The continuing series of features about cars on the endangered list in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.
10: Austin 1800/2200HL
One of the most enjoyable aspects about researching the In Memoriam series of articles is searching through lists and lists of obsolete cars, and that sheer Eureka! moment when I stumble upon something that’s supposedly vanished from the UK’s roads. After all, who really mourns the loss of the Dacia Denem or Colt 1400 Turbo? But rifling through the Austin entries and finding that the wedge-shaped 2200HL became extinct in 2001 was actually a surprise and a shock.
The story of the Austin 2200HL is actually quite tragic, as it’s the most potent reminder of what a mess British Leyland’s marketing strategy was in the mid-1970s. When the ADO71 was launched in the UK, British Leyland was still in possession of independent Morris and Austin dealer networks, despite the call of the Ryder reorganization to rationalise the organisation. And in order to cover all bases, decided to offer the car through both – in Austin, Morris and Wolseley forms. Of course, when ADO71 was in development, John Barber – BL’s second-in-command – wanted to simply call the car a ‘Leyland’ and be done with the whole Austin-Morris confusion… but he lost out.
So when the ADO71 was launched in March 1975, we were treated to the three different versions – with different grille and bonnet (as well as trim combinations). And the range was collectively known as the 18-22 Series. The Morris and Austins were the workhorses of the range, while the lavish Wolseley was a suitably middle-class option priced to worry the Rover 2200 and Triumph 2500.
Clearly, with its advanced specification and similarly engineered Allegro stablemate, the Austin badge fitted the ADO71 better than any other – and perhaps that’s why so many people still call all wedges ‘Austin Princess’ – but that didn’t stop British Leyland’s confusion and lack of marketing nous water-down its newest and most promising product.
They tried to make amends in November 1975, by doing the obvious thing, and giving them all the same marque name – but amazingly, not using the Austin or Morris name, but exhuming the old Vanden Plas ‘Princess’ name. Visually, all the cars became Austins with their simple grille and choice of trapezoidal or twin headlamps. With that, all ADO71s were then sold under the Princess marque name with the engine and trim levels becoming the model name, and offered through all dealers. Still with us? The real tragedy in all of this was the loss of Wolseley. The Wolseley Saloon was replaced by the Princess 2200HLS – which lost the ornate grille and illuminated badge.
We know of a number of Wolseley 18-22 Series cars still in existence, and at least a couple of Morrises – but it’s sad that it looks like the original 1975 ‘Austin Princess’ has slipped into extinction, aside from a lone 1800HL automatic. The unpretentious badge, the vinyl seats of the 1800HL – and that wonderful smell inside on hot summer days – would appear to have been lost forever.
Is that a worthy fate for one of British Leyland’s boldest and interesting cars of the ’70s? Well, given that there’s still a lively community supporting the ADO71 as a whole, it’s not the end of the world. But as footnotes in the BL soap opera go, it’s a sad one to lose…
Unless, of course, you know or think differently.
And here is a surviving Austin 18-22 Series car:
This car belongs to Dan Nichols, who says the following about his 1800HL…
‘Well the attached pic is the only one I can lay hands on at the moment, sorry looking having spent the last winter in that very spot, round the back of car sales plot having not even been started up. That was before I pulled it out and towed it to a derbyshire garage who I’d talked into getting it mot’d. That was early August, it’s now a case of ‘if you want something doing…’, therefore this coming weekend I’ve arrange access to the garage for me to weld it all up, brake cyls oil leak etc. Watch this space.
‘On sad notes the car has clearly been modified – largely irreversibly ie sunroof, electrics, however beneath it is clear it was well built, good panel gaps, little wear/fade of interior. It isn’t going to be concours condition, but can easily be brought back to life again. It’s only today that I’ve clicked its day of registration is also the day of the cars’ launch!’