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BMC 1800

Published: 16th Nov 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

BMC 1800
BMC 1800
BMC 1800
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It was the Mini theme taken as large as it could go… So why did the logical 1800 fail to capture the public’s approval like that small wonder?

During development the 1800 was badged Cambridge but costs r uled this idea out

ADO 67 was Issigonis’s third stab using the front-wheel-drive, maximum interior space ‘Mini’ principle, but it certainly wasn’t so lucky for BMC’s most famous innovator as his original baby. Designed initially to replace the old and rapidly dating Farinas saloons, high production costs soon scuppered that idea – just as it did for the idea of the 1100 replacing the much loved Morris Minor two years earlier in 1962.

Issigonis thought that, by simply bigging up the 1100 – which essentially was the Mini in terms of design and packaging – he was onto another winner. On paper it was just what a growing family should want from a family car. In practice, it lacked all that was good about the previous smaller models – including their character.

The problem was not so much the car but the creator himself. By the time the 1800 came out Alec Issigonis thought that he could walk on water and do no wrong and was famously oblivious to any criticisms. Although he called in designer Pininfarina to pen the car, Issigonis insisted that he did the middle leaving the Italian to top and tail it; the results were predictable. Worst still Issigonis’s minimalist trademark that served the Mini well was carried over to the 1800 and the interior was unbelievably stark as a result. In fact, it offered little more for the money than a stretched Austin 1100’s living quarters.

Mechanically, the car was advanced as they came back in the 1960s; transverse drive train and harnessed by the Hydrolastic suspension, which worked well on the 1100. Powering the 1800 was a de-rated single-carb engine that fi rst saw the light of day in the MGB. Initially badged as an Austin, a Morris derivative didn’t surface until ‘66 which further led to a badge-engineered luxury Wolseley 18/85 version, which at least boasted a more acceptable cabin as well as a touch more speed.

When the MkII was launched in ’68, automatic and much needed power steering were on the options list. A mild facelift cheered up the dumpy looks and the car’s gearing was improved to counter overrevving, and a resultant high oil burning.

For a few months BMC marketed three midsized family ranges; the Farinas, the 1800 and the new Maxi, which incidentally shared the 1800s doors, and so dictated the similar style. Despite the fact that the Maxi boasted a more advanced engine, a useful hatch facility, and fi ve-speed a transmission, the 1800 was the more expensive purchase of them all. In 1972 a Maxi 1750 retailed at £1324, against £1363 for the 1800.

The earlier MGB-powered 1800S had by then given way to the 2200, which ironically used a delightful six-cylinder derivative of the Maxi engine, although sans fi ve-speeds sadly!

By the time the 1800 bowed out to make way for the futuristically-styled 18-22 (Princess) series in 1975, less 400,000 ADO 67 had been made, falling well short of its anticipated target. The idea of a large, functional, roomy car sounded ideal for most families – except they didn’t like the look of it. And let’s not forget the biggest mistake of them all – the 1967 Austin 3 Litre. A stretched 1800 with a new longer top and tail, it was designed in the early ‘60s to replace the Westminster flagship but, despite its MGC-derived engine, rear-wheel drive chassis and self-leveling rear suspension, it only sold 10,000, which was slightly better than the much criticised MGC launched at the same time. Luxurious and roomy it may had been but with those gawky looks – even worse than the 1800’s – what company head would want to be seen in one, when a base Jaguar XJ6 2.8 cost the same money? It predictably bowed out in 1971.

British Leyland (nee BMC) made the Land Rover, but did you also know it made the ‘Land Crab’? That’s the nick-name for the 1800, due to its propensity to grossly understeer rather like a big Mini, but without the agility. Yet, thanks to the 1800’s strength (claimed to be the strongest bodyshell ever made at the time) the car proved its worth in rallying and would have won the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon but for an accident, leaving that other unlikely hero – the Hillman Hunter – to take overall, if not moral, victory. 

But the 1800 was best suited to more domestic duties, where its people carrier-like capacity in ordinary saloon dimensions meant that it swallowed families and their luggage with ease. Despite boasting an MGB-derived engine, the 1800 was never a driver’s car, but the Hydrolastic suspension worked better in the larger body than it ever did with the bouncy Mini or the 1100.

The bus-like driving position and upright seating (Issigonis thought that by making the driver uncomfortable it would keep him/her alert!) did the driving experience no favours, and the intolerable location of the umbrella handbrake was always a bane of contention right from launch.

Indeed, Issigonis noted that during development (in October ’62) the handbrake location and efficiency needed improving. To which, one wondered, where had it been put in the first place?

As a second-hand buy the 1800 was a good purchase. Apart from never being short on space, it was a fairly easy car to DIY, while rear subframe rust was never as prevalent as it was on its smaller brothers. Motor said that the 1800 was “one of the most maligned British cars on the market” and concluded that (in 1968) it was “one of the best medium-priced big cars available anywhere in the world today”. It was just what many right thinking motorist were looking for… just like the Mini and the 1100 but bigger. But this plain common sense philosophy was taken a step too far with the 1800; buyers also wanted style. 

Interestingly, BLMC could have salvaged the car as early as 1968. Its co-designer Sergio Pininfarina designed a concept 1800 which was exhibited at the Turin show. It created a lot of interest, but the UK car giant turned the Italian’s offer down. What did it look like? Well, the next time you see a sleek Citroen CX, think of what an 1800 could well have been!

When The Car Was The Star

In ‘Blind Run’, an especially fi ne episode of the ever-watchable ‘The Professionals’, Bodie & Doyle have a new form of transport; the Capri has been replaced by a Morris 1800 Mk.1, the better to be destroyed in the regulation abandoned warehouse. An Austin badged 1800 Mk.1 escaped from the horror that was ‘Confessions of a Driving Instructor’ by crashing into an ADO16 but one of the best (and non Landcrab destructive) moments on the small screem was the early Austin in Diana Rigg era ‘Avengers’ episode ‘The Bird Who Knew Too Much’. Ten years later the ultimate ADO17 in the form of a Wolseley Six turns up as an army staff car in ‘Dirtier by the Dozen’, a rare good edition of ‘The New Avengers’ – although its Ro-Style Wheels are as tasteless as Gareth Hunt’s fl ared trousers…. 

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