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Austin A30/A35

Published: 13th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • Starting at the front, the lower part of the front panel where it joins the wings can harbour rust, which eventually spreads into the radiator support and the front valence.
  • The trailing edges of the front wings can also rust. This is made worse if the rubber sealing strip between the inner and outer wings is missing, as this allows muck in that can take the A-post and front end of the sill with it.
  • The centre section of the sill is usually sound, though you should squeeze it and listen for crunching. But they can go at the back by the rear leaf spring hanger, so probe this area carefully and look for past welding work.
  • Floorpans are generally OK, although you should lift any floor coverings and check particularly around the toe board, and where the floors join the inner sills.
  • The lower portion of the rear quarters are also a favourite rot spot - five panels come together including the boot floor and inner wings where the rear spring hangers are, and the potential for trapping moisture is obviously high.
  • Drooping doors may well be caused by nothing more than worn hinge bushes, so don’t automatically assume that the A-post is rotten.
  • Brake cylinders are prone to seizing on cars that see little use. Don’t expect great things from the brakes, but they should at least pull you up squarely.
  • The handbrake is located on the righthand side of the driver’s seat, mounted on the inner sill.
  • Interior trim is simple, and can be revived with a full set of covers costing from as little as £245. Switchgear is generally long-lasting and spares are readily available. One notable exception has been the rubber boot at the base of gearstick, but Bull Motif (http://www.austina30a35parts.com) has now sourced replacements from India, so don’t put up with a rotten original letting muck and fumes into the cabin ‘cos you don’t need to!
  • Check for steering wear by jacking up the front wheels and rocking them. Any play in the 12 and 6 o’clock positions means worn kingpins. Movement in the 3 and 9 o’’clock plane means wear in the steering linkages.
  • Check for smoke from the exhaust or oil being pushed out of openings such as the dipstick tube because of worn bores, listen for bearing rumble under load or an uneven idle suggesting valve wear but A-Series is easy to fix (and tune).
  • A30 gearboxes wear more quickly than later ones; lifting off the throttle will show up any wear by allowing the thing to jump out of gear.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Not fast but fun handling made it popular with F1 aces!

  • Usability: 3/5

    Just about a daily driver in standard trim but can be uprated

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Super simple design and A-Series engine is universally known

  • Owning: 4/5

    Few grumbles but body parts are not that plentiful

  • Value: 4/5

    Cheap fun for sure but not something you’ll make a mint on

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Austin’s A30/A35 have more period charm for less modern day cash than just about any other classic, says Simon Goldsworthy

In the brave new world of postwar Britain, Austin’sprimary concern was to produce cars that could be sold to the rest of the world for a profit. As a result, it abandoned the market niche forever associated with the pre-war Seven and concentrated on shipping a range of cars around the world that started with the 1200cc A40 Devon and worked up from there. At the end of the 1940s, there was a strong possibility of the Austin and Morris groups joining forces, which would have brought the Morris Minor into the family fold to slot in below the Devon. But personalities and circumstances got in the way of any such marriage and thoughts at Longbridge turned to creating a rival of their own. This drew plenty of inspiration from the original Austin Seven, including a narrow track and short wheelbase. It was far more than simply a rehash of old ideas, though. It was actually Austin’s very first monocoque design, and Ken Garrett and Ian Duncan were brought in from the aircraft industry to make it work. Subsequent tests at Morris showed the Austin had nearly three times as much torsional stiffness as the Minor, which had a chassis frame welded to the floor! Initial styling had been carried out by Raymond Loewy’s design studio in New York no less who came up with some very sleek lines, but the proposals were altered at Longbridge, where it was decided that the car had to be shorter and the nose needed more of a family look. Shortening the car also made a higher roofline necessary as the rear seat was now sitting over the back axle, the overall effect being to make the new car look slightly older and more dumpy than had been the case. The engine was destined for a much longer life, though. This was the first of the A-Series motors, a scaled-down version of the Devon’s 1200cc unit (which itself grew and evolved into the B-Series). It was a sweet and advanced engine that garnered much praise in its day, and which went on to enjoy a production run of 50 years and some 14 million engines.

Which model to buy?

The Fawn car in our pictures is an ‘AS4’ version of the A30, which is from the very early days of production. You will have to look long and hard for one, but its round speedo is far less individual than the later cars’ oblong instrument cluster and it is ultimately less practical. Design faults such as a cantilevered bootlid that covered luggage with water when opened in the rain were ironed out when the model was revised for 1953. The later A30s may have been an improvement in many respects, but the A35 of 1956 was even better. It was not just the hike in engine capacity from 803cc to 948cc that made a difference, but the lump was extensively reworked with, for example, full-flow oil filtration and bigger leadindium bearings instead of the earlier white metal variety. As a result it could run a higher compression ratio, was better able to cruise for long distances and lasted longer between rebuilds, too. Combine this with a better selection of gear ratios and an A35 in standard trim makes a more usable package than an original A30 that justifies a slight premium when buying. Saloons are by far the most common variant found today, and so also the cheapest. Others like vans and the Countryman estate are slightly more expensive, and although they carry a weight penalty they also received revised gearing which helps to mask this on the road. But it is the rare (and hardly practical) pick-ups that will cost you more than any other variant. Unloved when new thanks to a miniscule load bed and the provision of two occasional rear seats that robbed them of any tax advantage, they have somehow managed to skip from unwanted orphan to ultra-chic. As a result, they command a price that is out of all proportion to their humble origins!

Behind the wheel?

F1 aces Graham Hill and James Hunt loved theirs

Take a good look at the cars in our pictures and it would be a brave (or short-sighted) man who claimed to see any sporting pretensions in an A30’s dumpy lines. That is not to say they aren’t fun to drive - Graham Hill and James Hunt both loved theirs - but it helps to get in the mentality of a 1950s family car before getting behind the wheel. In Austin’s case, that means a steering box instead of a rack and tiny 7in drums without a servo. OK, now that I have set you up for disappointment, we can have a pleasant surprise and start enjoying the driving experience. There is about an inch of freeplay at the wheel when parked up, but that is hard to notice on the road and the steering is light enough to take a smaller wheel if you want to mask it even further. That wheel may jerk a little when you hit a pothole, but a good A30/A35 shouldn’t wander or be pulled off course by road imperfections, at least one that is wearing radial tyres instead of crossplies. And the suspension, apart from the inevitable small-car jiggle over rough surfaces, is actually quite soft and accommodating. The lusty A- Series engine is a willing revver and the extra grunt of the A35’s 948ccs combining with a closer set of gear ratios to help it hustle, and even overtake the odd Sunday driver make it more realistic for modern roads. The brakes it must be admitted are adequate rather than brilliant. It uses a curious system that relies on hydraulics for the twin-leading front shoes, but transmits your commands to a single rear cylinder that feeds movement to the back wheels via a system of mechanical links. They don’t respond well to subtlety so if you want to stop, let them know with an enthusiastic stamp on the middle pedal.Handling through the corners is certainly not up to the standard of a Morris Minor, hardly surprising given the Austin’s narrow track and tall body. Press on too hard and a touch of oversteer can be enjoyed – racers made use of this by keeping their pedal to the metal and drifting around corners, but on the road you are probably better off making use of the nicely high-geared steering to settle things back onto an even course.

Ease of Ownership?

There’s no reason a standard car can’t be used on a regular basis

As long as an A30/A35 rusts in the usual places, then repair panels are cheaply available to keep it in fine shape. They are generally a good fit too, although there was plenty of variance from the Longbridge production lines and things like the headlamp sections can be tricky to get right. At least the wings unbolt for better access if extensive use of the welding torch is needed. Once you have your car in good shape, it should not be hard to keep it there. The running gear is easy to service and needs no special tools beyond a set of AF spanners and sockets. There are about a dozen grease nipples to attend to though - it is a 1950s car and in the 1950s, that is what you did on a weekend! These days there is a good network of specialists catering to the A30/A35, and an enthusiastic club that can put you in touch with both parts and the expertise you may need.

The Daily Option?

As you’d expect from this era, there is no synchromesh on first gear, which can be a bit of a pain in stop-start traffic, but otherwise the lever action is pleasant enough. You may struggle to get people to notice the A30’s odd semaphore indicators though. Conventional flashers can be retro-fitted, but the later A35 came with them as standard, albeit of the non-cancelling sort. And that brings us on to the topic of upgrades in general. While there is no reason that a standard car cannot be used on a regular basis (that was, after all, what they were built for), town driving in particular can be made more pleasant with subtle twists. These could start in the braking department from the fitment of A40 stoppers up to robbing the front discs from a Midget… There are plenty of period tuning modifications too from the likes of Speedwell and Downton, but if you already have Midget brakes, then the 1098cc engine is an easy enough fit as well. It is all a matter of personal choice, though;even in standard trim, an A30/A35 will sit comfortably at 45-50mph and return an astonishing 45-50mpg in the process. The later cars are better in this respect, enjoying as they do a taller back axle. For a small car, the A30/A35 isn’t as cramped as you’d imagine although it’s typically rudimentary inside with few creature comforts. Visibility is good, particularly on the A35 with its bigger rear screen although in winter you may have to travel further than in a modern to get it warmed up… but the heater is perfectly able to demist the screen. The wipers do only have one speed though - and that is slow!

Timelines

1949

Green light is given to the development of new baby Austin after merger talks with Morris fall apart. Proposed car is intended to compete with recently launched Minor, which is already becoming a star.

1951

Launched with the claim: ‘Once more we have an Austin Seven.’ AS3 follows Austin’s practice of using power ratings and was marketed as the A30 Seven. Convertible tried, but not put into production.

1952

1953

New fascia with enlarged and squared-off instrument cluster and full width parcel shelf instead of previous cubby holes. Better seats and more luggage space, as well. Two-door added to range.

1954

Final drive ratio changed to 4.875:1, for economy and better cruising capabilities. A30 Countryman (estate) and 5cwt van offered, both heavier than the saloons but with revised gearing to compensate.

1956

Engine grows to 948cc, for new A35 model designation. Exterior clues are painted rather than chromed grilles, indicators not semaphore trafficators and bigger rear screen. Pick-up offered, but only 500 were built.

1957

Small beer these days but a two-door A35 sets a number of class records after lapping Montlhery racing circuit for seven days at an average speed of 74.9mph… Car is also becoming increasing popular on UK racing tracks.

1958

The very different A40 Farina is launched, using many A35 bits but in a radical two box body. Cheaper A35 is gradually phased out, with saloon build ending the following year as revolutionary (Austin Seven badged Mini hits the roads.

1962

Countryman and van get light revisions and MkII designation, but production of the Countryman ends. By the end of the year, van gains 1098cc engine and a MkIII name.

1963-68

848cc becomes option in the van, and standard issue three years later in 1966. A30/A35 production finally ends in Feb ‘68 when van is discontinued, to be replaced by an Austin-badged Minor van.

We Reckon...

We defy you to look at an A30 or A35 and not at least even crack into a smile. They manage to combine Toytown looks with real world running gear that can be either uprated or enjoyed as it is. With really good saloons available from as little as £2650 and excellent Countryman estates starting just a few hundred more, you'd be hard pressed to find so much period charm for so little cash.



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