(first posted 4/5/2012) Does this face look familiar? British Motor Corporation (later merged into infamous British Leyland) did a lot of business with Pininfarina in the 1960s. Starting with the 1958 Austin A40, the Italian design house designed pretty much all the BMC cars through the sixties, including our featured car. Pininfarina recycled his themes among his clients, so if the front end of this Austin A110 looks mighty similar to the Peugeot 404, it’s no coincidence.
The similar but somewhat shorter Austin A99 was introduced in 1959, replacing the A95/A105 saloons and estates. The rounded styling of the outgoing model was replaced with much more angular lines – and fins!
The US market was the 600-pound gorilla of the automotive world at the time, and even in Old Blighty, where Bel Airs and Fleetwood Sixty Specials were derided as Yank Tanks, American styling cues crept into some European cars. The A99/A110, which I only vaguely knew of prior to writing this post, looks an awful lot like a W110 Mercedes fintail, and was introduced at about the same time. Compare the Westminster above with the W110 below; the slab sides, modest fins and angular roof line are in evidence on both.
The A99 was powered by the 2.9L C-Series inline six with twin SU carburetors, the same engine used in the Austin Healey 3000 roadster. A three-speed column-shifted manual with synchromesh was standard, with an automatic Borg-Warner unit optional. Front disc brakes were also standard. The A99 lasted through 1961, when it was replaced by the revised A110.
Among other changes, the A110 featured a two-inch longer wheelbase (to 110″) and the transmission shift moved from the column to the floor. A Mark II came out in 1964 with smaller 13-inch wheels and a four-speed transmission, it lasted until 1968 which was the end of the line for this model. It was replaced by the unsuccessful Austin 3 Litre.
As was common with BMC in the Sixties, badge-engineered versions were sold alongside the Westminster: the middle-class Wolseley 6/110 and the luxury Vanden Plas Princess. The 4-Litre R (seen above) introduced in October 1964, featured a de-stroked F-head straight six Rolls Royce engine; it was the only civilian mass-produced car with a RR engine that wasn’t a Rolls Royce or Bentley. Only a few thousand were built and the Vanden Plas 4-Litre R was discontinued shortly before the British Leyland merger was completed.