Throwback Thursday: The MG 1100’s Popularity Contest

Self-deprecation was all the rage in ’60s car advertising (“Think Small,” anyone?), but MG was perhaps a little generous in calling the rivalry between the Volkswagen Beetle and its new 1100 a contest. Even in 1965 — two years after the 1100 came to America, and when this ad first ran — VW had MG beat seven ways to Sunday.

To its credit, MG admitted as much in the copy, proclaiming 1.36 million Americans owned Beetles, while only 20,000 owned 1100s. “The winner had a 12-year head start on us,” the ad proclaims. “VW, wait ’til next year.”

1966 didn’t prove any better than 1965. Nor did 1967, for that matter, when the Sports Sedan was finally pulled from the U.S. market in March. We’ve yet to find precise year-by-year breakdowns for 1100 sales in the new world, but it’s estimated that no more than 35,000 made the trip across the pond.

Perhaps part of the problem was the 1100 was an oddball in MG’s product range — heck, it technically wasn’t even a true MG. After 1952, the British sports car firm was firmly under control of the British Motor Company. When BMC set out to launch a larger companion to its successful Mini, it decided each of its six brands — Morris, Austin, MG, Riley, Wolseley, and Vanden Plas — would sell the car. Brand identity was relegated to a unique grille, nameplate, and interior trim. MG was likely chosen to sell the 1100 in the U.S. not because the compact car was as sporty as its MGB and Midget models (although the ad men would have you believe otherwise), but possibly because it was the only BMC brand in the U.S. with significant name recognition.

Regardless, it appears the marketing wizards learned their lesson by 1968, when it came time to sell the second-generation car in North America. Fitted with a 1275-cc I-4, the new model — dubbed the America — was sold in the U.S. as an Austin until 1971.