Austin Freeway

It is really quite easy to see why the Holden made such an impact when it was released, particularly against the offerings from Austin and Nuffield, then from BMC Australia.

The mid-size of the car with a six-cylinder engine and solid engineering gave the Holden good performance for the day and a reputation for being tough on back roads. In response, BMC had the Austin A55 Cambridge and Morris Oxford, which were clearly designed for British conditions and suffered badly on Australian country roads.

The fledgling Engineering Department at Zetland did its best to make suitable modifications to strengthen the cars, and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to convince their bosses in Britain that conditions really were more severe over here. 

In frustration while on one of the Outback durability tests, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Experimental Department chief Bill Serjeantson took some photos to show the UK engineers just how bad the potholes were on Aussie roads. Still, the message didn’t get through.

John Buckley must have felt he was beating his head against a wall, and reportedly told his UK masters that the cars they were building just weren’t up to it for Australia. In the end, he left (or was sacked) and the situation changed little.

In 1958 BMC in the UK had invested millions of pounds in a new range of cars designed by Pinin Farina, covering the small (Austin A40), medium (ADO9 range) and large (Austin A99/Vanden Plas Princess 3lt family) sectors of the market. It was not really surprising that they didn’t have the capital available to be designing anything specific for Australia.

As detailed in the previous story, though, the Aussies decided to ignore the advice of their British masters and redesigned the B-Series engine to give 1622cc, providing the ADO9 cars at least with acceptable performance.

“We now had a range of cars with contemporary styling, reasonable performance, reasonable to high standards of ride and comfort, good economy and reasonable price”, Roger Foy explains. “We had the market covered, we thought, with Morris Minor 1000, Austin A40 (Farina), Morris Major II, Austin Lancer II, Austin A60, Morris Oxford V and Wolseley 15/60, all locally assembled with a high Australian content. But where were the buyers? Off buying Holdens and VWs!”

Ford had also suffered in the sales race with their British-sourced cars against the Holden. Their response was to introduce the Falcon onto the Australian market – something that was already known in the industry well before it happened.

The Morris Major Elite was already under development, but BMC Australia knew it had to come up with something to tackle the Holden and Ford family cars.

Many of the chief engineers had come from Holden and knew the answer was in having a car with a six-cylinder engine. The large Farina cars used the BMC C-Series engine, but that would prove too costly to produce or import and too heavy for the smaller cars, effectively undermining any gain in performance.

The Unit Factory at Zetland had been set up to manufacture the B-series engine, with much expense on automated line transfer machines. The ideal situation would be to have a six-cylinder engine that could be machined on the same equipment.

Because the facilities didn’t exist at Zetland for such a project, it was taken on in the UK, overseen by Zetland’s Mechanical Engineer John Hamilton, as Project Manager, and Body Engineer Graham Hardy. “They spent approximately six months in UK during 1960, ensuring the Australian requirements were met”, Roger continues. “It was obvious that UK had already done work on a six-cylinder version, maybe unofficially, as prototype engines were already being made when the Australian team arrived.”

The Brits were never keen to listen to what the Australians wanted – always thinking they knew better – and it took a great deal of work for Hamilton to convince the UK engineers to increase the bore of the engines from 2 7/8” to 3”, in line with the changes that had already been made to the B-series in Australia.

“Indeed he first two prototype cars to come from UK in August 1960 had 2 7/8” bore engines. Australian Repco pistons were sent to UK for incorporation in ‘proper’ prototype engines”, Roger reveals.

The Australian engineers finally got what was wanted: a six cylinder engine with bore of 3” (76.2mm), giving 2433cc capacity, which could be machined on the same transfer line as the 1622cc B-series engine. As such, the new engine was designated B6, and was unique to Australian production.

The cost of tooling for this was £288,000. Remarkably, and an important point in   keeping production costs down, the change-over from machining four cylinder engines to six-cylinder was only about six hours. 

On the body side of things, there were a number of fairly minor, but important, changes made to ADO 9. The wheelbase was lengthened by 1” (25mm) by the simple expediency of moving the rear axle back slightly on the rear springs. This allowed the rear wheel-arch to be reshaped, which meant it didn’t intrude into the cabin area as much and gave greater rear seat comfort.

The split front seats would be replaced by a single bench seat, which was considered necessary to take on the Holden and Falcon on an even footing. 

To improve suspension durability and to lessen vibration and engine noise, the front suspension cross member was strengthened with internal reinforcing, and was rubber-mounted to the longitudinal chassis members. As the new engine gave 80bhp, as opposed to the ADO9’s 1622cc engine with 58bhp, the rear axles were strengthened with fine (involute) splines.

“The car was built on the Station Wagon floor pan to give four jacking points, as well as better torsional stiffness”, Roger adds.

As the Morris, Austin and Wolseley versions of the ADO 9 had already been available in Australia, it was decided to base the new car, ADO 40, on the MG Magnette III. Not seen previously in Australia, it had slightly clipped tail fins, smaller taillights and a chrome strip that ran the full-length of the body.

The first prototype was completed in mid-1960 and arrived in Australia, but with Austin A55 interior trim and exterior brightwork. As soon as it arrived, it had the grille replaced with the Morris Oxford type, which was less restrictive, and the proposed Freeway interior trim and dashboard were fitted. 

It was then used for the myriad engineering tests carried out on any new model: such as performance, handling, braking, cooling, fuel consumption, tyre wear, Noise-Vibration-Harshness (NVH) and comparisons with opposition models.

“Two additional prototypes came from UK”, Roger continues; “a Station Wagon and a Wolseley version. These two cars were used on durability-type testing, with a high proportion of unsealed roads.” 

“The Station Wagon was operated for most of the time with the Wolseley front-end sheetmetal to simulate the higher under-bonnet temperatures experienced with this more restrictive styling. This led to much speculation at the time that there might be a Wolseley Station Wagon version being developed. The then new Borg-Warner Type 35 auto transmission was also fitted to the wagon for extended testing.”

The first prototype still exists and was bought from the factory in December 1962 by Roger, who still owns it and uses it daily – see the additional information on page 69. The other two prototypes were also sold within the plant, but their fate is not known.

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