BMC Austin 1800 Rally

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BMC Austin 1800 Rally

1964 - 1970
United Kingdom
OHV in-line 4
1798 cc
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
3 star
BMC Austin 1800 Rally
BIG BMC sedans were often referred to as "barges", a name that implied a degree of unwieldiness on the road, but lots and lots of space inside. The 1800 had barge-like qualities in many ways, the chief exception being that it rode exceedingly well, and cornered more like a freight train than a watercraft, thanks to the Issigonis formula of wide tracks, long wheelbase and front-wheel drive. But what it gained on those counts it certainly lacked in performance, in standard form.

The BMC 1800 seemed far short of being able to acquit itself well on the rally circuits of the day. Easy on the crew maybe, but hardly competitive. However, the 1800 engine used by Austin, Morris and Wolseley had a good deal of similarity with the MGB engine and in the summer of 1967 Britons Tony Fall and Mike Wood surprised everyone (probably even themselves) by winning the Danube Rally in a Group 5 BMC 1800. Brian Culcheth took the same car on the Alpine Rally and won his class.

The 1967 RAC Rally was cancelled due to a foot-and-mouth epidemic, which was unfortunate as a Group 2 car had been prepared for Dennis Pratt by Basil Wales at the BMC Special Tuning Department in Abingdon. This car was then driven in the Monte Carlo Rally by Brian Culcheth and Johnstone Syer, where it finished 24th overall, and second in its class.

It might even have won the class from the Eriksson-Berggren Opel Kadett if there had been more snow and ice about for the mountain circuits. Two other identical cars (also prepared by Special Tuning; the Danube Rally car was the only 1800 ever to be prepared by the Commpetition Department) finished 32nd and 38th overall.

These results may not have been the kind of success to hang publicity on, but the three cars were very close to standard mechanicallly. So far as the engine was concerned, an officially approved Downton Stage 1 kit was fitted, which increased the power output from 81 bhp net @ 5,200 rpm to 93 bhp @ 5,300 rpm.

The BMC Stage I kit comprised a polished head with new valves, double springs, matched manifolds and a new exhaust system, plus a 2in. SU carburetor. On the rally cars, the earlier 1800 camshaft was fitted, which had slightly "hotter" timing, plus a competition crank and clutch.

The suspension was standard, apart from slightly higher Hydrolastic pressures and Minilite magnesium wheels fitted with Dunlop SP3 radials pumped up good and hard. The brakes had anti-fade linings and, of course, a vacuum servo was standard. The steering was the latest high-ratio unit, and a small leather-covered wheel made it feel even more positive.

Post Office Land Crabs

During the rally, the BMC 1800s were nick-named "Post Office Land Crabs" because of their bright red livery and uncanny knack for travelling sideways fast. Inside the works 1800 you could easily forget its overall bulk. Drivers at the time compared the 1800 to that of the Mini, quite a feat! The Halda Tripmaster was joined by a Smiths rev counter without a red line. The scale went on to 8,000 rpm, but it was reported that the valves began to bounce very audibly at 6,300 rpm. As it revved, the engine was smooth and willing enough, but at a steady throttle opening it hunted badly unless the carburetor dashpot was constantly kept topped up with oil.

Idling on the Works 1800 was rough with an uncertain speed around 1,000 rpm and a loud rattle from the primary idler gears in the transmission. Often the revs would die completely in traffic, especially when using the brakes (the extra vacuum for the servo caused the engine to stall). The difficulty in taking an ordinary family car and turning it into a rally special was that any shortcomings of the former were even more pronounced. With a lively engine and good roadholding, the stiff, notchy and often noisy gearchange became tedious to use and practically spoilt the fun in driving the car. Probably because of the high tire pressures, the quick steering did not seem unduly heavy, even though John Sprinzel emerged from a similar car at the end of the Common Route saying: "The car's fine, but I'm exhausted".

The 1800 had a maximum speed just short of 100 mph, limited by the gearing. The rally cars had the early 4.19-to-1 final drive ratio which was changed for a higher one (3.88-to-1) in 1965. From rest to 60 mph took only 13sec. Brakes, with their anti-fade linings, needed fairly high pedal loads, but they stopped the car well. The rear wheels could be locked-up on a dry road, although there was a small throttle valve to the rear circuits for the driver to adjust the balance according to the conditions of the rally. This was operated by a screw-cock down to the right of the driving seat.

In typical BMC front-drive manner, the works 1800 could be thrown into corners very fast indeed with armfuls of understeer limited only by the lack of power. In testing on a heavily corrugated section of road the 1800 demonstrated considerable front wheel patter, the understeer increasing as did front-end body-shake. From a standing start on a rough surface there was only a few feet of wheelspin. At slow speeds the suspension was noisy and harsh, but if broken surfaces were taken faster, everything smoothed out remarkkably with a level pitch-free ride. The 1800s may not have been the fastest cars on the rally, but we bet they were the most comfortable!

1968 Monte Carlo and Safari Rally

For the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally 3 cars were prepared in Group 2 single carburetor form, they were KOC 391E driven by Brian Culcheth and Mike Wood with LOF 179F driven by John Sprinzel and John Ryan and LOF 238F driven by Peter Jopp and Willy Cave. After Brian Culcheth came in 24th BMC believed they had a car capable of winning rough events not suited to the Mini Coopers so 3 cars were prepared for the 68 Safari Rally and a programme of testing undertaken at Bagshot. Three new cars were prepared for the event registered as ORX 661F, ORX 662F and KOC 391E.

The three cars were air lifted to Nairobi but the event proved to be a complete disaster. Problems with the front suspension sidelined two of the cars and the third stopped with a seized engine when the oil cooler burst. BMC knew what the problem was but were unable to effect a solution in Kenya. So soon after this BMC sent Brian Culcheth on the equally rough Acropolis Rally to see if they had resolved the problem – he finished 10th having been delayed with a puncture on a very muddy section. The old KOC 391E that had competed in the 68 Monte now mysteriously re numbered as ORX 663F was shipped out to Canada to do the Shell 4000 was driven by Tony Fall, who, despite rolling the car finished second in his class.

1968 London-Sydney Marathon

Freed of the usual minefield of rally regulations – the Marathon rules boiled down to any two wheel drive car with a maximum height stipulation so that the cars would fit into the hold of the SS Chusan. Seven cars were prepared for the London - Sydney Marathon based on the experience on the Safari and the Acropolis Rallies with over of 600 hours of testing round Bagshot. RMO 723F a new car incorporating some of the rally car modifications was sent off to survey the route with Paul Easter, Henry Liddon and Tony Nash as crew. The exploits of the survey would almost fill a book, but after coping with burst suspension, leaking oil coolers, and floods the car finally expired near Indore with a blown head gasket and finished its trip to Bombay on the back of a lorry. Den Green, the works mechanic who was supposed to drive the car back to the UK found it was suffering from a cracked block and the suspension was "shot" abandoned the car in Bombay.

The final specification of the Marathon cars was based on the newly introduced Mk2 1800S models but with some major modifications, they were built up from bare shells, had Mk1 suspension with the larger front displacers fitted to the rear to cope with the increased load. The body was strengthened in the area of the boot floor and suspension housings to allow fitting of Koni telescopic shock absorbers front with front and a rear anti roll bars fitted as this had been standard on very early Mk1 cars.

The engine was not highly tuned - its capacity was increased to 1894cc, the camshaft was the standard MGB grind and the head was re-worked by Downton, the inlet was 1800s with twin 1.75 SU and the exhaust was special exiting through the rear apron. The output from this little lot went through a competition clutch to standard gearbox ratios and gave a reliable 100bhp at the lightened flywheel – about 77 at the wheels – not much for such a heavy car. The Diff was 4.1 again from the Mk1 and they ran on 13" Minilites shod with 175/13 Dunlop SP 44 or for the Nulabour in Australia SP Sports.

A most important mod for any one who has tried to corner quickly in a 1800 was a steering rack with a bicep tugging 3.25 to 1 ratio – the standard car MK1 car had a 4.4 to 1 ratio – fed through a 16" Mountney wheel. The interior was fitted out for the 3 man crew and the rear seat could be turned into a bed. A Hydrolastic pump had pride of place on the rear parcel shelf, some but not all of the windows were Perspex and the doors bonnet and boot were aluminum skinned to save a little weight. 26 gallons of fuel in twin tanks filled the boot, so the spare wheels had to go in the only place left – the roof. This resulted in finished car with crew weighing in at around the 2 ton mark. Five cars were prepared by Abingdon, four rally cars and a service car, two other cars were also prepared at the factory for the Red Arrow and the Royal Navy teams.

After the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon Lord Stokes pulled the plug on the Competition department and some of the staff were made redundant. No more full works 1800 were produced and only 4 cars came back to the UK. For the 1970 London to Mexico Rally a number of privately entered 1800s were modified by BL Special Tuning, the factory entering a Triumph 2000, Maxis and a lone Mini Cooper for the event. Several ex London-Mexico cars partook in other events including the Monte, the Welsh and the RAC as did other private owners in 1800s – even the Army rallied them!

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Also see:

Austin 1800
Herbert Austin
London - Sydney Marathon
Austin Car Commercials
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