Opinion : Leyland ADO74 – the contemporary perspective

Autocar-ADO74

It’s interesting comparing what we think now with contemporary consensus. I like to think that, in my historic writing, I tend to err on the side of reporting the contemporary view, rather than taking a retrospective perspective. Take, for instance, the Austin Metro – today’s mainstream view is that it’s funny little hatchback that was loved by old people, rusted away too quickly and tended to break down too much. ‘Fanny in a Metro,’ was how someone described Metro drivers to me recently…

However, step back to 1980 and its launch, and the Metro was seen as the second coming. The excitement in the build up to its launch was palpable and, all over the media, there was continued speculation about how it was going to look, what it would do to the gallon and, most importantly, how it was going to save British Leyland. This clipping sent to me by Julian Marsh, the brains behind the excellent Citroënët website, shows just where the weekly magazine Autocar was in its thinking.

The image of the ADO74 prototype will have been like a bolt from the blue – and it was there to help promote Rob Golding’s upcoming book about the Mini to celebrate its 20th birthday. Little was known about the ADO74 project at the time – the book opened it up, to be extended when the Metro was launched later on – so this would have been news to most readers back in July 1979. The point Autocar made at the time was this smooth-looking hatchback with overtones of the Colt 1400 (what the Mitsubishi Mirage was called in the UK back then) was far more individual looking than the ‘mighty Mini’ was, based on scoop photography at the time.

Reading between the lines, one gets the sense that, although Autocar had some inside knowledge of the Metro, referring to it by its correct ‘Mini Metro’ moniker, it might not have been as excited by it as the rest of us were. It was almost looking back wistfully at the ADO74, hinting that it was a missed opportunity. Interestingly, that has always been my take on this project and, although we’ll never know what the definitive styling was going to be, there’s no doubt that this technically orthodox, but interestingly-styled supermini was sized and pitched correctly to fight the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo on equal terms.

Without too many delays (and further funding from the Government), it should have hit the market in around 1977, which would have seen it meet the Fiesta head-on. As it was, the Metro’s launch – some three and-a-half years later cost the company some impetus, even though it was a huge sales success in the UK at least from the moment it was launched. So, the question this poses is a simple one – was Autocar’s view that the non-appearance of the ADO74 was a missed opportunity, a vital stumble, that helped seal the company’s fate? Or was it a great white elephant that was put into perspective by the Metro’s later success?

Today’s commentator might say it was right not to go forward with it, but looking at it from the contemporary standpoint, I’m not so sure.

Austin Ant/Firefly ADO74 prototype

Keith Adams

18 Comments

  1. Err. Depends on what version we actually got. The page on this website shows so many designs it was bonkers. That and the confusing issue of the h/k series engine that was supposed to power it. If it was Harris’ weird creation shown above I think the answer is a deffo no.

    • Agreed. The TR7-inspired 3-door hatchback proposal is probably the best of the lot IMHO, at least from the side pending any new images of the front and back of that particular proposal.

      Even had the styling, engine indecision and overall project drift been nipped in the bud or drifted in a more beneficial direction (e.g. 1300cc limit was ditched). There is the question of whether other bodystyles were part of the ADO74 project beyond the 3-door hatchback, even Ford gave consideration to (VW Derby/Renault 7-like) 2/4-door three-box saloon and (VW Polo-like) 3-door estate variants of the mk1 Ford Fiesta. The 4-door three-box saloon had it been produced would have opened up the possibility the mk1/mk2 Fiesta could have featured a 5-door hatchback bodystyle had Ford been inclined years before the mk3 Fiesta.

      At best it would probably be a less space efficient Harris Mann styled composite of the Peugeot 104 with elements of the mk1 Volkswagen Polo. Maybe the platform could have become something much more, similar to how the Peugeot 104 platform formed the basis of the Citroen Visa and the Peugeot 205 with a more conventional gearbox in place of the in-sump layout (and the H/K-Series engine evolving in a more PSA TU like direction).

      It was probably best ADO74 did not go ahead yet that is not to say there aren’t elements which could have been salvaged and repurposed like the engine (in more TU-like form).

  2. I think the problem the Ado74 would have had, is that it was like the Metro too late to save BL, because the failure of the Allegro to replace the Ado16, meant that BMC european sales net work had all but gone, which ment they never could have cleared the volume to price it competitively against Fiesta, Polo, Renault 5, 127.

    Talking to a former PSA manager about how the 205 saved the company, that, that would not have been possible, had they not had the opportunity to leverage the former Chrysler Europe network in the UK, Netherlands and Scandinavia where they had had until then virtually no penetration For example, how often did you see a 104 as opposed to a Renault 4 or 127 in the UK in the 70s?

    • Were Peugeot really in such a perilous state in 1983? though they obviously took a hit having to absorb Chrysler Europe.

      The 305 & 505 seemed to be reasonable sellers & earlier the 104 seemed to sell in numbers good enough make it worth investing in a dealer network. Maybe not as well as the Renault 5 & Fiat 127, but I’ve seen plenty of 1970s street pictures that has a 104 in shot.

      • Know that Peugeot’s acquisitions of Citroen and Chrysler Europe put quite a dent in Peugeot’s own product plans during that period with numerous projects either being cancelled or delayed (with Peugeot reputedly wanting to use the unbuilt PRV V8 in the 604).

        Even the Peugeot 305 was originally planned to be all-new under Programme J (or J16) with a 1600cc engine and 5-speed gearbox instead of derived from the Peugeot 304 prior to its acquisition of Citroen, while its later acquisition of Chrysler Europe ended a joint-venture with Fiat for what became the FIRE engine (see Italian and French wiki articles on the Fiat FIRE). .

        https://www.facebook.com/cardesignarchives/posts/509813716053636

  3. The metro was popular, it did the job it was supposed to do . It was easy to see out of and park. Easy to drive, and had a good broad range with regards to specification. I don’t think it was supposed to set the world in fire, it was great for popping to the shops and to see friends and relatives.
    It was easy for me to work on as a mechanic, and we sold loads of them. Rust was not an issue as they were new.

  4. BL had a rash of fairly radicallyvstyled models at the time The Rover did well, but the Princess, XJS and TR7 were mostly seen as strange, u g ly maybe. Then there was the SD2 which even Spen King thought was awful. Maybe the final version of the Metro was playing it safe. Ditto the Maestro.

  5. Is it me but does the upper part of the cabin look slightly like a shrunken version of the AMC Pacer with the the thick B pillar and large glass area of the side windows.

  6. From the pics it looks like BL’s team had been recycling existing door designs again – this time from the Porsche 928?

  7. Not having this car on the market was a mistake. It would have given BL an entry in the small hatchback market three years earlier than they achieved with the Metro in 1980. Had this car been produced, think of the potential follow-on moves:
    – A 4-door version with longer wheelbase to part-replace the Allegro.
    – With Metro no longer needed the Maestro could have been brought to market much sooner giving a stronger presence in the mid-range market.
    ADO74 may have cost a huge amount of money but not producing it meant that they lost out on an even bigger amount of money from sales of future cars.

    • Yes,exactly. BL just never seemed to learn the seemingly obvious lesson that people buy the cars that they find attractive and desirable. Instead they kept on serving up desperately unappealing variations on the FWD, gears-in-sump, bus driver steering wheel, and heaving hydrolastic/gas suspended recipe. It was like dishing up tofu to a public that wanted a tasty burger. Ford gave people what they wanted, not what they felt they should want. And they refined the art of garnishing their simple burgers the made them all the more desirable.

  8. A big mistake not to have a supermini on the market by 1977. But not THAT supermini

    The Metro wasn’t perfect, but did the job fine. No reason why it couldn’t have been launched earlier if they hadn’t cancelled ADO74 and had to start again, as it hardly broke new ground with its technology

    • Second your view on the potential for something like ADO88/Metro appearing much earlier, yet wonder how feasible it would have been for it to feature an end-on gearbox years before the R6?

      After all if the Maestro/Montego made use of a Volkswagen-sourced gearbox (possibly from the Golf), could an alternate earlier end-on gearbox equipped ADO88/Metro have made use of the gearbox from the smaller mk1 Volkswagen Polo (assuming the latter’s gearbox was of similar size as the later PSA-derived unit used the R6 Metro/100)?

      Any concerns about an earlier ADO88/Metro being too small against the ever growing Supermini opposition could have been remedied by a larger LM10/Maestro-derived 1000-1600cc Supermini slightly smaller than the Allegro, basically allowing BL a relatively low-cost two-pronged way to attack the Supermini sector. It would not be the first carmaker to take the approach of producing two differently sized Superminis concurrently.

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