Our Cars : Alexander’s Austin 3 Litre is out again

It is still a magnificent beast, BMC’s late gift into the marriage with Leyland cars…

Following a long spell of inactivity, the 20th anniversary of the 3 Litre being featured as Car of the Month marked a good opportunity to get that car out again.

It was last seen in public at the 50th anniversary of the launch at the BMC and Leyland Show 2017 and so, in April, it was taken out of its resting place for the last five years and, over the past months, a few little niggles were ironed out.

Apart from a leaking rear wheel cylinder, nothing serious appeared to have happened during the extended rest.

Featuring five years of dust… Alexander’s home-made garage find

With current fuel prices, taking this thirsty car over long distances would be a significant expenditure, so a fairly local event came to the rescue to show it to the unsuspecting public. A nice 40-mile drive along the hilly edge of the Eifel leads us to the Open Air Museum Kommern, which is usually a pretty (and) quiet place.

However, last weekend the place was brimming with visitors, who flitted between the collection of historic buildings and our classic cars. The gathering was for cars built up to and including 1972 – and, in the end, more than 100 came along.

A nice place for a day out with family – and your classic car

As usual, the Austin 3 Litre proved to be a great talking point when parked between Borgwards, Mercedes-Benzes, Opels and Volkswagens. It also received a lot more positive feedback about its looks than one would believe after reading the lukewarm reception from the press at launch.

With just over 55,000km on the clock, the 3 Litre is still pretty tight and as enjoyable to drive as it ever was. It would nearly have been an uneventful drive, if something in the ignition circuit had not thrown a wobbly just a couple of traffic lights from home.

The coil is now on the list of suspects for not liking hot engine bays on hot days anymore. With a slightly more closed points gap, the car came back to life and brought us home safely.

Alexander Boucke


  1. Funny how with the passing of time, the 3 Litre looks better and better. The picture at the top of the page shows what a handsome beast it is from the right angle 🙂

    • I know what you mean, but wonder if it’s not just nostalgia that makes the likes of the 3 Litre look better as the years go by. Looking at it dispassionately the rear end is nice, with a hint of Bentley T1 about it. There’s no escaping(or disguising) that Landcrab middle section though, and the front end could have done with a dose of the elegance applied to the rear. It’s a “bitsa” and looks like one. It was never going to fly as a executive car being so obviously cobbled together.

      • I think it’s the only car where that long midsection is in balance with front and rear. The stubby ends of Landcrab and Maxi are plain ugly in my eyes, the Three Litre is well balanced.
        AND that rear holds a lot more luggage when needed!

        • I also thought the extended rear end improved things for the 3 litre.

          Shame the front end wasn’t so pleasing.

          • From the back, you’d think this was a Daimler or Rolls Royce as it had that limousine look, but from the front, the 3 Litre was like a New York taxi. I think the money wasted on this could have been spent on improving the ADO17.

      • LOL done. Glad you have more of a clue about these things than I do. As an aside, if you want to embed YouTube videos in any comments, you can just use the embed code under sharing options. Works a treat.

        Having said that, I should update the commenting system so people can drop in images etc without needing an A-level in HTML 😀

        • Thanks Keith though I didn’t realise you were going to embed the full 10 minute video, for those wanting the 3 Litre clip, and it is only a quick clip, fast forward to 5:04.

  2. I always loved the 3-litre, it was just that ‘unfinished styling’ around the headlamp area that spoiled it for me, it looked like it could easily have been resolved. The press were very unkind to it as well (as they so often were with anything associated with ‘Leyland’), rather obviously and naively stating it was just a jumped-up landcrab.

    I well remember Downton had a 3-litre which they breathed on rather nicely to give it a worthwhile amount of smooth – and much more economical – power and a tad less roll. I think they uprated 2 or 3 cars?

    The video in full was a lovely watch, at the end I actually felt as though I had carbon dioxide poisoning! How easy it is to forget the huge diversity of cars made by ‘our home manufacturer’ over the years and despite that huge procession of cars, there were still many models and marques missing. Maybe a big clue as to why the final ‘stall’?

  3. Thanks for sharing! I’ve got a soft spot for this car too, and I’m fascinated by it for being the only rear wheel drive hydrolastic car that I know of.

    I feel like the only problems with the 3 Litre were the badge it wore and the time it was released; had it been sold in 1963 as a Wolseley or Riley it’d have been a winner. With some work on the grill of course lol.

    Would the 3 have been an e-seg executive car or an f-seg luxury car?

  4. I agree the view from the rear it looks good, it’s just the front end that let it down, and that badge! Why was it an Austin, it should have been a Wolsley or a VP. As I said previously my Great Uncle drove one at the time and loved it, only replacing it with a Maxi because of the fuel crisis. His previous car was a suped up Vitesse. I don’t know what his customers thought when he rolled up the 3 litre, as he worked as a freelance tailor for big fashion houses in the 60s and 70s. It was not exactly hip!

    • The front end reminds me of the Checker cabs that used to ply the streets of NYC. Not necessarily desirable for a car with the prestige market in mind.

    • As they output Ambla (read vinyl) upholstery in the 3 L it seems pretty clear that at the time they thought there would be an upmarket version which would have had leather.

      • Possibly true. But the Wolseley 18/85 MkII got the same Ambla seats (with a different, smoother pattern). Same went for some of the lower end Jaguar models. It has to be said though, that this material was of a very high quality. Much better than the vinyl used in e.g. ADO16, Maxi, Marina and many other cars of the period. Only Mercedes Benz’ optional MB-Tex was similar. Try the ‘vegan leather’ offered in many of today’s cars how poor this looks and feels in comparison.

        • Vauxhall were a user of Ambla upholstery on their cars in the 60s too. My Dad’s VX4/90 had blue Ambla, whereas the Victor’s got Vynide

  5. The 3-litre’s prospects were undermined by a number of factors from not being launched earlier where its doors would not be viewed negatively (even better if ADO17 also utilized smaller doors to begin with), featuring the wrong marque instead of Vanden Plas as well as an unfinished outdated front-end and similarly underdeveloped underpowered heavy engine (if not the wrong engine based on what could have been developed at BMC).

    Though the following is less of a factor compared to the above would also argue the 3-litre did not need to be too big and heavy then it was and instead should have been more Austin Kimberly sized, to at least enable it to be equipped with a wider choice of engines as was the case with the Vauxhall FD and Ford Mark IV instead of being constrained as a single displacement car.

  6. With that massive grille it looks quite up to date. Just look at the monstrous front of the latest BMWs for instance.

  7. The 3 Litre was a sales flop, less than 10k in 3 years is terrible for a car badged as an Austin, and it was let down badly by its sluggish and thirsty engine, controversial styling and cost cutting that saw it landed with a strip speedometer in a walnut dash and vinyl seats. Remember for similar money in 1969 you could buy a Ford Zodiac Executive that came with luxuries the 3 Litrre lacked such as leather seats, six dial instrumentation, a push button radio and sports wheels.

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