Blog : Happy 50th, Austin 1100

Keith Adams

Austin 1100

The birthdays are coming thick and fast right now – but this one should really strike a chord with AROnline regulars. Fifty years ago, the Austin 1100 went on sale in the UK. Okay, so it might not have been the first flavour of ADO16 to hit the market – that honour went to the Morris 1100 in 1962 – but it was by far the best known of the breed and, even today, most older readers who remember them on the road, as street furniture, are likely to refer to pretty much any 11oo by Sir Herbert’s surname.

Once the Austin 1100 was up to speed in the dealerships and production ramped up to 6000 per week, it helped cement the popular small BMC as the UK’s best-selling car, comfortably pulling ahead of anything remotely comparable. And if nothing else, the massive success of the 1100 proved that us Brits weren’t – and aren’t – wedded to conservatively-engineered boring saloons.

Minor and Mini fans might disagree with this assertion, but the 1100 was undoubtedly Sir Alec Issigonis’ greatest production car. Yes, the Morris Minor was good to drive and is still one of the cornerstones of the classic car scene, while the Mini was a small car revolution that went on to sell more than five million and would end up proving that you don’t need power to have influence. However, the 1100 took the best elements of both and combined them, with an added dash of Italian style, to make a wonderful small family car that redefined expectations, and which still stacks up today dynamically.

That said, most family car buyers weren’t that concerned by chuckable handling and go-kart steering – they wanted a dependable friend, suited to ferrying kids around and carrying-out their family duties, while being cheap to run and easy to service. The fact that Issigonis had suffused the 1100 with much of the Mini’s brilliant dynamics was merely a happy side-benefit of buying BMC’s small family car. Without doubt, BMC had hit the jackpot with the 1100 – how could things possibly go wrong from there on in?

Well, we know that it did. Don’t let subsequent events muddy the Austin 1100’s brilliance, though – celebrate the fact that, if you bought one now, you can still enjoy a car that will put a smile on your face. How can it not with such talkative steering and roll-free cornering? There are other amiable eccentricities that will capture your heart – the unique whine of that engine-gearbox package, the bouncy, but level ride, and the oddly upright driving position behind that strangely horizontal steering wheel.

Happy 50th birthday, Austin 1100 – here’s to the next half-century.

Keith Adams


  1. My first driving experience was in a K Reg 1300 at the age of 11 (on private roads) so I have a soft place in my heart for this car.

    But even taking this into account, I think I am safe to say it was the high point for BMC, it frequently out sold the Cortina and was a great export success for the company.

    Even then though, it cost too much to make, was too unreliable and too many sales were lost to strikes for it to save BMC.

    Then Leyland first lost key sales volume by dropping it from Morris dealers to give extra space to the Marina, then took too long bringing its replacement to the market.

    Then when they did, it was the Allegro, which only managed half the volume of the 1100/1300 in as many years.

  2. Two of my friend’s had Austin 1100’s (both light blue). I was always impressed by how roomy they were, despite a compact exterior size. My brother once owned a Morris 1300GT and that seemed to deliver a peppy performance.

    I never thought the Allegro was as good a replacement, though I know many will disagree.

  3. It’s the settled position of AROnline that the Allegro was less appealing, and certainly less commercially successful than the 1100…

    So you’re right, Hilton…

  4. I’m too young to remember but my Uncle often mentions the one he had in the late 1970s.

    He felt it was good to drive & roomy, but a little underpowered with the 1100 engine, especially with a full load.

    This was proved when the big end failed on the way to a holiday.

  5. This car is one of the things that brought me to this site in the first instance 7 years ago, as my dad’s first car was a dark blue Morris 1300. It still warms my heart when I see one.

  6. I think the real star of this range was the Vanden Plas model, which created the market for small, luxury cars and in 1300 form was as quick as a 2 litre car with the same refinement.

  7. Only seems like yesterday,driving my 1971 Austin 1300 GT around the roads of Nottinghamshire in 1985,aged only 18!
    Happy Birthday ADO16.

  8. It is the car that brought me to this website too. I still have my dad’s light blue 1970 Austin 1300.
    Mr. Adams, thank you for this great article and Happy 50th birthday.

  9. @3 Thanks Keith, ADO16 at 50 – I was only 8 years old when they launched! Agree with Glenn about the lovely VDP versions too. And let’s not forget the “Riley Kestrel” – great name for a car!

  10. Odd how, as you say, everyone remembers this as the Austin 1100, despite the equal presence of the Morris version. I wonder why this is – is it just because the Austin was made for a few years longer, or something else?

    Oh, and wouldn’t it have been great if BL had let it evolve, with a hatch back and maybe even Issi’s new 9X engine into the ’70s… Anyway, this is the car, above all others, that should come to mind when Austin is mentioned, not the disappointing follow ups.

  11. Also, as much as I love the Morris Minor (I own one!), I can’t understand the decision of BMC to leave the Minor and A40 in production when the 1100 came out. They couldn’t meet demand for the 1100 as it was, so why tie up capacity with older models? It makes it look as though they didn’t have complete faith in their innovative new car

  12. I remember buying my Ex a VP Princess Auto, ok not an Austin 1100 (happy birthday) buts still an Ado16

    I loved it, was a fab relaxing and comfortable car with bags of charm. Great to cruise around the Devon country lanes in, especially after having driven a van flat out all day.

    It really was the original supermini, After ADO16, nearly every modern car in its class was styled and engineered using much of the ADO16 DNA even to the present day.

    Auto Blanchi and Fiat may have added a hatch, some conventional (cheap) suspension instead of Hydrolastic, and moved the gearbox from the sump to an end on position, but everything esle is ADO16,

    Its a shame really that the Mini stole all the attention.

  13. I cannot agree that it was the best known. As someone else has said, its market share was broadly equivalent to the Morris . Brand loyalty was very strong then and although it must have choked Leonard Lord to think of it, by then it was the Morris cars ( Minor, Mini-minor – the Austin was called the Seven originally , Oxford etc) which made the running. The A35 and Farina A40 were never sellers on the same scale

  14. Let’s not also forget the Austin 1300GT, similar in performance to the Vanden Plas 1300, but a little less ornate and always looked good in furious orange with a vinyl roof. This really was a complete range of cars with two door and four door saloons, a useful estate, sports versions and luxury versions. Only the Cortina could compete for the similar level of versions and that cost more to buy and run.
    Also with regard to Graham@ 1 comment about the ADO16 being unreliable, I’d dispute that. Yes the rear subframes could rot if not cared for and being fwd with Hydrolastic suspension made it more complicate to maintain than its predecessors, but mechanically the ADO16 was a strong car and you still saw thousands being used as cheap runabouts well into the eighties.

  15. Ive recently developed a soft spot for the old ADO16. Ahead of its time in truth.
    I know for certain, they were not that popular with mechanics of the time. Gearboxes were weak, they did rust badly.
    You got a lot more car for your money with a Cortina. Even if it was very conventional mechanically.
    If we are led to believe is true. Ford made money with the Cortina, where as BMC made very little proffit with the ADO16

  16. The Cortina was a size above the ADO16, but the wide range of models must have persuaded Ford to bring out as many variants of the Cortina as possible as the Cortina couldn’t overtake the ADO16 in the sales charts until 1973. Mind you by then the Mark 3 Cortina was seen as far more modern and the Escort was stealing sales as it was seen as more hip. Yet the Escort 1300 E could never rival the Vanden Plas 1300 for the quality of its fittings and also on performance.

  17. @18 Glenn… my brother once owned a Morris 1300GT in that Orange + vinyl roof – great times! I agree the Escort 1300E couldn’t match the VP 1300 in fittings, but felt each of these cars was aimed at a different buyer (younger in the case of the Escort). Loved both the Escort 1300E & ADO16 though.

  18. The cars were ahead of their time and, I agree, Issigonis and BMC at their best. However, they spent too much time and effort messing about with the front to create the six badge-engineered versions (seven, if you include Innocenti).
    They should have tinkered with the back more. A notchback, like they did with the the Austin Victoria in Spain and Apache in South Africa could have moved into the metal-for-your-money market against the Cortina, while a hatchback could have have innovated in the market at the same time as the Simca 1100 and Renault 16.

  19. @16 what i meant by unreliable was that its warranty claims wiped out the profit margin on the car for BMC, so despite its success BMC could not generate the cash to replace it.

  20. My first and second cars were both Austin 1100s, the first a 4-door, the second a 2-door. As I remember it they were excellent to drive, and very stable. Downside was always rust, rust, and then more rust ! I did do a lot of Waxoyling on the 2-door, so it seemed to last a bit better. Of course in those days, cars were ready for the scrap heap well before 100k miles. In those days the car was for winter as I was a very keen motorcyclist in those days.

    I think almost everybody in Birmingham must have driven one at some time, as they were extremely popular.

  21. Rust! I remember my uncle Ted, who worked at Pressed Steel, telling me how after a strike had resulted in a stock of ADO16 bodies being stored outside, being told to bring them in and to go over them with wire brushes before sending them off to the painting line. Crazy times!

  22. Back in the early 90’s remember parking my 306 next to one, depite the 30 years between the designs you could see the links in proportions and lines. It gives us an idea of what the ADO16 could have looked like had it evolved like the Golf.

  23. I was working (temp. job) at a dealership in Liverpool when the first delivery of the 1100 was made (before announcement) All and sundry were amazed by the car (dark blue if my memory serves) as it was so different from anything else. Needless to say the trade plates were dug out of the cupboard and every one from the MD downward gave it a trash round the local roads–and were equally amazed by how it went and handled. I even got a go (much later when it was quiet!) I eventually got to drive many more of them as they came on the hire fleet.
    Happy Birthday ADO 16!

  24. Did they have the equivalent of Rover’s “Project Drive” when the brought out the MK 3 Austin 1300?.
    Mine has the following subtle differences. Bumper over riders deleted back and front. One number plate lamp instead of 2. Metal shrouding between radiator and inner wing deleted. 3 bobbin voltage regulator for the Dynamo replaced by 2 bobbin one as fitted in Morris Minor !.Cheap sticky back plastic covering the dashboard. The only good bit they did was to replace the electric fuel pump fitted in the boot with a mechanical one but this was between the engine and the bulkhead so it must have been a nightmare to work on !

  25. Both my friend and I had white Austin 1300GTs when we were in our late teens. (Mid 50’s now 🙁 ) Mine was H reg & my friend’s was J reg. Tim’s went like crap through a goose but mine was more like a arthritic slug. Comressions were good and all the settings were correct. It also leaked into the interior like a colander and the carpets floated after heavy rain. The source turned out to be the heater plenum, a common rot place I’m told. I spent more than a few hours upside down with the heater out trying to repair the leak but I wasn’t totally successful.
    I’d fitted a set of alloy wheels to it which I thought ‘set it off’.
    I only found out the reason for my car’s lethargy after I sold it. It was a choked exhaust and the car was much more rapid when the new ower had an exhaust fitted. Something I always check now. LOL.

    Tim wasn’t so lucky to keep His car long enough to sell, it was stolen never to be seen again. I blame Him for not fitting a alarm, a must in the days of FS series keys. There is an immaculate white GT residing in my neighbourhood. I often wonder………

    Despite the leaks I loved the comfort and the handling and look back fondly at the few photos I have of it.

  26. Funny, I always think of the ADO16 as a Morris – maybe because that was the first variant to appear (Austin about a year later, I think). From memory, the MG 1100 came out shortly after the Morris and before the Austin – quite serious ‘badge engineering’ apart from the different noses, as they each had a different dashboard – semi-circular conventional speedo in the Morris, strip speedos in the MG and Austin, with timber surroundings (and a lidded glovebox) in the MG and shiny alinium in the Austin. My father reckoned our early MG was the first British car he’d had that could easily keep pace and annoy French cars over typical Continental roads of the time – the Hydrolastic suspension was so good, even Chassee Deformee (“Deformed Chassis”) warning signs no longer held any terrors.

  27. The MG was also a very good looker with its largely two-tone schemes . Incidentally, it was ” chaussee deforme” . The u makes all the difference, rather like the old joke about the difference between couchons and cochons !

  28. My first car was a Vanden Plas 1300, (72) model back in ’86…. Whilst my mates all had Escorts, Chevettes, Dolomites and Beetles they all had a soft spot for my VP with its twin carbs, leather trim and picnic table…
    I sold it in 87 much to my loss it was the finest small car ever! I still miss it

  29. And who can forget the Morris 1100 registered RDX364J which starred alongside John Cleese in Clockwise.

    One part for the 1100 was kept going long after the car itself ceased production – the rear lights, which were also used on the FX4 taxi from 1969 until it was finally replaced in 1997. Even today the rear lights on the successor TX1, TXII and TX4 take their styling cues from the rear lights used on the 1100 and FX4.

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