Austin ex­ec­u­tive ex­press lost its way

Rutherglen Reformer - - Drivetime - Ian John­son

The late 1960s was the breed­ing ground of some truly great cars but also some very un­usual ones. The Austin 3-Litre is one of them.

First seen at the Lon­don Motor Show in 1967, this model was a large, fast ex­ec­u­tive car which should have been a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the late, and very great Austin West­min­ster.

How­ever, it was never very com­fort­able with it­self be­cause it was a like an old-fash­ioned English gen­tle­man try­ing to get away with wear­ing a sharp Ital­ian suit.

Its ap­pear­ance was cast in the sim­i­lar but larger mould of the Austin 1800, a squat, mid-sized sa­loon which was a larger ver­sion of the trans­verse en­gined fron­twheel Austin 1100, which had achieved great suc­cess.

The dif­fer­ence, and many peo­ple did not un­der­stand it, was that the 3-Litre was a tra­di­tional front-en­gined rear-wheel-drive car.

A ges­ture to moder­nity was made by equip­ping it with Hy­dro­las­tic sus­pen­sion with self­lev­el­ling hy­draulic rams at the rear and in truth it had ex­cel­lent ride qual­i­ties.

I was lucky enough to be able to drive one of the last of the West­min­sters and get­ting into a 3-Litre af­ter­wards even had my youth­ful, en­thu­si­as­tic mind won­der­ing where BMC was go­ing with its larger mo­tors. The car just did not make sense.

In­deed, that great styling guru and Mini mas­ter­mind, Alec Is­sigo­nis was keen to point out that he had had no part in the 3-Litre.

The car ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing of a shaky start as it be­came clear that BMC was not quite geared up for full-speed pro­duc­tion and ex­am­ples only be­gan to leave the fac­tory in 1968. And there were changes from the show car, mainly the sub­sti­tu­tion of the square head­lamps for four round ones, plus front quar­ter lights.

The prob­lem was that this set of wheels was re­ally de­signed for the 1960s and not the 70s.

It cer­tainly catered for its mar­ket with wood ve­neers and cloth head­lin­ing. How­ever, leather up­hol­stery was not avail­able, be­ing re­placed with a good qual­ity vinyl, which I found strange.

There were big plans for the car with a star-span­gled drive along Badge Engi­neer­ing Av­enue with lux­u­ri­ous Wolse­ley and Van­den Plas ver­sions reach­ing the pro­to­type stage.

When Bri­tish Ley­land took over there was even talk of a Rover ver­sion to take over from the Rover P5 which was a vastly su­pe­rior car.

But none of this came to pass as sales were very poor. The stan­dard ver­sion had been with­drawn by 1969 while the de luxe ver­sion sol­diered on un­til the model was dis­con­tin­ued com­pletely in May 1971, after less than 10,000 had been pro­duced.

The public still con­fused it with the 1800 and the car drove into the his­tory books with the ex­ec­u­tive mar­ket wel­com­ing much more ap­pro­pri­ate mod­els such as the Rover P6 and Tri­umph 2000.

Austin was at that time seen as a down­mar­ket choice and no more large-en­gined true ex­ec­u­tive cars bore the badge.

But the 3-Litre did have its friends and the are 48 still on the road, most of which are lov­ingly re­stored.

A true Cin­derella of the 1960s but not with­out a cer­tain charm.

LAND-LOB­STER

The 3-Litre was dis­con­tin­ued in 1971 due to poor sales

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