1957 Austin A35. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
The new “Baby Austin,” which came out in 1952, was originally called the Austin Seven, a name that would also be applied to the revolutionary cross-engine small car introduced by British Motor Corporation in 1959.
They were named after the original Austin Seven which arrived in 1922 and was the Austin Motor Co.’s best selling model until 1932. It did a great deal to establish Austin as a successful motor manufacturer.
Both of these latter-day users of the Seven name soon abandoned it. The 1952 version became the Austin A30 and the later cross-engine car became the beloved Austin/Morris Mini.
Austin’s first post-Second World War new car was the A40 Dorset (two-door) and Devon (four-door) four passenger sedans introduced late in 1947. They proved popular and soon established Austin in the North American automobile market.
But Austin saw a demand for an even smaller, more economical car, one harking back to the philosophical roots of the original Seven. The Austin A30 was the result.
The most striking feature of the A30 was its diminutive size. It was a mere 3,454 mm (136 in.) long, had a 2,019 mm (79.5 in) wheelbase and weighed 720 kg (1,588 lb).
The styling made it look as though it should have been larger than it was. It followed the lines of its bigger sister, the Austin A40 Somerset, which had replaced the Dorset/Devon in 1952. It was an attempt to follow the “new English line” of such large cars as Daimlers and Jaguars, but on the smaller Somerset it came out rather bulbous looking.
The A30 introduced two significant mechanical advances: unit construction, Austin’s first; and an all-new engine. The little overhead valve four-cylinder, called the A-series, was influenced by the design of the A40’s and would prove to be one of the most versatile of British Motor Corp.’s powerplants. BMC had been created through the amalgamation of Austin and Morris in 1952.
It originally displaced 803 cc (49 cu in.) and developed 28 horsepower. In 1956 this grew to 948 cc (57.8 cu in.) and 34 horsepower, turning the A30 into the A35.
The A-series engine in several displacements would power a variety of vehicles including the Austin-Healey Sprite/MG Midget, and the Mini and the Morris Minor/1000 which had become a stablemate of the A30 after Austin and Morris joined.
The A30 was introduced at London’s 1951 Earl’s Court Motor Show. Production of the four-door sedan began in the spring of 1952, with the two-door added in October. Two more models, a station wagon and a van came along in 1954. A short-lived pickup truck version was also produced.
Apart from its unit construction, the A30/A35 was a conventional and complete little car. Its front-mounted engine drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual, floor-shift transmission. Suspension was by independent coil springs in front and semi-elliptic leaf springs on a solid axle at the rear.
The brakes were hydraulic, but with a difference. The front ones were conventional but the rear ones had partial mechanical operation from a hydraulic slave cylinder mounted under the middle of the car. This mechanical linkage was also used to apply the parking brake.
The performance of the A30 was very modest. Road & Track (8/’54) reported a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 41.1 seconds and top speed of only 100 km/h (62 mph).
It suffered the problem of most small cars then. Its 5.12:1 axle ratio made had the poor little engine turn almost 4,800 rpm at 96 km/h (60 mph), a common cruising speed in 1954; contrast this with the Volkswagen engine that revved under 3,000 at 96 (60). For this and other reasons, R&T’s testers deemed the A30 “…ill-suited to American requirements,” and concluded that the A30’s main virtue was that it was easy to park.
Increasing displacement to 948 cc improved performance considerably. The British magazine, The Motor, tested an A35 in 1956 and reported a 116 km/h (71.9 mph) top speed and zero to 80 km/h (50 mph) in 18.7 seconds. This suggests zero to 96 (60) in about 30 seconds, better, but still slow.
Given its minimal performance, one of the mysteries of motoring competition history is how an A30 won the tough 1956 Tulip Rally, which finished at Zandvoort, Holland, beating such marques as Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzes. It must have had a fantastic crew.
A35 car production ended in 1959 although vans and station wagons continued for several more years. While the A30/A35 enjoyed moderate success at home during its production, it always seemed overshadowed by its arch rival, the Morris Minor, which offered more room, better handling, the technical sophistication of torsion bar front suspension, and generally better performance.
The final blow was the arrival of the stunning new cross-engine, front-drive Mini in 1959, which instantly rendered the A35 obsolete.