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Sunday, March 13, 2011

1968-1971 Austin 1800 Mk II

The 1968 Austin 1800 Mk II came in a most distinctive package and rode on a 2 692-millimetre (106-inch) wheelbase. The cars were sold throughout Canada from 1968 to 1972 by British Motor Corporation and later British Leyland dealers.

The first generation of Austin 1800s bowed to the world in 1964. It was an ingenious size-and-space transportation package based on the runaway global success of British Motor Corporation’s micro-sized Austin and Morris Mini that debuted in 1959. 

1962 Mini.
Sir Alec Issigonis was the brains behind the Mini, the fabled 1300 that followed it and now the 1800. The trio of motor vehicle kin all made use of transversely-mounted engines coupled to front wheel drive. The cunning combo gave designers absolutely cavernous cabin space to work with while keeping the overall length to a minimum. 

1959 Austin Mini cutaway diagram shows 80% of floor space being dedicated to passengers.

On the Austin 1800 that nifty package added up to a very tidy 2 692-millimetre  (106-inch) wheelbase platform that stretched to only 4 164 millimetres (13 foot and 8 inches) in overall length.

The 1964 Austin 1800 was exported to Commonwealth countries including Australia and Canada.

To further ensure the success of the 1800, the famed Italian Pininfarina studios were engaged to create the styling. Top brass at BMC didn’t particularly like the look generated by the continental style house and in-house designers were ordered to change it significantly before production began. The final envelope boasted an exceptionally large greenhouse with curved glass riding atop straight, almost severe slab sides accentuated with angular treatments, fore and aft.

The press didn’t care for the designers’ version and promptly pronounced the cars as ungainly. The public viewed the final product as being uglier than homemade sin—and promptly gave it the unflattering nickname of “land crab.” Production would prove to be disappointing during its five-year run and the ingeniously designed if slow-selling car was revamped as the Mark II for the 1968 selling season.

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The Austin 1800 Mk II made its debut in May of 1968. It received a much needed and pleasant if very modestly restrained restyle. Revisions included larger 35-centimetre (14-inch wheels), debuted BMC’s first full synchromesh transmission, a tweaked engine and an updated instrument panel that boasted the latest fad--rocker switches. Announced as “inheriting all the famous features of the Mini and the 1300, the Austin 18000 Mk. II” and “Add to these a 90 mph (150 kph) top speed, with acceleration to match, lounge seating for five and the toughest structure ever built into a production car.”  Other accolades included “The Austin 1800 Mk II is a notable achievement in advanced automobile design” and declared its handling to be “the envy of the world.” 

 The Austin 1800 Mk II clipped along courtesy of a 1.8-litre (85.6-horsepower), four-cylinder overhead valve engine. 
Under the hood was BMC’s water-cooled, overhead valve, four-cylinder, five-main bearing engine. The mill generated 86.5 horsepower and was capable of reaching a top speed of 150 kilometres per hour ( 93 miles per hour--ancient Canadian units of velocity). This was mated to a four-speed synchromesh transmission, with final drive located in the engine sump. Power was transmitted to the front wheels by short, universally-jointed shafts. Rack-and-pinion steering promised to deliver “sensitive hairline accuracy” and servo-assisted front disc brakes (drum brakes in the rear) gave real stopping power. While it was no jet rocket—the car moved from zero to 100 kph (60 mph) in 16.3 seconds--the package gave motorists a satisfying 10.4 L/100 kilometres (27 miles to the Imperial gallon--ancient Canadian units of fluid measure).

The instrument panel of the Austin 1800 Mk II was simple in design and remained unchanged from 1968 to 1972.  A right-hand drive model is shown here. 

The Austin’s instrument panel was finished in non-glare black dressed up with simulated woodgrain panels. The warning lamps indicated low oil pressure, dirty oil filter, headlamp high beam indicator. Gauges and dials were “At-a-Glance” easy to read and included a ribbon-type speedometer, a water temperature gauge and a fuel gauge. An all-in-one stalk on the steering column controlled the headlight high-low beam, the turn signals and the horn. Below the instrument panel was a capacious parcel shelf, split in the centre by a console that held a large ashtray, radio and heater controls. The lower lip of the parcel shelf doubled as a safety crash bar.

 Front seat passengers rode in softly cushioned individual seats. Rear passengers were treated to a wide, “superbly comfortable” seat with a centre folding armrest. The interior was upholstered with a hard-wearing, washable vinyl-coated fabric with Ambla face panels on the contact surfaces for good measure. Each car destined for the Canadian market was given fitted nylon carpets with thick sound-insulation for underlay.  Generous door pockets held everything from baby’s bottle to maps (ancient GPS systems). A comfortable ride was ensured by Hydrolastic suspension with its unique float-on-fluid sealed system that had no moving parts.

Rear-seat passengers in the Austin 1800 Mk II rode in luxurious comfort. The pull-down centre armrest was standard equipment.

Extra cost items included an automatic transmission, a heater/defroster, an electrically heated rear window, power-assist steering, reclining front seats, an electric clock, a radio, a hood lock, a cigarette lighter, exhaust trim, a fire extinguisher, a radiator muff, back-up lights, roof racks of differing types, rubber mats, seat covers, supplementary instruments, travel rugs and exterior mirrors.

Despite its size and value, the Austin 1800 Mk II was not a resounding hit with Canadians. Domestic sales of Austin were added together with those of MG to equal 10,020 units for the 1968 calendar year. In 1969 BMC was reorganized into British Leyland. Sales for all BLC brands were lumped together and rang in at 12,275 units for Canada. Austin sales were broken out in 1970 when 5,861 units were delivered. Austin sales of all stripes dropped to 4,554 units in 1971 and edged up ever so slightly to 4,597 units in calendar year 1972. The marque would do considerably better in 1973.

The Austin 1800 Mk II was as equally unmistakable from the rear as it was in the front.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2007
All rights reserved.


Karey Belanger said...

I owned one of these in the early 80s, loved it and wished I still had it to this day.At the time I had to go to Vancouver BC to find parts.

Anonymous said...

Your review misses the three outstanding attributes of this car, amazing bump eating ride with a very stiff chassis, all the noise and deflection were filtered out, grossly superior to any contemporary.Tons of interior space enhanced by the lack of transmission tunnel. Exceptional ground clearance allowing interesting off road performance. Hell of a big trunk/boot. All in all an amazing car which was not marketed well and consequently did not reach its sales potential.

Anonymous said...

Father had one after turning in his three year old Morris Oxford. This car was so comfortable and with good performance for 1968.

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