Often when we talk about British Leyland, or BMC, or British Motor Holdings, to use just three of the corporation’s many names utilised between 1952 and 1989, it’s in less than complimentary terms – and often for good reason too.
Indeed, my first job after graduation was at BL Cars (as the car subsidiary of British Leyland was known from 1975) and involved trying to sell some of the worst cars in the market to fleet users. By the time I left in 1985, the name had changed again, this time to the Austin Rover Group (yes, ARG for short….)
However, investigate a little beyond the bad reputation and years of strikes, reliability and quality issues, and it’s clear that among the over-complicated, extensively badge-engineered model range, the company actually made some pretty good cars. Particularly up through the 1950’s and ‘60’s. One of those was the Austin 1800 (internally known as ADO17) and its Wolseley and Morris derivatives. My father owned a Morris 1800 MkII in the early 1970’s, which served our family of four well, as it was spacious and comfortable over long distances – an especially useful combination for our bi-annual drive to the south of Germany to visit relatives. The first of the photos below show me with my younger sister and a cousin in front of our house; the other was taken at an extended-family picnic in August 1971 in the beautiful Lonetal in Baden Württemberg. Note the VW Type 3 on the left!
Nowadays, like many popular cars back in the day, they are few and far between. So much so, that over all the shows I’ve been to in recent years, I’ve seen only a handful, and I can’t even remember when I last saw one on the road. So spotting a good example while browsing through Car & Classic was a nice surprise. In fact, it’s one of four currently for sale on the site, but this one seems to look particularly appealing while representing good value.
This specific Austin 1800, a 1969 Mk II, can be found in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and judged purely on the photographs in the advert, generally presents very well in a charming and very period pastel blue with a pale grey interior.Alterations from the Mk I to the Mk II were subtle. As a Mk II, it has the tail lights neatly integrated vertically into the small rear fins, and it also received a slightly redesigned interior and front grille, making it look a little sharper than the Mk I managed.
Its 4-cylinder 1798cc engine is mated to a 4-speed manual box, and according to the vendor, the car is in excellent condition both externally and internally, as are the engine and transmission – indeed, they claim it drives like new. The tyres are also claimed to be “as new”. Although first impressions are positive, and it doesn’t look or read as though the car is likely to need much work for some time, it would be useful to see more photographs and any service history, before making the trip to ‘Derry, and there is of course no substitute for actually seeing the car in the metal.
Back when the ADO17 range was launched in 1965, it won the coveted Car of the Year accolade. Its virtues included exceptional roominess (a function of its wide stance, from which it got it’s “Landcrab” nickname), front wheel drive, transverse engine and Hydrolastic suspension. It was very rugged, as its later success in rallying demonstrated. It shared a ribbon speedo with the Rover P6, and was designed by Pininfarina, same as a Ferrari – well, sort of. In fact, Alec Issigonis and Pininfarina at least worked on the car’s styling together.
It wasn’t a performance car by any measure – even the 97 bhp 1800S introduced in 1970 topped out at 161km/h, with 0-100 km/h taking 15 seconds. But this didn’t stop it being a successful rally car, finishing second in the 1968 London-to-Sydney Rally, and taking three of the top 20 spots in the 1970 London-to-Mexico World Cup Rally. It was in fact the rally crews that coined the Landcrab nickname.
A more powerful version, the 6-cylinder 2200, was launched in 1972, with the option of wearing either Austin, Morris and Wolseley badges. Over 386,000 examples of all variants were produced in just over a decade, with production ending in 1975 when the ADO17 was replaced by Harris Mann’s dramatic wedge-shaped ADO71, or Princess. Within the UK, only 100 examples of the Austin 1800 version now remain, with another 80 Morris’s and a similar number of Wolseley 18/85’s.
Coming back to this example, no mileage is quoted, nor is there any mention of a service history or restoration work, so questions still need to be asked of the vendor. However, if all is as claimed, this Austin 1800 would be a very reasonably-priced, easy and practical way to enter the classic car world, it will easily cope with family days out to classic events and you won’t see very many about. Not bad for £5750…
Here are a few pictures of the Austin 1800 which we have borrowed from the advert:
So if you too can see yourself behind the wheel of one of yesteryears daily heroes, and not least a BL product which proves all the naysayers wrong, here’s the link to the advert: 1969 Austin 1800 Mk II.
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org