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Austin A40

Austin A40 Published: 30th Apr 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Austin’s A40 was as advanced as the Mini, more practical than Ford’s Anglia, and more hip than a Herald. So why wasn’t it more the success that it deserved to be?

The Royal family have been in the news lately but at least we have Philip to thank for something – the Austin A40, a car which was as advanced as the Mini in concept, if not engineering. The story goes that its origins date back to a visit paid by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh to Longbridge in 1955 where he opined, in a typically forthright fashion, that BMC’s new designs were ‘not up to the foreign competition’. And the result of this royal comment was that Battista “Pinn” Farina was awarded a healthy (for the day) £84,000 contract, his first task being the styling of ADO8, the future replacement for the Austin A35 which was to be launched in 1956, but not before the chairman of the British Motor Corporation, Sir Leonard Lord, became an early Brexiteer by saying, “We don’t want any more damned foreigners, we’ve enough of them already!”

Nevertheless, Farina captured the vision of a car two decades ahead of its time when it was launched in 1959, a stylish saloon with a clever quasi like estate facility care of its folding rear seat which increases the luggage space from 11.5cu.ft to a very acceptable 18.8cu.ft. As a 1961-vintage cinema advertisement put it (cue voiceover from the Miles Cholmondley-Warner School of Announcing) “The Austin A40 is not just a luggage boot tacked onto a car…See your Austin dealer where you can get into an A40 and out of the ordinary.” The Pininfarina coachwork also helped to differentiate the A40 from its rivals, both external and in-house. The car certainly had no direct British rivals and Ford certainly took notice of this newcomer to the market. Indeed, at the time, Ford was planning the Anglia 105E the A40, rather than the (Austin 7) Mini was regarded as its most feared rival. Twenty years before its best selling Fiesta hatchback came along, if Ford had thought of it first who knows how quickly ‘superminis’ would have evolved, especially when in 1959 Austin introduced the A40 Countryman with its split tailgate? Motor predicted, “There is no doubt this new formula will appeal to many.”

Alas, being an adaptation of the A30, complete with hydro-mechanical brakes, this Austin was out of kilter with BMC’s new cutting-edge designs such as the Mini and the Pininfarina-styled, fluid suspended 1100. Apart from a longer wheelbase, fully hydraulic brakes (at last!) and trim changes for 1961 signifying the Mk2 plus the larger Morris Minor 1098cc engine a year later, the A40 never received the development it justified yet it still remained in production until late 1967. The A40 was BMC’s first car to be styled by an external consultant and the first in a long line of BMC products to be made by Innocenti but was BMC’s last saloon to evade the outfit’s cynical badge engineering. The A40 was a car ahead of its time; “A glimpse into the future of small car styling” claimed Austin back in 1958 – and they were right. If only Ford had come up with the idea, the A40’s immense potential would not have been left frustratingly untapped for so long.

Why we love them

The A30/A35 may have had cuteness on its side but the A40 was a demonstrably superior family car even though it was really the older design clothed in a sharp well fitting Italian suit. Farina proved that a reasonably priced utility vehicle need not lack charm for the sake of practicality.

Autocar thought that it was “especially suitable for the family man with limited driving experience”, for it is not the sort of car to take him by surprise although for the press-on driver Speedwell Performance Conversions of Finchley (of which a future F1 champion would be associated with) would tune your staid and sensible A40 according to your budget and nerve, from the £715 Sport and the £745 Grand Touring all the way to the £785 Supersport the latter complete with its twin SU carburettors, improved cylinder head and upgraded camshaft. For further details you simply just dialled SPEedwell 2226 and asked for a certain Mr Graham Hill… Think about it, if BMC would have made an MG version, perhaps with MGA or Mini Cooper power, it would have made the first ever hot hatch…

Classic Motoring

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