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Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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No other British family car epitomised Middle England better with its honest, dependable character than BMC’s A60 – a car that mirrored its equally prim and proper owners!

No less than 17 grease points needed attention every 1000 miles!

Ever seen Rock The Boat – the film about the famous pirate radio stations that took on, and beat, the establishment and the BBC between 1964-67? Remember the stuffy minister (it was actually Tony Benn in real life) charged with silencing those nasty revolutionary anti-establishment hoodlums? He was the personifi cation of the outgoing old guard during the 1960s – sober suited, prim and proper. And chances are he drove an A60. For BBC, read BMC during the swinging 1960s. True, it launched radical front-wheel drive cars like the Mini and the 1800, but the rest of the mainstream montage was rapidly falling behind the times – and none more so than the Farina A60 (Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford) family. These cars were pitifully old fashioned even when they were launched in 1961.The A60 was a revamp of the similarly fi n-tailed but more fl amboyant Farina-styled A55 introduced only two years earlier. It was toned down and tidied up, but most importantly, the lengthier wheelbase alleviated some of the handling ills that made it worse to drive than the A50 it replaced. But it was the arrival of the swish Vauxhall Victor FB that same year and the new Ford Cortina in ’62 that proved buyers of the time demanded style as well as substance. And make no mistake, thanks to its 1950s design and construction, the Farina was as tough as old boots! Compared to a Ford or Vauxhall it was a rock of ages, and one of the main reasons why the range remained so popular and trusted on both the new and used forecourts until its demise in 1971. At just over 14 ½ ft long and 5ft 3in wide, the A60 was more Ford Corsair-sized than Cortina, while the high set body towered over any rival at an MPV height of nearly 5ft. But it was the BMC car’s weight that set it apart from the rest – at around 2200lb a typical A60 was 200lb heavier than the Corsair and 400lb lardier than the well toned MK1 Cortina! Naturally this had a substantial effect on the A60’s performance, where the venerable B-Series (stretched to 1622cc for a meagre 61bhp) could barely muster 80mph flat out – and it took more than 15 seconds to wheeze to50mph. “Look sharp, there’s an A60 behind you” hailed one advert, which was stretching creditability and spin a bit! The spor tier twin-carb Ri ley and MG offshoots only improved on this by fractions a c c o r d i n g t o M o t o r ’s t e s t figures. This was hardly helped by the MG version, which packed only 68bhp yet had a whopping 2534lb to lug around. But really few owners treated the A60 like a sports car, as the handling was far too roly-poly for such antics – and it wasn’t helped by pitifully slack steering plus a tendency for hairy cornering in the wet. An A60 driver certainly had his hands full in every sense back then. So why did over half a million people buy such an antiquated car? Frumpy and slow the Cambridge may have been, but it smacked of middle England values and a touch of class. There was leather trim, a touch of wood, a starting handle and a feeling of solidarity that you just didn’t get from those vulgar American owned Dagenham or Luton rivals. And of course BMC was British and proud of it – like the owners.

A smash hit

The A60’s solid build made it an all-time favourite with banger racers, especially since you used the rear fi ns to hold down the boot lid by some deft peening. But before they reached the scrapper in a mangled state a good ‘Oxbridge’ was also a great, cheap run-around in the recession-hit 1970s and many were purchased as a fi rst car. It was a good ploy – the usually rusty old thing was too slow to get a dashing young blade into trouble. And at least if you did suffer a prang then chances are that the tank-like body would take it in its stride. It was hard to think of an easier way to learn DIY and the relevant bodges in either. The starting handle was a great way to set the points and tappets as well as saving on a new battery – but it’s doubtful whether impoverished motorists ever got out the grease gun to service no less than 17 points every 1000 miles as recommended by the handbook! Be in no doubt that despite its aged design the Farina was well loved. So much so that the car originally designed to replace it – the Austin/Morris 1800 that was really a giant Mini – couldn’t match it for sales. And few owners were swayed by the new-fangled Maxi, too. Although it wasn’t designed to replace the strain, the Morris Marina was next best thing for the typical Oxbridge enthusiast. Apart from its sturdiness, the Oxbridge was well liked for its practicality. The Countryman and Traveller-bagded estates had Volvo-like ruggedness, and boasted a highly useful split tailgate, which only the rival Hillman Minx offered.

And BMC showed some genuine forward thinking when it made a Perkins diesel engine an option on the Morris (the badge was more associated with fl eet buyers and company car owners – that’s why it got the Marina). The performance was lamentable, with a top speed of just 66mph and the acceleration of a milk fl oat, but at least you couldn’t get done for speeding in one and 37mpg was terrifi c going in 1963. It’s easy to be dismissive about the Austin Cambridge and the Morris Oxford (not forgetting the more upmarket MG Magnette, Riley 4/72 and the Wolseley 16/60, either). These cars represented traditional transport for traditional people – and they certainly don’t make them like that anymore – and that goes for the car, too!

When The Car Was The Star

“Farina” has made more major fi lm appearances than is commonly realised; in the excellent 1962 crime fi lm Jigsaw, an Oxford Series V played a vital role in solving a murder in darkest East Sussex. Nearly 20 years later an Oxford VI squad car would attempt to quell the Mods & Rockers in Quadrophenia but the ultimate police Oxford drive-on role has to be the Bahamian Police car transporting the Beatles in Help. A Special Branch A55 Countryman comes to the aid of Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and villains with a limited budget use an A60 getaway car in The Sweeney episiode ‘Pay Off’ and readers with very long memories might just recall the BBC children’s comedy The Day I Shot My Dad?

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