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Austin A40

Published: 18th Dec 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin A40
Austin A40
Austin A40
Austin A40
Austin A40
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Andrew Roberts on why Austin’s A40 was as advanced as the Mini

Fifty seven years ago, the Italian designer Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina was awarded 84 grand to design a new generation of small, medium and large Austins. The chairman of the British Motor Corporation, Sir Leonard Lord, was initially reluctant – “We don’t want any more damned foreigners, we’ve enough of them already” – but by the middle 1950s the company’s export managers were starting to complain that Austin’s were looking dowdy compared to certain European offerings. This viewpoint was echoed by some typically tactful remarks from the Duke of Edinburgh during a Royal Visit to Longbridge in December 1955. To understand the impact of the new A40 on 18th September 1958 we have to remember that for the past 11 years the Austin badge had been associated with late 1930’s Detroit inspired curves and an image as solid and reliable as a tartan car rug. The styling of the A40 was initially referred to “as “the van” or “the matchbox” by Longbridge production line workers but the radically new “two-box” styling with the extension of the roofl ine gave far more headroom for rear passengers.


Austin’s PR department promised “…a sleek lined temptress of a car”. But just when you were beginning to be worried that the A40 was just too raffi sh for Swanage or Lyme Regis you were urged to “Get into an Austin and out of the ordinary!”, to engage with the delights of “The Look-Ahead Look” with its “Cycloramic View”. For the press-on driver Speedwell Performance Conversions of Finchley (of which a future F1 champ would be associated with) would tune your A40 according to your budget and nerve from the £715 Sport and the £745 Grand Touring all the way to the £785 Supersport with its twin SU carburettors, improved cylinder head and upgraded camshaft. For further details just dial SPEedwell 2226 and ask for a certain Mr Graham Hill…

In 1959, Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom’s Austin A40 ‘Zoe’ took part in the Monte Carlo Rally, fi nishing 10th overall and 2nd in class, winning ‘The Ladies Prize’, and the ‘Concours’ RAC Challenge Trophy. In August of that year‘Doc’ Shepherd’s Farina broke the saloon car record at Brands Hatch but for the more sedate driver, BMC made the A40 in two trim levels – the £650 ‘De Luxe’, with its opening rear side windows, passenger sun visor and bumper overriders and the £639 ‘Standard’ model, with not very much at all really; a heater was a £20 extra on both.


Beneath that Italian coachwork lurked very familiar running gear including the 948cc A-Series engine and a version of the A35’s hydraulic/mechanical braking. But compared with its Morris Minor stablemate a new A40 ‘Farina’ seemed the ideal transport for a young couple buying their fi rst car on HP and indeed the accessories’ brochure wonderfully encapsulates the dreams of the Macmillan era: “If you have bought your own house, then this is probably the second major investment of your life and, like your house, is worth spending a little extra money on - don’t you agree? Then why not fi t BMC Approved Accessories?”. Why not indeed, for with an exterior sun visor (including built in radio antennae) and twin wing mirrors, your Austin A40 would cause more stir in suburbia than the rumours that the nice man at No.27 was probably working for the KGB as a spy.

Although the 1960s saw BMC’s badge engineering reach its zenith (or nadir) the A40 Farina was sold only as an Austin and throughout its nine year production run BMC only ever offered two body styles: the standard 2-door and from October 1959 the Countryman, which cost £45 more than the De Luxe saloon and featured a hinged rear window in order to form a pioneering hatchback. The latter was actually the inspiration of management at BMC-Australia, for by the beginning of the 1960s CKD kits of the A40 were being assembled in Sydney, Belgium, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa. In Sweden the A40 was known as the Futura whilst Austin marketed their new car to US motorists under the banner headline of “THE GAYEST, ROOMIEST, LIVELIEST ECONOMY SEDAN EVER!

Your BMC dealer will be glad to show you how the gay, new A40 will fi t into your way of life like nothing else on wheels”. But the overseas market where the Farina made the largest impact was in Italy and in 1959 the British Motor Corporation signed an agreement with the Milanese scooter manufacturer Innocenti to have the Later cars A40 assembled under licence to circumvent protectionist import policies. The Innocenti A40 was priced to undercut the Fiat 1100; between 1960 and ‘67 the Lambratte works made over 60,000 A40s with detailing that was often in advance of the British model, such as a one piece hatchback in 1965.


The original incarnation of the A40 was replaced by the longer wheelbase Mk2 in 1961, which also offered a more sophisticated radiator grille, a slightly more contemporary looking dashboard – now resembling that of the A60 Cambridge rather than the A35 – and SU carb in place of the Mk1’s Zenith unit. There were even self-cancelling indicators. On January 5th 1962 The Glasgow Herald announced the exciting news that “The Austin Motor Company’s four millionth vehicle, an A40 Mk2 saloon, left the Longbridge, Birmingham, assembly lines”. Of course, late 1962 also saw the launch of the Morris 1100 and seasoned BMC-watchers knew that it would only be a matter of time before an Austin-badged model would make its debut. But such was the popularity of the A40 Farina that it even gained further modifi cations in 1964 like long overdue fully hydraulic brakes and, as a mark of middle-aged respectability, a mock wood veneer dashboard. The last A40 Farinas were made in the autumn of 1967, enjoying a fi nal burst of publicity as Unit Beat ‘Panda’ cars for Birmingham City Police. The A40 deserves to be remembered and indeed respected, not just as the fi rst ever BMC ‘Farina’ but a car that was instrumental in altering perceptions of Austin’s image. “…But here we are, twenty years after the war started, in an age better even than our grandfathers can remember, for all their grumblings. Better, in fact, than any in the history of the world. Material, yes, but pleasant. You are richer than ever before. You are spending more than you have ever done. Our hope is that you realize it and enjoy it. We don’t want you to miss it. Don’t wait till years after to realize you have lived in a remarkable age – the age of BOOM.” Indeed…

The Austin A40 was practical, delightful to drive and eminently tunable but at the London Motor Show of 1958 it stood for rather more than these virtues. It was a small family saloon that conveyed affl uence rather than austerity to its customers, the fi rst post-war Austin not to be styled with input from Dick Burzi and the fi rst mainstream British car to benefi t from Farina’s design studios.

In its latter years the Austin A40 seemed to be the favoured transport of primary school headmistresses but in its heyday the new Farina seemed as indicative of a prosperous and exciting future as the Preston-by-pass motorway and semi-detached villa with a kitchen with a Kenwood Mixer…


The face-lifted hatch-backed A40 came a few years too late in 1964 to save it from the chop. Here’s what else occurred that year… Pirate radio started blasting out the sounds from the sea, such as The Supreme’s Baby Love, Petula Clark’s Downtown and a host of Beatle hits, paving the way for today’s radio. Music tastes resulted in several seaside fi ghts between the Mods & Rockers that summer.

Labour swept to power under the leadership of Harold Wilson, who then went for a snap election just two years later. Winston Churchill retires from the House and we agree with the French to build the Channel Tunnel, completed before 1970…

Lee Harvey Oswald was judged to have acted alone in the assasination of John F Kennedy the previous November – Oswald was shot dead on the way to court by Jack Ruby who was convicted of murder and given the death penalty. The US starts its bombing of North Vietnam. The most famous Bond movie of them all, Goldfi nger is released. The Beatles conquer America and was seen as the start of the ‘British Invasion’ with the Rolling Stones, The Animals quickly following suit. Ford launches perhaps its biggest success story, the Mustang in America; in the UK we just had the original Consul Capri costing £915. Sounds value but there again the average weekly wage was a princely £16… and the £10 bank note makes a welcome return.

When The Car Was The Star

Asides from the near inevitable appearance in Heartbeat there are the L-Driver cars of The Fast Lady and Nurse on Wheels and Harry Andrews’ black Mk1 in The Deadly Affair. But our favourite Farina appearance is in the 1959 B-fi lm classic Scotland Yard: The Dover Road Mystery!

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