By on April 21, 2010

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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14 Comments on “The Handsome Jenson-Built Austin A40 Sports and Other Colorful Austins From The Fifities...”

  • avatar

    I know we’re two nation’s separated by a common language, but; “back for the next road–quicker…” ???

    That airbrushed A40 ad makes the Devon look like an early 40’s Buick Roadmaster.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    The A40 Sports was so rare , I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.
    The contemporary Morris cars , which shared engines with Austins , had better chassis design,and nicer steering.
    That A40 Farina wasn’t really a hatchback at all. The early ones had a fixed back window.Later came the option of a split tailgate.Still think the Hillman Husky was the first hatchback.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      According to wikipedia: “The Husky was not a hatchback, having instead a single side-hinged rear door”.
      But I admit the Husky did pioneer this body style. text amended.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    When the A90 Atlantic bombed , surplus engines etc were put to good use by an agreement to build the prototype Healey sports car as an Austin-Healey.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Paul , you couldn’t make a top hinged door in the Huskys time as gas struts were not invented yet.

  • avatar

    I’m trying to figure out the rear door on the A30 Seven. I can’t see a gap where the back edge would be. Was it a real door or was the handle a fake to give the impression of four doors? And if it really is there, how tiny must it be? It looks like it would have to open over the rear wheel. The rear door on the A40 looked like a closet door, but this would be even worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      The shut-line for the rear door on the A30 was right on the C/line of the back wheel. The whole car was tiny – a Morris Minor was far superior once it got the Austin engine instead of the side valve Morris engine.( Issigonis designed a flat-four for the Minor , but Morris couldn’t afford to build it)

  • avatar

    Grewing in Hong Kong, we see lots of Austins, Morrises, Triumphs, Hillmans, , Singer ,Jags and a few Rolls.

  • avatar

    Interesting photos of the A90 with current New Zealand plates. It figures that some Kiwi would have a restored one, I suppose.

  • avatar
    Light Parade

    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.

  • avatar

    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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