In the 1950s, Austin had got into a rhythm with its new cars. They were chrome-laden, full of curves and very much old-school. Company boss Leonard Lord reckoned they were the perfect antidote to continental offerings with their typically crisper styling. But when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Longbridge in 1955 and proclaimed: “I’m not sure these are up to foreign competition”, Lord immediately enlisted Pininfarina to spice things up a bit.
The result was a sharply styled two-box saloon which would go on in Countryman form to become the world’s first volume-built hatchback. Practical, comfortable and charming in the way that only a fifties classic can be, the Austin A40 is ideal for anyone buying their first classic – or anybody who just fancies some classic motoring on the cheap.
Charm and everyday usability goes a long way, but the A40 is still a bit of a forgotten gem. Prices still have a long way to rise, and many struggle to comprehend why a car that is very much underpinned by those well-loved Sprite and Midget mechanical can remain so undervalued? Perhaps things could change soon…
Which one to buy?
Every A40 will be great fun to own, but finding the right version depends on how you plan on using the car. MkI editions aren’t that usable due to their low gearing, making the MkII a much more sensible choice if you’re going to rack up a few miles each year. A higher back axle ratio helps but diff swaps are common as they’re so easy to do.
While the 948cc engine doesn’t provide much urge, A40s with bigger engines are far from a rarity; most feature a 1098cc or 1275cc powerplant in standard or breathed-on forms. If you want the perfect Q car, an A40 with a 1275cc engine fed by twin carbs will prove surprisingly perky, without guzzling fuel.
Every factory-built A40 was originally fitted with adequate drum brakes all round, but again, many have been converted to Midget-sourced front discs. If you’re starting with a standard Mk2, the suspension already features the same uprated kingpins as the Midget, making it an easy conversion. Again, it’s easier to fit the whole suspension from a Midget.
Thanks to the A40’s efficient packaging, the standard saloon is very practical in terms of carrying capacity. But if you want something really practical, track down one of the unusual Countryman editions, with a hatchback configuration – it’s amazing what you can get inside one of those.
A huge number of parts are shared with other BMC cars of the same era, such as the Midget, A35 and Mk1 Mini, you won’t struggle to find most parts. There are a few parts bespoke to the A40 that can be difficult to track down - making club membership extremely useful, as its remanufacturing scheme has helped many members keep their cars on the road.
Performance and spec
Austin A40 MkII Engine 1098cc, four-cylinder OHV Power 48bhp @ 5100rpm Torque 60lb ft @ 2500rpm Top speed 79mph 0-60mph 22.9sec Consumption 38mpg Gearbox Four-speed manual
• A40 Farinas were badly rustproofed from the factory, which means they do like to rot away. Replacement panels are difficult to find, and values are low which means most cars will have some rust on them.
• Inspect every inch of the car, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. You will find some corrosion, but it’s important to know exactly what you are buying. A strong magnet will come in handy for locating filler.
• The most important areas to check include the sills, doors as well as the wheel arches. Other problem areas include headlight surrounds, floorpans, rear spring hangers.
• You’ll easily spot any corrosion on the front and rear valances, but less obvious structural issues could be found in the A-posts, boot floor. Also check the scuttle and front crossmember.
• The engine is the same A-Series unit as the one in the A35 and Frogeye Sprite. Expect oil leaks and noisy tappets plus a rattling timing chain; a Duplex timing assembly can be fitted to help quell the racket. If looked after, you can get around 100,000 miles between rebuilds; exhaust smoke aplenty will betray the wear.
• For the sake of keeping costs down, the A40’s gearbox and rear axle was shared with the A35. This cheap and rugged unit comes with a syncro on second, third and fourth gears. Early gearboxes were much weaker than later units. A worn gearbox will jump out of gear while half-shafts are prone to breaking or bending.
• Cam-and-peg guarantees vague steering but boxes last well, as there’s plenty of adjustment available.
• All A40s use Kingpin-based front suspension, although the later models uses a much better set-up. Ensure everything is correctly lubricated every 1000 miles, otherwise it’ll all wear out very quickly. If the front suspension needs a rebuild, then it’s worth switching to the later set-up.
• The rear springs – unique to the A40 – will droop down over time. A good guide is to check that the top of the tyre can be seen through the wheelarch. Replacement isn’t too expensive, while they can sometimes be retempered for even less.
1958: A40 unveiled at the Paris motor show in October. 1959: There’s improved soundproofing plus a hinged boot floor to cover the spare wheel from March; a Countryman edition appears in September. 1960: A40 MkII arrives in September, with wheelbase stretched by 3.5 inches. Therte are now wind-up windows, a full-width grille, hydraulic brakes and two-tone trim. 1962: In September, a 1098cc engine replaces the 948cc unit, plus there’s a higher final drive, a stronger gearbox and kingpins and a larger clutch. 1964: A simulated wood-grain dash supersedes the previous crackle-black finish. 1967: The last A40 is built in November.
The Austin A40 Farina can offer a practical and fun classic car, especially with a few mild upgrades. Around £4000 should be enough to bag one of the best examples. There are plenty of rotten projects out there, but they generally don’t make financial sense when usable cars can be picked up from just £2000.