Concepts and prototypes : ADO76 (1968-1969)

Keith Adams lifts the lid on the little-known ADO76 project – Cowley’s early look at replacing the MGB.

This styling sketch is all we’ve uncovered so far, but it offers a fascinating insight into how the company wanted to inject some Italian style into the MG line-up.

ADO76: When MG met Michelotti

Given it's a Michelotti design, there are clear Triumph styling cues in this proposed MGB.
Given it’s a Michelotti design, there are clear Triumph styling cues in this proposed MGB replacement

Until 2010, AROnline listed the ADO76 project as a rubber-bumpered version of the MGB, but in essence there was much more to it than that. Moves were afoot at both MG in Abingdon and Pressed Steel-Fisher (PSF) in Cowley to produce something with a clear 1970s style for the upcoming decade. Sadly, that never happened and, in the event, the end result was no more than the addition of some (stylish?) rubber bumpers to the MGB.

The ADO76 programme was run in PSF in Cowley, as well as Abingdon and Longbridge – and here is one of the ideas that was touted during the early stages of its development between 1968 and 1969. The idea was for Skunk Works in Swindon to create an MGB replacement based on a Michelotti-styled design. The main detail changes over the outgoing MGB would have been the following:

  • A longer front end including a new grille and lamp surrounds.
  • A ‘faster’ screen rake angle
  • A completely new rear end including a new lamps arrangement.
  • A ‘wrap over’ ‘B’ pillar ‘targa’ top including either removable or hinged glass roof panels (a la Tomcat).

The project was run by Don Hayter at MG Abingdon and Dave Osman at PSF and, according to one Engineer involved in the ADO76 programme, this was a codename which was never applied to the Federalised MGB. However, another source says that it was an all-encompassing programme that did include it.

As ever, we’d like to hear more information and, if you know more, please email.

Keith Adams


  1. Fabulous looking car and again not built. It makes me furious to see what is clearly a Datsun 260/280Z many years before it came on the scene. Argggghhhhh Leyland management = IMBECILES

  2. Spen King went to the US in the early 70s and was told in no uncertain terms that what they wanted from a British sportscar over the pond was a simple, fun car. No mid-engined nonsense, if you please, just a conventional front-engined RWD car.

    In response BL spent tens of millions on the TR7.On a new factory (closed in 1979.) Nice enough as the TR7/8 was, you wonder why nobody said, “we’re already building a very successful conventional, front-engined RWD sportscar: it’s called the MGB. Why don’t we develop that instead and save our investment for a mid-range RWD saloon?”

    • BL did not spend very much on the TR7, (I think you are confusing it with the SD1).

      The TR7 used the drive train and rear suspension from the Dolomite and whilst it had a new strut front end, that was planned to be used on the SD2. It was also not built in a new factory but at Speke No 2 plant that was built in 1966 and was Toledo’s and trimming out the Stag bodyshell before they took on the TR7.

      Problem with the MGB in the early 70s was that it was becoming increasingly expensive to make, because much of its componentry was from cars no longer in production and so had to support the cost of retooling alone and it was assembled in a factory that was little changed in over 50 years, with cars still being pushed by hand down the production line.

      The TR7 also had to replace the more expensive TR6 and there was still a demand for a replacement for the Austin Healey’s following the failure in the market of the MGC and as the MGC had shown, the MG brand did not have the traction to be moved upmarket.

      It was thus clear in the early 70s that the MGB was living on borrowed time as it was becoming more expensive to build at time when its relative price point in the market was moving down to that of the Midget and Spitfire.

  3. It looks too much like a hastily warmed up to MGB. Saying the Datsun 260/280 is a copy is daft- the 240Z had been around for years and cars like the Honda S800 had taken styling cues from British cars already. Besides, criticising Japanese manufacturers for using British themes is like slamming the Austin 1100 or Triumph Herald for using and copying Italian styling.
    Fact is that by the mid ’70s the game was up for this type of car. The era of the hot hatch and performance saloon had dawned. Triumph would have done better with a follow up to the Dolly Sprint and MG similar.

  4. The front-end would have looked better IMHO if it adopted the near Jaguar-like front-nose with quad-headlights (that almost resembles a Bristol Blenheim 2) akin to the unrealised 2-seater MG GT V8 Coupe clay-model (from MG the Untold Story) that was intended to differentiate the V8 and non-V8 MGB models.

  5. What they should have done was platform-sharing. The TR7 was an absurd stand-alone model, when it should have been part of a range sharing the same basic platform and design – 2 seater (coupe and convertible), 2+2, saloon + estate. The latter could have covered Morris Marina and Dolomite replacement

    • The TR7 was not intended to be a stand alone model, its drivetrain was lifted from the Dolomite as was its rear suspension. Its strut front end was planned to be shared with the SD2. It was also planned from the outset as the Bullet to be part of a range Roadster, Coupe and GT Coupe and later as the Lynx.

      It would not have been practical for it to share understructure with either Dolomite or SD2, because of the need for the TR7 to have a convertible / targa variant, so needing a much stronger floor structure to meet the US crash requirements than a saloon, even more so as the Saloon would only need to meet European crash requirements.

      However the economics and practicalities of building cars at BL in the 70s meant that as with so many of BL’s products, it was never to fully realise its potential.

  6. I like the styling. I wonder if anyone has tried to count how many good looking cars never made it to production. I wonder how much money was wasted on drawings that never made it off the page!

  7. Hmm Interesting. Reminds me of the story about a full 4 seater MGC GT, that they thought about, to be launched as a “Riley” circa 1967/9 period.

    • First have heard of a Riley badged 4-seater MGC GT, wonder if it built from the remains of both Austin-Healey’s unbuilt version of the MGC GT as well as from Jaguar’s MGC-derived XJ Junior project.

    • David : the sad thing is that the MX5 has never been a great sales success, except in the USA, and European sales have dwindled to a trickle. Although there is no competition for it, nor it seems is there any demand for it

      • They have sold well over a million units. How do you define a “great sales success” given the tight focus market?

  8. While a fully realized version of ADO76 would have updated the styling, the fact is like Aston Martin’s unrealised plan for a William Towns design fully rebody (that appeared on the Towns styled Scimitars) and the more modernized MG RV8, the basic and aging MGB platform really needed a full update if not outright replacement.

    Both EX234 and even an ADO77-based MGB replacement would appear to be a more suitable starting point for a Midget/MGB replacing MGB sportscar (plus the later smaller Broadside-derived Midget/MGB successor) that could have better challenged the Mazda MX-5 and easily slotted below the TR7/TR8.

    At the same time, is it merely coincidental that the ADO76 and ADO77 projects are coded the way they were or was ADO76 originally planned to be connected to ADO77 at some point (and featured the latter’s as yet unelaborated V6) before financial issues inevitably caused ADO76 to drift away from its original brief as an ADO77-based sportscar towards first a Michelotti rebody as mentioned in this article and soon further reduced to just a slightly revised MGB with rubber-bumpers (that were not even body-coloured)?

  9. I have often thought that the TR7 with its conventional layout, live axle and 4 cylinder engine was more suited to being an MGB replacement than a TR6 replacement. Perhaps with some outer skin differentiation the 4 cylinder could have been an MG and the V8 a Triumph.

  10. I’m sorry guys but some of you fall into the dreaded trap of judging those before us with the benefit of hindsight! If you had actually been there, struggling with poor funding and an irritable work force – would any of us done any better? I think one has to be very ‘big-headed’ to say I would have made all the right decisions fifty years ago!

    • Comparisons between the MX5 and the MGB are fraught with difficulty. The MGB,( though by 1981 its production had spanned one-quarter of the lifespan of the motorcar ! ) was still lovely to drive and full of character . The MX5 , although technically much more modern , was frankly as dull as ditchwater to drive – you might just as well have been driving a modern hatchback – which explains why, except in the USA, it was something of a flop. Similarly, the TR7 was as different as chalk from cheese compared with its rather brutal predecessors, and also from the MGB. Time had moved on, and safety and other regulations with it , which meant that replicating the wonderful sports cars of the past was well-nigh impossible, although the TR7 convertible was quite a good stab at it

      • It is interesting to note that while the 1989 MX5 was technically much more modern, the platform of the first two generations seem to be derived from the 1985 2nd gen RX7’s FC platform. With the RX7’s FC platform itself being an evolution / renaming of an older platform that underpinned the original SA22C/FB 1st gen RX7 in 1978 (and claims that was an evolution of an older platform used on the 1970-1982 RWD Mazda Capella models).

  11. Recall Daveh posting the following on another article a while back on the one-off Aston Martin MGB prototype, though it seems more appropriate here as it appears to more or less correlate with the aforementioned detail changes.

    On top of the Jaguar XJ-S cues, the Michelotti aspect would also seem to explain why aspects of the following clay model sort of brings to mind ADO70 aka Michelotti Mini. Which makes sense in terms of BL seeking to create a family look from ADO70 and the GT V8 clay model (possibly filtering down to the regular B) up to the XJ-S (as well as bringing to mind Jaguar’s earlier pre-BL attempt to develop an MGC-derived Baby XJ).

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