The Pininfarina BLMC 1100 Aerodynamica concept was the second in a series of streamlined family saloons – this time based on the BMC 1100/1300.
It was an extraordinary-looking car and, just like its larger brother, it was literally years ahead of its time.
Pininfarina and British Leyland: Reshaping the family car
First revealed at the Turin Motor Show in 1968, the Aerodynamica was a brave attempt by its designer to show the world that it had the wherewithal to redefine what was expected from a mid-sized family car. The five-door hatchback was compact and roomy, and quite simply years ahead of anything else.
What makes the Pininfarina 1100 Aerodynamica and its 1800 brother studies so interesting is that they weren’t commissioned by the BMC or British Leyland. But they both caused huge interest at the time they were revealed in 1967 and ’68, and clearly influenced a number of major car manufacturers. The five-door hatchbacks pre-dated the stampede towards two-box designs which became so prevalent in the 1970s.
Had BL been brave enough to put them into production, it would have had those cutting edge cars that Donald Stokes and George Turnbull often referred to. It’s not that the British company didn’t have the opportunity – the 1800 was shipped to the UK for serious evaluation, while the 1100 was also reviewed, albeit not seriously.
Expensive to develop, glorious to behold
Both models would, of course, have been mightily expensive to develop, and production versions would have looked a whole lot simpler but, in light of the Allegro and Princess, it doesn’t stop one wondering today. Chances are they’d have sold no better – one only needs to see the Citroën CX and GS’s sales in the UK to see that.
When the smaller ADO16-based BLMC 1100 car was unveiled in 1968, it was just as sensational as the previous year’s 1800.
An original Paolo Martin sketch for the BLMC 1100
Despite what you might read elsewhere, it was Paolo Martin who styled the 1800 and 1100, and he did a magnificent job with both. The earlier car, the 1800, was dramatically proportioned and, in many ways, easier to style as a consequence. For the scaling down to work so successfully in the 1100 shows a mastery of touch by Martin.
More tragically, looking at the dimensions of this car, it would have perfectly fitted in to the medium-sized hatchback market that would explode in popularity in the wake of the launch of the Volkswagen Golf in 1974.
The story behind the 1100
Lorenzo Ramaciotti, a former General Manager of Pininfarina, told AROnline in 2002: ‘When we are convinced we have a truly good idea, we strive to convince others, especially if the idea concerns a topic close to our hearts. In 1967, aerodynamics was still a rather exclusive topic, just for technical people and afficionados, while Pininfarina had always regarded it as a fundamental element in body design.
‘Shortly thereafter, in fact, the firm began building its wind tunnel, the first in Italy for full-scale automobiles, inaugurated in 1973. At the London Motor Show in 1967, it presented a prototype on BMC 1800 mechanics that achieved a number of ambitious results simultaneously.
‘It radically improved aerodynamic performance, dropping Cd values from 0.45 to 0.35, and it updated the traditional three-box shape of the sedan, transforming it into a tapered two-volume and expanding its versatility by increasing load space and applying a large cargo hatch.
‘The following year, to demonstrate that the formula was also valid for smaller cars, it built a similar prototype on the chassis of the small BLMC 1100 for the Turin Show. These two cars represented the models for the two-volume sedans that were to become enormously popular in the decade to follow. But though they were the first attempts in this direction, they already displayed total formal maturity.
The same size as a Citroën GS
‘The car illustrated in the photos is still perfectly functional and has exactly the same dimension as the Citroën GS that appeared in 1971.
‘The design was simple and uniform, continuous. The nose clustered elements into specific functional groups without aesthetic forcing. The air intake concealed beneath the bumper was well-positioned aerodynamically, the rubber crush zone between the headlamps completed the transition between hoods and fenders, and the scalloped headlamps were the primary decorative element of the front end.
‘The slab sides were smooth, with flush fenders. Indicative of the close attention to detail were the door handles hidden into the chromed window sill moulding. The tail cut was short and efficient, and the broad backlight doubled as a cargo hatch. The roofline recalled a wing profile, continuously curving, sustained by thin pillars that enhanced interior light and driver visibility.
‘Adding strength to all this, and avoiding a fragile look was a series of oriented louvres that lent the optical weight of a strong C-pillar without blocking the visibility of the driver.’