Minor British Institutions: The Austin 1100

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The Independent Online

This was Britain's bestselling car of the 1960s and 1970s. It was a typical British product of those times: technologically advanced, but not very profitable.

Like its kid brother, the Mini, it was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, and featured front-wheel drive, an engine mounted sideways to save space, and fluid "hydrolastic" suspension. The neat styling, though, was Italian, by Pininfarina. Despite its enormous popularity, few 1100s survive, because of rust and the low value the cars command. The exception is the Vanden Plas Princess version, which enjoys cult status in Japan, thanks to its picnic tables, West-of- England cloth on the ceiling, leather seats and classy walnut dash. The 1100, later joined by a slightly faster 1300 type, was also available as a Morris, an MG, and a Wolseley, each one as charming as modern cars cannot hope to be – except, that is, to John Cleese, who, as Basil Fawlty, once thrashed his broken down red 1100 Countryman with the branch of a tree.