Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Austin Lancer and Morris Major evolved though three series (I, II and Elite), with the first incarnations being badge engineered clones of the contemporary Wolseley 1500 and Riley One-Point-Five models then on sale in the United Kingdom. These models were wholly produced at BMC's Zetland plant in Sydney, Australia and were unique to that country, having around 98% local content. Many examples were also exported to New Zealand.
Austin Lancer Series I
When it was released, the Lancer was of a new size in Austin range. It was a roomy four-seater, smaller than the well-known Austin A55, but substantially larger than the Austin A30. The Lancer was quite different in conception from any previous small Austin too. Hitherto Austin’s emphasis had been on economy, achieved by using a small engine in a small car – a formula that pretty much guaranteed the thing would achieve good mileage. In the Lancer, however, Austin combined a relatively large engine in a car of modest overall size and weight.
The Lancer shared the same core design with the Morris Major
, Wolseley 1500
and Riley One-Point-Five. This design had originally been developed as a possible replacement for the ever-popular Morris Minor by BMC's in-house design team at Longbridge, England. That plan was abandoned due to the Minor's unwavering appeal with the buying public and a Wolseley version was instead unveiled in 1957
, followed by the Riley.
The Lancer, Wolseley 1500 and Riley were light, close-coupled saloons incorporating the front torsion bar
/rear leaf spring suspension, floorpan and superb rack and pinion steering from the Morris Minor. They were powered by the famous B series four-cylinder 1489cc engine. And because of the larger external size, the Lancer had plenty of appeal, with sufficient power to give a lively performance, a body size small enough to make it perfect around town, but cleverly designed to give ample space for four large persons on tour.
Taking advantage of its relatively good power-to-weight, Austin fitted the Lancer with a transmission having a high top and third gear. These ratios were astutely chosen - top gear was high enough to give the virtues of easy cruising around 65-70 mph, and good fuel mileages, and yet was not so high as to spoil the car's hill-climbing ability in top. Third gear was on the money – enabling the Lancer to climb mountain passes, and yet run up to 70 mph when overtaking on the level. Another feature which won admiration was the gear-change – which was floor mounted and had a very positive movement.
The engine had a lower than necessary compression ratio when compared to other BMC cars, but Austin claimed at the time that this was because they wanted the Lancer to be able to operate on poor quality fuel – particularly given the larger engine could see some owners venturing a long distance from capital cities. But the Lancer was not free from fault, however. One problem was the complete absence of floor ventilation. Another was the location of the clutch and brake pedals, that were set high above the floor and well above the level of the accelerator.
On the Highway
On the road the Lancer was a reasonably good performer – when judged against its peers of course. That said, you did need to make sure you had the right gear selected, and never hesitate to use the gearbox when necessary. Third gear was delightful on hills, supplying tenacity as well as ample power for fast climbs. The Lancer had a good power-weight ratio at 47.6 horsepower per ton when carrying a load of 3 cwt. At 1000 rpm the road speed was 18.5 mph in top gear.
It was in this department that the combination of ample power and relatively high gearing showed to greatest advantage. The Lancer would cruise comfortably and quietly at 65-70 mph on highways. The moderate compression engine permitted the Lancer to be ambled along in top gear around 30-35 mph without trouble or loss of good response. The BMC B Series engine had a very flat torque curve. This meant that it maintained its best lugging power (a torque of 74lb-ft) over a range of approximately 30 to 60 mph in top gear.
When overtaking, it was best to use second gear up to 20 mph, third gear up to at least 35 mph, while top gear could be used above that speed. In normal driving you would use the indirect gears to much higher speeds and would have delighted in the versatility of third gear. Performance wise, acceleration times were: Third gear: 20 to 40 m.p.h., 7.4 seconds; 30 to 50 m.p.h., 9.3 seconds. Top gear: 20 to 40 m.p.h.. 10.2 seconds: 30 to 50 mph 13.6 seconds: 40 to 60 m.p.h., 16.0 seconds.
The Lancer handled
niceiy on bends and corners taken fast. On dry bitumen wheel adhesion was good, and the car could be cornered rapidly with moderate body roll, and tyres
which did not squeal unduly. In common with most saloons from the 1950s, the rear wheels of the Lancer carried only a small percentage of the car's dead weight, in this case 43 per cent. This tended to impair rear wheel adhesion in the lightly loaded condition and, as a consequence, reasonable care needed to be exercised when cornering fast on greasy or loose roads with only two persons aboard. That said, the Lancer would not show any desire to slide unduly on wet bitumen roads, and when the rear wheels did break away, they did so in a gentle drift which was quite simple to check. The riding qualities of the car were about average, and on really bad country potholes the suspension
bottomed at speed.
Steering and Braking
For a car with the lively performance of the Lancer, the use of rack-and-pinion steering was very appropriate. This mechanism was completely positive in action and was quick in operation, as it required only 2.5 turns of the wheel from lock to lock. The steering action was pleasantly light, and the only objection was the rather noticeable reaction felt in the hands over really bad roads. In the city, owners appreciated a turning circle of 33.1 ft. which made it one of the more manoeuvrable then available.
The Lancer was equipped with Lockheed system which had good pedal pressures and gave satisfying results. The brakes
also proved very resistant to fade, being able to cool quickly and not retain too much heat. There were 94 square inches of brake lining. The handbrake was good too - being of the pull-up type. The fuel consumption was good to, averaging around 35 miles to the gallon on the highway.
Behind the Wheel
The use of wide glass ensured excellent vision. The pedals were nicely weighted, even if they were set too high as previously mentioned. A foot dipswitch was used. The steering wheel was well placed so that your arms would be outstretched, but remain comfortable on long trips. The instruments in the Lancer were directly in front of the driver, and they comprised speedometer
and gauges for fuel and engine temperature. Small warning lights were provided for oil pressure, generator, high-beam, and turn-indicators. Unfortunately the turn indicator wa not self-cancelling. The minor switch controls arc arranged in two pairs, one on either side of the ignition, and the light switch in the centre of the fascia. The short gear lever
was located on the transmission tunnel.
The 1500cc BMC B Series engine was a well proven and well respected engine. It had a bore and stroke of 73 x 89mm, and in the Lancer operated on the lower compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. The engine compartment was uncrowded and access was good to all components requiring regular maintenance. The SU Carburettor
drew air through a large oil-bath cleaner, and a full-flow oil filter was fitted. The gear ratios were; top 3.7, third 5.1 and second gear 8.2 to 1. The Lancer was built using a monoque chassis , with torsion bar suspension
at the front, and elliptic springs at the rear. There were also piston type shock absorbers to all 4 wheels.
In view of its modest overall dimensins the Lancer offered a very pleasing interior spaciousness. Individual seats had a width of 20 inches were provided in the front, and the rear bench seat had a clear width of 40 inches between the wheel arches. The seats and the interior were finished in a two-tone washable synthetic material. A rubber mat was provided on the front floor, while haircord carpet was used at the rear. There was plenty of head and leg room at the front, and the inside really did feel much bigger than it was, thanks to the relatively small size of the transmission tunnel. A full width shelf extended beneath the facia.
There was no ventilation for the front floor, but the front windows were fitted with ventilating panels. The boot was a good one for a small car. The floor sloped slightly up towards the rear and it offered in uninterrupted stogage capacity of approximately 10 ft. The spare wheel was located in a separate compartment beneath the boot floor, but enclosed by boot lid.
Austin Lancer Series II
The Series I Morris Major / Austin Lancer sold reasonably well and was profitable to build due to greatly offset tooling costs and extensive use of shared components. However, BMC quickly invested in the thoroughly re-engineered and subsequently better received Series II Major / Lancer of 1959
. Thenceforth, the Australian cars became quite distinctive from their siblings. Outwardly, the cars were now longer by 9 inches (229 mm), including an extended wheelbase, tailfins and new front sheetmetal. Series II's styling seems to have been more inspired by American ideas and, to many eyes, this gave the cars a more handsome appearance.
Several updates to the original design were introduced, many of these changes intended to make the cars more suitable for the tough Australian conditions and to bolster its competitiveness with top selling rivals such as Holden and Volkswagen. The suspension was strengthened, extra reinforcement of the chassis was added and the interiors were given a front bench seat in place of buckets, ventilation and demisting ducts and a new instrument cluster. Also, the rear axle (a Morris Minor unit which in hindsight was not well-suited to the more powerful engine) had acquired an unfortunate reputation for weakness in Series I.
The axle and differential were improved though, sadly, this early failing had already damaged the car's image and that of its maker. Series II's engine retained its single SU HS2 carburettor/SU fuel pump and received a modified oil sump to afford greater ground clearance. The Series II received highly favourable reviews from the motoring press of the time with its sweeping array of detail improvements, enhanced handling characteristics and attractive price earning much praise. The Austin Lancer was phased-out of production by April 1962
Morris Major Elite
Introduced in April 1962
, the Elite was the third and last series for this model, supplanting the Austin Lancer range completely due to a change in BMC's Australian dealer network: there were now "BMC Dealers" only rather than separate outlets for each BMC Marque. It was seen as unnecessary to have two versions of the same vehicle, though a "Series III Lancer" had been considered right up to the Elite's introduction. The Elite heralded the enlarged 1622cc engine with greater power, this version now used a Zenith VN carburettor and Goss mechanical fuel pump. Telescopic rear shock absorbers, seatbelt mounting points and uprated front suspension
rubbers featured among other technical revisions.
A striking facelift was achieved with only minimal changes to sheet metal; this constituted chrome window surrounds, a new full-width grille closely resembling that of the Mk VI Morris Oxford, and a "rocket" colour flash on the tailfins. Some changes to basic equipment level included a fresh air heater/demister, duo-tone paint in various new plain and pastel colours, brighter interiors and a windscreen washer. The price was also lowered from the previous Series II list price, this made the already highly competitive Major outstanding value-for-money. Sales were fairly good and warranty claims were the least for any BMC (Aust.) model then to date. The arrival of the Morris 1100
saw the Major Elite ceasing production in around 1964