(first posted 3/19/2014) An Austin Sheerline A125 is not a common sight anywhere in the world but quite a rare one in western Canada. Perhaps most common in the United Kingdom as a “wedding car,” it was big and luxurious in the Rolls Royce vein but with a more modest price tag. This once grand old car now lives in front of a denture clinic.
The Sheerline story dates all the way back to 1942 when Austin decided they needed a large and traditionally styled big car to compete in the luxury and professional car market. While it wouldn’t have the same status as a Rolls Royce or the sporting pedigree of a Bentley, it would be sold at a lower price. The large, free standing headlights and a tall, upright grill were critical to achieving a traditional luxury car look., and the Sheerline wears its then fashionable razor-edge styling quite well. Designed during World War II, it was one of the first post war British designs, with production starting in 1947 under the A110 designation.
The A110 featured a 3,460cc inline six engine with overhead valves but only 12 were built before a bigger 3,995cc engine was substituted, producing 130hp @ 3,700 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. The model designation was swapped to A125 to reflect the engine upgrade. The Sheerline was a big car, especially by British standards of the day, with a 119.3 inch wheelbase and an overall length of almost 16 feet (191.5 inches). Width came to 73 inches against a height of 69 inches, and the A125 could also be purchased in a longer wheelbase chassis form, with most destined for ambulance or hearse duty. There was also a long wheelbase limousine built in very small numbers. Commercial car survivors, however, are very rare as the stout chassis was prized by banger racers (demolition derby).
For those that felt that the A125 lacked a bit of class, Austin had a solution through their newly purchased coach building company, Vanden Plas. The Austin A135 Princess Mk I used the Sheerline chassis as well as all its running gear but softened the razor-edge styling a bit with semi-integral headlights. The Princess was the top of line flagship model and could be ordered either as a regular saloon or as a limousine with a glass divider separating the driver from the passenger compartment.
The massive headlamps gave the A125 an old fashioned or sophisticated look depending on who was asked, but even with the upright grill, they still looked more modern than their Rolls Royce counterpart.
Inside, the dashboard is almost completely faced with wood. Dual glove-boxes and centrally mounted gauges would have made it easy to convert the design from right to left hand drive. This example retains its right hand drive and seems have been imported from the UK at some point in its life. The door panels and some of the Bakelite knobs have started to disintegrate, however, and the 1970s or 1980s aftermarket radio is an unfortunate addition.
The view into the back is even more grim with everything looking rather dried out and musty. I owned a car with an interior in a similar condition once and if you touched the upholstery it would crumble and turn to dust.
Around the side, the thick paint was cracking and weathered with rust appearing at some of the seams. It would be a major undertaking to restore this car back to its prime. The A125 featured a beefy truck like frame with independent front suspension and I’ve seen others used as the basis for a hot rod with the ubiquitous Chevrolet V8 transplant.
Curiously, the rear still features a vintage British license plate. One has to wonder if it was ever registered for use on this continent. I can’t imagine someone would import one in this condition, though, so there is likely a great story behind this car. Notice the chrome t-handle next to the absent brake light lens; if it and the corresponding one on the left are turned, a panel will fold down to reveal the spare wheel compartment.
The once proud Austin has lost its hood ornament but has amazingly held onto its other vital chrome trim.
I’ve seen this Austin stored in this spot for over six years with its stay likely to continue much longer. I cannot help but think that it remains a good, solid and complete–if very ambitious–project car. You certainly wouldn’t see too many others out on the road.