The ADO16

ADO16 followed the Mini, and gave designer Alec Issigonis his hat-trick of successes and his much coveted knighthood.

Leonard Lord wooed Alec Issigonis back to BMC at the end of 1955 and put him to work to design a complete range of vehicles to fit the small, medium and large family car markets.

Work began in 1956 on the large car, code-name XC9000, which was a conventional front-engine (1500cc OHC), rear-wheel-drive configuration, but in the two-box layout that would become synonymous with the Mini.

Prior to leaving Morris for his short stint at Alvis Issigonis, with Jack Daniels, had designed and built a front-wheel-drive version of the Morris Minor. This car was used by Daniels for many years as his private transport. With Issigonis back at BMC, this design, with the gearbox on one end of the engine, was fitted into a new prototype, XC9001, with interconnected rubber and fluid suspension – designed by Alex Moulton for the stillborn Alvis TA350.

The medium-size car was a scaled-down version, known as XC9002, and the small car, XC9003, an even smaller version of the same concept.

The Suez Crisis of 1956 and the subsequent fuel shortage later in that year, resulted in Lord’s famous order to Issigonis to build a proper small car to drive all the foreign “bubble cars” off the road.

Development in the car industry is a time-consuming affair, with most new models taking at least five years from concept to reality. It is therefore not surprising that by the time the Mini (ADO15) was released, with a remarkably short development period, in August 1959, the oil crisis was over and larger cars were again back in favour. 

However, the decision had been made, and Issigonis relished the challenge that resulted in the Mini. It was not until ADO15 was almost complete and ready for production in early 1959 that work again turned to the medium and large cars.

Initially, XC9002 followed on the same basic theme of the Mini, but in a slightly larger format. However, the styling didn’t work as well on the bigger car, and it was felt that it looked too much like the Mini.

After a couple of attempts that showed he was clearly out of his depth, Issigonis admitted he was unhappy with the styling of the car, by now designated ADO16.

Jonathan Wood reports in his book Alec Issigonis: The Man Who Made The Mini; “in a rare moment of contrition, he told Ronald Barker ‘I couldn’t get it right’. ”

Issigonis always felt that stylists were not necessary in “proper” car design, and that if a car was engineered correctly the styling would take care of its self. This self-centred opinion was no doubt given added weight when a prototype Mini had first been shown to Battista “Pinin” Farina (see p79) for his opinion, and who said; “Don’t change a thing.”

Farina had been involved in revamping BMC’s ageing catalogue in 1958 to 1961, with the Austin A40 Farina, the Wolseley 15/60 family of cars (becoming available in every brand under BMC except Vanden Plas), and the Austin A99 Westminster (with its sibling Vanden Plas Princess 3lt)

Farina was commissioned to present some ideas for ADO16 and, apart from redesigning of the front and some minor details, his first proposal was adopted. The Longbridge styling department, headed by Dick Burzi, made a few changes, including strengthening the door pillars and removing some of the flashy front detail. They also designed the interior – seen by many people as the car’s major weakness.

Unfortunately, this was part of Issigonis grand plan for all cars, that they should maintain a sense of austerity. Wood continues; “It was during (a) discussion with Tubbs (journalist) in 1963 that Issigonis came out with one of his more notorious aphorisms. Referring to the 1100’s seats, he informed the motoring public that they ‘must be uncomfortable in traffic to keep alert’.”

Also true to Issigonis ideals, there was no facility for a radio in the car.

The first prototypes were fitted with 948cc engines, then development was taken over by Charles Griffin, while Issigonis turned his attention to XC9001, which became ADO17 – the 1800.

Griffin was apparently horrified at the idea of the car being so under-powered with the 948cc engine, as Wood explained. “He was appalled and appealed directly to George Harriman, telling him, ‘I need your support, we’ve got a success on our hands if we handle it properly’. He succeeded in getting the volumes increased to 6,800 a week, the engine’s capacity was upped to 1100cc and agreement was given to proceed with the Moulton suspension.”

The car was also fitted with disc brakes, apparently in defiance of Issigonis who declared they were an unnecessary fashion of the time.

Griffin was proven right, though. As soon as the car was released, in August 1962, it was an instant hit. There were none of the teething problems of the Mini (obviously due to lessons learnt) and both the media and the public took to the car with passion. Stockpiles had been built up from March, to ensure there was no shortage of supply when the car was released, and for ten years the 1100 was the top-selling car in Britain.

In fact, it became the first, and it turned out the only, car to be sold under every brand in the BMC empire – Morris, Austin, MG, Wolseley, Riley and Vanden Plas.

The factory also produced a three-door estate version, in Morris Traveller and Austin Countryman varieties, and a sporty two-door saloon for Austin and MG. It was naturally also available in automatic, with the same AP four-speed transmission as the auto Mini.

Even Radford recognised the up-market appeal and produced coachbuilt examples, with their top of the range being based on the already well-appointed Vanden Plas Princess.

ADO16 was assembled in every BMC car factory in the World, with New Zealand building CKD cars from early 1962. There were also a few local variants, like the South African Apache – an ADO16 with Triumph-style front and rear; the Innocenti I4 in Italy, and the Australian 1500 and Nomad. From 1969 to 1971 there was even a fibreglass-bodied version built in Chile.

In Holland ADO16 was sold as the Austin Glider or the Wolseley Wesp, while in Denmark the Morris Marina – years before Leyland’s ill-fated car of the same name.

On 10 March 1967 it was the third BMC car to reach the 1,000,000 milestone – behind the Morris Minor and the Mini. 

In 1969, Alec Issigonis was knighted for his service to the British motor industry. He had played the major part in designing three cars (the stillborn Alvis TE350 not withstanding) and all three had gone on to sell over one million units – the first three British cars to do so and still all within the top-five selling British cars of all time.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 2 of The BMC Experience through this website, or subscribe today.


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