Like many car enthusiasts I have an automotive bucket list and near the top is building a custom car of my own. If you have read some of my COAL series then it’s clear that my taste is sometimes towards the offbeat and unusual. So, I am unlikely to build a ’32 coupe with a Chevy 350, but something a little more unique, cheaper … that’s a little more me. I like British cars, I like engine swaps; add in some semi-radical body work. So why not? The idea is to keep the budget super low in case the project fails from over-ambition.
This is going to be a longer term project as dictated by the sheer amount of work involved. I started in 2021 but I wanted to make sure it at least had some chance of success before sharing. So we have a little catching up to do. For the base car I knew I wanted an Austin A40 Somerset. I have actually written and been tempted by them in the past. It had to be one that was not completely gone rust- wise but also one that was likely to be beyond reasonable economic stock restoration. The A40 Somersets are less common than the earlier Devon due to being only sold for two years from 1952 to 1954 and so finding a suitable example was a bit of a waiting game. I had been following this one for sale online for many months as it was a good distance away and the asking price was too high in my opinion.
Out of the blue they lowered their price, so I contacted the seller and received only a handful of postage stamp sized photos before committing to buy it. Usually random parts sitting in the trunk is a bad sign, but I could overlook it given the plan of the mechanical update I had envisioned. I later found out they were selling the property it was sitting on and the wife was reluctantly open to letting it go for that reason, which makes the sudden rational price drop make sense.
Have you heard of Dog Pound, Alberta? Me neither, but that is where we are going to collect it from. Fun name though. Unfortunately, it was a five or so hour drive to go collect it. We used my eldest son’s high mileage 1999 Chevrolet 1500 pickup and a borrowed trailer.
Dog Pound is not a big place. In fact its population is not even listed and appeared to be collection of rural properties so it is not well sign-posted. We got a bit lost and turned around thanks to Google Map’s habit of guessing when it does not know a rural address. I really wish it would say “I don’t know” rather than silently substituting something it feels is close. We ended up about 40kms too far west on some less than ideal roads for our two wheel drive truck before the owner got us pointed in the right direction.
After I first laid eyes on the car in person, I was relieved. Don’t get me wrong, it was in horrible condition but it appeared to be very solid body wise with no real visible rust. The hard to source windshield and rear glass were intact but it was missing two of the side windows. There were a few dents likely from sitting around in a field for a few decades. I think the original colour might have been the light green but the red showing through is primer. Amazingly good primer. The interior was disgusting and toast but I had expected that.
The seller let us know that the frame was no longer bolted to the body! He had planned to swap it onto a Suzuki Sidekick frame. The larger physical size of the front suspension on the Suzuki had stopped him before getting too far. The wheels seemed a little (a lot) reluctant to move as well as the seller claimed the engine was seized and he’d cut the gear linkage so it could have been in gear. The linkage at the gearbox was not easily accessible. The problem of not being attached to itself for loading was solved by using his front end loader. Strapping it down to the trailer was made a little more interesting as I had to secure both the body and frame. I am not going to post any photos of it but I was shocked that I did not get pulled over as it would have appeared from a glance that I had poorly secured the load and had just tossed some straps over the body. I did not have anything similar to a loader at the other end but that was now a problem for later.
As usual I planned to drive home in the day light but ended up finishing in the dark. There were many stops to re-check and adjust straps.
The unloading from the trailer to the garage took several hours with many sketchy moments. In addition to the body not being connected to the frame and the wheels not wanting to roll we discovered it did not have any steering as the seller had cut the steering shaft in the engine compartment. The thick shaft is for steering while the thinner one goes to the column mounted shifter for the four speed transmission.
At various points we used the Mustang as a mobile anchor point along with jacks and wheel castors. A big thank you to my friend Rod first for lending me his trailer and then helping me unload it. I really should buy slightly better condition vehicles but this one suits my purpose very well.
So what comes next? Well, in the next installment we will assess what we have in this shell. Then we will start in on the body transformation, which is the most obvious visual piece of this project. I created a few illustrations starting with the four door sedan and three possible directions to go. Feel free to speculate in the comments below.
Project Austin Special Series:
Related CC posts:
Curbside Classic: 1951 Austin A40 Devon – The Best-Selling Import Of Its Time, by Paul Niedermeyer
Curbside Classic: Austin A40 Somerset – Short, Chubby and Irresistible, by David Saunders