1948 Austin Sheerline 125. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
English Austins have always been thought of by North Americans as small, economical cars, usually with four-cylinder engines. The first to gain real popularity was the A40, a pleasant little four-passenger sedan that provided adequate performance and good fuel economy. It began arriving in quantity in 1948, and with the pent-up demand for new cars that followed the Second World War, it did fairly well for a few years. It was followed by upgraded models such as the A50 and A55.
The A40 et al – and the tiny American Austin/Bantam, a clone of the English Austin Seven produced in Butler, Pennsylvania during the 1930s – consolidated the conception that Austins were small. Thus it was a surprise when the Austin Motor Company introduced a car that abandoned the economy car persona and moved into the luxury field. This was the Austin Sheerline.
The Sheerline was conceived during the Second World War by Austin head Leonard Lord, who drove a Bentley as his personal car. He wanted to take Austin beyond its work-a-day image and expand into the luxury class, envisioning a kind of “poor man’s Bentley” that would complete with the luxury of Bentley and Rolls-Royce, at a price low enough to escape the English sales tax that doubled above 1,000 pounds sterling. It was not intended to be chauffeur-driven, but to appeal to the owner who wanted to drive his own car, who couldn’t afford a Rolls or Bentley, or who just wanted to avoid the ostentation.
The Austin A110 Sheerline arrived in 1947 with a 3.5-litre (3,460 cc), overhead valve, inline six-cylinder, 110-horsepower engine that evolved from one used in a pre-war Austin truck. It was soon realized that more power was required, so after a handful of A110s were produced, the six was increased to four litres (3,995 cc) and 125 horsepower to become the A125 Sheerline. There was also a more luxurious Princess companion model bodied by Austin’s recently acquired coachbuilder Vanden Plas.
The Sheerline was a body-on-frame sedan with a 3,029 (119.25 in.) wheelbase and overall length of 4,877 mm (192 in.), about the size of a 1948 Chevrolet. It stood a towering 1,702 mm (67 in.) tall.