The ADO70 Calypso, a sporting Mini prototype, was built by Michelotti as a proposed low-cost replacement for the MG Midget.
Sadly, this promising idea was canned before it was evaluated too seriously by BLMC’s management.
A sporting opportunity wasted
The ADO70 Calypso was conceived by Harry Webster as a fun car for the US market. However, the project foundered when the prototype met with an apathetic reaction by Leyland’s management, and the required funds were not forthcoming. Although generally known as the Michelotti Mini, it should be noted that it was built – rather than designed – by the Italian company.
And, boy did British Leyland Motor need a small sports car for the USA. In the late-1960s, this was still a huge money earner for the company, and was something of a priority as a consequence. As tried before by BMC with the ADO56 prototype, the Mini was used as a basis for this attempt at a new MG Midget replacement.
Harry Webster tasked designers Paul Hughes and Rob Owen to sketch a Midget replacement based on the Mini, and they quickly came up with a two-seater, targa-topped design that mimicked the Porsche 914 (and original Triumph Bullet and later TR7). On paper, it looked crisp and promising.
Some compromises to ADO70 design
The targa-topped design pre-empted threatened anti-convertible legislation emanating from the USA, but it carried some cost-saving measures expected on a budget sports car. So, it needed to retain the Mini’s 10-inch wheels and, in order to simplify anticipated production costs, it was going to have fixed (not pop-up) headlights set at a height of at least 24-inches.
Once the design came together, Webster commissioned Michelotti to create a prototype ADO70 Calypso, and donated a Mini 1275GT to the Turin design studio (above). The carrozzeria created the new body, and the Mini’s running gear was adapted to accept the new body shape and a new steering wheel position.
According to David Knowles’ brilliant book MG: The Untold Story, the prototype was hamstrung by an overweight, handbuilt body, leaking Hyrolastic suspension and damaged driveshafts. However, it was made a runner by Innocenti and was driven back to the UK under its own steam, presumably at quite a modest pace.
ADO70: Styled in Britain, built in Italy, abandoned in the UK
Back in the UK, the ADO70 Calypso prototype was given a lukewarm reception by BLMC’s senior management. In April 1970 the BMC Board had evaluated a wooden mockup of the ADO70, and then again in August following the Michelotti-built car’s return to the UK.
The running prototype might not have been badged as such, but it was intended to have been sold as an MG in the USA. However, on the second viewing, the BMC Board concluded that the A-Series engined front-wheel drive package wasn’t what the Americans wanted – and that its engine would have had a limited future given the Mini replacement projects that were in preparation at the time.
Following its rejection as production proposition, the car was left to rot at Longbridge, parked outside the Exterior Studio, before being rescued and restored. It now forms part of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust’s collection at Gaydon.