The Handsome Jenson-Built Austin A40 Sports and Other Colorful Austins From The Fifities

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
the handsome jenson built austin a40 sports and other colorful austins from the

Today’s CC Austin A40 Devon too frumpy for your taste? Austin’s Chairman Leonard Lord (shouldn’t that be the other way around?) read your mind. When he saw Jensen’s handsome new Interceptor, he made a deal for Jensen to build a sporty body to plunk on its A40 chassis. The export markets, America in particular, were in Lord’s mind with the A40 Sports. But despite a revised cylinder head, the inevitable twin SU carbs and 50 hp, it didn’t really catch on, especially with the yachting crowd.

There’s something fatally attractive about Austins from the fifties. Their tendency to look like photoshopped shrunken versions of real proper cars gives them a Dinky Toy cuteness that makes for fun viewing. Just look, but don’t touch; or the rust will make it crumble in front of your eyes.

The A30 Seven had that effect more successfully than most. And the renderings in the ads tended to exaggerate its actual length. A genuine photo is needed:

Designed to compete against the madly successful Morris Minor, which was a much easier on the eyes, the little Seven did have a more modern engine, the new OHV A-Series, that went on to serve in Sprites, Midgets and Minis for decades to come.

Austin was a full-line maker, and if you didn’t care for stubby and could pony up, the handsome Princess was the way to go. How many of these did I see with RR grilles carefully grafted on and used for wedding limo service? It fooled most, except those in the know.

Speaking of distorting the truth, the car in this ad to convince Americans to buy an Austin is the stubby little A40 Devon, as in our Curbside Classic. So much for truth in advertising.

The Austin A90 Atlantic wasn’t quite so stubby, being built on one of Austin’s largest frames. As its name implies, it was designed to be shipped across the Atlantic, to Americans enamored with sleek hardtops and extravagant styling.

For 1949, it was a radical departure from the frumpy Austins that stayed home. It would be hard to guess its provenance; looks more like a Muntz Jet or some other Hollywood custom. Actually, it looks so much like the Muntz, it’s scary. Unfortunately, it went down the same road as the Muntz in terms of sales.

The naming of Austins after English counties was a charming habit. It went on for a while; did they finally run out?

Wood always lent a particular charm to vintage Austins. And it probably lasted about as long as the metal bodywork.

Admit, didn’t you really want an Austin Hereford at some point in your life?

Well, maybe not the sedan, but the “pick-up” is the hot ticket.

Since Austin styling seemed not to be putting the world on fire, Pinin Farina was contracted to redesign future Austins.

It helped, but too many fins, two-tone paint jobs and complicated details kept them from looking as good as the similar Pininfarina designed Peugeot 404 and his other many cars at the time.

But the A40 Farina was a winner, and a trendsetter, as what is widely considered to be a precursor to the popular hatchback style, a clever blend of station wagon and sedan body styles. But then the Hillman Husky had much of that too, some years earlier. It was popular, and I remember fondly admiring one in our neighborhood in the early sixties in Iowa. Let’s stop while we’re on a high note with Austin.

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  • Light Parade Light Parade on Apr 22, 2010

    Re nomenclature: BMC's boss was born Leonard Lord; in due course, he became Sir Leonard Lord, and the next step was enoblement. Rightly, he considered that calling himself "Lord Lord" would be "bloody stupid", so he became Lord Lambury instead.

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Apr 22, 2010

    I didn't think I would be interested in this maker's history - but you proved me wrong by bringing out such an interesting variety of vehicles and styles! Being raised in Chicago, I was lucky to spot an MG. British imports just didn't seem to make it to The Loop, except for Jaguars and some other exotic sports cars in Kennilworth, Lake Bluff and Waukegan where they were garaged in buildings worth more than my entire neighborhood. Not that these cars were expensive - they are exotic, like little New Zealand Kiwis, but not as attractive as those flightless birds. You guys are the place to come for car buffs like me! Thanks for your great work!

  • Jeff S I did not know Plymouth had a full size van prior to the mini vans. I did know about the Plymouth pickups and the Trail Duster.
  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.