Keith Adams on why things could have been so different for BMC’s swansong executive car…
The Austin 3 Litre… We’ve all got opinions on this car but, let’s be honest, most of them aren’t exactly favourable. The swansong of the British Motor Corporation, launched in 1968, was a flagship car, aimed at discerning executives who valued comfort and luxury above all else. It was an interesting car, which was moving away from the fashion of the time.
Since 1963, the Rover and Triumph 2000s had changed the face of the executive market in the UK. Their arrival on the scene had rendered full-sized cars such as the Humber Super Snipe and Vauxhall Cresta PB fairly irrelevant, as these smaller upstarts offered much of the performance and luxury of the traditional big hitters – and all of the status. Five years on, and it’s easy to see why the 3 Litre was seen as old hat when it was launched and that commercial failure was an inevitable result.
At the time, it was priced well and offered a great deal of metal for the money. In 1970, you’d need £1770 to buy a new 3 Litre and that was pretty competitive when looking at the opposition. It was comparatively priced with the Citroën DS20, Ford Zodiac, Opel Commodore, Triumph 2.5 PI and Vauxhall Viscount, while the Jaguar XJ6 in manual 2.8-litre form was a little up the price scale at £1999.
Austin 3 Litre: killed by plain looks or shared doors?
However, plain, dated looks, carry-over doors and engine were a put-off, limiting desirability in a status-conscious market. The end result was that 9992 cars were sold in three years… We do, though, love the 3 Litre at AROnline – from certain angles, it looks great and it has high-speed chassis control and ride quality that a Jaguar would be envious of. Oh, and it smells lovely inside…
I can’t help wondering, though, if the 3 Litre would have enjoyed a kinder fate had it been in a different place in BMC’s development schedule. As you’ll read in the Austin 3 Litre development story, the ADO61’s shape was all set in 1963, a year before the launch of the 1800.
That had me thinking – what would have happened if the 3 Litre had been launched before the Austin and Morris 1800?
Would you buy a family car that looks like the flagship?
Think about that for a moment… In a stroke, the perceptions of both cars would have been changed. Being first on the market, the 3 Litre would not have been accused of sharing its doors with a more humble car and buyers wouldn’t have made the obvious comparisons when they saw the 3 Litre in their local dealer.
Had it hit the market a little sooner, it would also have looked less like an antique and might have had a fighting chance of getting itself established – especially had the more upscale Wolseley 3 Litre had also hit the market…
And would the BMC 1800 have benefited too from the shuffle in the launch programme? More than likely… Imagine driving a family saloon that had a clear family resemblance with the flagship? Well, that seems to work for BMW and Mercedes-Benz.