Big Brother - Morris 1100
Words and feature photos by Craig Watson. Historic photos by BMC
The story of the 1100 – ADO16 to give its BMC Drawing Offi ce identity – started before even the Mini, and owes a lot to the success of the Morris Minor.
When the Morris Minor was launched in 1948, Alec Issigonis (the knighthood didn’t come until after the Mini) was celebrated as an automotive design genius. When BMC was formed he left the company and went to work for Alvis, designing the TA350, a large car that never went into production. However, Leonard Lord wooed him back to BMC and put him to work to design a complete range of vehicles to fi t the small, medium and large family car markets.
Work initially began in 1956 on the large car, code-name XC9000, which was a conventional front-engine (1500cc OHC), rear-wheel-drive confi guration, but in the two-box layout that would become synonymous with the Mini.
Prior to leaving Morris for his short stint at Alvis, Issigonis had designed and built a front-wheel-drive version of the Morris Minor. This design, with the gearbox on one end of the engine, was fi tted into a new prototype, XC9001, with interconnected rubber and fl uid suspension – designed by Alex Moulton for the Alvis TA350, and similar in concept to Citroen’s system.
The medium-size car was a scaled-down version, known as XC9002, and the small car an even smaller version of the same concept, XC9003.
The Suez Crisis of 1956 and the subsequent fuel shortage later in that year, brought about a surge in the popularity of European – particularly German – “bubble cars”. This invoked Leonard Lord to tell Issigonis to put off work on the two larger cars and concentrate on the smallest, with his famous remark; “We must drive them off the streets by designing a proper miniature car”.
Design and development in the car industry is a time-consuming affair, with most new models taking at least fi ve years from concept to reality. It is therefore not surprising that by the time the Mini (ADO15) was released, with remarkably short time-lag, in August 1959, that the oil crisis was over and larger cars were again in favour.
As Jonathan Wood points out, in his book Alec Issigonis: The Man Who Made The Mini; “Petrol rationing was, in any event, discontinued in May 1957, a year in which new registrations in the sub-700cc class amounted to a mere 3,308 of the 425,355 cars sold in Britain that year”. Bubble car registrations fell sharply the following year, while the 900-1000cc class, which included BMC’s own Morris Minor, recorded sales of 142,168.
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 deemed that it looked too much like the Mini.
After a couple of attempts, Issigonis admitted he was unhappy with the styling of the car, by now designated ADO16. Wood reports; “in a rare moment of contrition, he told Ronald Barker ‘I couldn’t get it right’. ”
Pinin Farina (see p40) was commissioned to present some ideas and, apart from redesigning of the front and some minor details, his fi rst 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.
Roger Foy, Road Proving Manager at BMC Australia recalls; “We were always very critical of the very austere appearance of the inside of the car…what, with the bland instruments the thing had, and the painted metal dashboards. We had better dashboards in cars that we had recently superseded, but there was nothing we could do about it.”
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 traffi c to keep alert’.”
Also true to Issigonis ideals, there was no facility for a radio in the car.
The fi rst prototypes were fi tted with 948cc engines, then development was taken over by Charles Griffi n, while Issigonis turned his attention to ADO17 – XC9001, which eventually became the 1800.
Griffi n was apparently horrifi ed 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 fi tted with disc brakes, apparently in defiance of Issigonis who declared they were an unnecessary fashion of the time.
Griffi n was right. The moment 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. For ten years the 1100 was the top-selling car in Britain.
On 10 March 1967 it was the third BMC car to reach the 1,000,000 milestone – behind the Morris Minor and the Mini.
It was also a badge-engineering triumph, being the fi rst car to be sold under every brand in the BMC empire – Morris, Austin, MG, Wolseley, Riley (as the Kestrel), and Vanden Plas (Princess).
The factory also produced a three-door estate version, in Morris Traveller and Austin Countryman varieties, and a sporty two-door version for Morris, Austin and MG marques. It was naturally also available in automatic, with the same AP four-speed transmission as the auto Mini (see Issue 9).
Even Radford recognised the up-market appeal and produced coachbuilt examples, with their top of the range being based on the already well-appointed VP Princess.
ADO16 was also assembled in every BMC car factory in the World, with New Zealand building CKD cars from as early as February 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 (more on those later). From 1969 to 1971 there was even a fi breglassbodied version built in Chile.
In Holland ADO16 was known as the Austin Glider or the Wolseley Wesp, and in Denmark as the Morris Marina – years before Leyland’s ill-fated 1800 replacement.
In September 1967 the slightly revised Mk2 was released in the UK, but failure to really update the car, even though the 1300 (1275cc) was now available, meant its days of chart-topping success were limited.
Under Leyland, the range was rationalised in 1968, with the Riley and Wolseley versions getting the axe. However, not even a slightly revamped Mk3 in 1970 could prevent the inevitable. In 1972 it lost its top-selling spot to the Mk2 Ford Cortina.
In 1973 the 1100/1300 range was discontinued, and replaced by the enormously unsuccessful Allegro.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 17 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>23</plumshop>