BMC and BL badge engineering ran amok on the much-loved 1100/1300 range of the Sixties and Seventies. RICHARD GUNN unravels the various marques and tells you what to look out for when buying.
|Body style:||2- and 4-door saloon, 3-door estate|
|Engine options:||1098cc A-Series inline-four
1275cc A-Series inline-four
|Transmission options:||4-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, front wheel drive|
1956: Alec Issigonis’ XC9001 prototype appears as a proposal for a medium-sized BMC family saloon. However, before it can be taken much further, the future Sir Alec switches his attention to designing a small car instead…and the rest of that story is Mini history.
1958: Work begins again on the mid-sized theme, but this year’s XC9002 concept by Issigonis is judged to be too visually similar to the Mini to continue with. The project is renamed ADO16, and given to Pininfarina to style.
1959: The Italian styling house works its magic on Issigonis’ original ideas, and comes up with a much sharper-looking design. Save for a few nips and tucks, this Farina ADO16 is what will become the BMC 1100 a few years later.
1962: The Morris version is the first BMC 1100 variant to be officially launched. It has much in common with the Mini, thanks to the transverse A-series engine driving the front wheels, but the suspension system is the brand new Hydrolastic set up developed by Alex Moulton. For those seeking a bit more from the 1098cc engine, there’s an MG model with more upmarket trim and twin carbs.
1963: More badge engineering, with the Austin 1100 and the Vanden Plas Princess 1100. The latter is a lot more luxurious than the former!
1965: Automatic transmissions become an option on the Austin and Morris.
1966: Load-lugging versions of the Austin and the Morris appear, known as the Countryman and the Traveller respectively. Anybody not already satisfied with the MG and Vanden Plas cars can also buy the Wolseley 1100 and Riley Kestrel from this year onwards.
1967: Mk 2 cars are launched, distinguishable from the previous incarnation by new grilles and trimmed fins. Even bigger news is the introduction of the 1275cc engine to create 1300 versions of all the many marques.
1968: The 1100 versions of the Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas ranges are discontinued, although the 1300s carry on as before, and the high-selling smaller-engined examples of the Morris and Austin continue. Meanwhile, for America, Canada and, somewhat bizarrely, Switzerland, there’s the Austin America which has a 1275cc engine with lower emissions and an automatic transmission as standard. All three countries fail to embrace the car quite as much as the newly-born British Leyland might have hoped for.
1969: In an effort to spark extra interest in the now ageing range, British Leyland unleashes Austin and Morris GT versions. Twin carb 1275cc engines provide 70bhp and the dawn of the Seventies is commemorated by black vinyl roofs, colourful paint shades and Rostyles. The Riley 1300 is dropped, and with it goes the entire Riley name.
1971: The MG 1300 disappears, but good news for 1100/1300 fans is the introduction of the Mk 3 revamp, with new grilles and interiors.
1973 Sales of the Austin 1100/1300 go up…the reason being that British Leyland has just released the Allegro to replace it. The last 1100/1300 models are built the following year.
What to look for
Oh dear! One thing the Austin 1100/1300 is famous for is its ability to rot. However talented Issigonis may have been in other directions, he wasn’t that great at designing cars which were capable of resisting tinworm. An 1100/1300 will willingly rust anywhere, given the chance, especially if it’s a car that sees a lot of use, as many of these vehicles still do.
The front wings are a logical place to start your investigation. Corrosion hits around the seams where the wings connect to the front panel (in much the same way as they affect Minis) and can also break out around the headlamps and sidelights. This isn’t all with the front wings, for the lower rear edge, next to the door, also deteriorates easily. It’s not only the outer panel you’ll have to be worried about as well, since the inner wings are prone to problems too. You may find trouble at the top of the inner wing, so check it out from under the arch and from under the bonnet as well. The outer wing mounting flange – which is behind the wiring loom – is a particularly vulnerable spot, as are the locales around the fuse box and starter solenoid.
Your engine bay investigations shouldn’t just be confined to this area, as there’s the bulkhead where it forms into a shelf under the washer bottle. As you might expect, it’s a prime location for collecting water. The area around the clutch and brake master cylinders also suffers as a result of spillage. At least the bonnet doesn’t usually rust…but check it anyway. It’s a BMC/British Leyland product after all…
Naturally, the sills aren’t the most resilient of items. Even if there’s no obvious signs of rust, you should look at the fit as well, for it could just be a cover item, fitted to disguise serious problems underneath. If the sill tapers in towards the rear, or doesn’t have a step at the front which slots in behind the front wing, suspect a cover item. It’s a good idea to take a magnet along with you just to check for filler disguising faults. The body number is stamped on the nearside sill door step – either near or under the front door seal – which is often welded over if the sills have been touched. However, it’s likely that most 1100/1300s will have had their sills done by now, so a more surefire way of checking for bodges is to look underneath the car for spot welds.
Above the sills, both sets of doors will start to disappear from the bottom upwards, thanks to water getting inside. The bootlids are also known for going at their bottom edges, as is the boot itself, although its tinworm troubles start in each corner. You can see the edge of the box section that supports the rear spring mountings inside the boot as well, but you’ll get a better idea of how rusty (or otherwise) these areas are by looking under the rear seat (see interior section) The rear valance can also corrode, and the bottoms of the back wings can be bedeviled by tin worm too.
All the four wheelarches are susceptible to rust, although the back ones will probably be in a more advanced state of decay than the front ones. Don’t just look at what you can see outside, but also at the inner wings as well.
On GT cars, feel the vinyl roof for crunchiness underneath, a pointer to water having got trapped underneath.
Trim on all cars can be quite difficult to find. It’s all out there somewhere if you search enough autojumbles, but is getting rare now, especially for the less plentiful cars like the Riley, MG, Wolseley or Vanden Plas. So, do check the brightwork, because putting right damaged or corroded parts might be more involved than you think.
Hydrolastic suspension is a pretty good system that cuts out a lot of the moving parts that can go wrong on cars with a conventional set-up. Theoretically, it’s sealed for life, but then again, BMC and BL probably weren’t planning on too many 1100/1300s having a life of over 40 years! Check that the car sits fairly and squarely all around all around. If it’s down on one side, it suggests a leak – look for fluid on the ground – but you might get away with a £20 or £30 pump up from a garage or one of the rapidly diminishing network of MG Rover dealers.
CV joints wearing out are relatively common. A clicking noise from a front wheel when cornering points to the joint being on its way out, but don’t worry too much. They’re cheap ’n’ easy to put right.
Lift the carpets to check the floorpan – but especially check the front corners in the footwells, plus the seatbelt mountings and the inner sills. If the carpets are wet when you touch them (and it’s not raining outside), it points to water getting in where it shouldn’t ought to… probably from the bulkhead around the heater or the footwell kickplates.
Underneath the rear seat, you’ll be able to check the rear subframe mounts and how rusty they are. It’s a tricky area to put right, but sadly very dangerous if tinworm is too far advanced.
Now to the nice stuff – the furnishings. As with the outside, missing trim won’t be that easy to source without a search, and if you need to fully retrim a Vanden Plas, it could almost approach Rolls-Royce levels of expenditure!
Front subframes don’t usually suffer from problems, thanks to their close proximity to the engine, which usually ensures a nice supply of corrosion-proofing oil. However, do investigate the mountings – you can see them from inside the engine bay, at the lower front corners.
Rear subframes are another matter though. They corrode quite readily and can also suffer stress fractures, thanks to hitting kerbs and also incorrect jacking (as a result of using the rear crossmember). Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to spot cracks because of all the grime/underseal that usually coats the frame.
Don’t forget to look at the petrol tank. It can rust around the seams, with the result that scary leaks occur.
While all the gearboxes whine a little – it’s part of their character – a loud one or a rattle coming from gearbox idler gear (near the clutch) while the car is underway points to a worn bearing. If it isn’t sorted out, it will eventually damage the casing itself, and then your only solution will be a new gearbox. Don’t be bothered about gear chatter while the car is just idling – that’s just another transverse front-wheel-drive A-series transmission personality trait. You’ll learn to love it in the end.
Clunks when pulling away can point to a few possible maladies. Best case scenarios are just worn engine or gearbox mountings, the result of worn bushes or a stabiliser bar not doing what it should be. More worrying are worn driveshaft couplings…pull the shafts and feel for any play.
The four-speed automatic AP gearboxes don’t play up very often, but don’t expect sophistication from them. They’re generally a bit leaden with their changes, and often seem uncertain as to what ratio they should be in, but listen out for strange noises and feel for (very) rough changes as signs of a ’box approaching the end of its life. Squealing at low revs points to a blocked engine breather, especially if accompanied by an uncertain tickover too.
The A-series may be a British motive power legend, but don’t take its supposed ruggedness and longevity for granted. Yes, they’re very easy to work on and parts are still everywhere, but lack of care will hasten their demise sooner rather than later.
High oil pressure doesn’t really mean much – these engines can soldier on showing a good reading right up until the second they kill themselves – but on cars fitted with an oil gauge, anything less than 40psi simply isn’t healthy.
You can check the condition of the engine stabiliser mountings – as mentioned in the section on the gearbox as well – by grasping the engine and trying to rock it back and forth. If there’s significant movement, then the mountings will need replacing. Advanced trouble in this department will show up during a test drive with the A-series actually shuddering when drive is taken up. It can feel like a pendulum on very bad examples, and on cars like this, ancillary items – such as the exhaust or pipework – can get damaged because of the constant shaking.
Do keep an eye on the temperature gauge. While the side-mounted radiators usually operate efficiently enough, they don’t get any direct air flow from the grille, so the fan doing its job well is important, as are clear waterways.
Don’t expect the engine to be particularly quiet, thanks to inevitable A-series tappet noise and timing chain rattle. However, noisy timing chains are simple enough to put right and won’t bash your wallet. Listen out for rumbles and other worrying noises from deep within the engine, for they indicate an imminent engine rebuild or replacement on the cards. Look for the usual signs of blue smoke from the exhaust and/or under the filler cap for further proof of potential problems.
You shouldn’t expect the engines to be completely oil tight either, with the multigrade making a break for it from the driveshaft couplings, timing chain cover and where the block joins the gearbox. Most owners just live with it…and unless there’s a veritable flood of black stuff, it’s not much to worry about.
The 1100 Club, www.the1100club.com
MG Car Club, Kimber House, PO Box 251, Abingdon, Oxford, OX14 1FF. Tel: 01235 555552 or www.mgcars.org.uk/carclub/
MG Owners Club, Octagon House, Over Road, Swavesey, Cambridge, CB4 5QZ. Tel: 01954 231125 or www.mgownersclub.co.uk
Riley Motor Club, c/o Brian Lowe, 154 Cot Lane, Kingswinford, West Midlands, DY6 9SB. Tel: 01384 273878
Vanden Plas Owners Club, c/o Brian Peebles, The Ferns, Tripenhad Road, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire SA17 5RS or www.vpoc.info
Wolseley Register, c/o Cindy Shilton, Wolseley House, 1 Priory Crescent, Roade, Northants NN7 2NF or www.wolseley.dircon.co.uk
As well as the specialists listed below, Mini specialists should be able to help out with a lot of mechanical parts too.
RPM Workshops, Derbyshire. Tel: 01246 455540
BL Transverse, London. Tel: 020 8654 3069
New/Old Stock, Ayrshire. Tel: 01246 455540 or www.austin1100-1300.co.uk
Bumper to Bumper, Suffolk. Tel: 01502 740128
Earlpart, Derbyshire. Tel: 01773 719504
Ex-Pressed Steel Panels, Yorks. Tel: 01535 632721 or www.steelpanels.co.uk
Roy Maskrey, RPM Workshops
“These cars were very advanced for their time, but also very popular as well. We see a lot of ‘Oh my Grandad used to have one of these,” or ‘I remember passing my driving test in one,” and so people end up coming back to them.
‘There’s a lot of room in these cars, considering their size, and they’re easy to maintain and cheap to run, being both economical and having cheap insurance. And 95 percent of them are tax free as well. To me, they’re just a good little all-rounder, and so easy to drive too. Back in the days when they were still in production, a lot of the reps used to choose the 1100 and 1300, and of course, the British School of Motoring and other driving schools chose them because they were one of the best cars around to learn to drive in.
‘The condition of the bodywork is the most important thing for potential buyers to look for. Is it starting to rust? Put your hand under the sill to make sure that it’s a proper panel, not a cover one. If there’s a curve to it, then it’s a cover sill. We call it the kiss of death, because you’ll be looking at about £300 to £400 to do each side properly.”
There’s an 1100 or 1300 to suit every classic fan. If you want salt of the earth motoring (although salt probably isn’t a good substance to mention in connection with these cars) then there’s the Austin or Morris version. If you want a bit of luxury, then a Vanden Plas or Wolseley will be pleased to accommodate you, while performance – of a sort – comes from the MG, Riley or GT. Those who love the Sixties will delight in the period charm of the Mk 1, yet British Leyland enthusiasts won’t be disappointed by the brash colours and Seventies ambience of the Mk 3 models. Essentially, these cars have got all bases covered.
So we’re not going to recommend one particular version because you’re bound to have your own favourite, and nothing we can say will change your mind. You may do that yourself eventually…and when you do, there will be plenty other variants of the breed to explore and indulge in instead!
Many thanks to Roy Maskrey of RPM Workshops for his help with this article.