South Africa’s local content rules resulted in some unique vehicles; perhaps none more so than the Austin Apache.
Through much of the 1960s, the BMC 1100 (ADO16) series was hugely popular, being the biggest selling car in the UK for almost a decade. It was also very popular in many overseas markets, including Australia and South Africa.
Like Australia, South Africa had local content rules that required a certain percentage of a vehicle to be locally manufactured in order to meet government taxation and import requirements. However, where Australia’s local content rules were based on the value of parts, in South Africa it was based on weight.
As a result, rather than pressing panels locally, in South Africa BMC made its own A-series engines. As described in Issue 7 of BMCE, this originally entailed machining rough-cast components imported from the UK and assembling the engines locally.
By 1967 local castings of all engine components were being done, to exactly the same specification as the imported parts. These engines were fitted into the ADO16 models, which were renamed the 11/55 series – denoting 55bhp (41kW) from the new 1098cc engines.
In November 1968 it was decided that a new engine design, with improvements over the venerable A-series, would be produced. The result was what is now known as the Second Generation South African A-series engine, featuring an oil filter mounted high on the block, new internal oil galleries and an integral block casting that did away with the removable tappet covers.
Engines were produced in two sizes, 1098cc and 1275cc. However, unlike the engines produced in the UK, the South African engines shared a common bore, of 70.64mm, and the displacement was altered by the stroke, meaning only the crankshaft and pistons would not be interchangeable between the two – 1098cc was achieved with a stroke of 69.85mm, while 1275cc came courtesy of an 81.28mm stroke.
These engines first appeared in the new Mini Clubman range, released in August 1971, with the Mini Clubman GT using the 1275cc engine and all the rest using the 1098. For the time being, the 11/55 series would retain the First Generation 1098cc engines.
When Leyland took over BMC in the UK in 1968 it was felt there was a dearth of new car models available and the Marina programme was quickly set up to replace the Morris Minor (which, remarkably, was still being produced in the UK). The last Minor saloon was made in November 1970 and the last Traveller in April 1971; the same month the Marina was released.
However, with the investment in South Africa on the ADO16 and the locally-produced engines, introducing the Marina was going to be an expensive exercise. This was also hampered by the costs associated with the updating of the Mini range with the Clubman body.
With sales of ADO16 falling, it was felt that, in the interim at least, the 11/55 should be updated as cost-effectively as possible and continued for a few more years.
Peter Ray, Executive Director of Leykor Distributors (Leykor being taken from Leyland and Korporasie – Afrikaans for corporation), went to England on a fact-finding mission in late 1969.
While at Longbridge he saw what was apparently a styling exercise done by Giovanni Michelotti, and built by Pressed Steel Fisher, on the ADO16, with Triumph-like front and rear treatment.
BMC had a long-standing relationship with Pinin Farina, who had originally styled the ADO16 for Alec Issigonis. However, Michelotti was the favoured designer for Leyland and was responsible for the Triumph 2000 of 1963 and the Mk2, including the 2500, of 1969.
It is likely that Michelotti did the prototype re-style of the ADO16, either commissioned by Leyland or of his own initiative, as a proposed Triumph version or replacement of the ADO16. Leyland, though, opted for the Allegro, designed by their in-house stylist Harris Mann, to be the ADO16’s replacement.
The Allegro appeared in 1973, with the final ADO16, a Vanden Plas, coming off the production line in June 1974.
So the Michelotti prototype was pushed to one side, where it was seen by Peter Ray. Ray had the car packed up and flown to South Africa, where Product Engineer Ralph Clarke and John Haywood, Body Engineer from Pressed Steel in the UK, set about readying it for production.
Clearly, Michelotti’s concept had been to keep costs to a minimum, and the centre section of the car, including the doors, floorpan and roof, and front and rear windscreens, were still virtually identical to the ADO16. This would indeed make production simple, as the same jigs could be used for much of the body assembly.
The front and rear of the car were virtually scaled-down versions of the Triumph 2000 Mk2. The rear bumpers even featured the wrap-around ends from the Triumph. These were changed slightly on the production models, with the end pieces being separate from the main bumper.
The taillights on the prototype were similar to the Triumph units but not identical. To reduce production costs the taillights from the Mk2 Triumph were used. Likewise, the large rectangular headlights on the prototype were replaced in production with much smaller off-the-shelf units from Lucas South Africa.
The fuel filler was recessed behind an opening lid that was flush with the body, as is standard practice today.
The body panels were manufactured by Steelmobile, a subsidiary of Nissan near Pretoria, and the bodies were assembled in the body shop at Blackheath.
Front and rear subframes were the same as ADO16, and were manufactured at Leykor’s Blackheath plant. Mechanically, the cars were also the same, so the Hydrolastic suspension, rubber universal joints, front disc brakes, rack and pinion steering and remote gear selector were carried over, as was the dashboard with its strip speedo, calibrated in mph and km/h, and full-width parcel tray underneath. Interior trim was also locally made.
With the body panels pressed in South Africa, the engines cast and machined there, the local subframes, trim and other components, the Apache reportedly reached 61% local content.
During its development, the new car was referred to as the Leykor 1. At one stage Leykor considered doing away with model names and just numbering their models by project code. In the Blackheath official production records the car was initially recorded as Leykor 1 and Leykor 1 Automatic.
Fortunately, sanity prevailed and the car was given a proper name; Austin Apache. Yet, on the identification plates on all Austin Apaches the model is listed as LK1.
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The BMC Experience Issue 15. Oct-Dec 2015 Magazine
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