Landcrab Production History
|Between 1964 and 1975, BMC manufactured 386,811 variants at Longbridge, the heart of the sprawling BMC empire. Main export markets were Canada and Australia.|
Once production of the BMC 1100 (ADO16) was underway the question of the next vehicle using the same formula arose. In 1961 BMC offered the reliable if uninspiring 1.6L Farinas (Austin A60 or Cambridge and Morris Oxford) in the mid sized sector using the B-series engine and based on a traditional north-south layout driving the rear wheels.
The B series engine was due to be enlarged to 1.8 litres for the MGB and Issigonis decided to design the car around this enlarged engine rather than the existing 1.6L design. Always trying to create maximum internal space within a compact overall shape, Issigonis found he could fit a 106 inch wheelbase for a small additional weight penalty. This yielded a truly impressive amount of space inside the passenger compartment on par with the larger three litre Westminster yet with an overall length only 17 inches longer than the 1100 at 13 feet 7 inches. Had Issigonis rather than Pininfarina styled the ADO16 it would have had an length of less than twelve feet making it the first European ‘super-mini’ twenty years ahead of its time. As it was Issigonis could point to the ADO16 and say with truth that his hulking ADO17 was only 17 inches longer than the medium sized car while the ADO16 was a massive twenty seven inches longer than the Mini (ADO15).
The MD of BMC George Harriman, initially set a production level of 4,000 vehicles a week at Longbridge while 1,000 Oxford and Cambridge's rolled off the production line in Cowley every week. Quite how BMC thought they could sell nearly as many 1800’s as 1100’s is not entirely clear but this was an era when senior management were allowed to set production targets on the basis of what they said would sell and flushed with the success of the Mini and 1100 they weighed in with some pretty heady estimates.
When priced up the 1800 came in at a 14% premium on the elderly Cambridge making it more expensive than Ford’s big Mk. III Zephyr 4. Fortunately the slow build up of production gave management time to realize that sales targets were hopelessly over optimistic. As Morris dealers had first bite at the cherry with the 1100, Austin dealers were first to get the new big car with the Morris version making its debut in 1966 and the Wolseley version in 1967.
By 1966 it was becoming quite evident that British sales were unlikely to exceed 40,000 a year at most with sales peaking in 1971. There were plans for a Riley version but it was decided that the market only needed one badge engineered up-market 1800. At launch the car was praised for its tremendous interior space, stability, performance and remarkable rigidity of the shell. Less popular was its styling or rather lack of it.
The styling of the 1800 has caused much debate within petrolhead circles. Although mostly styled by Pininfarina (who designed a number of Ferraris and Peugeots) it was not a design the Italian styling house ever claimed credit for. The heavy low geared steering cried out for power assistance which was an optional extra on the Austin/Morris range but only standard on the upmarket Wolseley.
At the time the only large front wheel drive car was the Citroen DS and that had power assistance on everything as an integral part of its design - the 1800 had crossed the dividing line beyond which power steering was essential. The bus-driver steering wheel angle, minor switches and distant hand brake attracted criticism. Early models suffered from high oil consumption due to a wrongly calibrated dipstick, gears proved difficult to select and the Lucas indicator stalk replicated the same problems as it had done on the earlier ADO16. Throughout 1965 Morris dealers must have regarded the absence of the 1800 with mixed feelings.
Mk II Version
In May 1968 the Mk II version of the 1800 was launched. Marketing slimmed down the front grill to make it look more like an 1100 and moved the wrap round tail light cluster into vertical winglets to give the car a more conventional side profile although the Wolseley kept the original ‘cows hips’ rear styling in an unusual gesture of brand differentiation.
In May 1969 the UK's first home produced hatchback the Maxi appeared filling the gap between the 1100/1300 and the 1800. BMC were beginning to feel the pinch of declining market share and looked for ways to cut costs by sharing components across their ever widening range forcing Issigonis to raid the parts bin for the 1800’s doors which must have pleased the stylists no end. Another 8 years would pass before Ford woke up to the developing hatchback market with their front wheel drive Fiesta. The Maxi was the first BMC hatchback effectively killing off the 1800 estate which had been produced in small quantities by Crayford.
Mk III Version
In 1972 the final Mk III version appeared sporting a mat black grill offset with chrome bars, the handbrake at last took up residence between the front seats but the dash received a tacky "Formica-print-effect" walnut trim insert.
More significant was the addition of a six cylinder engine derived from the Maxi’s E series by the simple expedient of adding two cylinders on the end. This transformed an insipid thrash box into a refined power plant which actually weighed 45 pounds less than the cast iron B-series engine making the Wolseley Six a very spacious and responsive cross country cruiser spoilt by retention of the same 17:1 final drive ratio.
Production continued to April 1975 when the car was replaced by the Princess 1800/2200 or "Wedge" which was produced in various guises until production ceased in 1985.
The Austin 3 Litre shared the 1800's doors replacing the ageing Westminster in 1967 gaining the dubious distinction of being the only BMC car that was immediately revised after it was introduced. The rectangular headlights did not sit comfortably within the ovals of the 1800 style front grill and were soon replaced with a pair of conventional round lights.
Priced at £1,500 it was twice the cost of an 1800 yet offered no more space inside, its only virtues being a larger boot, self levelling suspension and a six cylinder engine.
Landcrabs in Oz
The 1800 was also produced in Australia at the Zetland, New South Wales plant, but was much modified (and Australian owners say much better for it) from its UK-built counterpart. Launched on 22 November 1965 after 12 months of testing under local conditions, more than 40 changes were needed to make the Mk1 car more suitable for rough country use included sump guard, increased ride height, stronger engine mounts, stronger clutch, better dust and water sealing, thicker seat padding, front door armrests, standard seatbelts, better steering and a more progressive throttle linkage.
A Mk2 version followed to be replaced in 1971 by the Austin Tasman and Kimberley X6 series, which were produced at the Zetland NSW plant from 1971 to 1973. This model actually used the E series power unit some time before it was released in the UK production 2200 series, with a remodelled body style, basically a new front and rear added to the main body structure with a slightly lengthened wheelbase. The Tasman had a single SU carb, while the Kimberley was the up-market model with a improved interior and a twin carb version of the engine was standard equipment up until the Mark II model which then saw all models with the single carb engine. The six cylinder gave a good turn of performance, although power steering which would have been a great option wasn't available at the time. This X6 series as it was called was finally phased out when the P76 series of conventional rear-drive cars were released in 1973 (thanks to Phil West of Brisbane for suppling this info).
Was the 1800 a failure?
To shift 35,000 2 litre cars a year from 1964 to 1975 was no mean feat yet the car was generally branded a failure in commercial circles. So what sort of volume should it have achieved? The Cortina sold roughly 250,000 a year worldwide so why wasn't the 1800 in the same league? Simple. The 1800 was Issigonis's idea of how a 2L car should be packaged. No vehicle has ever offered so much space inside such a small footprint it's a delight to travel in the rear.
The problem was that it was too big a leap for affluent buyers emigrating from the 1L to the the emerging 1.5L market which Ford marketing department had identified. It might have been shorter than the Cortina but it cost £150 more and suffered from heavy steering. Had Issigonis's hedoism been more focused on a strict replacement for the Farina range with a 1.5L engine then the car would have come in at around £750 instead of £820. But then Issigonis wouldn't have been able to introduce the world to the true benefits of transverse front wheel drive combined with efficient packaging.
Unfortunately for Issigonis the marketing men were correct but those who own an example can still experience the brilliant conceptuality of his design in its undiluted format. As a result Issigonis was never given such unrestricted free reign again his last work was the Cowley built Maxi. It had a new 1.5L overhead cam alloy engine, five doors (four of them lifted, once again, from the 1800!) and five gears following the trends of the hatchback concept introduced by Renault with their 1968 R16.
Is the Car Significant?
There is no doubt that in 1964 the 1800 with its transverse engine and all independent suspension set new standards in interior space, handling and ride quality for mass produced 2 litre cars. It took Ford and GM 20 years to catch up with their equivalent Sierra and Cavalier. Ford (US) purchased an early production vehicle to see just what BMC had done. Even if you look at today's offerings none offer quite so much space in such a small footprint thanks to ENCAP crash regulations the nearest equivalent would be the MPV generation such as Citroen's Synergie, Renault's Espace and Ford's Galaxy which offer acres of interior space in a compact footprint with a profesional van like driving position. If you have any doubt name those manufacturers still left making rear wheel drive 2L cars BMW, Mercedes, Lexus...err...yes go on...even the conservative Japanese have succumbed.
Final Production Figures
|Austin 1800/2200|| |
|Morris 1800/2200|| |
|Wolseley 18/85|| |
|Wolseley Six|| |
|Austin 3 Litre|| |
|Austin Princess/Ambassador|| |