History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Three : October to December 1968

Ian Nicholls, AROnline‘s historian-in-residence, tells the story of Austin-Morris, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry.

Here, in the third part, we track the creation of the Austin-Morris division – effectively taking over where the main part of BMC left off.


The Austin-Morris story: The star is born

The Austin-Morris story part three: ADO14 (Austin Maxi) undergoing testing

On 1 November 1968 the new management structure came into operation and Sir George Harriman became President of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Sir Donald Stokes succeeded him as Chairman. The rump of BMC became the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland under George Turnbull and the British Motor Corporation disappeared into the dustbin of history.

On 14 November, Austin-Morris began road testing of the new ADO14 BLMC 1500, lasting until 28 February 1969. Considering the ADO14 had been scheduled for an October 1968 launch, its delay obviously owed a lot to engineering issues as well as concerns about its styling. Bench-testing of the first 1485cc engine had begun bench in March 1966, followed by the first six-cylinder unit in July. By September 1966, ADO16 and ADO17 mules were road testing the new engines. Very early on it was decided the E-Series engine needed more torque and, by October 1967, a 1748cc and a 1797cc unit were being tested. The extra capacity was created by lengthening the stroke.

BMC intended to produce the engine in its new engine plant at Cofton Hackett, adjacent to Longbridge, and was investing the sum of £14 million in machinery alone. Back in August 1967 BMC had boasted of manufacturing 1.5 million vehicles a year by 1970, though quite who was going to buy all these cars in the relatively restricted market the company was operating in is difficult to ascertain. Despite their innovation, the Issigonis front-wheel-drive models had failed to punch through the Common Market trade barrier in enough volume to make BMC sustainable in the long term. And then there was the embryonic threat from Japan which posed a problem for British cars in its traditional Commonwealth markets.

A badly thought-out engine

The E-Series was an extraordinarily badly thought out engine. Intended as both a four-cylinder and six-cylinder unit, the bore size was restricted by the need to fit the 2227cc six-cylinder variant transversely into the upcoming BMC 2200 complete with side-mounted radiator. As related above, BMC did manage to enlarge the four-cylinder E-Series and create 1750 and 1800cc variants in addition to the 1500. One can see that the creation of the six-cylinder E-Series engine was due in part to Alec Issigonis’s belief, often stated in interviews, that smooth six-cylinder engines would find their way into ordinary family cars.

One need for the E-Series engine was for BMC sports cars exported to the USA. In 1968, strong anti-pollution laws were introduced in the United States. Motor manufacturers now had to fit cars sold in the USA with anti-emission equipment which sapped power. The solution was to switch to the more emissions-friendly overhead camshaft layout to alleviate this power loss, hence the development of the E-Series engine. Bizarrely, the ADO14 hatchback was signed off as fit for production the day after testing began by Stanley Dews.

The ADO14 was discussed by the BMC Board which still officially ran the Austin-Morris division in December 1968. Managing Director George Turnbull said a lot of work had been done since September 1968 on improvements. Sales Director Filmer Paradise said that, apart from the disadvantage of low power, the car was fully acceptable. George Turnbull said the four-door saloon version (above) was being delayed until the end of 1969 by which time it was hoped a more powerful 1750cc engine would be available. Despite all the doubts, the ADO14 1500 was signed off for production. Also on the agenda were the ADO16 Austin America, which was running into problems over emissions issues, and power steering problems with the Austin 3 Litre.

First views of the Austin Allegro (ADO67)

Austin Allegro clay model (2) Austin Allegro clay model (2)

During the month, Harry Webster and George Turnbull went to the Pressed Steel Fisher Styling Studio at Cowley to see a clay model of Harris Mann’s proposal for the ADO67, the name of the project that was intended to replace the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16). They were impressed and authorised continued work on the design.

Overseas, that December BLMC’s South African division announced the Mark 2 version of its Blackheath-produced Mini, called the Mini Mk2. Also announced was the Mini 1000S featuring a 52bhp 998cc A-Series engine and a top speed of 83mph.

Step one: modernising the factories

At the end of his first month as Managing Director of Austin-Morris, George Turnbull said that British Leyland would have to install costly new plant to modernise the production facilities of the former BMC car works. In a message to his 90,000 employees, George Turnbull said: ‘Some of our production facilities are really first class but there are some which need to be brought up to date. My objective is to install new plan and equipment, which is second to none in the industry. This will cost a lot of money but we must do it because it is essential that we aim for and achieve the highest possible efficiency otherwise we shall not be able to sell all the cars we are planning to make.’

George Turnbull had set as his target the manufacturing and selling of one million cars a year. However, he warned that this could be done only if the assembly lines got the supplies they needed and could be kept working. Of the widespread redundancies forecast after the Leyland-BMH merger, he said: ‘There has been a lot of nonsense talked about redundancies by the press. No company can categorically say that there will never be redundancy, therefore I cannot promise that there will never be any redundancy. What we must do is to work towards achieving maximum efficiency combining in production the new and better equipment and we must take advantage of new techniques as and when they become available. Above all, we must eliminate any waste.’

Unlike John Barber, George Turnbull was not enthusiastic about a ruthless rationalisation programme at British Leyland. He did embrace reducing the range of paint colours and the standardisation of components, but his main concern was getting the numbers out of the plants. He later said in the 1980s: ‘There was no point in firing everyone in a plant when all of a sudden you have deprived yourself of 250 vans or whatever it was that you were selling. My problem with Donald (Stokes) was to convince him that we couldn’t reduce the numbers until the new product was in. All we could do was trim down, keep the labour working, try and get some discipline, try and improve communications.’

The first managerial appointments

On 12 December 1968, the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland Motor Corporation announced the following appointments:

  • Anthony R. Ham – Sales Operations Manager
  • Clifford W. Baker – Distributor Relations Manager
  • Albert E. Lawrence – Market Planning Manager
  • Michael L. Heelas – Vehicle Marketing Manager (Home and Export)

This seemed very much like the calm before the storm…

Austin-Morris story 1968, The Mini line-up

31 Comments

  1. Harris Mann has in the past made a point that the Allegro styling was ruined by the E Series and the size of the ADO 28 heater.

    I have never entirely brought this story, because the E Series was in the mix from day one of the project (just as it was in the Ado16 in certain markets and planned for the Ado22 reskin at that time) and the styling “mess” of how the lines of the bonnet, wings and grill aperture come together are present in his drawings of a more “wedge”.Allegro he claims he expected it to turn out as.

    The picture above (which if you look carefully has two different bonnet lines), shows that the Allegro styling or lack of it was defined in the early stages of the project and really he and others should have pressed the panic button in 68..

    I also note, that prior to the Allegro, during the the Ado28 project there had had been great friction between Roy Haynes Cowley design team and the management at their bringing in of the Italian studios during the design process, it seems that there was no similar exercise conducted with them for the Allegro (bizarre given the hope to sell it into Europe and strong sales pf the Ado16 in Italy). This makes me wonder if Roy Haynes and or Harris Mann (who came from Ford with Haynes) blocked their involvement in the project.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice that a lot of the Allegro’s most ‘controversial’ styling features were present from the get-go. The inset headlamps, the sheet metal around the grille, the wraparound indicators and the general squinty, hamster-cheeked appearance were there in the famous concept sketch, regardless of what later happend to the bonnet line and side curvature.

      You raise an interesting point about the involvement of Pininfarina (or lack thereof). It would certainly be very ‘on brand’ for both Stokes and the Ford managers brought into Austin-Morris to be strongly against seeking (and paying for!) anything outside that could be done in-house – the same attitude that saw the end of the Healey and Cooper connections. It is frustrating to think how the Allegro could have turned out had Pininfarina worked similar charms on the basic design to what they did on the ADO16 which, as you say, had already proved itself as a popular car across Europe in exactly the mould that the Allegro was supposed to build on.

      • Yet the internally designed Marina looked fine. There was a definite family resemblance in the frontal styling of the Mini Clubman, Maxi and Marina, but the Allegro ended up looking completely different, and not in a good way…

        • @maestrowoff, the Marina was a conservatively designed rwd drive car to take on the likes of the Hillman Hunter and gain fleet sales. It might never have overtaken the Cortina, but outsold its other rivals and did well in the first half of the seventies. Adding an estate helped the cause as it helped to bolster fleet sales and the coupe gained some sales from people wanting a slightly more stylish Marina. Bear in mind in 1973, most buyers wanted rwd cars with simple engineering that was easy to fix.

          • I wasn’t knocking the Marina! I was more commenting that the “weird” styling of the Allegro bore no family resemblance to other BMC products around that time. Or indeed to the later Princess.

    • Harris Mann’s often quoted excuse is a weak cop-out. It is a designers job to fight hard for what he wants, this starts with the basics – proportions and stance. The debate continues with every detail of the design -this is their job!
      However, once the hard points are agreed – and any debate is ended. It is then the designers job to make it look good. This is what they really do well!
      Designers also use this skill when they present alternatives, they can make things that they don’t want look really bad!

      • My point exactly, hard to understand what they were thinking, I cannot think of any European car of the time that had that mess of bonnet, grill and wing design, when did it ever look good.

  2. What a waste the E series engine was, compromised by the need for a 6 cylinder engine for FWD cars which barely sold.

    And despite the driver of having to pass USA emissions tests, none of the sports cars ended up being powered by the E series anyway

    • I did wonder if the effort should have been put into making an OHC version of the B series a few years before the O series came along.

      A 6 cylinder version With the same bore & stroke as the 1489cc B series wouldn’t have been too hard to develop from this.

        • You might be right, I was explaining how a suitable engine could have been develop from existing units without needed to come up with a whole new design.

          Another possibility was an updated the A series with OHC.

          A 6 cylinder version using the same bore & stroke of the 1275cc version would have been 1912cc.

  3. The 6 cylinder did exist, made in Australia around the 1622cc four, a batch of engines were sent to Abingdon for testing in the MGB.

  4. Would it be correct to say that E-Series issues aside, there was nothing inherently wrong with the 1797cc E-Series that was being tested rather the 1748cc version was only produced instead in order to not overlap with the 1.8 B-Series whilst still providing a large 6-cylinder?

    It would have certainly helped matters if BMC at minimum (before the B-Series tooling was completely worn out) approved the 106 hp 1998cc B-Series prototype engine by BMC engine-man Stan Johnson, which dated back to 1964-65 yet inexplicably was not considered a clever enough update of the original B-Series engine to warrant serious consideration. This particular unit displaced 1998cc and featured siamesed cylinder bores and offset conrods in order to use the existing 1.2/1.5-litre cylinder block.

    The ideal would have been for the E-Series to be developed as proper 1500-2000cc 4-cylinder / 2200-3000cc replacement for the B-Series and C-Series, yet an earlier B-Series enlargement to 2-litres would have at least allowed the 1797cc E-Series to replace the 1.8 B-Series and enabled a 2.7-litre 6-cylinder.

    In retrospect it turned out the E-Series did not really need to be restricted in terms of displacement (or bore centres and usage of siamised bores) when the side-mounted radiator of ADO17 ended up being mounted to the front, which though would have not really resolved the engine’s many issues would have still allowed the company to ditch both the B-Series and C-Series (and in turn filtered down to the sportscars and been used in the US market).

    Would have been interesting seeing what the stylists and other Italian design studios could have done with the Allegro, from Mitchelotti (surprisingly absent given his work on ADO22 that became the Victoria / Apache) to Pininfarina (albeit Peugeot theme rather than the Pininfarina 1100/1800). Giugiaro is another given that the styling for what became the Alfasud was allegedly proposed for Citroen to use in the GS during the latter’s development.

    • Giugiaro Alfasud design is very similar looking to the Allegro – it has a dumpy looking appearance and silhouette but has far better detailing. The Allegro wings drop lower than the bonnet line, and the front grill is sort of squashed. If BL had gone a similar look to the Alfasud and lifted the line of the wings to match the bonnet, and put a full width grill asper the Alfa, would it have been so contentious a looking car?

      • There is a resemblance and later four headlamp Alfasuds do bear a passing resemblance to the 1979 Allegro, which looked a lot easier on the eye than the 1973 model. Also like the Allegro a flawed car, due to the Sud’s terrible rust issues, where some cars could fall apart after a couple of years.

  5. It is interesting to compare some of the detailing of the non-sporting versions of the Series 3 Alfasud with the Maestro (that features elements that hark back to the Allegro and Maxi it replaced) as well as the front-end detailing of the Scimitar GTE (from SE6 to Middlebridge) and the sporting Alfasud models with the Series 3 Allegro.

    Could an Allegro that featured a composite of the detailing from the above 3 cars have worked to significantly improve the its styling, in practice (and perhaps photoshop skilled contributors can help) am envisioning an Allegro hatchback with a more Maestro and Alfasud like rear as well as a Maestro, Alfasud and Scimitar GTE (from SE6 to Middlebridge) variation of an early Allegro Series 3 front end.

    • Another car whose detailing could have potentially worked to improve the Allegro’s styling would have to be the Argentinian built versions of the Peugeot 504 (just google Peugeot 504 Argentina), especially if Pininfarina was involved.

    • I have done a rather bodged attempt (cut and shut – havent changed the colour so it looks weird – like a 1970s crash repair. It does look a lot better! Don’t know how to put it on here though

        • Look forward to seeing it.

          In other respects the Allegro could have also probably incorporated elements from the larger Princess and later Ambassador as an in-house attempt at improving the styling even if the latter two are not without their own issues. The Mini Clubman hatchback prototype also provides a possible in-house template to improve the Allegro at the rear (via the Series 3) and give it hatchback.

          Essentially am thinking of an Allegro resembling a downscaled Princess hatchback with additional windows in the C-pillars (also present in the Maxi), front-end could range from shrunken Princess clone to Allegro Series 3 meets Reliant Scimitar GTE (SE6 to Middlebridge). Such a model could be followed by an early-80s rebody resembling a downscaled Ambassador with Maestro-like front-end and Ambassador / Maestro style rear.

          • How about something like a smaller version of the ADO68/14 prototype on this site, to follow that ADO68/14 itself as the improved/redeveloped-before-introduction Maxi, together establishing a progressive familiy look for the 1970s, in the meantime making the BL Princess redundant?!

          • ADO68/14 did escape me as a possible in-house styling element from which to a better styled Allegro could draw upon, however only one picture of the clay model from the side is available.

          • Thanks Keith

            Agree that is it an improvement of the front-end.

            From this angle part of me wonders whether the addition of an MG badge in place of the Alfa Romeo badge or a red body-coloured front-grille of the MG Maestro would have also add or detracted from the photoshop.

  6. Downside with the Issigonis FWD arrangement is its height. Mini and ADO16 got away with the A-series variant. But E-series FWD is really tall, Maxi gets away with it because its a bigger car, Allegro just doesn’t. Alfasud has a boxer engine so designers could style the front without having to allow for a block of flats under the bonnet.

    • To be fair the related S-Series demonstrates the E-Series height could have been reduced to allow for a lower bonnet line, obviously the Allegro would have still been burdened with the Issigonis FWD arrangement and the lack of a 5-speed gearbox (whether Maxi or Jack Knight type).

      Even had the E-Series engine’s height remained the same, a different front-end could have still done wonders via a more Maestro or Reliant GTE arrangement.

      • True, but if Allegro had been designed for A-series FWD only then the bonnet, scuttle, waistline would have neen measurably lower and the dumpy frumpy look avoided. Metro proves this.
        But Cofton Hackett factory was built to make the E-series and with Maxi not selling I guess BLMC wanted Allegro to use the spare capacity.

        • Likely the case yet while the Fiat 128 might have been able to get away with being available with 1100-1300cc engines like with ADO16 earlier on, not sure the same could say with the Austin Allegro short of possibility earlier A-Plus and A-OHC with 5-speed gearbox or an end-on gearbox arrangement to help mitigate the height of the E-Series block (that could be further aided by a further S-Series style reduction in height).

          Another ideal would have been for BMC to develop a slightly upscaled 1000-1600cc A-Series half-relation of sorts for launch in the early/mid-1960s akin to the Nissan A OHV / Nissan E OHC, which would have butterflied away the need for the tall E-Series engine to be used in the Allegro as well as allowed for the height of the Allegro’s bonnet line to be reduced.

          That just leaves the issue of the bulky heating system from the Marina to deal with, though not sure what was available within BL at the time as far as alternative heating systems were concerned or if the Marina’s heating system needed to be bulky to begin with.

    • Would have to agree regarding the front-end of the sectioned Allegro.

      Surprised about the sectioned Allegro’s C-pillar precluding additional windows when the non-sectioned part would suggest otherwise, a smaller rear window in a redesigned rear would have both allowed for the addition of a hatchback and additional windows in the C-pillar.

  7. The front end of the early 1970s Saab 99 has the same visual ingredients as the Allegro although put together in a much tidier way. Like the others here I’ve never been convinced by Harris Mann’s story of the evolution of the Allegro styling. Changes may have been needed due to the E series being tall etc etc but in the end the front end styling was let down by poor proportions and detailing.

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