AROnline Contributor Martin Williamson says that MG is a given for him – like several other members of our Editorial Team, he has a soft spot for the ADO16 range, so that begs this question: MG 1100 or MG 1300 MkII?
I have always had a fascination with the BMC 1100 and 1300 (commonly referred to as ADO16, the BMC project number covering all the variants) having had an Austin Apache as a first car. These cars get under my skin, and I always find myself buying another after selling one.
For those not familiar with the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16), it’s not a simple matter of choosing the bigger engine for more performance. The 1100 was launched in 1962 while the 1300 was launched as the MkII from 1968 and brought with it various changes which may or may not appeal to different folks.
When it comes to the MGs, I’ve had three 1300 models and currently own an 1100. Why the retrograde step to an earlier 1100 or MkI as it became known retrospectively? Partly, I suspect for the same reason that I also have a 1966 MGB GT MkI after having had a 1980 MGB GT. For me, it’s the earlier cars that have the period charm.
The 1100, like the MGB GT MkI, is what I think of as the last of the old-style classics before the safety-mandated era. Interestingly, the 1100/1300 range actually has a lot in common with the MGB and the changes ran in parallel – so, just as the MG 1300 MkII gained flush internal door handles and padded door pulls, so, too, did the MGB, using the same parts. Just as the toggle switches gave way to safer plastic rocker switches on the 1300, along with a column-mounted ignition switch, so they did on the MGB. If safety is your thing, then the later cars are going to be the ones you would want to be in should you have an accident.
On the other hand, if you like dipping your headlights with a foot-operated switch, and you love the sound of the toggle switches clicking satisfyingly into position and that little green tell-tale on the end of the indicator stalk is your thing, then the earlier cars are the ones to go for.
In short, by the 1960s, the engineering was such that most classic cars from that period will keep up with, or even be held up by, modern traffic. Sure, the stopping power isn’t that great, but one drives accordingly and more defensively. As to the handling, well some may beg to differ, but I’d say the 1100 and 1300 range isn’t too bad – it can be improved, but it again adds to the charm of why we drive them. The biggest smile-inducer is more the way the car floats down the road! For the driver, there’s the added charm of the bus-like steering wheel which induces a relaxed approach to driving and, for the passenger, the range offers a disproportionate amount of interior space for the relatively small external dimensions.
So, having done much of my driving in the safety-focused, padded plastic designs of the 1970s onwards, I find myself drawn to an age where, although I would not have been driving, the earlier cars bring back fond memories of childhood and watching my father driving. For me, the earlier MkI still provides sufficient poke to put a smile on my face and keep me out of trouble with the modern traffic while, at the same time, transporting me back to a time when cars were more simple, yet driving was more involved.
To throw more confusion on the matter, it isn’t all about the relative safety aspects of the 1300 versus the more period feel of the 1100. In the UK, when launched, the 1100 was available as a four-door only, although some export markets received the two-door model. All the early literature for the MG 1100 showed two-door models, but for whatever reason the 1100 is four-door only in the UK. Personally, I prefer the two-door with its slightly more coupe look. Anyway, in 1967, the 1275cc A-Series engine was offered as an option and, for a brief period through to 1968, one could buy an MG as either 1100 or 1300 with two or four doors in the case of the 1300.
However, from the full MkII 1300 of 1968 onwards until 1971, the MG 1300 was two-door only. For this reason, and the fact it is faster, the 1300 is always going to be the more sought after – hence its consequent higher asking prices when these come on the market. An MG 1300 MkII in excellent condition can fetch over £10,000 these days.
The MG 1300 MkII took a small move upmarket gaining a fold-down arm rest on the rear seat squab, and lost the original strip speedo of the MG 1100 (also used in the Wolseley) and received what was the Riley Kestrel dash – the more sporty-looking three-dial set-up included a rev counter in the second dial and an oil pressure gauge to complement the temperature and fuel gauges in the third dial.
Moreover, in line with the safety improvements, the 1300 MkII gained the plastic rocker switches and the doors were fitted with the flush door handles and padded pulls rather than the lever on the earlier cars. In 1970, the MG 1300’s ignition switch moved to the column away from the dash. The dash remained a wood veneer as with the 1100, but it now looked far more the part with more information for the sporting driver.
Additionally, the option of leather on offer in the 1100 MkI was dropped and the MkII upholstery was vinyl. Another change was that the front seats no longer had the hardboard backing shell of the MkI – no bad thing really, as the shell had a tendency to tear, anyway.
For me, all of that is the reason I have previously gone for the 1300. That, and the fact that the 1275cc A-Series engine is pretty quick. In addition, with a rear anti-roll bar, a decent set of new 12in tyres in the 155 width rather than the original 145 width used on the crossplies and poly bushing in the front sub-frame, the car can be an absolute hoot on the country roads.
The downside is that the entire ADO16 range went from using a twin-piston front brake calliper (the same as on the MG Midget) to using a single-piston swinging calliper and therefore any brake upgrades are more limited as it is harder now to find even standard brake discs and pads. That said, a number of owners have gone the route of modifying the driveshafts to those used on later Metros. Speaking of driveshafts, the MG 1300s were all fitted with the rubber cross-bracing inboard with the remote gearchange.
By the time the ADO16 went into its final MkIII phase with the Austin, Morris, Wolseley and Vanden Plas variants, the MG and Riley had been dropped in 1971 and 1969 respectively. The MkIII models got the Hardy Spicer inboard CV joints and rod change linkage, both of which can be fitted to the MG 1100 or 1300 as an upgrade as there is less risk of damage from failed inboard rubber joints and fewer issues with imprecise gear changes from the softening of the rubber sandwich plate between the diff and the remote housing or even cracked casings.
Okay, so why the 1100? What does it have going for it if it’s slower and has less in the way of dashboard sporting aspirations? In the UK, as mentioned, the four-door only option can be a bonus when travelling with family. These days, for the classic enthusiast, it can be cheaper to buy the earlier MG with an excellent condition MG 1100 fetching more than £7500 – not cheap, but still less than the 1300 MKII by a reasonable margin.
Apart from that, for me the 1100 wins on that ‘Farina’ appeal. It’s hard to describe but, when I look at the 1960s BMC stable, the delicate Farina fins on the 1100 somehow shout 1960s in a way that Michelloti says 1970s when I look at the saloon range of Triumphs – and, of course, the magic pen he worked across the ADO16 to produce the Austin Apache and subsequent Victoria.
The later tail lamps which got bigger on most BMC/BL models as safety became the focus took away from that elegant look in my opinion. On cars like the MGB, the fitment of reversing lights just added to the clutter and took away from the purity of style born of the simplicity. The MkII and MkIII versions of the ADO16 both shared their Lucas L815 tail lamps with, of all things, the Austin FX4 black cab.
However, when the ADO16 was facelifted in 1967, the loss of the rear fins to accommodate the sloping tail-light units along with the side repeaters at the front meant that the revised model just didn’t look as good in my opinion. While the MG retained the same front panel and grille, as did the Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas, the Austin and Morris variants got a new front grille which was again not quite as appealing as the original.
So, while I am no fan of the strip speedo, and having a preference for the two-door coupe style, I rather like the 1960s feel of the 1100 with the foot-operated dip switch, the green tell-tale on the indicator stalk (anorak fact alert – only used from 1965 through to 1967, as the earlier strip-speedo units had green arrow warning lights) and the simple door levers and swinging door pulls on the front doors.
What then, would be my ideal MG 1100? Well, I already have it, up to a point. Mine started life as a Connaught Green model with the late option of the olive-green interior rather than the grey that would traditionally have gone in the green models. The Heritage Certificate supports this fact as I have had a number of people tell me the interior colour is not correct. However, prior to my purchase, it had been resprayed in non-BMC shades of green over light, mint green, and when it had a major body refurbishment, I reverted to Connaught Green, but went for the Old English White duotone scheme which was an option on these.
My intention is to replace the original strip-speedo dash in my MG 1100 with an early Riley Kestrel MkI dash and its toggle switches – I prefer the look as it fits with the MG’s sporting aspirations whereas the strip-speedo unit is, well, just a bit naff. Mine came originally with leather seats, but these need redoing – I do, though, have a lovely pair of front vinyl seats which I acquired from an Engineer, who’d worked on these when new, and which he’d stored, having only used them in his new MG 1100 for less than a year. I put a new loom in and made provision for a few additional upgrades to include relays for the lighting as well as for the rev counter on the Riley dash.
The engine is original, with only 54,000 miles on it, and has probably never been opened. However, a session on the rolling road highlighted how restrictive the original air filter and manifold to the twin HS 1¼in SU carburettors was in performance terms. Having fitted a Maniflow exhaust system based on the Downton pattern, and fitted the inlets to the carbs from the MG 1300 MkII along with K&N filters and D6 needles, the performance is up considerably – all this on its original positive earth and mechanical points system. The distributor was rebuilt with new springs etc. and, once set-up, the engine now pulls well. An engine steady bar has been fitted down below to help tighten things up.
The front subframe and suspension were rebuilt during the respray and feature poly bushes now, while Falken 155 12in radial ply tyres complete the handling. By comparison to the MG 1300 MkIIs I have owned, this 1100 does have a tendency towards more understeer than those – at least in part, I suspect that is down to it not having a rear anti-roll bar.
The final step on the engine would be to get a Stage 2, ported head fitted. However, I would not say no to a supercharger were I to find a period Shorrocks unit. Along with upgraded discs and pads and an anti-roll bar at the rear, this would complete the ideal 1100.
What of an ideal MG 1300? Well, if the MG 1300 MkIII had existed, I have often wondered whether it would have gone the way of the rest of the MG range. To that end, then, would the grille have received a black honeycomb plastic insert? It would not be difficult to create that ‘what if’ scenario, and I almost did. The red MG 1300 MkII featured here was also owned by me during the rebuild. An earlier owner got wind of the fact I owned it, made me an offer which was too good to refuse and completed the restoration himself.
However, my plans had been to source some Austin America bumper overriders which have the rubber facings like the ones I had had on a custom MG 1300 a few years earlier. The grille slats would have been painted a satin black, as would the C-posts or, alternatively, a black vinyl roof would have been fitted. The wood-veneered dash would have been done in a black vinyl finish – similar to that found in the Austin/Morris 1300 GT.
To complete the 1970s look, RO-style rims would be needed. As is apparent in these images, my MG 1100 is fitted with a set. RO-styles were never offered in the UK – the Austin/Morris 1300 GT had hub-caps. However, the South African equivalent of the GT, the Austin Apache TC, and the Spanish Austin Victoria Deluxe were fitted as standard with these. In the UK, the option was normally to add Dunlop D1 alloys, but the RO-styles really do add to the effect.
Naturally, the 1275cc engine with the 11-stud head is eminently tuneable with the possibility of going to 1340cc and pushing beyond 100bhp. In my experience the standard 1275cc is already quite quick by comparison to the 1100, but more is possible, and it would make for a very nice ‘sleeper’ out on the road. The handling, as mentioned, seems tighter than the 1100, but the driveshafts could do with upgrading to inboard CV joints along with an engine steady kit from the later MkIII cars – this does, though, cause complications with the clutch slave cylinder and these slave units are more difficult to source now.
Another temptation with an ideal MG 1300 MkII would be to attempt a conversion which was offered by Creech Motors in Somerset during the late 1960s and known as the Mystique. Using an MGB GT tailgate, the ADO16 was converted into a five-door hatchback. Done right, I think this could add to the appeal of the coupe style of the two-door body.
One given in all of this is that the Hydrolastic suspension would stay! Units can be repaired if the hose has failed, but the system works, and it is what gives these cars their charm and unique ride. To replace it with a coil-over suspension system as has been done would be to lose their allure.
While both the 1100 and the 1300 are not Minis when it comes to the ultimate small car with go-kart handling, they are not far behind. With the ever-rising prices of Minis, the ADO16 is starting to look more attractive. If you can find a good one of whatever marque, then give it a try – you would be surprised at how much fun these are and find out why so many of the owners have been around them for so long. As I said at the beginning, they get under your skin! More importantly, whether you’re an MG enthusiast, an Austin afficionado, a Morris devotee, a Riley fan, a Wolseley buff or a Vanden Plas fanatic, there’s an ADO16 to suit you.