A best seller makes sense as a family-friendly classic, says DAVID SIMISTER
The Mini’s bigger brother, codenamed ADO16 during its development, was available as an Austin, Morris, MG, Wolseley, Riley and Vanden Plas, although the basic front-wheel drive package remained largely the same throughout. Both 1.1- and 1.3-litre A-Series engines were offered, and the range as a whole quickly became the nation’s best-selling car.
AUSTIN 1100/1300 REVIEW
Top speed 78mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rot is this particular car’s chief adversary, and an unloved ADO16 succumbs to rust just about everywhere. Chief among the problem areas are the seams where the wings join the car’s front panel, and the areas surrounding the headlights and indicators. Front subframes tend to survive well thanks to the constant drip-drip of preserving oil from the engine, but the rears are vulnerable to vibrations from poor road-surfaces, French-style impact parking and incorrect jacking. The sills are an obvious place to check, but don’t forget to inspect the bottom edges of the doors for any signs of deteriorating paintwork, as this is where moisture will collect and rot the doors from the inside out.
Noise from the tappets is a relatively minor fix to put right, likewise an excessively vocal timing chain. A completely oil-tight A-Series engine is a rare thing, but an engine that drops oil excessively will need further investigation; driveshaft couplings are a particular culprit in this respect. Keep an eye on the temperature during a test drive – the radiator is side-mounted and therefore not fed fresh air directly from outside – and if the car has an oil pressure gauge, anything below 40psi could indicate trouble looming.
Some transmission whine from the four-speed manual is to be expected – especially in first gear – but excessive noise or reluctance to engage when changing gear could indicate either wear on the gearbox itself or oil starvation.
The top-model 300SE and 300SEL had air suspension, which was high-tech stuff for the early 1960s. The ride it gives is quite remarkable, but problems can be very expensive indeed to fix, and parts are not plentiful. Buy an air-sprung Fintail with your eyes wide open, and have the phone numbers of a specialist and your bank manager close at hand.
Contrary to popular belief, the Hydrolastic suspension system is actually quite straightforward, but check it for leaks before buying. If a car is leaning to one side or squatting at an abnormal angle, then chances are the system has developed a leak. Leaks from CV boots are a fairly common problem too – listen for a clicking noise from the front wheels when turning.
If we haven’t put you off already, there’s one more hidden area to examine for corrosion. This is the ledge on the bulkhead that supports the brake servo. Debris accumulates here and, especially if combined with leaking brake fluid, can cause the metal underneath to rot through.
Brittle and/or cracked windscreen rubbers will admit water sooner or later, likewise holes in the firewall. There’s not a great deal to most ADO16 interiors, but some switchgear (choke pull, etc.) is interchangeable with other BL products. Cracked or ripped dashtops aren’t the end of the world, but unless you can source a replacement from a donor car or through the owner’s club/online specialists, then you’re in for a long wait. Model-specific trim such as Vanden Plas picnic tables and wooden trim or the Wolseley/MG strip speedometer is likely to be trickier to source.
Its emphasis on practicality and ease of ownership means that it could still be used as a family runabout today, and they’re well supported when it comes to parts and specialist expertise. It might not have quite the same standard of go-kart thrills as the Mini, but it’s still enormous fun to drive and more practical.