British Leyland’s Most Significant Advance?
A few days ago the British Leyland Motor Corporation announced a new range of Austin and Morris cars, with a Wolseley top model, on which they place the highest hopes. These new 18/22 Series cars are based on the former large models sold under these brand names, but have been entirely re-styled and redesigned generally, for penetration into the Home and World markets in the medium-price sector of, as BL put it, “spacious, comfortable and quiet saloons”.
These new BL cars follow the transverse-engined, front-drive concept made possible for the BMC so many years ago by the brilliant work of Sir Alec Issigonis, and they use the Hydragas inter-coupled suspension developed, especially on the Austin Allegro, by Alex Moulton. Others closely associated with this ADO 71 project are Charles Griffin, the Engineering Director, Ray Bates, Engineering Operations Director, Tom Penny, Chief Body Engineer, who designed the new wedge-nosed body, Harris Mann, Exterior Stylist, and Fred Ellis, Project Controller at the Swindon Body Engineering Plant. Bernard Bates has the task of selling these new big BL cars, as Director of Marketing, under Keith Hopkins, Managing Director of Austin Morris, with Lord Stokes steering the ship.
The reasoning behind the ADO 71 can be expressed as follows: The main objective, say British Leyland, was to make substantial progress, in practical terms; to offer something better than had gone before without losing any of the very good points their predecessors had possessed. There was the smoothness and refinement of the old Austin Morris 1800, its notable roadholding, and the generous space it offered inside. But undeniably it had been overtaken by progress—it lost out on three major counts: styling, boot space and the upright or “bus-driver’s” driving position.
The ADO 71 concept represents a big step forward for the classic British Leyland frontwheel-drive, transverse-engined formula. It is an interesting mix of well-established ideas and new concepts in safety, developed by British Leyland in its research programmes. The biggest departure is in the body. The new body is claimed to be very strong, with a high torsional stiffness. With a strong base it was possible, as in the old 1800, to dispense with any rust-prone front and rear subframes and achieve a better ride and improved roadholding. Ways were found to reduce the level of noise transmitted from the engine and transmission, and road rumble has been lessened. The more conventional driving position preferred today has been achieved without any compromise in interior space. Another task here was to provide the best possible ride and to ensure that the roadholding capabilities were in keeping with the rest of the car. With some confidence, in the light of development experience with Allegro, BL used Hydragas interconnected suspension for the ADO 71, and have gone to considerable trouble to relate the seating characteristics to those of the suspension. They think that benefits in ride quality show immediately the car starts to move. The front suspension linkage incorporates lessons learned in development, with the robust suspension cross-member firmly welded to the body structure. The rear suspension closely resembles that of the Allegro and here again the emphasis is on simplicity and control over movement.
The Hydragas suspension units are fundamentally the same as those of the Allegro but with important adjustments to the damping. In the two years since the Austin Allegro was introduced, BL say they have learned a very great deal about tuning this Hydragas suspension to get the characteristics they need. They now understand much more about the design of the internal dampers in the units and about interconnection between front and rear units and orifice sizes. As an example of the care taken to tune out harshness, they mention that they are using a slightly narrower wheel rim with a specially developed fabric radial tyre, and have now much more responsive handling, and improved roadholding, but without the harshness, which is the usual penalty.
The two engines offered are the well-known four-cylinder I ,800-c.c. and a six-cylinder 2,200-c.c. power unit. Both have benefited from considerable development work over quite a number of years, says Ray Bates. Based on the long-lived, reliable and economical British Leyland “B”-series engine, the 1800 has push-rod overhead valves and drives through a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox. “Many manufacturers talk cheerfully about the way they develop their engines, but I would say that in its long history the ‘B’-series unit has been given more attention than most” is Mr. Bates’ way of disposing of this use of push-rod and long-lived, long-stroke iron engines. “It has a convincing background in competition and is used in vehicles as varied as medium vans and sports coupes. Variants used in racing and recordbreaking have been tuned to outputs far above those offered in this case—and with considerable reliability”, he continues. To make these engines suitable for today’s environment, with its concentration on legislation against emission and with the possibility of lead-free petrol being introduced, particular attention was paid to the cylinder head, and this has resulted in somewhat smaller valves than those previously used. Quite apart from the immediate objective, which was to make the engine capable of operating on lead-free petrol, this has apparently given secondary benefits of greater flexibility. The induction arrangements, too, were carefully arranged, with a thermostatically-controlled flap valve to control air intake temperature. BL claim that, although emission control has been achieved, these engines are more efficient than ever.
“The six-cylinder ‘E’-series unit is one of the most flexible of all modern engines, developing its maximum torque low down, and it is equipped with two of the very clever SU HIP carburetters, designed to maintain the mixture at an optimum despite all variations in ambient and vehicle temperature”, reports Mr. Bates. “I should draw your attention to the car’s high gearing”, he says. “We pull a top gear as high as 3.8 to 1 [3.72 on manual, 3.83 on automatic cars.]. This, of course, makes for exceptionally easy cruising with good economy and is partly due to aerodynamics. With this aerodynamically clean car, we were able to provide an acceptable compromise between high-speed cruising and acceleration through the gears.”
So far as the new body is concerned, given the agreed package and advanced styling, BL had to increase stiffness and save weight. They had to assess the effect of stringent International safety legislation. Passenger comfort allied to good ergonomics, serviceability, easy repair and replacement of components, were prime considerations. Some of these requirements meant the car would be slightly longer than the earlier 1800/2200 range. That was considered acceptable. Front-end crushability in accidents was improved. Servicing and accessibility to engine components has been tremendously improved, while luggage accommodation has improved by 11%.
Tom Penny says: “We did not simply add accessories for the sake of it or to claim we had the most comprehensive sales brochure specification. All accessories are functional and necessary to the comfort and safety of driver and passengers. The seats were not only designed to harmonise and be compatible with the Hydragas suspension, but to ensure that the driver, regardless of stature, can ensure his or her eye level is in the correct position for safe driving. There is generous seat travel fore and aft, a reclining squab for correct back angle, and seat height adjustment.
“The heater is a good example of detail improvement. We set out to provide quite simply the best heater on the European market. We were able to do it because we’re rationalising within British Leyland, and it is a heater that is to be adopted for cars built by Rover and Triumph. We wanted to ensure it keeps the back-seat passengers as warm as those in the front. The temperature at the rear seat is within a couple of degrees of that of the front throughout the temperature range. A basic requirement was that it should be capable of moving a bigger volume of air. The air flow is most carefully calculated. It can change the entire volume of air in the car in two minutes. We’ve tried to be practical, too. Fresh air heaters are a very good thing, of course, but there are times—stuck behind a smoky diesel—when you don’t want to draw air from outside. You can close the vents and recirculate air inside the car, and you have a choice of three heater-fan speeds.
“The brief”, explains Harris Mann, “was to design a spacious family saloon with styling advanced enough to last right through the 1970s and beyond. I was to exploit to the full the unique advantages of British Leyland’s front-wheel-drive, transverse-engined concept. Despite its advanced styling, it was to have as much space inside as its predecessor. It was to be easy to enter and leave and to possess a structure fit for every foreseeable safety and impact regulation. Finally, the aerodynamics were to be good, for reduced noise, good high speed stability and low fuel consumption. I saw it as the third stage in a programme to get away from the sedate image of our quantity production cars. The 1300 and the old 1800/ 2200 were all based on the same Mini concept and blown up in size accordingly, like a photo enlargement. Despite their practical merits, and their purposeful character, they were not particularly attractive.
“What we wanted to do in breaking away from that old image was to take it in easy stages: not to hit the public between the eyes with it. Marina’s styling was clean and simple, just to get the ball rolling. The Allegro was more advanced, this new ADO 71 saloon even more. We’re not trying to be either transatlantic or European. The Americans are big and ornate and the proportions are wrong for what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to be Europeans. There’s a sharp edge to European styling that I try to avoid. The object was to be International in appeal, but to retain our own identity. The car is not a crib of anyone else’s, but I am glad to see we appear to be moving forward on lines other successful makers are travelling. Certainly, we’re all influenced by the things we see on the stands at the International salons— the dream cars, I suppose. In this case the start for me, as I think it was for other designers today, was the sports-racing body. But sports-racers are pure function vehicles and if there is a particular shape on them that can be adapted to practical production models, then it must be a good thing. We started thinking that way on the Allegro pulling in all the corners, cutting the air traps and pockets, trying to curve it in. People knock the stylist, but he’s also there to knock off the unnecessary bits and pieces. He can make a car more efficient at piercing the air as well as giving it the character he wants, whether it be eager or sedate.
“The effect that I wanted to get was that the car was firm and eager. Built with its wheels out to the full width of the body, sitting firmly on the ground rather than pouring over the wheels as American cars do. We went into the wind tunnel with quarter-scale and fullsize fibreglass models. There was originally a deep spoiler on the rear roof lip, but it was too successful, creating too much down-force. Of course, that creates extra drag we can do without. So we smoothed the lip out, leaving just enough to give us the downforce we needed for stability. I don’t know a great deal about experimental aerodynamics but have enough grasp of the essentials to interpret what the aerodynamicists tell us. There was a lot of detail attention at the front end. We had tried to find a compromise between the sloping front we wanted for the nose and the requirement to pass enough air through the radiator to meet all engine cooling needs. So the shape beneath the front bumper and the shape of the top surfaces of the bumper itself were modified as a result of wind-tunnel testing. Models suggested that the car would be very clean, with 0.350 co-efficient, but the actual car was just over 0.404, which places it amongst the better large saloons. It should be economical and stable.”
So British Leyland spent some time toying with balloons while the Austin Morris 18-22 Series bodies were being developed by the team of engineers led by Fred Ellis. “Balloon” is the name engineers give to the three dimensional shape traced out by their computer when they feed in the information about the way the front wheels of a car move as they go from lock to lock and up-and-down, on full bump and rebound. The balloon-shaped trace is used to design a structure giving adequate clearance between the. wheels and the body structure. “In the past”, says Fred Ellis, “it was a painstaking, laborious task occupying a senior designer for many weeks. The computer achieves the same result in one day.” This was just one of the many computer applications involved in the design of the 18-22 Series. There are many others. For the body engineer working on cars, accurate construction is a constant objective, and this is particularly so in the case of the tautly-profiled 18-22 Series, the bodies for which are built at Cowley. “Modern body production techniques demand accurate panels and simple assemblies to ensure an uninterrupted, smooth flow of bodies along the assembly track. We know from experience that if a component can be assembled the wrong way, someone will find that way”, says Fred Ellis. “We try to design everything so that it is clear, simple and foolproof.”
The project started with the completion of a full-scale clay model in the Styling Studio at Longbridge, which was presented to Fred Ellis’s team. The structure was then developed with the use of advanced computer-aided design (CAD) techniques to produce a body meeting all the requirements of rust prevention, safety legislation, controlled crushing and barrier impacts, but also built to the requirements of sub-assembly and gate-line assembly methods on the shop floor. “We particularly wanted a clean structure. Under the bonnet the engine compartment was designed with the minimum amount of bracketry for ancillary equipment”, says Mr. Ellis. The front suspension unit is a unitary part of the body construction, dispensing with the need for a subframe. The tight machining tolerances required on this unit caused many headaches on the production line. “We were able to permit the assembly people on the shop floor no concessions”, explains Fred Ellis ; “at pre-production, every time they came to us and asked for some latitude we said ‘no, you must get it right’. And, of course, they did.”
Another example of a production problem neatly solved is the rail that runs across the body at the rear to strengthen the area immediately below the rear window. It is a slender pressing and well perforated to permit the car’s high-flow ventilation system to work effectively. Tighter control of spot-welding and consistency of weld position is maintained by the use of advanced techniques such as the programmed Unimate automatic handling device adapted as a welding tool. “Now we have the most accurate spot-welding on a component that is not distorted despite the considerable amount of heat generated”, says Fred Ellis. The Cowley plant’s ALPHA computer was used extensively for the development of this body. Sensors moving over the clay model’s surfaces turn its contours into digits to enable all skin surfaces to be reproduced accurately. The read-out is reversed from one side of the body to achieve a “mirror image” on the other.
As Director of Marketing at Austin Morris, Bernard Bates is responsible for policy decisions about marketing the new 18-22 Series. He says that the new Austin Morris 18-22 Series was conceived and developed in a very different climate from that of today. “I neither intend nor feel the need to make excuses”, he remarks. “By chance, a product aimed at a market in particular circumstances may suddenly be confronted with a very different set of conditions which actually enhance its position in that market. In the new 18-22 Series the combination of economical engineering with this new, stylish and aerodynamic body shape, has resulted in a car which has achieved some truly satisfying fuel consumption figures. We are introducing a new car in a luxury market which will also prove extremely economical to run—in effect the ideal car for the executive in today’s market conditions. The Mini was launched in 1959 and the sales record to date proves that the public still places it in a position far ahead of any of its rivals.”
It is the declared intention of Austin Morris to produce cars with a high specification, and worthy of a quality reputation. The new 18-22 Series was developed with these objectives very much to the fore. The new models are not cheap, but they are a highly equipped range which offer excellent value for money. The design of the new cars means that they do not possess the external bulk of some of their competitors. But they do derive from the transverse engine, front-wheel-drive layout a degree of interior space, both for passengers and luggage, which assure its status as a large car. It is confidently expected that the new model line-up will retain the bulk of its previous 1800 and 2200 customers and at the same time provide a viable alternative to any of the top-of-the-range models from both domestic and imported major manufacturers. It is still very much a part of Austin Morris’s policy to provide its customers with the latest in automotive technology.
“You say we are renowned for that”, said Mr. Bates. “In that case we feel we are justified in drawing the attention of the public to other features of our cars: style, space, economy, performance, handling, value for money. But, of course, these are all benefits of technological progress. The philosophy of Austin Morris has never been innovation for its own sake, but only to provide the best possible product. We feel that the public is now sufficiently aware of the advantages we derive and offer from the mechanical format used in the new range, to appreciate that in terms of handling, ride, interior space and so on, the 18-22 Series will set new standards in this area of the market.
“The top of the Austin Maxi and Morris Marina ranges”, explains Mr. Bates, “are both competing in the same area of the market as the 1800 version. As the situation is, there is a very wide choice within our own model ranges in this area of the market. There is the eminently practical f.w.d. Austin Maxi, the conventionally-engineered Morris Marina, and the new Austin Morris 1800 version of the 18-22. Each will suit the precise and particular needs of those who choose them. The HL variants of the new range are aimed directly at the executive market to which a dual-purpose car is less likely to appeal. No compromise has been made in the standard of quality and finish of these models. We foresee a continuing and steady market for these large luxury saloons, although we anticipate that in this area there will be a noticeable movement to slightly smaller models with improved economy—akin to that in fact achieved by our new 18-22 Series.”
Just over a month before the release of the ADO 71 I was allowed to drive a High Line version of the Morris 2200. I cut my teeth on the Issigonis Mini concept back in 1959 and subsequently had less satisfactory service, but enjoyable motoring, from an early Morris 1100. I liked the idea of these safe-handling, spacious cars getting bigger and was enthusiastic about the first Austin 1800, even if a loose exhaust-flange did its best to gas me on the eve of one of BMC’s Motor Show luncheons, where I had been placed to sit next to the car’s designer! So I come to this important new British bid for World sales with some experience of the kind of car ADO 71 is, and willing to be convinced.
The Morris 2200 HL engine is the same as that introduced in 1972, with a stroke (81.28 mm.) just over 5 mm. greater than the bore (capacity= 2,227 c.c.), and block and head made of cast-iron. The overhead camshaft is chain-driven and carburation is by twin SU carburetters that require a manual enrichener for cold-starting. But this non-crossflow, 7-bearing power unit is very smooth and, in spite of ADO 71’s high gearing, pulls away untroubled from about 17 m.p.h. in top gear. It is claimed to develop 110 DIN b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m. and 125 lb./ft. torque at 3,500 r.p.m. (Although this was the HL model, there was no tachometer.)
Although there is still some movement detectable if the throttles are opened roughly, revision of the engine mountings, which are of rubber pot-type at four points, with diecast aluminium brackets bolted to the body front cross-member and to the bulkhead cross-tube, has eliminated the excessive torque-snatch which mars the Allegro.
I was able to drive this new car more than 600 miles in the few days it was allocated to me and the further I went, the more I liked it. It is at its best at reasonably brisk speeds and it is a tragedy that our prevailing speed-limits scarcely enable the 2200 to exert its maximum appeal to the driver. I did not take any performance figures but BL claim 0-60 m.p.h. in 13 sec. from the manual gearbox 2200s and a top pace of 106 m.p.h. That gives a quick measure of potential but is far from the whole story. The extremely high qualities of road-holding, cornering and comfort are the outstanding aspects of this new 2200, as they were of earlier models. The power-assisted steering that is standardised on the HL versions and on the Wolseley is very light and emits mild hydraulic hisses at times. At first I thought it too light but I became used to it; I think, however, that even at 3 1/4 turns, lock-to-lock, on a car with a 40-ft. between-walls turning circle, it is just too low-geared for the best exploitation of the very high, safe cornering speed of the car. But as it is rack-and-pinion, there is no lost motion. The Hydragas suspension seems quite hard, so that very noticeable bump-thump occurs at times and normally rough roads produce a very slight tremor through body shell and steering wheel. The level ride is not quite in the Rolls-Royce or Citroen class but overall this is very acceptable suspension, combining low-roll cornering characteristics with a considerable degree of general ride comfort. Ground clearance might be better, for my unmade drive caused something, perhaps the fuel tank, to graunch once or twice, whereas most cars, Lotus Elan and Maserati excepted, negotiate it without anxiety.
The Morris engine emits subdued sounds of enthusiasm but cannot be called in any way noisy; to get the best out of the car the gearlever should be freely used. The “C”-series four-speed all-synchromesh box has a stubby gaitered lever with quite long movements. It functioned slightly stiffly, in this car that had run some 2,600 miles, but was precise and nice to operate. Reverse is guarded by having to lift the lever to engage it and tended to baulk, if hurried unduly. The hydraulicallyoperated SDP Belleville 8 3/4-in. clutch is light and smooth. The brakes, which are dual-circuit servo type with four-caliper discs at the front and drums at the rear, work extremely lightly and are very effective; only a rather long pedal travel makes them seem insensitive until one has grown used to their feel. The central hand-brake is well located. There was very little servo vacuum in hand with the engine off and the brakes squealed very loudly when used lightly.
The new driving position is excellent, the quite small one-spoke steering wheel set low, and vision enhanced by the steeply-sloping screen pillars and recessed wiper blades. The driver can adjust his seat for height as well as the usual positioning and the comfort-level is commendable. The seat slid stiffly, under a lifting bar catch. The Ambla upholstery has the appearance of leather. The wide facia has a hooded section that takes in not only the somewhat recessed instruments but the heater panel, which incorporates a cigarette-lighter. The speedometer reads to 120 m.p.h. (and in k.p.h.) with figures at 20-m.p.h. intervals, and is matched by a big clock with seconds-hand and a combined fuel, heat and battery gauge, all very easy to read. Outboard of the dials there are some fumbly flat-ended switches for putting on the side or headlamps, rear-window heater, two-degrees of brightness for the panel-lighting, which also illuminates the heater levers, the hazard warning lights, and the warning light for a hydraulic brake-failure check. Two steering-column stalks control from the r.h. one lamps beam, lamps flashing, horn and turn indicators, from the l.h. one the two-speed wipers and washers, with a single-wipe action as needed. A clear view of the instruments and the amber, blue, red and green warning lamps for the usual services is obtained, as the steering-wheel spoke is two-thirds down the diameter, in the straight ahead position. There are deep vizors and a vanity mirror. The rearview mirror was apt to vibrate. The doors have good two-position “keeps” and quickaction window winders.
The heater provided plenty of warmth but I had to adjust it to car speed and for demisting. Central and side vents admit cold and hot air, respectively, as required, and look after demisting of the front side windows. There is a three-speed heater fan, to promote great blasts of ventilation. Stowages consist of under-facia lined shelves for driver and front passenger, a lockable cubbyhole of decent size, and a small open well ahead of the gear-lever. The lid of the cubby drops but does not lie quite flat, as would be useful for picnic glasses. One item that I didn’t like was a flashing and clicking little man with a belt across his torso, who remains there until both front-seat safety-belts are plugged in, as if Lord Stokes is prompting compulsion! The choke-cum-hand-throttle lives one side of the steering column, the ignition key on the other side.
Opinion about the new body shape must be personal. I thought it nicer from the wedge front angle than from the rather wide rearquarters, and could have done without the lining that comes to a point on the scuttle sides. It has wide doors, which shut quietly but tend to bounce open, flush-fitting internal handles, sill locks, and a lockable boot, which has no internal illumination. The boot is enormous and flat-floored, and with the Dunlop Denovo tyres no spare wheel is carried. The body slopes downwards towards the front, and reversing is none too easy, but otherwise driver vision is good. The fuel tank capacity is quoted as 16 gallons. The substantial cap requires a key to close it and is under a flap which gets covered with mud in bad weather, as do the sills of the body. The fuel range was 260 miles to the gauge going to the reserve indication, after which sufficient Esso remained for another 99 miles. The test-car was fuelled originally, and lubricated, by Shell. A consumption check I made, using Jet 4-star, gave 25.4 m.p.g., under rather gentle conditions, in fog, but including a cold start.
The restyled nose has left a great deal of room on both sides of the transverse engine, to facilitate servicing. The bonnet releases easily and stays up on its own, supported, like the boot lid, by two struts. Dip-stick, plugs, Lucas 190 amp./55 amp./hr. P240 Aqualok battery, etc., are absolutely to hand but the engine is vulnerable to road dirt, the coil and starter especially so, although, of course, properly sealed. About half a pint of oil had been consumed in 820 miles. With the heater on, it is inadvisable to stow chocolate in the cubby hole. To sum up, this car on which so many British hopes must rest is exceedingly pleasant, especially for covering long distances quickly. Wind noise is low, you can corner it as fast as you dare and it would be safe at even higher speeds; it is comfortable, spacious enough to be a VIP’s mini-limousine, crisply styled, and it rides comfortably. Traces of its ancestry remain, in the slight torque-reaction from drive to over-run between engine and body shell, and in slight gear-whine heard on the over-run at low speeds. But everything the older 1800s did so well the new 18-22 Series car does better. Drive the Morris HL along a road like that from Bridgnorth to Knighton via Clun, for instance, and you get a glimpse of what a fine car this would be for long untiring Continental journeys. It has a smoothness and eagerness peculiar to it, and which are very pleasing.
Apart from the model I tried, there are the four-cylinder 1,798-c.c. “B”-series push-rod o.h.v.-engined cars. These have the same “C”-series gear cluster and all manual gearbox cars have a 3.72-to-1 final drive, giving 18.8 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., or 18.3 on Denovo tyres. A very wide frontal radiator is used, with a thermostatically-controlled electric fan ahead of it, on the six, and all cars have revised damping and spring rates for the Hydragas suspension. At the front the mounting is as on the former Hydrolastic 1800, and at the rear Allegro design is followed. Special nylon-cased, low profile 185/70 SR14 Dunlop radial-ply tyres are used, but Dunlop Denovos, as on the test car, are an option. The body is 9 in. longer than before and has 11% more luggage space, at a quoted 12.56 cu. ft. The body shell has electrophoretic primer, wax injection of box sections, and is undersealed over 73 sq. ft., to defeat rust, apart from multi-coat painting, and the wheel arches have moulded plastic liners The 2200 has a kerb weight of 2,638 lb.
It seems that only the Wolseley 2200 has a boot light; it also has an under-bonnet lamp. The Austin range has a straight radiator grille, the Morris cars an oblong grille-centre, while the Wolseley has its own traditional grille. There are fully-reclining front seats with 240 cushion settings, and optional head-restraints, which are set too far back. There are detail differences between the 1800 and 2200 models and the top-trim Wolseley. Austin versions have q.i. trapezoidal headlamps, the others using four round 5 3/4-in. tungsten lamps, for instance. All have two external mirrors and there are ten colour and three trim options. Power-assisted steering is available for all 1800s, and laminated screen, tinted glass, metallic finish, and Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission for all models. Radio, a Radiomobile on the test-car, is another option, but standard, with most of the options, on the Wolseleys. The 1800 manual gearbox model is said to do 0-60 m.p.h. in 15 1/2 sec. and to have a top speed of 98 m.p.h. A good owner’s handbook has been prepared.-W.B.
N.B.: If prices are quoted for these new BL cars before We close for press, they will be quoted elsewhere.