Rust Free Restorer: 1966 MG 1100

The MG 1100 is a car that can seriously mess with your mind…but in a good way. If someone were to blindfold you and place you inside one of these little cars for the first time, you would have a hard time believing that you are sitting in a car that is a tick over 12′ in total length. The interior is just cavernous, and it is easily capable of swallowing four adults. If you are really good friends, it will even seat five. This particular car needs some work, but the next owner looks like they will be starting the restoration from a pretty sound base. The 1100 is located in Rockford, Illinois, and is listed for sale here on eBay. The listing has opened at $3,000, but there have been no bids to this point.

For those of you who have never come across an 1100 before, the easiest way that I can think of to explain it is to suggest that it is, loosely speaking, an enlarged version of the original Mini. It shares many of its main attributes with its little brother, including impressive space efficiency. Even though it was developed and built primarily for the UK market, it was countries such as the USA who were the first to receive the car in 2-door form. This particular car has a big positive in its favor, and that is that it appears to be an essentially complete vehicle. It doesn’t look like any of the exterior trim and chrome is missing, although some of it will require restoration. Further good news is the fact that rust doesn’t apear to be an issue, with no signs of problems in the rockers, wheel openings, or the lower areas of the engine bay..

The interior of the 1100 was really its party piece. For such a small car, interior space is absolutely amazing. Even those people over 6′ tall such as our own Scotty Gilbertson could conceivably find themselves comfortable behind the wheel of one of these little cars. Rear seat leg and headroom is equally as impressive, and as I said, it is a very small car that is easily capable of seating four full-sized adults in relative comfort. As well as providing copious amounts of space, the seats in an 1100 are extraordinarily comfortable. The seats in this 1100 look really good. In fact, the whole interior is in very impressive condition. It looks like a good clean would have it really sparkling. About the only item that looks like it might need replacing is the carpet, which was the interior’s only real weak point, even when relatively new. However, a new set of modern carpets should last for decades to come.

Powering the 1100 is, as the name suggests, an 1,100cc BMC A-Series engine. Actually, the engine capacity is 1,098cc, but what’s 2cc between friends? The engine has been removed from the car by a previous owner and has been out for many years. It isn’t clear why it has been removed, or if it even turns freely. If it does need a rebuild, this should not present a real problem. It is actually possible to extract some improved performance from these by fitting the cylinder head and carburetor from an automatic version. This provides a useful compression boost, and with it, a noticeable horsepower increase. The great thing is that it doesn’t place any undue stress on that little engine. The transmission is a 4-speed manual, while the car would be fitted with front disc brakes. The low ride height of this car suggests that there might be an issue with the car’s “Hydrolastic” suspension system. This is essentially a fluid suspension system that provides a soft and compliant ride, but greater roll resistance than regular suspension during cornering. The only real problem with the system is that some of the rubber components can deteriorate over time, leading to system leaks. I suspect that this is the case with this car, but sourcing replacement parts should not be difficult. A neighbor of mine previously owned an 1100, while I owned an example of its bigger brother, the Austin 1800, for some years. If you have never ridden in a car with Hydrolastic suspension, you need to put it on your automotive bucket list. The sensation of a car that is so supple over rough terrain gives the impression that you will experience enormous levels of body roll in corners. Then you pitch the car into a turn and it corners flat and true. It feels like an eerie contradiction, but it does result in an exceptionally pleasant car to drive.

I parted with my Austin 1800 nearly 20-years-ago, and it is a decision that I still regret today. These little front-wheel-drive BMC cars are fantastic vehicles, and while they might not provide the sort of performance that will throw you back in your seat, they are just a superbly comfortable and enjoyable car to drive. This MG 1100 looks like it is a great restoration prospect, and with their rarity on American roads today, it is a car that should really stand out and start some conversations once it has been restored.

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Comments

  1. That AMC guy

    These are interesting little cars. Years ago I worked for a guy that had one with the 4-speed automatic transmission. Good thing this one has the manual trans since the automatic had a tendency to grenade very quickly. (Living in the engine sump and working with the engine’s oil was clever but not the path to longevity.) Not many of the MG version of this car were sold in the United States. In 1968 a 1300cc, two-door version was sold here as the Austin America with disastrous results. They quickly disappeared due to rust and mechanical maladies.

    It’s possible the suspension on this one just needs to be pressurized, but given the age leaks are certainly likely. Here’s some info on the hydorlastic suspension:

    http://members.tripod.com/austin_america/id63.html

    Like 2
    • Nick G

      I think they disappeared quickly because Mini owners cannibalized the 1300 (1275) engines when ever an opportunity arose. The hydrolastic parts are hard to come by, and the tool, to pump fluid into the suspension is still more difficult to find.

      Like 2
      • That AMC guy

        No doubt that was part of it, but their quick disappearance was caused by more than that. I remember when these cars were new and what their owners went through with them.

        Particularly with the Austin America models for the U.S. market the automatic transmission was heavily marketed. They were targeting Volkswagen which did not offer a fully automatic transmission in those days. Few small cars offered automatics, let alone an advanced 4-speed unit. Unfortunately the in-sump automatic transmissions – especially in the hands of Americans who tended to ignore maintenance – lead very short lives. This would quickly lead to repair bills in excess of the value of the car. Then there was the hydrolastic suspension. Good luck getting a U.S. mechanic to work on that!

        So although very technologically advanced compared to the 1930s-design VW, the Austin America lacked a few key items that its antiquated rival had going for it. Things such as build quality, reliability, and a solid dealer network for parts and service. So 50 years later everyone remembers the VW bug but even older folks have all but forgotten the Austin America, as well as the earlier MG 1100 that was sold here.

        Although the automatic transmission caused a lot of problems, even manual-transmission models suffered from heavy rust in any area that experienced moisture (let alone salted roads), as well as all the other maladies that British cars of that period were infamous for.

        People might put up with those kind of problems in a sports car but not in a grocery getter. I can remember when Austin Americas just a few years old would be advertised for sale under $100 with no takers.

        Like 2
      • Ward William

        I’ve even seen the 1800 stuffed into a mini.

  2. Donek

    Although very vulnerable to rust, these are wonderful and capable little cars and the MG version has extra cachet.

    Like 4
  3. luke arnott Member

    These were woeful things to drive.They later built a 1300cc version,to complement the 1800/2200cc “Landcrabs”.To add insult to injury,there was the Austin 3 Litre,which was rear wheel drive.Can’t recall the last time I saw any in the UK.

    Like 1
    • Ward William

      There are a few 3 Kiters around and the UK still has a club for them.

  4. Andrew Franks

    If you own or want one of these, it’s for purely sentimental reasons, not any rational thoughts. I had one and it was a wonderful car. The suspension would be the first thing on the list after a good cleaning.

    Like 1
  5. James A. Mogey

    One would have thought that a car wash might contribute to greater curb appeal?

    Like 1
  6. lc

    My second car was ’71 Austin America, a sister car that car that seriously messed with my mind…. still loved it.

    Like 1
  7. ken tilly UK Member

    This is the first time I have ever seen a picture of a 2 door 1100. I had an Austin Apache 1100 four door and as previous people have commented, the Hydrolastic suspension has to be experienced to be believed. I bought it for my wife but by the time I got it home I decided that she would have to fight me to drive it should we be going out in HER car! At the time I had a ’67 Mustang Coupe and a ’69 BMW 2002 but if the Apache was available then that was the car that I preferred.

    Like 2
  8. Martin Horrocks

    Ken Tilley is correct. This is an ultra rare body style, text suggests 2 door was debuted in the USA. Like Ken, I have never before seen the MK1 body style with 2 doors in EU.

    These are good cars (maybe not interstate cruisers!) esp MG version. Hydrolastic is not a problem, parts available if so.

    Someone save this, please.

    Like 3
    • Darrun

      Too bad I didn’t know they were truly rare. I bought one complete, with engine, but not in car, for the sum of $35 in 1982.It’s probably still sitting in the field where it ended up after I realized, I couldn ‘t do anything with it.
      As I recall, it was a 1963, I still possess the title for it.

  9. Brakeservo

    Adam, you have to be an Aussie for your failure to make the connection between the MG 1100 and the subsequently awful Austin America! So, we forgive you. And you are absolutely the only person who I have ever heard to say something positive about the Land Crab! By the way, I love Oz, having crossed the Nullarbor Plain in a 100 year old Rolls-Royce and the Snowy Mountains in a supercharged 1920’s Mercedes Benz! I’ve also hit a kangaroo with a Holden but that’s another story.

    • ken tillyUK Member

      @Brakeservo. Any idea what the Austin America was known as in UK anyone?

      • luke arnott Member

        I think it was the 1100 or the 1300?I recall seeing a load of them awaiting export from Birkenhead docks c 1969.

      • Tony C.

        Would it have been the Morris Marina, I think they were 1300cc, not sure?

    • Tony C.

      Brakeservo, which came out best, the kangaroo or the Holden, come on tell us the story.
      A friend hit a camel on the Nullarbor, not a pretty sight, the car or the camel !

      Like 1
      • Brakeservo

        The kangaroo seemed to just bounce off the car and kept going. No ordinary Holden though, it was a big S.U.V. like a GMC or Chevrolet Suburban but RHD with Holden badges. It was built in Mexico and sold in Australia.

        Like 1
  10. Tony C.

    Down here in Australia these were mainly sold as the Morris 1100, a Vanden Plas upmarket version was available as well as a Wolseley, Austin, MG, etc. Same cars just different trim and minor body changes, I had one from new and the ride was fantastic, no 2 doors were sold here, only available in the Mini Minor. The 1100 and 1800 were all 4 doors. The 1800 was an Austin not a Morris and they were ‘huge’ inside with no center tunnel.

    Like 2
  11. DavidL Member

    I had the 4 door model and absolutely loved it … that is until the clutch went out in one of the busiest intersections in Berkeley Calif. After I got that fixed (another story!!) I drove and continued to enjoy it until … I lost a main bearing on I-80 on the Carquinez Bridge in traffic (another story!). It was then I learned that they all had a tendency to lose clutches and main bearings. Hated to see that little gem go as I really liked driving it but had to release it towards a 64 1/2 white Mustang.
    Oh, almost forgot, I was going up Hyde St. in San Francisco (One of the very steepest!!!) and the gear shift pulled out/came loose in second gear with a cable car coming up behind me. Backed out of the way and was able to fix it with a screw driver I happened to have with me. Exciting moment but survived. Had a lot of drama with that little car!

    Like 1
  12. Alan

    Have a good look at the front bulkhead, I’ve seen 2 that looked very tidy, but the entire front end was corroded at this junction, unrepairable, this car disappeared when they brought out the Allegro—oh dear, or as it got named, the All Agro

  13. Tara

    The hydrolastic suspension needs pumping up, then it will look better.

  14. Willowen Member

    The MG1100 came out when I was still stationed at Elmendorf AFB, outside of Anchorage AK. Minis had sold fairly well – I was the second owner of the first one sold up there, and enjoyed it very much – but that 1100 caught on pretty well, quickly becoming fairly common on the bases (Ft. Richardson was next door), as well as around Anchorage. The MG-look grille probably helped, but I think the greater comfort of the ride over Alaskan roads, many of which were still gravel, was a selling point too. Being used to the more abrupt ride of the Mini’s dry rubber-biscuit suspension, I was a bit scornful of what I considered to be the “floaty” ride of the 1100, though I had to admit they got around corners at least as well as the Mini did.

    The Austin America that came a few years later was the only one of that series I ever got to drive, and though that automatic was a harsh, cranky pig to deal with it wasn’t hard to thrash some performance out of it. Until it fell apart, that is. My second Mini, however, an Austin Countryman wagon, lasted me almost twenty years and many thousands of miles.

  15. bone

    The closest I came to owning one of these was a green Matchbox !

  16. Alan

    The 1800 was the Maxi, and there is actually a following for the Austin America, http://www.austinamericausa.com/

    • luke arnott Member

      The 1800 was a different car from the Maxi(which had a 5 speed gearbox).There was alaso a 2200cc version.

      • ken tilly UK Member

        And in South Africa a friend of mine had a 3 litre Maxi.

  17. Alan

    Tony C, Morris Marina was a totally different animal, no hydralastic suspension, and was a whofull car, made only marginally better in it’s last version, the Ital, ive had the Allegro, Marina, And the Ital, terrible things foisted onto a British public by a way behind car company, beset by strikes, and lacking investment, the mini, Maxi, and the 1100 were the last decent cars British Leyland made, the death Knell was a company that appeared, called Datsun, the rest is history,

  18. DayDreamBeliever Member

    Sold for the $3000 opener, just one bid. Cool little project, IMO.

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