By on October 8, 2019

Recently Rare Rides featured the Rolls-Royce powered Vanden Plas Princess, which was the very pinnacle of luxury offered by BMC’s coachbuilding arm.

Today we’ll check out one of the less luxurious cars British Motor sold to the proletariat: It’s an Austin Cambridge from 1957.

The Cambridge sedan entered production in 1954, replacing the short-lived and stodgy Somerset. Gone were the flowing fenders and bathtub styling, hallmarks of a “Transatlantic” design theme Austin thought would appeal to Americans. The Cambridge was more modern, more tidy, and available in several different versions.

Cambridge nomenclature was always preceded by some lettering: A40, A50, A55, or A60. Sometimes the model name meant more power and equipment, and other times it meant a revised car. The A40 was the cheapest version, sold between 1954 and ’56. Powered by an inline-four of 42 horsepower and 1.2 liters, it was only produced as a sedan.

Produced concurrently between 1954 and 1957, the A50 had a 1.5-liter engine for a more serious 50 horsepower. BMC was keen on distributing this more powerful Cambridge abroad; Japanese customers received an additional wagon variant, and in Australia it became a ute.

A slight restyling for 1957 turned the A50 into the A55. Now called Cambrian for North American export, it received additional identities as the Austin 1/2 Ton and Morris 1/2 Ton when it donned the body of a commercial vehicle. This version was available as a traditional four-door sedan, a commercial sedan delivery and pickup truck, and a ute for Australians. The A55 had a slightly tweaked engine, offering one additional horsepower over the old version. Zero to 60 arrived after just 27 seconds.

1958 was the last year for the A55 version, as styling had grown dated and customers desired a larger sedan. A Mark II A55 started production in 1959. At 11 inches longer and two inches wider than the original version, the car’s sleek new body featured fins and was designed by Pininfarina for extra flair.

But the stylishness didn’t last long, as in 1961 the Cambridge was updated yet again to the A60 version. Passenger A60s remained in production through 1969, and the commercial version soldiered on through 1973. All were replaced by the Austin 1800.

Today’s Rare Ride is an A55 from 1957. It’s left-hand drive and presently located in Switzerland, where the seller asks $9,000.

[Images: seller]

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23 Comments on “Rare Rides: Vintage England Via the 1957 Austin Cambridge...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I miss spacious engine bays like this, that allow you room for access. Of course with this car, that constant access to and tinkering with the engine would be a necessary requirement.

    Also wonder about that 140 kmh speedometer. I would assume that the last 60% of it never saw the needle.

  • avatar

    Pity the poor fool who just bought a cherry 1957 Bel Air at Barrett-Jackson when they could have bought one of these to represent 1957 in their collection!

  • avatar

    Got to at least be room for a V6 under there.


    • 0 avatar

      I’m likely oversimplifying, but didn’t the MBG get both the Austin B-series and the Rover V8 during its long production run? I imagine one of the longitudinal 3800s or 60-degree GM V6s might work too.

      Ugh, from a post on another site about a V8-swapped Nash Metropolitan: “Power, as can be expected for a commuter car, was also quite feeble with an Austin 1.2-liter straight-four engine mated to a three-speed slushbox that sent power to the rear wheels.” Gotta throw out those buzzwords like “slushbox,” even if doing so is completely incorrect. (My mother had a Metropolitan when she was in college, so this irks me.)

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not drag racing or taking long distance trips, I just want to keep up with traffic. :-)

        • 0 avatar

          I love this car .

          It’s not far removed from my Metropolitan Nash FHC , same engine I *think* these had the column shifted four speed gear box, I have a Borg Warner M35 slushbbox in mine and I love it .

          This ‘B’ series engine is easy to peak & tweak for more power making it handily keep up whith to – day’s traffic and still give an honest 35 MPG doing so .

          Re placing the low ratio final drive with 3.72 is a two hour job and makes the car an easy 65 MPH freeway car .

          Yes, the engine bay is open but that damn battery is right where you need to go to service the ignition and oil filter .

          About 5 years ago I passed on one of these with 50,000 original miles for $4,500 ~ I’d have loved to buy it but it was a true museum piece and I’da driven the hell out of it and parked it out side .


          • 0 avatar

            I didn’t know you could get those with an automatic, Nate. I take back my above criticism of unnamed, quoted scribe. Maybe he was referring to a particular example with a slushbox.

            Obliquely supporting your point is this tidbit on the Metropolitan from Ate Up With Motor: “Austins had a four-speed transmission, but to keep costs down, the Met had a three-speed, created by the simple expedient of removing the first gear from the Austin gearbox.” That seems like a recipe for a stall-prone vehicle. I wonder if the ratios were different from the Austin’s?

            Mom speaks highly of hers and claims she could top 40 mpg – possibly rosy retrospection but not completely implausible, as this would have been at ~45 mph on lightly traveled state and county roads. And maybe hers was just a good ‘un built on the right day at Longbridge.

          • 0 avatar

            You couldn’t get one new with slushbox nor overdrive, two things the car needed .

            Also they only came with one crappy, tiny Zenith carby, it’s a simple thing to add two side draft S.U. carbys to dramatically increase power .

            40MPG wasn’t any myth in these cars, they were geared as in – town cars .

            One or two were made with dual carbys and over drive, one used to be owned by a guy in my Met Club who lives (? lived ?) in Puerto Rico .

            They also made two station wagons, one was bought by a company engineer and driven daily until it rusted out, Jimmy Valentine of The Metropolitan Pit Stop found and bought it decades ago fully restored it, they still have it .

            Oddly these old Austins are decent daily drivers as long as you understand you’re dealing with late 1930’s technology so they need fairly frequent touching .

            The ‘B’ series engine has only three main bearings (to reduce the friction and so increase available power do you see ?) so Hot Rodding them or lugging them leads directly to short engine life, I run mine pretty hard and so have to go through it every 35,000 + miles or so .


          • 0 avatar

            Spex say 5.9mph max in 1st gear, maybe not too bad about stalling.

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks, millmech. I just perused the pages for the ’55 Metropolitan and the ’55 Cambridge at Indeed, the Metroplitan’s gear ratios correspond to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th on the Austin. Perhaps in Britain the 4-speed was also used in light hauling applications and therefore needed a short first gear? Who knows.

            In addition to the cost savings of fewer parts, equipping the Metropolitan with a 3-on-the-tree meant the ergonomics were very familiar to most Silent Generation-and-older Americans. Mom’s well aware that a 3-speed isn’t the most advanced or efficient transmission to use, but she does opine that they are very easy to use.

          • 0 avatar

            Is there any compelling reason not to swap a 1.8 liter, five main bearing B-series out of a post-1964 MGB? I’d think it would be better suited to use with an automatic, and easier to get than any other B-series these days.

          • 0 avatar
            James Charles

            Datsun had the J Series engines which were identical to the engine fitted to this Cambridge.

            If I remember the J Series had 3 different blocks/heads, etc. The smallest J series (not capacity, but size) was fitted to the Datsun 1200. It was good for 69hp, a big leap over the engine fitted in the Cambridge.

          • 0 avatar

            @ Todd ;

            There are myriad reasons why not to swap to a later model ‘B’ series 1800 engine, none of them are compelling once you get past the lunacy of wanting to own a vintage LBC .

            If you go the later model 1800 and 4 speed (! overdrive !) gearbox the shifter will come up through the floor just behind the leading edge of the seat, it’s a simple thing to cut and weld some bends in it or install bucket seats (gah) if you wish .

            FWIW, top gear on both trannies is the same, the four speed just gets you there quicker .

            I’m an idiot (you knew this) so I decided to source a few early (1962) three main bearing MG 1800 C.C. engines and one of these days overhaul one, slap my highly modified MGA 1622 cylinder head on it and see how long that lasts….

            Unless you’re a LBC Enthusiast (nutter) you’ll never like this A50 Austin nor any other vintage LBC, not that they’re wretched (those would be English Fords) they’re just *different* .

            _VERY_ different .


  • avatar

    The Hindustan Ambassador, almost the same as this Austin Cambridge, was in production until 2014:

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      The Hindustan Ambassador was based on the contemporary Morris Oxford, which had a different shell and far sharper suspension and steering than the Cambridge. When the Farina version arrived in ’59 Austin and Morris simply put different badges on the same car, but inexplicably it used the stodgy Austin suspension.

      • 0 avatar

        I bow to your superior knowledge! My father had a ’52 Wolseley 6/80 which I understand was a badge engineered Morris Oxford MO. I did not realize the BMC badge engineering was not fully implemented until ’59.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        As a kid in Australia we had a Morris Oxford. If I remember correctly it had a 1.6 litre engine. It was larger than the Cambridge and I think better appointed. We also had a Morris Commercial van for a while.

        The Austin Kimberley we had had a east west inline overhead cam 6 with twin SU’s. It was very large FWD (for its time).

        My old man had a Vanguard Ute with an inline 6 and twin SU,’s.

        We even had an old 67 Cortina.

        The British vehicles failed because they weren’t reliable. Well most vehicles back then weren’t very durable. Then the Japanese came.

  • avatar

    “Now called Cambrian for North American export,” So if it hit a tree would there be a Cambrian explosion? Damn I LOVE evolution jokes.

  • avatar

    Correction: This car was developed for India, not USA. I would rather take Trabant of the same era than this, at least Trabant is a product of German engineering in its finest. Or Wartburg.

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