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BMC 1.5 Farina

BMC 1.5 Farina Published: 26th Jul 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

BMC 1.5 Farina
BMC 1.5 Farina
BMC 1.5 Farina
BMC 1.5 Farina
BMC 1.5 Farina
BMC 1.5 Farina
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Andrew Roberts charts the history of an oh so quintessentially British family saloon, whatever badge it wore, and why it was a class apart from its rivals

For an impression of the world of the BMC “Farina”, just imagine a British comedy film made in 1959. The opening scene commenced with a recently built pair of semi-detached villas in a respectable suburban community. Out of the lefthand house emerges Mr. Austin A55 Cambridge Mk II (Tony Hancock) and from the opposite side of the fence, Mr. Morris Oxford Series V (Lionel Jeffries) who set off for the office. Each treats the other with cordial disdain – the Austin owner regards the extra £14 over the price of the Cambridge as a reckless extravagance while the Morris driver regards the rival BMC marque as lacking in stable values. However, they are both discretely thrilled to take the wheel of a car that combines solid engineering with almost as much Italian flair as that new espresso bar in the local shopping parade.

Meanwhile, at a neat bungalow round the corner Mr. Wolseley 15/60 (Raymond Huntley) completes a letter to The Times recommending the immediate deportation to British Antarctica for anyone caught listening to The Goon Show. Of course, those tailfins took some getting used to – one could not have the neighbours thinking that one is becoming a Teddy Boy – but the interior is utterly respectable. And, naturally, the grille badge illumines with the sidelights.

Finally, we arrive at Mr. MG Magnette MkIII (Leslie Phillips) and Mr. Riley 4/68 (Robert Morley), an estate agent and a senior partner in a solicitors’ practice respectively. The former believes that his sporty set of wheels is simply ideal for impressing clients while the octagon logo gives him the excuse to don a flat hat and cravat at the weekends. As for the latter, well traditional values in a modernistic package, plus sufficient headroom to wear a Homburg when at the wheel are all he requires from a motor car.

Flamboyancy and fins

When the British Motor Corporation launched the 15/60, the first of its mediumsized “Farina” line-up, in December 1958, it marked a departure for the concern in two significant areas. Familiarity with its lines over the past six decades has often masked how radically new the coachwork would have seemed to a Macmillan-era driver. The first BMC car with Pininfarina styling was the Austin A40, which made its bow a few months earlier, and to quite a few motorists the Wolseley looked almost as groundbreaking.

Secondly, it was the first BMC product to be extensively badge-engineered. Of course, Morris and Wolseley products had been closely related for many years, and the Gerald Palmer-designed saloon range of the 1950s had been sold under four different marque names. But the “Farina” line-up was a definite hierarchy, with the Wolseley appearing first, at a price of £991. It was followed in January 1959 by the Austin which sold for £802 while the MG which made its bow in February would have set you back £1013. The £816 Morris version first appeared in March, and the flagship Riley in April retailed at £1028.

One reason for this state of affairs was BMC’s unwieldy dealership network which demanded its own cars – indeed, as late as 1975 the 18-22 ‘Wedge’ was sold under three different badges – and another was economy of scale. The Austin, Morris and Wolseley all featured prominent tailfins and the 1489cc B-Series engine in singlecarburettor form; the last-named boasted a more elaborately trimmed cabin. The MG and the Riley featured twin carbs, slightly less exuberant rear treatment and, on the latter, a tachometer. Only the Cambridge and the Oxford were available with a steering column gear change.

Motor regarded the A55 MkII as a “smooth and well-proven four/five seat family car” but when the chaps at Motor Sport tested a Wolseley they were clearly not followers of fashion – “we abhor tailfins”. The testers also mused that “the purchaser must not overlook the fact that new bodies and new designations can be used to mask out-dated components”.

As for the MG, anyone trading in their Magnette ZB was almost certain to be disappointed; neither the MkIII nor the 4/68 could be considered a sports saloon like the ZA and ZB. Autocar thought the Riley was “well-built and durable” but enthusiasts of the diamond badge demanded more in the way of dynamic abilities.

The Farina arguably made the most sense in its Austin and Morris forms; solid, capacious and dependable transport. Their image was definitely less flamboyant than the Vauxhall Victor F-Type or the Hillman Minx Series III, but they had absolutely zero pretensions towards high performance. The Cambridge Countryman/Oxford Traveller of late 1960 only enhanced their appeal, the horizontally split tailgate and extensive load bay proving to be attractive sales features.

In the autumn of 1961, the range was extensively revised, with anti-roll bars front and rear, an increase in track size, a slightly longer wheelbase and a lustier 1622cc engine. The Austin A60, Morris Oxford Series VI and Wolseley 16/60 now featured somewhat more restrained fins and, on the Cambridge and Oxford, new frontal treatment. Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission was now an optional extra across the entire range.

Autocar described the A60 as an example of “the backbone of family motoring” – a car that went about its work ‘economically and unobtrusively’. However, as the decade progressed, sales of the Morris and Austin were increasingly affected by the Cortina, which was lighter to drive and more enthusiastically developed by Ford. In 1963 the MG Magnette Mk. IV and the Riley 4/72 were unlikely to provide viable alternatives to the new Rover P6 or Triumph 2000, and indeed they now served as a reminder of how BMC lacked an entry in this market sector. At least the Wolseley retained its idiosyncratic appeal to retired army officers, headmasters and anyone who regarded the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marples series as cutting-edge cinema.

A further problem was that the Farina’s intended replacement eventually developed into the separate 1800 ‘Landcrab’ and another issue was that the company was too focused on its FWD products – but to the detriment of its older models. By the mid-1960s sales of the British Motor Corporation’s principal model for the fleet, market were not good, and work commenced on a new transverse engine five-door saloon.

The Magnette ceased production in April 1968 while the Maxi would eventually succeed the Austin A60 in early 1969. October of that year marked the demise of the 4/72 together, sadly, with one of Britain’s oldest car marques while the Oxford and 16/60 lasted until the spring of 1971. By that time British Leyland’s management decreed that the Morris badge would be reserved for ‘traditional’ RWD products, as demonstrated by the new if hardly cutting edge Marina.

The Farinas would continue to be seen on the roads for many more years, especially as rural taxi cabs, their ranks slowly depleted by corrosion and the not wholly welcome attention of banger racers. Despite such fascinating overseas versions as the Argentine-built Di Tella and the Australian Austin Freeway/Wolseley 24-80 (which featured a local 2.4-litre six-cylinder engine) they never had the international reputation of the Peugeot 404. The BMC product certainly did not lack for the potential to be a world car but it had the misfortune to be made by a firm that regarded the clever use of badges as a substitute for proper development.

And as for my own favourite memory of the Farina, it has to be the 1960 classic science-fiction drama Village of the Damned. After all, when you are facing an alien invasion by proxy of Hertfordshire, only a Wolseley 15/60 will suffice…


Remember when… 1971

Time was finally called on the Farina range after 13 years where the world was very different to when BMC launched it. Here’s why…

The year started off badly in January when during ‘an old firm’ Celtic vs Rangers football match at Ibrox a crowd surge caused a stairway to collapse killing 66 spectators and injuring many more 10 years after a similar accident.

Out went £sd in favour of decimalisation and 100 new pence to a pound; Rolls-Royce went bankrupt and, as a result, was nationalised; British Leyland launched its first new car after taking over BMC – the sink or swim Morris Marina – based upon the old Minor.

Here’s something that’s rarely been out of the news since… That June, Britain under the leadership of Tory Edward Heath, began successful talks to join the Common Market leading to membership a couple of years later in 1973. Forty five years on and we are leaving.

In sport, Arsenal did the double, beating Liverpool 2-1 with Eddie Kelly becoming the first substitute to score in an FA Cup final (the goalmouth scramble originally attributed to George Graham). In F1, Scot Jackie Stewart canters to his second title.

With salaries of £2805 and a typical house costing £5300, you’d need some overtime to also afford a new £900 Marina let alone £1082 for a Wolseley 16/60 – so how about a ’68 Cortina 1600 at £675, or a well kept ’63 MG Magnette at just £285 instead?



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