The final flowering of the Issigonis range, the 1800 was a large-scale Mini that failed to set the world alight. Yet these capable cars are readily affordable today. Ian Seabrook tells you what you need to know.
First published in Classic Car Weekly.
|Body style:||4-door saloon|
|Engine options:||1798cc B-Series inline-four
2227cc E6-Series straight-six
|Transmission options:||4-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, front wheel drive|
The Austin 1800 certainly stunned the world when launched in 1964. People really weren’t sure quite what to make of it. It was a rolling contradiction – a big luxury car but kitted out with a typical Issigonis starkness that alienated buyers. On top of this, it looked very strange and the sheer width led to the famous nickname – the Landcrab.
The original brief for ADO17 was not for a luxury car, though. With the Mini and 1100 cornering the small side of the market, it was natural for a larger version to come in to replace the ageing Farina saloons. However, during the development, the decision to use the MGB 1798cc engine caused the design to grow larger – necessitating a change of market focus. Ironically, the car is actually a whole ten inches shorter than a Farina yet with typical Issigonis packaging brilliance, the Landcrab has masses more internal space. The width gave the impression that the car was bigger than it really was which was why the Landcrab ended up competing in a different market. The failure to replace the Farina range would leave this now-ancient design lumbering on until 1971.
The 1800 saw the first use of the five-bearing engine that would find its way under the bonnet of the MGB in due course. In basic form, it had 85bhp on tap which, while not exactly threatening to set the tarmac alight, is enough to ensure swift enough progress.
For those who wish to go faster, 96bhp S versions were available with twin-carbs. 1966 saw the launch of the Wolseley 18/85 for those who fancied the luxury so absent in the more austere versions. 1972 would see the arrival of a six-cylinder engine for all three marques.
Is it a classic?
Well, it isn’t beautiful to look at. Nor was it a huge success – in fact, it sold nowhere near as well as predicted – or hoped. It didn’t scoop any significant competition wins or appeal to anyone much at all. It was a bit hopeless really.
Yet it is undoubtedly a classic. It may have demonstrated that Issigonis was perhaps not in touch with the perceived market for the 1800 but, nonetheless, it is a very ingenious design. The structure is incredibly solid with no separate subframe unlike the smaller designs. There is comfortable hydrolastic suspension and Mini-esque handling to belie those clumsy looks. It is remarkably pleasant to drive and, with what is effectively an MGB engine under the bonnet, mechanical spares and upgrades are not going to be hard to find.
It may not have been a huge success while in production but to ignore the Landcrab is to ignore a very capable car.
What’s out there?
Have a glance through the pages of Classic Car Weekly and you’ll see that there aren’t a great many of these left anymore. Indifference and corrosion have decimated the ranks. Not that the Landcrab is particularly rust-prone but, without enthusiastic owners to look after them, they will succumb just as readily as any other Sixties car.
It now actually seems to be the case that Wolseley versions have a better survival rate – probably because all that wood and leather has attracted older owners and classic car enthusiasts who have cherished them. Still, you may need to hunt around to find one.
The six-cylinder cars were in production for a mere three years so there are not many about – especially the Austin and Morris versions. Again though, these slightly more premium vehicles have survived better than most.
What to look for
With ready parts supply, a basket case shouldn’t be written off – as long as you have the funds to pay for all of the relevant bits. It is far cheaper to find a good car in the first place although that doesn’t give the same satisfaction if ‘saving’ classics is your thing.
Tony Wood, Spares Secretary for Landcrab Owners International, reports that there are no cars known to be off the road due to parts not being available. That’s an important consideration if you are planning to use your Landcrab regularly.
Engine and Transmission:
Being a scaled up Mini, you’ll find the gearbox in the sump. The oil needs to be changed every 6000 miles to avoid problems with both engine and transmission so history is important. On the plus side, the engine is effectively the same as that in the MGB so you won’t have trouble tracking down parts.
Clutch parts are unique to the model but still easily found. The clutch is really an engine out job on the 1800 though so make sure there is plenty of bite on the test drive.
The automatic has the gearbox under the engine (driven by chain) but retains its own fluid so does not share the engine oil. The Borg Warner 35 gearbox can be expensive to put right if problems occur so, if buying one, be very careful to check that every gear works when out on a test drive.
The 2200 engine was only shared with the later Princess so parts are a little harder to find. While the engine is quite heavily based on the E-Series engine fitted to both Allegro and Maxi 1500s, there is not a huge amount of parts-swapping possible between the two. However, the clutch can be changed with the engine in situ.
Six cylinder cars can suffer from over-heating problems – usually because the electric fan is not cutting in as it should. Some owners wire up a manual switch for the fan for peace of mind. On both engines, a blocked radiator can also cause overheating issues.
The Landcrab has a monocoque construction but, unlike the Mini, there is no front subframe which means you can’t simply unbolt and replace any rust issues. Luckily, the Landcrab was very solidly built and is therefore much less likely to rot in the first place but check the front valance carefully as it contains a structural cross-member.
Main areas to focus on are the sills. Make sure that the inner sills are solid and that someone hasn’t just welded some new outer sills over the rot. Repair sections are available so there really is no excuse for bodging these up, especially given how essential they are to keep the structure rigid. If you find a car with rotten sills that you otherwise like, be aware that there is likely to be around six to ten hours labour per side to replace them. It may be wiser to find a solid one in the first place.
Genuine replacement sills include a section which tucks in behind the front wing. Pattern replacements do not have this but neither cause problems, as long as the work has been done well.
The doors suffer from blocked drainage holes which causes the bottom to rot out. Replacement doors can be found readily as they were fitted to so many cars, the Maxi being the most common source. However, be aware that there were as many as seven different door configurations in production so exact matches may be hard to find.
If the headlamp bowls are rotten, it could suggest that further rot is lurking in the wing itself. There are differences between the MkI and MkII cars as well as a different nose again for the Wolseley but panels are still readily available, albeit prices are on the rise.
Check for water ingress in the front footwells. This could be due to a leaky windscreen seal or it could hint at some nasty corrosion on the A post, usually hidden underneath the front wings.
Suspension, steering and brakes
Hydrolastic suspension gives a firm yet comfortable ride and, while sharing many principles with the Citroën hydro-pneumatic system, rarely gives trouble and is easy to look after.
Parts are readily available and there are still many garages with a pump should your car be riding a little low. If you have more than one hydrolastic/hydragas classic, it is well worth investing in a pump of your own – grease guns can be modified to good effect.
Brake parts are easily found but the brake servo can be an eye-watering £300 for a genuine Girling item, so make sure you check that this is functioning properly. Reconditioned units and overhaul kits start at around £80. Clicking on full lock is down to worn CV joints.
Austin, Morris and late Wolseley 18/85s had lovely vinyl seats, earlier Wolseleys used real leather. These can wear but replacements can still be found. On the Wolseley Six, the seats may well need recovering as the thin foam under the cloth disintegrates. You’ll need to check the state of the leather and wood on Wolseleys as repairs will not be cheap.
The electric system is simple and rarely gives any trouble. Most MkI/II models will still have a dynamo and in most cases are positive earth. From 1972, all models had an alternator fitted, including all 2200s.
The Wolseley has unique side/indicator lamps at the front which are getting hard to get hold of now.
The parts situation
As already mentioned, obtaining parts is not an issue although some items are getting a little more costly to buy.
Typical Prices – new old stock
Brake discs – £40
Brake pads – £12
Clutch Kit – £45
Radiator – £100
Starter motor – £60
CV Joints – £20
Front wing – £150
Displacer unit – £40
Landcrab Owners International will also help source spares.
What should I pay?
As much as you can afford is our recommendation as that still won’t necessarily be a large amount of money. Prices for the best examples generally hover around under the £2000 mark – which seems astonishing value, especially for the smooth six-cylinder cars.
Basket case cars can be had for a few hundred pounds or may even be given away. However, it is important to consider the costs of a restoration project, especially when a good condition car is so cheap.
Should I buy one?
If you want a practical, everyday classic car that is fun to drive, the Landcrab makes a very sensible choice. You’ll get huge comfort for everyone on board (oodles of rear legroom), a strong engine and a very unique character all of its own. With excellent parts back-up, a helpful owners club and an increasing love for all things BMC/BL in the classic car world, now is a good time to buy your very own Landcrab.
- Concepts and prototypes : Hyundai/Rover Oden (1992) - 9 November 2023
- Opinion : So, maybe the Montego was the best they could do… - 8 November 2023
- The cars : Austin Montego (LM11) development story - 7 November 2023