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.
Despite its charm and usability, the A40 is largely forgotten and values will have to climb before they reach floor level. How can a car that shares many of its underpinnings with the Sprite and Midget be so undervalued?
Which one to buy
The Austin A40 is full of charm, but MkI editions aren’t that usable because of their low gearing. That’s why the MkII is a better bet if you’re planning on doing a reasonable mileage each year; a higher back axle ratio helps here, 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.
All A40s came with drum brakes all round, but again, many have been converted to Midget-sourced front discs. Things are even easier if the start point is an A40 MkII, which featured the same uprated kingpins as the Midget. 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.
With the A40 sharing so many mechanical parts with the Midget, early Mini and A35, availability isn’t an issue. However, anything bespoke to the A40 can be hard to find, so club membership is key; its remanufacturing scheme has helped many members keep their cars on the road.
Austin A40 Mk2 Specifications
Engine 1098cc, 4-cylinder, OHV Power 48bhp @ 5100rpm Torque 60lb ft @ 2500rpm Top speed 79mph 0-60mph 22.9sec Consumption 38mpg Gearbox 4-speed manual
What to look for
• Poor rustproofing, hopeless panel availability and low values ensure most A40s have at least some rust – often lots of it. That’s why you must check the entire car from bumper to bumper, prodding, poking and looking for evidence of filler, so take a magnet with you.
• The key areas to check first include the sills, wheelarches and door bottoms along with the headlight surrounds, rear valance, floorpans and rear spring hangers. The A-posts, boot floor, lower wings and boot lid also rot, along with the grille support and front valance. 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. Expect to get 100,000 miles between rebuilds; exhaust smoke aplenty will betray the wear.
• The A40’s gearbox and back axle were also carried over from the A35. There's syncro on second, third and fourth; early gearboxes had weak syncromesh on second. 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. Kingpins form the basis of the front suspension, with the MkII getting a stronger set-up. Whatever is fitted it’ll need to be lubricated every 1000 miles if it isn’t to wear quickly. It’s worth upgrading from the early to the late kingpins for greater durability and strength; the bottom bush is more substantial, and you’ll need to fit later stub axles too.
• The rear springs – unique to the A40 – have a tendency to sag. If the wheelarch sits lower than the top of the tyre they’ll need to be replaced or retempered.
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.