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