashion, and Pininfarina’s styling buck for the 1100 do also show similar detailing. Bumpers, hubcaps have been changed and even the fuel filler has been hidden behind a proper locking flap to be in tune with the more upmarket stance of the car.

The inside story

While the basic body still has a great number of parts that are interchangeable with its UK-built counterpart, the interior is completly new and all-Italian. Most noticeable difference to the ‘posh’ UK cars is the lack of wood and leather feel inside the cabin.

The dashboard featuring a comprehensive set of instruments is showing lots of painted steel – just like an expensive Alfa Romeo Spider would have done. But the most obvious change when slipping into the driver’s seat is the angle of the steering column – the car has lost the typical Issigonis ‘bus-driver’ position thanks to the installation of a pair of universial joints into the steering column.

The big and comfortable seats are fully adjustable and sit on proper seat-rails for reach-adjustment, a thing that Vanden Plas added to the Princess rather later in its production run. But while early IM3s featured cloth seat facings – seen as a luxury in a world of vinyl clad cars and certainly nice in hot Italian summers – the later model is fitted with vinyl covered seats.

Both interiors look inviting, although the Princess has a certain living-room flair

The IM3 shows great attention to detail throughout the interior, its execution reminding us of the conversion of the miniMetro into the MG Metro. The MG octagon overload found on the 1980s hot hatch is nothing compared with Innocenti’s treatment of the IM3 interior. All pedals, the heel-mat and even the little strap in the boot to secure the jack to the floor proudly display an Innocenti logo or the IM3 script.

And there is not only one heel-mat for the driver, these are fitted to every place in the car. When the ashtray, which is elegantly hidden in the lower dash-surround, is opened, a cigar lighter is revealed. Two interior lamps light up with switches on all four doors, the boot has it’s own illumination as has the engine bay. This was real luxury back in the 1960s.


The VP has been retro-fitted with a brake servo.

Most of drivetrain is is standard BMC as shipped in to Italy. The engine is a standard A-Series unit, in MG1100 tune. However Innocenti’s engineers didn’t want to leave it at that, and a pair of Dellorto carburettors and an improved exhaust set-up were installed, upping the power to a very agreeable 58PS. While the excellent Hydrolastic suspension system was left untouched, the Italians obviously felt that the brakes weren’t up to the job, and a brake servo was installed. Also the vented wheels, which so improved brake cooling, were fitted as standard long before they found their way onto the UK MkII versions.

The electrical system is completly Italian in origin, and can only be described as very advanced compared to the basic set-up found in the original UK car. Just like a more modern car, all circuits are properly fused in a large fusebox under the bonnet. There are relays operating the headlamps and the horns, the wipers are switched on when the (floor-mounted!) screen washer is used and there’s even a warning lamp for low fuel level in the tank.

On the road the car feels very much like any ADO16, bare the rather usual driving position. It has to be said that the additional joints in the steering column don’t rob the system of road feel. This particluar IM3 has a very low mileage, about 22,000 miles, and it shows with a very sweet, free revving engine and a nicely responsive Hydrolastic system.

Returning to the question raised at the start of this feature: Which is the ultimate ADO16? Both cars are similar and yet so different – and each has their own charm, so it is difficult to single one out. But it has to be the Innocenti – just. There are so many little improvements added to it over the original Morris 1100, that it seems a big shame that BMC did not adopt some of them for their top-of-the-range Vanden Plas model.

The owner’s view

Alexander on his IM3: ‘I think I was hooked when I first saw a picture of the IM3 in an old edition of the international car catalogue as a little boy. It took me until the day when I went to view this particular car to actually see one with my own eyes. Needless to say that the decision to buy was a quick one, as the car showed itself in a very good condition.

‘Not without faults, mainly a not very good repaint at some point in its life, but free of the usual rot that comes with ADO16s. I hope I will never have to replace any of the ‘interesting’ bits on the car that make all the difference, because that is going to be ‘interesting’. Although Innocenti built more IM3 and IM3S models than BMC did the Vanden Plas Princess, it seems that the survival rate of the Vanden Plas is far higher.’

Comparison gallery

Sadly the lacquer on the veneer isn’t as durable as painted metal.

The Innocenti’s boot is covered in rubber and does not have the even floor that is added to all UK ADO16s.

The Hubcaps are surprisingly similar.

Fuel filler, the locking one on the VP was a dealer fit option…

The door handles on the IM3 are much chunkier.

Styled switchgear from Italy…

Both speedos give optimistic 100mph range…

Alexander Boucke


  1. That’s a fantastic read Alex, I remember reading this a while back (probably when 1st listed). I too am hooked on the Innocenti’s another what if BL and Inno worked together improving the 1100 instead of The Allegro..

  2. Had it been feasible would both have benefited from an earlier 5-speed gearbox whether in Austin Maxi-style rod-operated or Jack Knight-type manual and Jack Knight/Keith Gerrard-type AP automatic forms?

    Find both quite appealing though honestly believe the absence of a three-box saloon bodystyle in the manner of the Vanden Plas 1800 prototype (and the rear-end of the MG ADO34) was a big omission (amongst a number of other oversights in retrospect).

    Agree the Vanden Plas Princess 1300 could have benefited from the small improvements and more from the Innocenti IM3 / I4 / I5, along with other improvements and modernisations mentioned in the more recent Drive Story : Vanden Plas Princess article.

    Perhaps the stillborn ADO22 project could have delivered most if not all of the above in addition to remedying the driving position and off-set brake pedals, yet cannot see the point of the ADO22’s refined Hydrolastic suspension if it was to soon be super ceded by Hydragas.

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