If ever there was a car that summed up 1950s Britain, it’s the Austin A30 and its facelifted successor, the A35. Buyers in the UK and abroad would buy any car they could get their hands on, and despite Austin’s huge success with the Seven in the 1920s and 1930s, the company somehow failed to offer a small family car in the post-war years. The A30, Austin’s first monocoque car, was introduced to fill that gap. It was even launched as the ‘New Seven’ so there was a link with its hugely loved forebear.
Packed with period charm and powered (we use the term advisedly) by small engines that provide distinctly leisurely performance, these baby Austins are small on the outside, small on the inside but more fun than you’d ever think possible. James Hunt reckoned his A35 van gave him all the legal thrills he needed...
Despite their simplicity, the A30 and A35 can still cut it in modern traffic as long as you steer clear of motorways or indulge in a few sympathetic upgrades; the lack of pace is perhaps the biggest sticking point, but upgraded mechanicals can easily be slotted in.
What’s more, you can buy a minter for peanuts, while maintenance is simple thanks to great club support. The A30/A35 won’t tick many boxes if you’re a speed junkie, but if it’s cheap, characterful, fun transport you’re after, then look no further.
Which one to buy
The A35 is slow with its 948cc engine, but the 803cc A30 is positively glacial. The former engine was fitted to some vans, while others featured an 848cc or 1098cc edition of the same unit. The 803cc engine makes the going very hard; even the 948cc unit isn’t well-endowed in the power stakes, which is why hotter engines are common.
Your best bet is to find a car that’s got a more powerful engine already installed – if you’re planning to use your baby Austin very much, you should home in on a car that incorporates a few sympathetic upgrades.
The easiest swap – which is why it’s also one of the most common – is a 1275cc A-Series powerplant. Go for MG Midget spec (which means twin 1.25-inch SU carbs) and you’ll have a very perky machine. Fit a 3.9:1 diff from the Midget 1500 and you’ll have better cruising abilities too. Stronger brakes (discs at the front) are necessary with the extra go; a five-speed Ford or Toyota gearbox will also improve usability.
There are lots of solid A30s and A35s about, but restorations are usually costly, so ratty examples tend to get overlooked. We’d recommend a car that needs little work, but many examples can be rebuilt thanks to excellent club support. However, you need to know exactly how much work is needed before you commit to purchase; it’s common for things to be worse than they look.
Tech spec - Austin A35
Gearbox 4-speed manual
Power 34bhp at 4750rpm
Torque 50lb ft at 2000rpm
Top speed 75mph
What to look for
- Rust strikes readily and while original panels are scarce, there’s a wide range of repair sections available. Check everywhere; panel seams harbour corrosion, the inner wings rot and so do the rear the suspension mountings, rear spring hangers, boot floor and A-posts.
- The 803cc engine wears faster than the bigger units; by 50,000 miles its big end bearings have usually had it, whereas the bigger engines will typically last twice as long. The A-Series powerplant is also easy to rebuild, but parts supply is patchy for the 803cc version – exhaust smoke aplenty betrays a worn powerplant.
- Second gear synchromesh tends to be the first transmission casualty, but it’s all cheap and easy to replace. It’s worth fitting a post-1962 van unit (ribbed casing, as fitted to the post-1962 Minor 1000 and A40 MkII), as it’s stronger, but you’ll need to fit the flywheel and clutch from a 1098cc engine.
- The original half-shafts are fragile and prone to snapping; the best solution is to fit 1275cc Midget items. They’re hardened, so much stronger.
- The kingpins in the front suspension should be greased every 1000 miles; they’re often overlooked which leads to rapid wear, resulting in vague handling and an MoT failure.
- Wishbone bushes also wear, but they’re brazed in place rather than being easily replaced rubber items. Replacing just the bushes is a nightmare, so exchange wishbones is the best course of action. They’re similar to (and interchangeable with) Midget items.
- It’s common for the rear suspension to have worn, potentially spectacularly. Shackle pins, bolts and bushes can all erode through a lack of lubrication; the shackle pin assemblies also need greasing every 1000 miles or so, but it often doesn’t happen.
- Check the handbrake as wear in the various linkages, along with poor adjustment, often means the system barely works. It’s easy to set it up properly though – unless everything is so badly worn that replacement parts are needed.
1951: The A30 is launched with an 803cc A-Series engine, in four-door saloon form only.
1953: A two-door saloon joins the range while the seats of the four-door edition are modified to give extra interior space. There’s also a larger boot opening and redesigned fascia with a full-width parcel shelf.
1954: The A30 van is launched, then the Countryman estate arrives.
1956: A35 editions of the two and four-door saloons plus the Countryman replace the previous A30 models. There’s a larger rear window, separate indicators below the headlamps and a chrome grille surround, while the engine capacity is increased to 948cc.
1959: The two and four-door saloons are discontinued.
1962: The last Countryman is built and the 1098cc van appears.
1964: The 848cc van joins the 1098cc edition.
Words Richard Dredge // Images Magic Car Pics