The Carchive: The Austin 1100

It’s time once again for me to machete my way through the spider webs to uncover another gem from motoring past, blow off the dust and evaluate if the damn thing was worth my quest in the first place. Welcome back to The Carchive.
It’s the early ’60s. The space race is in full effect and we have atomic energy for the masses. Ford have moved onto Fuselage body styling on the newest Thunderbird and the Phantom II is being phased into front-line use. Meanwhile, while all these exciting developments were going on, the British motorist could salivate at the prospect of the New Austin 1100.
“Here’s the new… AUSTIN 1100!”. Find out if the car was worthy of that exclamation mark after the jump.

"Shout that oil be spurting out like that?"
“Should oil be spurting out like that?”

“From your very first glimpse of the Austin 1100 saloon there will be a lasting impression of British designing ingenuity and constructional craftsmanship”
Before you read this article any further you have to remember that the seventies hadn’t yet crept up on the motoring public. The murky years of strikes, indifference and wanton carelessness that caused so many British cars to crumble before they left the production line was still some way off. The Austin 1100 was actually built adequately well.
This, mysterious internal codename ADO16, was the other Issigonis masterpiece, slotting into the Austin/Morris range one step higher than the Mini. It shared a number of basic engineering and packaging principles with its smaller, cuter sister, yet has sadly forever lived in her shadow. A lot of this is to do with image. Though a very crisp looking machine when you look at it with the benefit of hindsight, and hitting all the right stylistic targets of the time, (the brochure tells us it was “styled to please” yet was “completely unostentatious”) it just never gained the immortality of the Mini.
“It’s OK, the toolkit is in here”

“Comfortable seating for five adults is not all the magic to be found inside the Austin 1100!”
This magic extended as far as side windows which wound down (until they were completely out of sight!), swivelling louvre in the front doors and a heater / demister (but only on the De Luxe model). Magic!
But there was more! The arm-rests each incorporated a conveniently positioned door-pull! You could sit inside and look out with what they termed Vista-Vision ease, which sounded rather American. But then a car equipped with twin, self-parking windscreen wipers deserves no short measure of hype.
The biggest win for the 1100 was the amount of space inside. Using the packaging ideas of the Mini created a car that was cavernous inside, plus had the sheet metal space for a second pair of doors. That long wheelbase combined with very short overhangs contributed towards an additional benefit.
"Can we have our money back, please?"
“Can we have our money back, please?”

“Part of the smoothest ride in motoring history”
The term Hydrolastic was coined with this car. Brainchild of another Alex, Mr Moulton in this case, the suspension system under this car was one of the more revolutionary aspects of it. Briefly, it replaced conventional springs and shock absorbers with a system of pistons and fluid which were interconnected between the two axles. This gave a self levelling effect, but only in the one axis. Side to side variances weren’t balanced in the same way.
The effect here was that, yes, the ride was astonishingly smooth. But it had a kind of weird artifice to it which meant you couldn’t quite assimilate how the body movements of the car matched the terrain you were traversing. The result had children vomiting copiously all over the vinyl-treated fabric interior surfaces.
“Stylish indeed, and therefore in great demand everywhere. Wherever you buy your Austin 1100 you can be sure of friendly service and wherever you drive you can be sure of expert attention from a chain of Austin dealers spanning the globe.”
That’s right. In the UK you could buy this as an Austin 1100 or with subtle variations an MG 1100, Morris 1100 or Wolseley, or up-engined as 1300 versions of the same or with a Riley badge.
Or you could buy a Spanish built Authi or an Italian Innocenti. They were building them in South Africa and Australia, too. Americans would later be able to buy an Austin America (you’re welcome) but not until 1968.
“Almost wherever you look there are existing (sic) new features to be discovered. Drive the Austin 1100 and convince yourself of the totally fresh and progressive thinking that has made it such a delightful car to own and drive”
By 1974 it was all over, and something terrifying was lurking in the wings to take over. Yes, the Austin Allegro would arrive, and soon people everywhere wish it hadn’t.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright probably belongs to BMW, which is a bizarre turn of events if ever there was one)

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  1. Vavon Avatar

    How could you forget the most famous one: the Vanden Plas Princess 1100…
    <img src=" plas 1964 princess_011964-65.jpg">

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Indeed. How could I! Walnut picnic tables and lambswool rugs FTW!

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        As a member of the VPOC, I forgive you. This time.
        <img src="; width="350">

      2. Alff Avatar

        They're called "picnic tables" at home? Here they're "tea tables". That's a bit ironic.

  2. Alff Avatar

    Huh. I didn't know they sold Austin Americas in the UK.

    1. Vavon Avatar

      They didn't, only in the US. In Holland the 1100 was known as the Austin Glider…
      <img src=""&gt;

      1. Rover_1 Avatar

        And in some European markets it was sold as the Marina, which would prove confusing later on when the actual Marina appeared.

  3. Alff Avatar

    That's a different car. Ours had the wheels on the bottom.

    1. Vavon Avatar

      Can't you see? That's the Australian version!

  4. Barry Avatar

    Back in the day, before I had a mig welder, I owned the two door shooting brake version of this for a week, until I had a good look underneath and realized how rusty it was. 🙁 Like the Tardis, seemed bigger inside than out.

  5. I_Borgward Avatar

    In the lead photo, the gent seems to be prodding the 1100 as though it were a dead hedgehog. Prescience?

  6. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    In the US the MG version seems to be most common. Somebody at my nursery school had one in BRG, which matched my Matchbox model. I also have a friend out here who had one in high school in California.

  7. Dale Avatar

    My first car was a MG1100 back in 1970. Might do 75mph down hill with a tail wind. Skinny little bias ply tires so you could get a 4 wheel drift going at about 25mph. The gears lived in the engine sump so they didn't live very long.

  8. '76Mini Avatar

    Hydrolastic suspension was actually a project run by both Issigonis and Moulton. They had started working on it as a side project while Issigonis worked at Alvis on his stillborn car for them (It was even going to have a V8 of his design, unfortunately Alvis was to cash-strapped) and they had some working prototypes, I believe they had a Minor as a test bed (don't quote me on that). When Issigonis went back to BMC and started to work on the Mini, the work continued, but it was too expensive and not-quite-ready in time for the Mini's launch in 1959. By the time the 1100 was underway, they had figured it all out and soon fitted mini's with the same suspension for a few years. It then went on to become the (in)famous Hydragas suspension that lived on until the demise of Rover in 2004-5.
    Having driven a car with Hydrolastic, I can say that it is/was a fabulous system that was far simpler (and cheaper) than Citroen's and far simpler to maintain as it was always under pressure – no pumps to worry about. Aside from changing the fluid occasionally (and replacing shocks of course) the system is maintenance free as long as the actual unit lasts.
    One of the most comfortable rides I've had, especially considering its a small FWD car.

  9. OttoNobedder Avatar

    I willingly let my GF have my MG1100 upon our break up. The last F.U.

  10. Rover_1 Avatar

    Another vehicle made slightly famous by the TV show 'Fawlty Towers' when Basil Fawlty beats the car with a tree branch when it won't start. (Though it was the rarer wagon version.)
    Famous enough to be immortalised in 1:43 scale.
    <img src=""width="500"&gt;

  11. Rover_1 Avatar

    Badge engineering was really confirmed with the Amalgamated Drawing Office design No.16.
    Americans thought the GM Nova/Omega/Ventura/Astre was bad.
    Austin as pictured above
    Morris Series 1
    <img src="; width="600">
    <img src="; width="600">
    Riley Kestrel
    <img src="; width="600">
    Wolseley 1300
    <img src="; width="600">
    Vanden Plas 1300 sold as MG Princess briefly in USA, only 154 sold.
    <img src="; width="600">
    Innocenti JM3 and JM4, Italy
    <img src="; width="600">
    <img src="; width="600">
    Authi in Pamplona, Spain. Austin Victoria (and Apache in South Africa.), new nose, new tail, very Triumphant Michelotti like. (Tail lights shared with Triumph 2500 Mk2.)
    <img src="; width="600">
    <img src="; width="600">
    Morris Nomad (Australia) new rear, like a Maxi, with the same actual tailgate, and the 1500 Maxi E-series engine, with a hood bulge to clear it and attatched five speed transaxle.Tail lights off an Austin 1800. And the Australian door pressings with flush handles.
    <img src="; width="600">
    <img src="; width="600">

  12. 1977chevytruck Avatar

    "Copyright probably belongs to BMW, which is a bizarre turn of events if ever there was one)"
    Not as weird as you think. BMW got started making the BMW Dixi, a carbon copy of the the Austin 7.
    <img src="; width="600">
    So really, history just went full-circle,

    1. Rover_1 Avatar

      And they paid a license fee to do it.
      Yes the proud Bavarian company started out making Austin Sevens under license, and then survived twenty years later by making Isetta bubble-cars under license.
      Not the proudest history possible and at odds with their image today.