Austin 1800: The Land Crab in a Sea of Barges

23 September 2013

Early brochure shots promoted the Austin 1800 as a six seater with a centre front occupant straddling the front bucket seats and gear lever. The later automatic version with its dash-mounted selector was a genuine six seater with luggage space to spare, an important consideration for an Aussie family car.

Optimistically plugged as “The Car of the Century”  35 years before the 20th century ended, the Austin 1800 lived up to this claim more than anyone could have anticipated.  At its launch late in 1965, BMC Australia listed key reasons why its “designers believe it is unlikely that the model concept will be obsolete even in 10 years time.” Virtually every modern passenger car, apart from a few niche models, adheres to the Mini blueprint that was further developed for the Austin 1800.

Such longevity was an important selling point at a time when the US trend towards annual model changes and built-in obsolescence had some real drawbacks for Australians. Most Australians did not have the spending power to change their cars on a regular basis and the value of a car a decade down the track was critical to buying the next one. 

Entirely separate to the projected life of the revolutionary Austin 1800 concept was the reliability of the mechanicals. Despite its 1964 European Car of the Year award, the Austin 1800 was not a success in the British market after major reliability concerns eroded public confidence. 

The transverse drivetrain and front wheel drive of the Austin 1800 defines the layout of most modern cars. Fluid suspension was interconnected front and rear to anticipate bumps encountered by rear wheels. Note long gearshift cables sitting above exhaust.

The model received a bad reputation in the UK as a serious oil burner that resulted in blown engines. After exhaustive investigations into why such a proven engine should suddenly suffer from this fault, it was discovered that the dip stick was incorrectly marked and overfilled engines were frothing their oil generating the oil smoke and loss of oil pressure.