Sports car projects : ADO34, 35 and 36

Active between 1960 and 1964, ADO34 was a project to develop a Mini-based roadster, which would logically have replaced the MG Midget and Austin-Healey Sprite. Different versions were put forward by Austin at Longbridge and MG at Abingdon, while a coupé version (ADO35) was also developed, along with Austin-Healey versions of each car (ADO36).

The Longbridge cars

MG versions

The Longbridge ADO34 (above), roof-down and roof-up. This prototype was built (and probably designed) by Pininfarina, and now resides at the Heritage Collection at Gaydon.
The Longbridge ADO34, roof-down and roof-up. This prototype was built (and probably designed) by Pininfarina, and now resides at the Heritage Collection at Gaydon.

This car (above), as featured in "MG: The Untold Story" by David Knowles, is believed to be a surviving example of ADO35, bearing as it does a strong resemblance to ADO34, along with the hallmarks of Pininfarina's involvement in its design and production. It is now undergoing restoration in the hands of an enthuisast.
This car (above), as featured in “MG: The Untold Story” by David Knowles, is believed to be a surviving example of ADO35, bearing as it does a strong resemblance to ADO34, along with the hallmarks of Pininfarina’s involvement in its design and production. It is now undergoing restoration in the hands of an enthuisast.

Austin-Healey versions

Opinions vary, but this plain-fronted car is generally considered to be the Austin-Healey version of ADO34, probably restyled by Dick Burzi at Longbridge. Pictured below is a closed coupé derivative, fitted with what appears to be a detachable hardtop. It is clearly not, however, the Michelotti-designed ADO70, as one commentator has suggested in print.
Opinions vary, but this plain-fronted car is generally considered to be the Austin-Healey version of ADO34, probably restyled by Dick Burzi at Longbridge. Pictured below is a closed coupé derivative, fitted with what appears to be a detachable hardtop. It is clearly not, however, the Michelotti-designed ADO70, as one commentator has suggested in print.

The Abingdon cars

Abingdon's ADO34, looking rather like a diminutive MGB.
Abingdon’s ADO34, looking rather like a diminutive MGB.
The different frontal treatments devised for the MG (ADO34) and Austin-Healey (ADO36) variants. The Austin-Healey's badge reads "Austin-Healey Sprite". The sidelight/indicator units appear to have been sourced from the contemporary Morris J4 van.
The different frontal treatments devised for the MG (ADO34) and Austin-Healey (ADO36) variants. The Austin-Healey’s badge reads “Austin-Healey Sprite”. The sidelight/indicator units appear to have been sourced from the contemporary Morris J4 van.
This version of the Abingdon car features different frontal detailing, with a longer bonnet and wider grille.
This version of the Abingdon car features different frontal detailing, with a longer bonnet and wider grille.

Keith Adams

13 Comments

  1. Great photos and thankyou for posting them – the Abingdon ADO34 brought back wonderful memories. I live in Western Australia and was over in Cowley (and other BMC factories) 1960-61 doing a training course. At Cowley I “happened” on the photographing room used to photograph cars for brochures. As I walked by, the curtain was wide open and sitting there was a red ADO34. I thought it was being photographed for a brochure and was to be the MG Midget. Alas it was just a concept car and the Austin Longbridge dominance prevailed. Bodylines was along that of the MGB. What amazed me was the incredible leg room for the rear seat passengers.

    At Abingdon they had a six cylinder Magnette based on a ZA but with a longer nose to accommodate the six. It also ended up a concept car. They called it “The Beer Wagon”. Apparently the bosses used it at the weekend and after a few beers gave the car a workout. I was told it went like a rocket but was a handful to handle because they had not sorted the suspension. I believe it had a Nuffield engine – not Austin. I’d dearly like to know more about this car

  2. Looking at the success of the ADO16 and the handsome ADO34 prototype residing in Gaydon, I think it was a big opportunity lost here. ADO34 should have been based on the ADO16 for production though. Peugeot made it right with the 204 – and at times I think that Pininfarina reused some of the design ideas from ADO34 in the 204 Coupé and Cabriolet. But back then design was more a trademark of the design studio than a corporate design we see today.

  3. Both the roadster & GT have a look of the respective Peugeot 204 models. Or 304 for that matter seeing both were the same at the rear.

  4. They do indeed look like the Peugeots. And just remind me : how many of those were sold at all, let alone in the UK ? Just for once, BLMC ( I suppose it was still BMC then ) made the right decision ; the Spridget was no doubt 3 times ( at least ) as profitable per unit as these would have been , and in total profit terms I have no doubt they would have seen it out of sight

    • You are right, these cars have an astonishing similarity to the Pug 204 two door cars and yes, these Pugs were frighteningly expensive and as a result sold in small numbers (back at school, one of our French teachers had a 204 coupé in dark green metallic, a wonderful car).
      But this was mainly a result of Pininfarina’s limited production capacity. The ADO cars surely would have been built in Britain, and therefore would have had much lower production costs and could have sold in much larger numbers than the French cars.
      Fiat did a similar thing with the Punto-based barchetta, which looked good and had its sales numbers limited only by the fact that it was esentially hand built at Maggiora, who could not produce more than 40 cars a day.

  5. Though it would have its drawbacks (in terms of aerodynamics), an interesting variant would have been a 1970s version of the Coupe (ADO35) and Austin-Healey Convertible (ADO36) that featured a sportier Mini Clubman-derived front with either single or twin front headlights, the Coupe version in theory more or less resembling a tidied up and updated Ogle SX1000 GT.

  6. Assuming it was feasible, it would have been interesting to see a production ADO34 eventually feature an updated front-end reminiscent of the EX234 prototype. Similar to how Abingdon’s ADO34 prototype resembles the MGB, though would have probably kept ADO34’s tidy rear.

  7. According to the book “MGB – The Illustrated History” ADO34/Abingdon’s 1959 EX220 was vetoed by Alec Issigonis in 1960 because it wasn’t a space efficient design – never mind that it was attractive and would have sold…… There seems to be some potential for confusion since EX220 was an Abingdon car styled by Dennis Williams (note for example the squared off rear wheelarches) but Longbridge also had the Pininfarina ADO34 with the same concept.

  8. It’s rather sad that no one saw fit to move forward with these cars, especially the Pininfarina design(s). Perhaps they were scared by the alleged cost of building the Mini, though this would have given the company every opportunity to update that design while creating these vehicles.

    • Indeed. The look of the Pininfarina ADO34 could have also potentially been applied to not only a significantly better looking three-box Mini saloon (in place of the Elf/Hornet), but could have also been used for an earlier three-box Pininfarina-styled ADO16 (years before the Austin Apache / Victoria) as well as an earlier three-box ADO17.

      Though it seems there was some trace Pininfarina ADO34 influence in the rear of the ADO17-derived X6, while the Vanden Plas 1800 prototype does give a bit of an idea how a three-box Vanden Plas version of ADO16 would look (and thus allowed Vanden Plas to differentiate itself a bit via three-box only saloon versions of the FWD cars the lower end of the range).

      Had the Pininfarina ADO34 inspired three-box approach been adopted by BMC for the Mini as well as ADO16 and ADO17, it would have been logical to in turn transform the existing two-box models into hatchbacks to further build upon the hatchback bodystyle used in the 1960 Innocenti A40 Combinata (the latter going on to significantly outsell the existing 2-door variant).

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