Opinion : Sometimes Italian design isn’t the best…

ADO88 proposal by Pininfarina

Regular readers of AROnline will be fully conversant about the relationship between BMC and Pininfarina. There’s no denying that, when these two joined forces, industrial magic ensued. From the Austin A40 to the MGB GT, this was a partnership that delivered results with a string of sensible cars which combined well-judged styling with tried-and-tested engineering. So where does the Pininfarina ADO88 proposal fit into all of this?

There was also the BMC Farina saloon range in four- and six-cylinder forms, which were considered solid and dependable, if not terrible exciting to drive. No wonder they sold well both in the UK and overseas. The most commercially-successful Pininfarina effort from BMC was undoubtedly the 1100/1300 range. During its 1962-1974 production run, more than 2,000,000 were sold in Austin, Morris, MG, Wolseley, Riley and Vanden Plas forms while being assembled in Spain, South Africa, Malta, Yugoslavia, Italy, among many other countries.

After that, things went a little bit sour for BMC and Pininfarina, not through want of trying by the Italians. The BMC 1800/2200 range was a technical masterpiece, with front-wheel drive, Hydrolastic suspension and superb ride and handling. However, it was a compromised effort and, although Pininfarina would have carried the can for the styling, the Italian company’s involvement really was to effect a light facelift of Issigonis’s package, which was already pretty much set in stone.

The BMC plan by Pininfarina

Pininfarina had grander ideas for BMC, and you only have to see the Aerodynamica concept car from 1967, and its smaller brother, the Pininfarina 1100, to see where the Italians would like to have taken the British company. But by the time these cars appeared, the damage had been done, and BMC’s senior management was increasingly keen to design its own cars. As for the Italian 1800 and 11o0, they weren’t seriously considered for production, and were rejected for being too expensive and complex for cost-effective mass production.

So, the Morris Marina, Austin Maxi, and Princess emerged from their factories wearing clothes penned in the UK.  We know that Pininfarina produced a concept for the Morris Marina, but it was rejected on the grounds of being too expensive to build – and, in retrospect, this was probably not a bad decision given its, er, challenging looks. You can see for yourself on the Morris Marina concepts and prototypes page. Still, it was better than Michelotti’s effort. It also did some work on the 9X programme, but it was more a case of building full-size mockups of an existing Longbridge design.

And on to 1975, and Pininfarina is still in the game. As well as producing a terrific proposal for the Triumph SD2, we had the Pininfarina ADO88 proposal. Austin-Morris invited the Italian design house to come up with a proposal for the ADO88 supermini programme. But you know the drill… it was passed over for being, yes, too costly to manufacture.

Modernism for the Metro

Was Austin Morris suffering a little from the dreaded ‘not invented here’ syndrome? As can be seen from the accompanying photographs, what the Italians came up with looks conventionally good and, aside from an awkward vertical feature line aft of the rear side window, the complex headlamp and grille arrangement, rather flat sides and heavy C-pillars, could easily pass for something from the 1980s. Think Peugeot 205 viewed through beer goggles and you’re not a million miles away.

There’s a lot to like about this car. The headlamp/grille arrangement is intriguing, and would have given the car a very definite identity. The wraparound bumpers are also very city-friendly, and front and side visibility also look good.

It’s difficult to judge from the image alone what size the Pininfarina ADO88 proposal is, but looking at the top image of the car sat on Mini 10in wheels, it looks a little shorter than the Metro, and closer to the Innocenti 90/120. So in terms of size in relation to the opposition, it was going to be on the small size – especially compared with the fast-selling Renault 5. However, given project leader Charles Griffin’s obsession with space efficiency, you can be sure that it’s at least as roomy as the Metro ended up being. So, a great car around town, but one that would have been left behind in the 1980s once superminis started to really grow.

Despite these positive points, I think that BL ended up doing the right thing by going with the Metro as it was. The packaging was excellent and, once a little additional work by David Bache’s team had been undertaken on it when it became the LC8, it looked interesting, cohesive and surprisingly timeless. It would have been nice to incorporate the Pininfarina’s wraparound bumpers and perhaps more interesting headlights and grille, but I suspect that this would have been a costly exercise.

So, with the Metro, it looks like Britain beat the Italians. But seeing this car does leave another question hanging in the air: would a Pininfarina Allegro have been better? Or a Maestro? Or a Triumph TR7? Sadly, we’ll never know…

ADO88 proposal by Pininfarina
ADO88 proposal by Pininfarina

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

9 Comments

  1. I don’t absolutely hate it. I can imagine that if put into production I might even have liked it. The metro is not exactly a stunner. If asked I think I prefer the metro, but again, difficult to stay after all these years if I would have preferred this to the Metro at the time.

  2. While the Pininfarina ADO88 proposal could have done with more refining (likely changing as a result of being productionized) and would have probably looked better with a few more inches in length like how ADO88 grew slightly to become LC8/Metro (the former reputedly being anywhere from 4-7 inches shorter then the Metro), it is difficult to judge this proposal in the absence of any images showing the rear.

    Perhaps this styling theme by Pininfarina or some styling cues could have been better executed had it been applied on something larger like the Allegro, Princess and Maestro/Montego?

  3. Pininfarina certainly seemed to like large windows around this time! Combined with the tiny length does give the car slightly toy like proportions

    Their SD2 proposal is by far the best one of their rejected ones

  4. One of the problems is that in both photos, there’s nothing alongside to give any sense of size or scale, so you can’t tell if the car is 2ft high or 22ft high.

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