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Austin A40

Austin A40 Published: 26th Jan 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Andrew Roberts on why Austin’s A40 was as advanced as the Mini, more practical than Ford’s Anglia, and more hip than a Herald

It would not be unfair to suggest that in 1958 Britain was on the verge of a communication revolution. The Preston By-Pass opened on the 5th December, bringing speed limit free travel to the motorist and in that same year the Post Master General announced the arrival of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, thereby eliminating the need for the operator to tell you to ‘Press Button “A” caller’. And you too could be part of this brave new world in your new A40 Farina – ‘Austin Looks Years Ahead’, as their 1959 slogan put it.

As the story goes, the origins of the A40 date back to a visit paid by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh to Longbridge in 1955 where he opined, in typically forthright fashion, that their projected new designs were ‘not up to the foreign competition’. And this 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, 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, the resulting A40 made its début on 18th September, using a prefix that was last seen on the 1954 – 1957 1.2-litre version of the Cambridge and so it was often identified via its ‘Farina’ nickname. In the following month, it became quite a star of the Earls Court Motor Show and given the array of new cars of that year – the Aston Martin DB4, the Daimler Majestic and the Rover P5 3-Litre to name but a few – this was a considerable achievement.

Beneath that genuinely radical two-box styling with its slim pillars and large glass area were some very familiar running gear. The 948cc A-Series engine, rear brakes, steering and front coil and rear leaf spring suspension were all from the A35 and nor was the A40 especially luxurious. The door glasses were operated by counterbalancing rather than winders and you would have to specify the De Luxe version if you craved a passenger sun visor and rear side windows that opened for better ventilation.

But the motoring press and the general public alike were highly impressed by the Austin’s versatility, with its folding rear seat (which increases the luggage space from 11.5cu.ft. to 18.8cu.ft.) its robust engineering – and its sheer style. In early 1959 Motor Sport noted that already the Farina A40 is appearing on our roads and within a few months its popularity will undoubtedly destroy the individuality its body styling has at present amongst small English cars. 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’.”

At £689 2s an A40 ‘Farina’ De Luxe cost rather more than the £582 19s 6d A35 De Luxe saloon, which would remain in production until 1959 and was mechanically very similar. However, the latest new compact Austin represented rather more than paying the equivalent of ten weeks’ wages for a sense of fashion. 1958 was a time when Italian design was constantly in the public eye; coffee bars with chromium plated machinery, Lambretta scooters and early ‘modernists’ in their slim-lapelled jackets and in its modest way, the ‘most advanced small car of today’ did capture the Zeitgeist.

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…

The Pininfarina coachwork also helped to differentiate the A40 from its rivals, both external and in-house. The line-ups of neither Vauxhall nor the Rootes Group would offer a small car until as late as 1963 so the A40’s alternatives were from Standard-Triumph, Ford and Morris. The

Remember when…

In the year all the above three newcomers were launched the A40 was already well established as we said good-bye to the ’50s. Was McMillan right when he remarked “You’ve never had it so good”?

As Lewis rightly celebrates his fourth title, we were soon mourning Britain’s first champion, Mike Hawthorn, who was killed in a road accident at the start of the year; ironically the 1958 champ was already retired. Sir Jack Brabham won a brace of world titles in 1959 and 1960.

A revolution in Cuba sees Fidel Castro take control of the country, sparking the Bay of Pigs and Cuba Crisis of the early 1960s. Cyprus gains independence, the legendary Buddy Holly, along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper (Chantilly Lace), are all killed in a plane crash.

It was known as ‘The Machine Age’ and nuclear power seemed the way to go especially as domestic electric was promised to be virtually free… The microchip is invented this year.

With only two channels, there wasn’t much on the TV. Favourites were Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, Juke Box Jury and the wholesome Dixon of Dock Green where crime never appeared to pay…

In sport, a certain Roy Dwight broke his leg during the FA Cup Final between Luton Town and Nottingham Forest. Who he you ask? The uncle of Reg Dwight, better known as Elton John.

It was some motor show at Earls Court that year with the Mini, Herald, Anglia and the Mk2 Jaguar having their first showing. In the classifieds you could buy a 1955 TR2 (with heater) for £595 or cruise around in a ’56 Vauxhall Velox for £45 less. A 1958 MG Magnette with one owner and HMV radio is yours at £1025!

America gained two new States; Alaska became the 49th and Hawaii the 50th. Russia is well ahead in the space race and became the first to ‘crash’ two spacecrafts into the lunar surface. But NASA was able to announce its first astronauts also, known as the ‘Mercury Seven’.

Ten Gold Star and 100E Prefect De Luxe were both agreeable four-door saloons and both, at £661 7s and £658 7s respectively were cheaper than the Austin. That left the Morris Minor 1000, the undoubted market leader and £625 for the two-door saloon represented a considerable bargain but, as with cars from Coventry and Dagenham, its appearance was redolent of an earlier era of ration books, demob suits and Bakelite.

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 had evolved?

In September 1959 Austin introduced the A40 Countryman with a split tailgate and to have an impression of just how different it would have appeared in comparison with other small estate cars of that period, just look at any period shot of a Ford 100E Squire, Standard Companion or Minor Traveller. The first-named was an adaptation of the Thames 300E van, the second was highly unusual in offering five doors and both were now in their twilight years.

That left the Morris, and both it and the Farina were automotive proof that a reasonably priced utility vehicle need not lack charm, but their respective images were completely different. The half-timbered Cowley offering was the ideal scaled-down shooting brake for the suburbanite with pretensions to the gentry – I am willing to bet that the young Margo Ledbetter drove a Traveller. But the Austin was for the slicklooking owner of mortgaged New Town semi somewhere near Crawley, one who regularly affected dark glasses and a black suit.

The other major development of that year was BMC signing an agreement with Innocenti and local production of the A40 commenced in November 1960. Over the next seven years, the Milan plant made over 67,000 cars and in addition to the sense of ‘coals to Newcastle’ when selling a Pininfarina designed British car the Milan plant often improved on the Longbridge original. From the outset, the ‘Innocenti- Austin’ boasted winding windows and by late 1962 the ‘ Combinata’ version of the Countryman further sported a one-piece rear hatchback.

1961 saw the A40 facelifted as the Mk. II, with a slightly more refined-looking radiator grille, a revised dashboard and a longer wheelbase. 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; it is also comfortably sprung, roomy and economical.” Motor added, “There is no doubt this new formula will appeal to many.”

In the following year the A40 gained the 1098cc version of the A-Series unit and 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.” Although the Austin-badged version of the ADO16 débuted in late 1963 (a year after the Morris 1100 was launched), the A40 somehow remained in production until November of 1967.

The last A40 Farinas were made that autumn enjoying a final burst of publicity as Unit Beat ‘Panda’ cars for Birmingham City Police. The fact that the Austin still did not look especially dated unlike its nearly contemporary, the Ford Anglia 105E with its 1959- Detriot inspired looks, is a testament to its Pininfarina’s fuss-free lines.

Half a century after the demise of the A40 Farina, its importance to the British Motor Corporation cannot be overstated. It was their last saloon to evade badgeengineering, although one cannot help but wonder about the sales prospects of a 1.5-litre engine MG version, for it was a car with potential for further development. It was also its first to be styled by an external consultant and the first in a long line of BMC products to be made by Innocenti. Above all, it defied the automotive conventions of the day simply by combining affordability and practicality with a genuine sense of brio. “A glimpse into the future of small car styling” claimed Austin back in 1958 – and they were right.



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