B.M.C.’s new offering for the London Motor Show was their long-awaited ADO17 in the form of the Austin 1100, which is of the same ingenious Issigonis/Moulton layout as their Minis and 1100s but with a five-bearing single-S.C. 80.3 x 88,9 mm. (1,798 c.c.) 84 b.h.p. engine, remote gear lever, Girling disc front/drum rear brakes with the new “g” sensitive limiting valve, a wheelbase of 8 ft. 10 in. and a kerb weight of 22. cwt.
I was unable to indulge in one of the Highland holidays laid on to enable journalists to try this car while it was still on the Secret-List, but B.M.C. made one available to me for the weekend before the Motor Show opened; the following are impressions gleaned after I had driven it for 500 hurried miles. As a satisfied user for two years of the Editorial Morris 1100, I looked forward with keen anticipation to a higher performance version of this very safe and comfortable small car. The exceedingly spacious new 1.8-litre front-drive Austin, if not exactly a high-performance car, will go to indicated speeds of 33, 48, and well over 70 m.p.h. in its indirect gears and will very comfortably top 90 m.p.h. in top gear. It is also exceedingly spacious, with leg-stretching room for three people in the rear and three at a pinch on the separate front seats. As to acceleration, it will beat a Citroën DW, of which in some respects it is the English equivalent, right up the range, but nevertheless an M.G. version would be welcome.
If the external appearance of the car has gone somewhat astray (Farina, forgive me!) the “castors” aspect has gone, for the 175 x 13 Dunlop SP41 tyres give the impression of being quite big wheels. If the appearance cannot be described more enthusiastically than functional, the same goes for the interior decor, the doors, being heavier, close far better than those of the Morris 1100, there are opening rear quarter-lights but none at the front, the extremities of the facia have fully adjustable fresh-air vents, the customary B.M.C. rigid door pockets are retained, the internal door handles are simple but well-placed pull-out affairs. there are sill door-locks, roof grabs for the rear compartment, automatic illumination of the luggage boot, armrests on the rear doors but no central arm rest to bisect the very wide rear Seat nor any armrests on the front doors, the windscreen is a non-wrapround Triplex zoned type, Britax inertia-reel safety belts were fitted, and there are soft visors (but no vanity mirror, girls!), the rather nasty B.M.C. door-pulls, and very generous-sized leather seats on the de-luxe model.
Instrumentation is as neat as can be. The narrow and accurate Smiths’ ribbon-type too m.p.h./16o k.p.h. speedometer with total mileometer recording to decimals, has, on its left, the ignition/ starter key and lamps flick-switch (foot-dimmer), on its right, four warning lights, the wipers’ flick-switch and washers’ button. T6 the left of the speedometer is the thermometer (C,N,H.) and on the right of it a fuel gauge, (E,½,F)—there are no other instruments.
The new cable-coupled remote gear-lever, slender but rigid, is between the front seats, extremely well to hand. It lifts for reverse. Its position has necessitated an awkward location of the hand-brake, which is a pull-out toggle-ended control protruding from the centre of the full-width under-facia parcels’ shelf. The various heater controls, which are additional to the elaborate facia fresh-air vents aforementioned, are below the lower edge of the shelf, unilluminated by the panel lighting, which has its own tiny switch under the facia. The usual B.M.C. right-hand stalk controls the turn-indicators and also flashes the headlamps.
I was amused to see that Issigonis has capitulated and now provides crash padding inside the car, although this does not imply that the inherent safety factors of good handling and stability for which the ADO designs are outstanding has been forsaken. He has also provided synchromesh on bottom gear and only occasionally does the gear lever baulk at going into this gear.
First impressions were the good interior styling and comfort of the ADO17, while its luggage boot, which looks small from without, swallowed with consummate ease all the luggage we bought to it in the spacious, but different type, boot of a Ford Cortina GT. The Austin’s boot is automatically illuminated. There is courtesy interior lighting, but only from the front doors.
What of the Austin 1800 on the road? Can its critics be answered? Certainly, the steering, which calls for 4½ turns, lock to lock, with no lost motion, is heavy for parking. But once on the move it is very light; indeed the change from the heavy action when parking to the very light steering on corners needs acclimatisation. However, the front wheels do not break away, the Dunlop ST41s hanging on to beyond yelping point. Nevertheless, there is no doubt at all that this dismally low-geared steering is a bad feature of the new car. In conjunction with the rather upright rake of the steering column it becomes an embarrassment on very twisty roads, or when making right-angle turns in towns. To a considerable extent it is overcome by vigorous castor-return action and for normal fast main road motoring I found the steering acceptable. Indeed, the general handling qualities are extremely similar to those of the 1100, and there is no transmission of road shock through the steering wheel.
As to the gear change, the lever has long movements, the action is distinctly “notchy,” and the lever goes in with audible “clicks,” but the change goes through quickly and positively and is as great an improvement over the Morris 1100 gear-change as this was a relief after the Original Mini gear-change.
Visibility is extremely good except that the driver sits rather low, but the slight tail-tins are no help when reversing as they are out of sight. The leather seats, generally, are notably comfortable, with good support in the small of the back but rather flat squabs which provide no lateral support when cornering the Austin 1800 as enthusiastic drivers will undoubtedly want to corner it. The new five-bearing engine is smooth but makes about the average amount of noise, particularly when cruising at around 70 m.p.h. Rear-seat passengers complain more of the noise level than those sitting in the front. The very rigid body shell was free from rattles and squeaks except for fretting from the o/s front doorpocket.
It is interesting that although Issigonis is a bachelor he has provided for large families in the Austin 1800, unlike the Rover and Jensen body-stylists, who obviously believe in family planning! When you get to know it, the ADO17 is almost a match for the ADO15 and 16 versions when it comes to fast cornering, and it goes around absolutely “flat,” without a trace of roll.
Alex’s Contribution to Alec’s newest mechanical confection shows up well, in the form of this splendid cornering stability and the comfortable and pitch-free ride. As an aside, in this respect I must be careful, because some years ago Motor Sport published a poem to distinguish Alex from Alec but I find that in a B.M.C. hand-out covering the ADO17, the designer of the car appears to have changed his name! Surely this cannot be an .admission that the Alex Moulton Hydrolastic suspension has made a greater contribution to the new car than Alec lssigonis’ own part in it? The Girling brakes are very powerful for light pedal pressures hut a famish run over the Abergwesyn-Tregtron mountain road made the pedal go down towards the floorboards, but this hint of brake fade soon disappeared. The handbrake needed a strong pull before it would hold the car.
Before condemning the Austin 1800 as being too sluggish it must be remembered that it is a very spacious car selling at a modest price. If it is wound up reasonably in the gears it will reach a cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. along the average British road. There is a strong understeer cornering trend which changes less perceptibly to oversteer when lifting off than is the case with the smaller versions of the ADO cars. At idling r.p.m. odd tappings .emanate from beneath the bonnet and a sudden change from drive to over-run causes the air-cleaner-to audibly smote the heater. The throttle linkage certainly requires revision, causing the most unfortunate snatch when starting from rest unless great care is taken. The horn button is still in the steering wheel hub, there is a toggle choke control under the facia shelf, and B.M.C.s dirty-oil-filter warning light is retained.
As for the fresh-air ventilation system, this is hissy and insensitive but does project extremely strong blasts of cool air into the car. However, the fact that the blast varies very noticeably with changes in car speed means that the settings, controlled by three separate levers, require continual adjustment for maximum comfort to be achieved and, as it is necessary to lean forward slightly to reach these controls, the system is a mixed blessing.
The treadle accelerator is quite well placed in relation to the brake pedal for heeling-and-toeing, the bonnet prop now has a release-catch to obviate jamming, and the fuel filler is a locked flap on the nearside rear of the body, while the spare Wheel is under the boot floor. And, to answer our own query posed on page 958, the S.U. petrol Pump appeared to be somewhat better protected from road muck than it is on the Imps. The fuel tank has a capacity of 101-gallons, or perhaps slightly less, and gave an overall range of 254 miles. The overall petrol consumption came out at 25.5 m.p.g. of premium petrol. There are practically no maintenance worries with this car, the cooling system being sealed, no chassis parts needing greasing except for the handbrake cable at 6,000 mile intervals, when the engine/gearbox oil should be changed, while the disc brakes are self-adjusting. Underbonnet components are fully accessible but there is no starting handle.
In conclusion, the long-awaited Austin 1800 is a very interesting car notable for its carrying capacity in relation to its overall size, its internal luxury, the rigidity of the body shell, and the splendid “Alex qualities.” which give it such an outstanding ride and such notable stability on fast corners. It is in the low-geared steering, the effort needed for parking, the about-average noise level, the uncontrolled movement of the engine on its ingenious mountings, and minor inconveniences of handbrake and gearchange, which combine to give rise to a certain amount of disappointment. Nevertheless, this very modern car, selling at the competitive price of £808 14s. 7d., p.t paid, forecasted as long-lasting, and calling for so little maintenance:, will no doubt be received with considerable enthusiasm. I gather that we are still likely to be enthusing over this ADO17 in the year 2001.—W. B.