Concepts and prototypes : ADO88 supermini (1974-77)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Shortly after the demise of ADO74, the ‘Mini replacement idea’ was yet again brought down from the shelf for further investigation. Unlike ADO74, which was new from the wheels up, ADO88 would use the Mini’s A-series engine plus transmission-in-sump layout.

The reason for this was cost – ADO74 would have cost an estimated £130million to develop – the ADO88, significantly less.


ADO88: Creating a supermini out of the Mini

This early sketch, dating from 1974, clearly shows that ADO88 started out as a Mini replacement. While looking more adventurous than ADO74, the principle of "maximum interior room - minimum external size" was eloquently demonstrated in the car's boxy lines.
This early sketch, dating from 1974, clearly shows that ADO88 started out as a Mini replacement. While looking more adventurous than ADO74, the principle of “maximum interior room – minimum external size” was eloquently demonstrated in the car’s boxy lines.

The seeds Austin Metro as we know it were sewn when British Leyland yet again dusted off the idea of producing a supermini in late 1974. At the time, the company was rapidly heading towards a deep and unrecoverable financial crisis, the feeling among many executives was that in order to survive as a viable concern, it would be essential to field a competitor in the supermini market.

The first ideas were fielded only a year after the ADO74 was scrapped and already the embryonic new car would owe nothing to its still-born predecessor. It would be true to say that the Metro was born in the last few days of BLMC’s existence as an independent company and came about as a result of the departure of Harry Webster.

Into Webster’s shoes, stepped Spen King who was put in charge of product development for British Leyland and the man that was chosen to oversee the product development at Austin-Morris (and therefore the development of any new small cars) was Charles Griffin.

 

Also from July 1974: a slight variation of the above theme, although the round headlight version made do with a thicker C-pillar, which in my eyes defined the design more than the version with the larger glasshouse. Neither version met with unanimous praise from management.
Also from July 1974: a slight variation of the above theme, although the round headlight version made do with a thicker C-pillar, which in my eyes defined the design more than the version with the larger glasshouse. Neither version met with unanimous praise from management.
Also from July 1974: a slight variation of the above theme, although the round headlight version made do with a thicker C-pillar, which in my eyes defined the design more than the version with the larger glasshouse. Neither version met with unanimous praise from management.
Also from July 1974: a slight variation of the above theme, although the round headlight version made do with a thicker C-pillar, which in my eyes defined the design more than the version with the larger glasshouse. Neither version met with unanimous praise from management.

The development process begins

Initial thoughts on ADO88 styling (above) were somewhat different to the first full size clay models (below) produced in July 1974. This bulbous derivative certainly looks roomy, but lacks the crispness required of any mid-1970s small car design.

November 1974, and the Metro’s character begins to emerge in one of three proposals photographed at this point: this is particularly evident in this car’s frontal styling. The side view shows that the proportions of the car were fundamentally good, although the execution was poor.

The super-team of King and Griffin would father the ADO88. Griffin was definitely old-school BMC and had worked alongside Alec Issigonis in the past – He was regarded as a popular man, being seen as neither Austin nor Morris in his outlook when a BMC and because of this, it meant that he could dictate firmly how the development of the new car would take place.

With the agreement of the BL board of directors and the product planning department, Griffin once again looked at developing a replacement for the Mini. This time, there would be tight cost management because lessons had to be learned from the ADO74 – a good concept, but one that cash-strapped BLMC could ill-afford.

Unlike ADO74, the new car would not be as large as the competition such as the Renault 5 or upcoming Ford Fiesta, but would, by necessity, be bigger than the Mini – Griffin insisted on this set of parameters. The Austin Allegro had only been on the market some eighteen months previously and there was a great fear that if the size of the car was not tightly controlled and allowed to grow, as had happened with the ADO74, it would seriously encroach on the Allegro.

Mini thinking in the new supermini

Because of this, the smaller size was agreed on by everyone in a position of responsibility – the engineers at Longbridge knew full-well that with their vast experience of front wheel drive packaging, they could build their smaller car to be as roomy as the new superminis.

Because of this reasoned argument and the fact that Griffin would be tightly controlling the car’s development, John Barber revived his interest in the new Mini project and gave it the go-ahead. It would prove to be Barber’s last major decision – but a major one.

After nationalization and the departure of John Barber, his successor, Alex Park looked at the company’s works-in-progress and after receiving assurances from Sir Don Ryder that the government would foot the bill, he gave the new Mini programme the green light for production and ADO88 was born.

Metro character emerges

 

The second proposal from November 1974. The roundness was now being removed from the July designs depicted above. The style and dimensions were still very similar, but the extra style injection still had some way to go.
The second proposal from November 1974. The roundness was now being removed from the July designs depicted above. The style and dimensions were still very similar, but the extra style injection still had some way to go.
The second proposal from November 1974. The roundness was now being removed from the July designs depicted above. The style and dimensions were still very similar, but the extra style injection still had some way to go.
The second proposal from November 1974. The roundness was now being removed from the July designs depicted above. The style and dimensions were still very similar, but the extra style injection still had some way to go.

The design lacked any real defining features end as a result, looked boxy and utilitarian. It is very clear that the decision to use this model as the basis of the final Metro was a sound one – and the later metamorphosis into LC8 was very effective, thanks to the efforts of David Bache’s team: Gordon Sked, Roger Tucker and Harris Mann.

Clever and cost-effective approach

Work rapidly got underway on the ADO88 (so named because its wheelbase was planned to be approximately 88in) and because costs were to be tightly controlled, many carry-over parts from the Mini would be used. The parts bin nature of the ADO88 also facilitated a rapid development programme and Charles Griffin was soon reporting to management that the new car would hit the market at the end of 1977.

Griffin was very strict on the space efficiency goals for the new car – it was a priority that he continuously reminded his engineers of. There was no way that he would allow them the luxury of allowing the car to grow (something reminiscent of the methods Issigonis applied) but he still expected for it to match ‘inch for inch’ the interior dimensions of the Europeans. He wanted to deliver the promises that he had given to his management.

Mechanically, ADO88 was to use the A-Series engine and gearbox-in sump: the classic Mini arrangement, but variance was made on the suspension. Out went the Mini’s rubber cone springing medium and in came Hydragas, recently developed by Dr Alex Moulton for the Austin Allegro. Hydragas had distinct packaging advantages over the industry standard arrangement adopted by all the Metro’s rival manufacturers (and the 9X and ADO74 predecessors), lending more interior and under-bonnet space to the Metro.

Mini-like interior packaging

This gave designers more freedom and resulted in a remarkably spacious and airy interior, for a car of such short length – Something that was inherited from the Mini and demanded above all else by Griffin. Unlike the Allegro, Metro’s Hydragas was interconnected side-to-side, not front to rear, which resulted in a compromised final product that although did the job, didn’t show off the system’s advantages as well as front-rear interconnection would have done.

Speaking in 1987, Dr Alex Moulton, the father of Hydragas stated that Spen King wanted a more conventional suspension system on the Metro and so, Moulton was unable to develop the system thoroughly for the Metro, being constrained by cost and time. He was vindicated in 1990 when the world’s press saw just how capable the R6 (Rover) Metro was on front/rear interconnected Hydragas.

To be fair to Spen King though, BL’s market share was falling so rapidly, that everyone in the company must have felt compelled to rush the development of the car – and just get it into production – such was the sense of urgency.Work had been undertaken on the venerable A-Series engine, which had been in service powering various British Leyland cars since the 1940s.

 

ADO88 project
The third proposal from November 1974 has a rather oriental look: Daihatsu Charade, anyone?

ADO88 project
Early mule used for road testing components in 1974/75, as pictured in Car magazine. The speculative press were brought into a wild panic by this car’s lack of styling – how could the Mini be replaced by such a contraption?
ADO88 Project
Development of the original Harris Mann idea, dating from August 1975 (above, below) – now going with partially concealed rear wheels, like Citroën. This style was not unpleasant, but it did not translate well into a full-size model, and so was not pursued.

ADO88 project
Late 1975 Pininfarina proposal displays a distinctly Citroën-esque persona. This proposal was quickly abandoned because the production costs of this car would have been too high.

Engine and powertrain options

Round the time of the formation of British Leyland, a low-cost overhaul of the A-Seriesincorporating an Overhead Camshaft cylinder head (dubbed, unoriginally A-OHC) was being planned with a view to giving the smaller-engined cars in the group a badly needed fillip. What the engineers were up against hough, was a very thermally-efficient long-stroke, overhead valve engine which delivered impressive torque and most importantly, class-leading fuel economy.

Because the engineers could not develop the new engine to produce significantly better numbers, A-OHC was dropped. It was now clear that the government would not be giving the company unlimited cash reserves and so, the existing engine was left to soldier on for a while longer.

Lessons learned from the A-OHC programme were, however, pressed into an even lower-cost and higher value project: A-Plus. This would prove to be the Metro’s sole power unit from 1980 through to its demise in 1991, but would still produce more than effective performance and economy figures when used in the car. Total cost of development: £30million.

So, why didn’t the ADO88 as it was go into production? Read on to see why.

Austin Metro ADO88

Austin Metro ADO88

Austin Metro ADO88

Austin Metro ADO88

Austin Metro ADO88

Austin Metro ADO88
This is the design that was ‘approved for further refinement’ in November 1975.
Austin Metro ADO88
The sketch was then prepared to show the way forward for the ADO88 project.
Austin Metro ADO88
Early 1976: the finalised ADO88 model, which was used to produce engineering drawings. Quite a number of changes have been made since the previous model was approved in November 1975, including a small stretch in the wheelbase.
Austin Metro ADO88
A later version of the full size mock-up dating from early 1976.
Austin Metro ADO88
A further development of the finalised model, now featuring a glasshouse. This version demonstrates the styling features of the basic models, with the inset headlamps making it all the way to the final Metro.
Austin Metro ADO88
ADO88’s last gasp: by autumn 1977, the car had begun its metamorphosis into LC8, the project which would produce the definitive Metro.

Next: Read about the LC8 programme

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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3 Comments

  1. Quite like the Pininfarina and half Civic-like ADO88 (in the fourth picture) proposals, though am somewhat fascinated by David Bache’s retro-styled Mini-inspired 3rd proposal even if it could have done with more work.

    Clay model images of the 3 proposal’s rear end seen elsewhere show a retro-themed version of the later ADO88 prototype’s “breadvan” tailgate, albeit one that could have taken a leaf from the Mini its inspired by in placing the rear number plate on the tailgate itself between the rear-lights instead of below the rear bumper.

    Understand though why they went in a more modern direction for ADO88 / LC8 instead of pursuing a retro-styled Mini-inspired automobile, despite a part of me liking the idea of such a car being to the Metro what the Nissan Be-1 (or Nissan Pao) were to the original Nissan Micra.

  2. @ daveh, I was thinking that as well, the design of the front end and the doors remind me of the 1983 Uno. Actually a design like this would have made the Metro look more European and could have helped sales in Europe.

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