(first posted 2/9/2015) Austin Somersets keep calling to me. I’ve heeded their beckonings and found and shot them in various conditions, from this obviously restored version on the street near a car show, to rotting hulks sitting in the weeds. Follow along as we find various examples and I attempt to rationalize my fondness for these chubby-looking little Brits.
The Somerset is one of Austin’s “county” cars, along with the Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, and Hereford, all named after English counties. The Somerset was the successor to the successful A40 Devon while borrowing its styling from its bigger A70 Hereford sibling, which had launched two years previously. It was built from 1952 to 1954.
While the previous A40 had a variety of body styles including the two-door Dorset, four-door Devon and Jensen-bodied Sports, as well as commercial truck and van models, the Somerset trimmed the range down to the four-door saloon and a two-door convertible. Australia had previously produced a few convertible Tourer variants of the Devon/Dorset style A40 that were not seen anywhere else.
The open air Somerset model was rather bizarrely christened Coupé. The body on the drop top model was produced by Carbodies of Coventry but assembled at Longbridge, alongside the saloons. Only 7,243 were ever produced, making it a rarity.
Here is a Somerset found in its traditional North American environment and condition. They are usually not too far gone, and stored in a long non-operational state in either a backyard or field.
This particular car bounced around a few locations in town before finally disappearing one day. I do hope it has found a caring home as it appeared to be weathered but quite solid. The chrome was even nice and straight.
The fate of most North American Somersets suffers from the fact that they are not worth a lot in stock condition, making a proper restoration rarely financially worthwhile, and that they have two too many doors for the hot rod crowd. The earlier, two-door A40 Dorset is rarely seen in stock condition and is almost always sporting a large American V8 engine. To my eyes, the rear door on a Somerset could be welded shut and still retain the factory body line flow.
Mechanically, the Somerset sat on a separate pressed steel chassis inherited from the Devon. In fact, the Somerset was the last body-on-frame, Austin-designed model released before their merger with rival Morris. Running gear was mostly carried over from the Devon as well. The early Devons could be had with a floor-shifted transmission and mechanical rear brakes. For the Somerset’s introduction in 1952, only a column-shifted four-speed manual was available, and the brake system had transitioned to hydraulic fluid from a fluid/mechanical hybrid.
The A40, especially the Somerset, has traditionally been knocked for its poor, wallowing handling. Perhaps a tall center of gravity and narrow track are to blame, as suspensionwise the A40 is very similar to the later MG B sports car. Front suspension is independent, with double wishbones and coils. At the rear, a live rear axle is suspended by traditional leaf springs. The positioning of the steering box right behind the front bumper as well as the solid steering column looks rather scary to modern safety sensibilities.
The MG B connection goes a bit further, as the A40 is powered by the direct ancestor of the MG B’s engine. When Austin was developing the first A40 it needed a more modern four-cylinder power plant. An older flathead four was used as a starting point from which a 40hp 1.2L OHV four-cylinder engine was developed. Around 1952 the requirement for larger displacements was recognized; unfortunately, the A40 unit was not designed with enough “stretch” to allow further growth.
A new and longer design, based heavily based off and very similar-looking to the A40 unit, was designed and designated the B-series. While initially only displacing the same 1.2 liters, it would see increases to 1.5, 1.6 and 1.8 liters. Australia even built a 2.4 liter unit with an extra two cylinders tacked on. Other notable variations are the optional DOHC MG A engine as well as a diesel conversion. Common and well known applications of the B-series engine include many Austin, Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley saloons, as well as MG A and B sports cars. It was also utilized in an amazing variety of other vehicles, including TVR and Elva Courier sports cars, as well as Leyland Sherpa vans, Mercedes-Benz L206 vans, Nash Metropolitan, Tempo Matador trucks and even International Harvester Metro-Mite delivery vehicles.
The Somerset 1.2 liter engine brought a slight boost in power over the Devon, to 42 hp @ 4500 rpm and 58 lb-ft of torque @ 2400 rpm. Performance was about normal for the era, with 0-60 times in the high twenty to middle thirty second range and a top speed of 74 mph. Low compression (to cope with often poor quality postwar fuel supplies) as well as a stump-pulling first gear and overall low gearing likely hindered performance. There were 500 specials produced with two-tone paint and slightly higher performance.
A friend of mine owned this example for a short while several years ago. At the time he also owned many other British saloons and various other classic orphans, so not much ever happened to this one.
The stand-up flying A ornament surely has to be one of the best factory motifs ever produced.
One of my favorite components of classic cars is definitely the interior. The Somerset has one of the better ones, in my opinion. The dual gloveboxes and central gauge pod made it easy for the factory to produce both right- and left-hand drive versions. It also gives the dashboard a pleasing symmetry, although probably not ideal ergonomics. The massive ‘banjo’ steering wheel is another big draw for me. While this one has lost all its rim padding, I can still visualize myself sawing away at it on a back road. I also have a strange desire to drive a vehicle with a column-shift manual transmission. Unusually for North American tastes, this Austin features a four forward and one reverse ratio on the column.
Old and cracked Firestone winter tires give an indication of how long this Somerset has been off the road. Still, some new rubber, a lick of paint on the rims and a polish of the partial hubcaps would have the wheels looking quite fine again. The rest of the car might require a bit more work to revive.
The body shell was amazingly solid, with no rust-through and few dents. Remarkably, the glass was all intact even if the weather stripping had long passed its best. The paint was well weathered from the sun, with plenty of primer showing through– patina that would be the envy of many a hot rodder. I did briefly consider buying it off my friend and updating the engine and gearbox to a more modern four-cylinder engine, perhaps from a mini pickup truck. But then, of course, I would have lost the alluring column shift.
Nissan must have found positive attributes in the Somerset as well, as they built a licensed copy of it for the Japanese market. The agreement with Austin allowed Nissan to slowly substitute Japanese parts in place of British ones. While the Japanese Somersets were largely British, the later Austin become more and more Nissan-like. A Nissan-improved variant of the B-series engine went on to power many Datsun/Nissan vehicles.
A total of 173,000 Somersets were produced over a two-year span. This compares to 456,544 Devon-style A40s, which enjoyed a longer five-year run. While the Somerset seems to enjoy a presence in the home market, they are rarely seen in North America and often then only in dilapidated condition.
The local annual swap meet is coming up in a mere matter of days, and I’m always drawn to this photo posted at a vendor’s booth. No price is given, but maybe this year I will finally inquire. I do have a classic car-sized space in the garage and if the price were right, I might just be tempted to finally take a visit to Somerset.
CC 1951 Austin A40 Devon – The Best Selling Import of its Time
For me, the relatively minor front-end styling change from the Devon in the second photo to the Somerset makes a lot of difference. The Devon just looks kind of bland and…boring. The Somerset’s perky face looks CUTE!
Funny, I was just thinking about the styling of these Austins walking to the shops this morning (there’s one locally that I’ve seen on several occasions, though not when I’ve had my camera, of course). For two years (’52-54) they had the same look on the A30, A40 and A70, all with the same totally non-aggressive, cuddly looks. Funnily enough they stand out less in a car park now than they would have done 30 years ago as they’re about the same height as people carriers and SUVs; in the ’80s they would have stood tall above all the Escorts, Cortinas, Chevettes and Marinas.
The first photo magically caught a shortened Chevy C10 opposite the “shortened Jaguar” Somerset. Chvrlt vs Jgr.
The green one was shot outside a British car show in BC so quite a variety of special interest vehicles around.
That is what interests me but it is a K5 (Blazer) with the top shortened to “extra cab” length. I know of a few International Travelers where the owner did something similar to make it into a 2 row pickup. This one doesn’t look long enough to have seating back there or if it does then is likely the sideways jump seat style.
There is also a non-shortened Jaguar in the pic; notice the gray XJ-S lurking behind that white ramp truck.
It’s easy to forget that Austin was the #1 import brand in the US in the immediate post-war years, and the early 50s. The VW quickly changed that.
Which explains why there were so many Austin drag racer gassers. As a kid, I rather wondered where they had come from, because by the early 60s, one rarely saw one of the Devons or Somersets around. The A40 was still selling in modest quantities.
Interesting you should bring that up… my grandfather had a black Austin right after the war. He moved onto a black VW in 1956. I have no recollection of the Austin, but I do remember the VW. It was the first car he splurged on and got the optional white walls.
In a world where most makers catered for a domestic market, it’s interesting to know that the Brits and Austin/Morris, later BMC, stood for about 50% of global exports. They were the most imported cars worldwide. It’s just a quote I have from the back of my head, so I don’t have any sources on it.
But it isn’t such a far fetched thought. Even in the middle 50’s, most makers were bizzy making cars for their own people. VW didn’t become an export juggernaut until early or even the middle 60’s. The same for Volvo and the others. Except for the import boom of 57-59, most imported (To the US) cars were British.
I can’t really find another brand of cars that were exported for a global market in such number than the English from the end of the 40’s to the middle 50’s. I guess the Americans took up the rest of the slack of global exports, American cars being imported (in smaller or larger numbers) into pracitcally every counrty on the planet. How the British lost that market opportunity and made themselves irrelevant is a tale of woe told in business classes from then to eternity.
The large scale exporting of manufactured goods was government policy, in an attempt to earn export revenue for the British econom which had been depleted by World War 2. The irony was that people in England had to endure wait lists for ese cars because set quotas had to be exported. Britain exploited the dominions with this scheme. Governments of former Empire countries, most of which contributed significantly to Britains war efforts,beers pressured intreducing favourable tariffs on British goods and penalising products from other countries.
By way of example, pre 1939 cars from the USA were common in Australia and locals liked these strong, powerful and robust cars which were ideal for local conditions. Post war, Australians seeking American cars had to pay prices inflated by tariffs or buy the less expensive English products which enjoyed Tarif protection. Austin A 40’s, under powered, structurally weak and too small for local tastes sold well though few order a second one! My father bought a new Devon and kept it for a few months before suffering the high price for a Chev.
They might look cute and cuddly, but there is very little to love here!
Devons were very common when I was growing up. The later Somerset was much less so.
Funny that you can still find these DS, about 20 years ago when I lived in the Chatham area where was a Somerset in a local yard with grass growing around it.
Despite my affinity for Little British Cars, and my affinity for cars used in Muppet movies (The Great Mupper Caper in this case) I only looked upon it as a possible source of mechanical parts for a Lotus 11 replica. Luckily that idea didn’t go anywhere either…
They have a bunch of really quick A40’s at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. They don’t say much about how much modifying was done, but I think it includes a RR Merlin…
Excuse me for being off-topic. In the first picture, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “K” Blazer/Jimmy with a top like that.
It’s not a Blazer; it’s a shortened C10 pickup. It’s substantially shorter than the Blazer. Update: it’s a cut-down Blazer, more likely. I meant it’s not a stock Blazer.
Sure about that? I don’t see a bed separate from the cab…yet I do see the pickup tailgate.
Yes. It’s custom made, hence the body work to integrate the bed and cab. Or it could be a cut-down Blazer. In any case, it’s not a stock Blazer; too short for that.
Some of these old school bobtail sports utilities (before they became watered down into SUVs) used the pickup’s tailgate with little modification.
The fuel filler on these would be up near the cab, in the case of a C/K…the gas tank was literally behind the seat in the cab. Blazers/Jimmys had it out towards the tail.
Pretty sure that’s a K-5 Blazer/Jimmy. Id bet a million SpaceBucks–the giveaway is that the cab/bed are all one body tub. A C-10 would have a separate cab/bed. They did make halfcabs for the full convertible blazers at one time, but this looks like its home made. They chopped it down before the rear wheel tubs making a quasi-extended cab with a super short bed.
Ive seen a similar trick on a 1st gen Ramcharger, where someone chopped the top off a ’70s era Club Cab pickup and mounted it on the RC body. Personally, Id love a SUT on these dimensions. Just enough bed space for light hauling, a generous cab, and the ability to go full topless on a super-maneuverable wheelbase. Plenty of power for towing, and configured for heavy offroad mayhem.
Here is a zoomed in photo (click on it) of it at higher resolution if that helps. Sure looks like a pickup was used for the conversion to my (admittedly non-expert) eyes. The top of the windshield looks cut rather than factory.
The K-5s had factory removable tops…and frameless doors. There may be a little pickup spliced into this somewhere (its plausible)…but it seems a LOT of work to hack one up to replicate a Blazer. Paul is onto something…it looks a bit shorter than a ‘stock’ Blazer for sure….but its a funny angle, and the top/rollbar do throw off the proportions.
It’s a cut down Blazer, including a shortened Blazer fiberglass removable top. There’s still a bit of the top’s side window remaining.
Well guys, I really think you are trying to see things that are not there.
I’ve flipped the red Blazer pic around and put it side-by-side on my monitor with the blue unit in question and…..
to me they look identical length and the only body mod is the opening of the wheel well.
the departure angle is not changed.
every other aspect of the bodies look identical.
my view is that it is a normal Blazer with a modified top and wheel wells and not much more.
Alberta; right you are. The enlarged wheel opening threw off the proportions for me initially.
Well it looks like it was fitted with a regular pickup tail gate. But on the length I think it may be stock length and the “extra cab” top, position of the light bar and angle all combine to make it look shortened.
Blazers and Jimmys from 1969-1972 did use stock Fleetside pickup truck tailgates with a little fin bolted to the top edge for the liftgate (integral with the fiberglass top) to “seal” against. Seal is a relative term BTW. I’m sure of this as I owned a 1970 K5 and replaced the tailgate with one from a C/10 from a salvage yard. Mine had 2-wheel drive and was a rarity (~900 2-wd versions built that model year). Sorry to hijack the Austin thread. It is a most interesting automobile.
I have this sneaking suspicion that its stock length too. The homemade 1/2 top is more like a 1/3 top, that’s definitely making it look shorter. But look at the rocker panel behind the rear wheels. Its been bobbed and sectioned to angle up (for better departure angle) and its monkeying with the proportions. But whats REALLY playing tricks on us is the fenderwells. Those rear tubs have been opened up a bit. His tires are about 33″ and it doesn’t look like this truck has much of any suspension/body lift at all. That’s not a new trick….but it can drastically change a truck’s appearance without being readily apparent.
Paul was right in that this rig isn’t stock by a longshot. Seeing that 3 distinct products (C/K, Blazer/Jimmy, and Suburban) used a lot of common body stampings and styling, Ive seen all sorts of mashups. Probably the coolest was a really cleanly executed K-10 stepside from the rear bumper to the back wall of the cab, and a blazer forward…making it a 4×4 stepside pickup with a detachable hardtop. It looked factory. Similar to the Dakota convertible in a way.
I knew halfcabs for these were available aftermarket at one time, but there seems to be some debate as to whether they were offered at the dealer–http://67-72chevytrucks.com/vboard/showthread.php?t=198949
As Paul said, the one on the photobombing rig is almost guaranteed to be a sawed off factory full hardtop.
And sorry for the threadjack. The Austin is a cute ride but that Blazer had me infatuated from the second I saw it.
Yes the opened up wheel openings definitely add to the out of whack proportions that make it look shorter as does the reshaped lower portion of the rear fender to increase the departure angle.
I almost pulled the trigger on an ebay Somerset about two years ago. It had upgraded mechanicals and a little bit of work to finish. It just wouldn’t fit in my micro sized storage space. The other thing is that I’ve lost any interest in column mounted shifters. They just feel so counter-intuitive to the motion of the car and lacking in ergonomics. I learned that the hard way when I bought a Valiant with 3 on the tree. All those rods and levers are so remote from what they control.
I’ve always found something delightfully comical about British sedans from the first half of the 50’s. Overly small, overly cute, and I have to keep reminding themselves that they were the local equivalent of a, say, Chevrolet Bel Air.
When I was a kid an English lady across the street had a Somerset. She didn’t like to reverse out onto the street so she would do about a 6 point turn to get it around in the driveway. It was grey…when all of the UK according to Jeremy Clarkson was black and white.
In my teenage years a friend bought a black Devon 4 door but it had the running gear of a Volvo 122 so the car was a miniature muscle car! I can still remember the black leather and wood inside it.
VERY nice .
A guy I know had a complete Austin A-35 not long ago and tried to pimp it to me as he knew I’d put it back on the road , prolly with a ‘B’ series 1275 in it , it’s fairly simple to make these go *much* faster than stock…
I bought a Morris Minor instead , it’s still scattered about my back yard…
I think you should buy one , once properly built & sharply tuned they’re much fun to drive and oh so cute .
1275 is the biggest A-series. It’s amazing that they made the B-series as small as a 1200 for the Somerset.
And I was glad to finally find out what the difference is between the Devon’s 1200 and why it isn’t a B-series despite having the same bore and stroke!
When I was a kid (sixties) there were plenty of Devons still running around, but these Somersets were rarely seen.
You could get more up to date styling in the UK from Ford Vauxhall and Hillman but a lot of people seemed happy with the humpty dumpty looks of the Austin.The sweep of the front fender reminds me of the 1942 Buick but thats as far as the similarity goes.
btw the use of the term Coupe on the convertible model is an old British model designation-convertibles were often called “drop head coupes” in those days
These Devons and Somersets were common when I was small. I hated them for the dumpy looks, and when I grew older I hated them because they lacked rack & pinion steering and telescopic dampers.
Funny that the Somerset went to hydraulic rear brakes – the 1959 Farina A40 reverted to mechanical rear brakes ( brake-by-wire….)
Austins of this era were more old fashioned than almost all regular British cars Austin clung to prehistoric BOF construction long after Morris Ford Vauxhall Rootes and others had gone unitary it was only the merger with Morris to form BMC that their range was modernised ironically the Austin engine designs were used throughout the BMC range and the ancient Morris sidevalves, Wolseley OHC, and Riley twin cams were consigned to the scrapyard.
These A40s all suffered from lever shock absorbers which wore out early and seemingly were never replaced, Ive ridden in and driven several back in the 70s and all gave a very bouncy ride with awful roadholding at any speed and really they are only fast downhill, The chassis are all boxed and immensely strong one was fitted with L Velox running gear as a beach buggy huge fun and another A40 ute local to me was repowered with a XU1 spec Holden 6 and proved very fast it also had telescopic shox fitted to make it steerable at speed, There are some restored examples about locally but not many, most joined the stampede to the scrapyard with the advent of used Jappas and are long gone Devons are still common but not Sommersets.
How is the front shock absorber actually actuated? It looks cumbersome.
The upper control arm pivots on the skock absorber and no they dont work
Thanx Bryce ;
I can fix LBC’s in my sleep but I’m still learning the ins & out of what fits what .
I recently found a three main bearing 1964 MGB 1800 , I’ll go through it and stuff it in my beloved Met FHC.
There’s a place here (NOT Apple Hyd. !) that rebuild lever shocks for LBC’s & makes them much stiffer .
What’s the name of the place that builds your shocks? My ’53 Buick’s got levers, and I was never happy with how the fronts came out. The rears are still original, so it’s always nice to have an option.
The sole reason the Morris Marina was built was to provide a retrofit suspension upgrade for Minors, best engine conversion is actually 1200cc or 1400cc Datsun much better engines oil tight and very popular conversions in OZ and NZ many minors are still on the road thanx to Japanese machining technology. If you can find a Wolseley/Riley 1500 or a Austin Lancer or its Morris elite couterpart diff centre install that in a Minor along with Datto 1400 and it will cruise at 90 mph, dont forget the MG Midget brakes ( Sorry Nate I love these partsbin games my Minx suffers from it too )
Sorry but I don’t get that. The Marina had the same suspension as the Minor, with those useless lever arm dampers. Never spannered a Minor but I had to take shims from the front balljoints of “my” Marina at about 20k to keep it handling remotely well. I know there were telescopic conversion kits for the Marina but I wasn’t going to spend that much cash on a car I didn’t actually own…
New or less worn parts and a brake and rear axle ratio upgrade.
The politics of the merger between Austin and the Morris group is a whole story in itself.The Morris designs including Riley Wolseley and MG had superior suspension and steering to the stodgy Austins but by 1958 Austin engineering ruled.Styling finally got brought up to an acceptable level with the Pininfarina contract but also for the first time under the skin the vague and soggy old Austin steering and suspension also featured on the Morris Oxford and its Riley MG and Wolseley clones and this was seen at the time as a retrograde step especially on the MG Magnette which went from being a much loved sporting saloon from 1953-58 with good handling and rack and pinion steering to a roll prone sloppy handling badge engineered Austin with an extra carburretor.In the need to rationalize their range BMC threw away their chance to compete in the 60s against the likes of BMW.Saying that ..Ive owned the later farina cars and love them.Just wish they had made more effort to keep the up market sporty models like the Mg and the Riley 4-72 competetive.Maybe BMC in the 50s and 60s were just anticipating what GM would do decades later
In effect it was an Austin takeover. Leonard Lord held a long-seated grudge against William Morris, and seems to have sought to sweep away anything Morris – never mind the fact that much of the Morris gear was superior in engineering terms. I can’t get over them dumping the Riley twin-cam four and replacing it with a C-series six that was both bigger but less powerful – totally irrational.
The C-series motor was designed by what would be traditional Morris folks so its design is quite different from the A and B-series.
Disappointing, yes, but not irrational. The Riley engine was undoubtedly expensive to build (with two cams in the block) and went back to the mid-20s, so while the tooling was probably paid for, it may well have been almost worn out by the mid-50s.
The ZA and ZB MG Magnette shared bodies with the Wolseley 4/44 The MG had a twin carb B series Austin motor the 4/44 a 1200XPAG MG motor the Wolseley was the faster car, The Issigonis Morry Minor had a prewar Morris sidevalve which was upgraded to an Austin A series 803cc engine in 55 or so an engine that wore out easily my grandmother killed one in 39,000 miles a friend who owned an A30 Austin preserved his by fitting new bigend shells every 15,000 miles it went for 5 years with annual bearing changes and no he didnt thrash it he drove it rather gently.
Those 803s were a crap engine backed by worse gearbox ratios. My aunt had an A30. She shifted into second at a walking pace, and top was just about right at town speeds. But take it out of town and at even 40mph the engine sounded quite unhappy, even to a car-mad little kid in the back seat. Dad’s series II Oxford was much better!
i’m glad I’m not the only CC Contributor with an old British car fetish…..
Great find, and I’ve never seen a Convertible version.
The B series in a Mercedes van – that’s new to me as well
This convertible was for sale here a few months back. Usual non-runner with solid body but poor interior.
Fascinating little cars–so cute in some regards and so frumpy in others. Maybe that’s part of why they’re cute! One of those cars that seems to make me smile, though, regardless…
I suppose the American fondness for the Somerset is a case of the other mans grass is alays greener as Petula Clark sang.Growing up in the uk in the 60s I was obssesed by the huge and beautiful cars I saw in American films and tv shows and it was a major thing to see the occasional American car on the roads-usually a Valiant Rambler Mustang or huge Ford station wagon. loved the big British Fords Vauxhalls and Humbers and miniature american wannabees like the Sunbeam Rapier and Metropolitan too but some of our cars like the Austin Somerset featured here just made me feel embarassed as in ” what must they think of us building cars that look like that?”
[ cars like the Austin Somerset featured here just made me feel embarassed as in ” what must they think of us building cars that look like that?”] Quote
Exactly my feelings !
Also I believe what is outdated and old fashioned could be a determent in a new car but years later could be viewed as charming in a classic car.
The other relatives of this car that bear mentioning are the Nash Metropolitan, which used the 1.2- and 1.5-liter B-series engines and gearbox (with first gear deleted) and various other components, and the A40s built under license by Nissan, which had a contract from late 1952 until early 1960. Nissan built the A40 and later the A50, which was replaced by the first Cedric shortly after the license agreement ended.
And Nissan built their version of this engine up until the OHC L-series was introduced. The 1966 411 sedan I had,had one, 1300cc and a whopping 3 main bearings. Yet somehow, I bet the Datsun version of this engine was more reliable…oh wait, anything is more reliable than a british machine…
Hmm – maybe a L-series OHC Datsun motor would be a bolt-in update for an Austin? Oh, wait, you’d have to change the whole front end to make it roadable.
What a delightful car! My ancestors were from the Somerset area, and in fact, Stembridge Tower Mill is less than 20 kilometers from Somerset. Perhaps this would be the perfect classic car for me (presuming someone 1.9m tall would even fit).
Thank you. This is what I come to CC for!
Looks like Austin and BMW styling drank from the same cool-aid. Seriously, I love the Rubenesque looks.
The BMW is like a Somerset stretched out. Otherwise quite similar.
I am _loving_ all the comments here , as usual , I’m learning as I go along….
I never quite understand the diff between ‘A’ & ‘B’ series Austin engines as there’s so much interchangeability .
” Export or DIE ! ” was the rallying cry in Post War Britian .
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s New England was jammed full of all manner of weird British cars and Motos , sadly Americans don’t like to change their oil often and they also like to drive *much* faster than most LBC’s were geared to go so they dropped like flies .
When I was a Lad , the A-35 looked to me like something Bugs Bunny would drive , now I have to work at not buying the next one I see….
As far as the Morris / Austin rift , there was a serious ‘ swinging dick ‘ problem there and it showed in the bad choices they made , year after year .
Too bad they pissed it all away .
Go to The West Indies and most folks over 50 years old will tell you they miss British cars , the new Japanese ones are efficient but have no soul .
Think of the A series as the small block and the B series is the big block! 🙂
Agreed it looks cute today and evokes comforting memories of a bygone era but I still maintain Austin styling was non existent in the early 50s-the slab sided Hillman Minx had debuted in 1949 yet still looked more modern than the Somerset in 1954.Austins 1955 “cow hips” Cambridge redesign wasnt exactly a looker either.
I read somewhere once that the prompt for BMC to finally get its styling together was a royal visit to the Austin factory in Longbridge where the Duke of Edinburgh apparently said to Len Lord he didn’t think the cars looked to be up to the competition.Shortly after came the Farina contract… not sure how true it is but sounds about right for HRH Prince Philip who has never been one to keep his opinions to himself (thankfully.)
I read that in a book by Graham Robson – should be accurate.
does anyone remember the A90 Atlantic unique and probably the best looking of the post war Austins complete with a decent sized engine silver streaks cyclops headlight and a wind down rear windscren breezawayyy….. but no one loved it when it was new
I personally quite like the A90. It was rather panned when new. A lot of the mechanical bits made their way into the Austin Healey.
Just needs the rear end lowered so the lower body side chrome is level instead of slanting uphill. Could be beautiful – it’s so close…..
Not quite a Somerset, but here’s an A40 I shot at an event last fall. Fully restored, I think they wanted around $6000. Definitely cute — or maybe more like cutesy — but no three-on-tree for me, SVP.
Nice one. I believe that is the smaller A30 or A35.
Could well be, David. I’m no expert on these, and I neglected to write down the details of what I was photographing that day. But I did notice it was a two-door — which struck me as pretty unusual, as virtually all Austins of that vintage that I’ve seen (including those in your article) have been four-doors.
A35. Not common in Australia. Could it be that people who had bought A30s weren’t about to buy Austin again? And two-door models were very rare here.
I remember a lot of these suffering terminal body rust. I even saw one put out for a council hard rubbish collection, around ’72. I checked it out, but it was indeed too far gone.
Although focus isn’t sharp and clarity is compromised by my reflection, the “Austin of England” script on the trunk lid was an elegant touch on an otherwise frumpy auto.
That was a lovely “quality” detail.
Saw this yesterday after this post went up all original and off the road since 78 going by the rego expiry its a floor shift early Devon with the smaller diameter headlights pre 1950 but in excellent condition despite being stored outside unused for several decades
Don’t recall ever seeing one with the small lights, though A40s were all over the place when I was a kid. Anyone know why so many British and European cars used 5″ headlights post-war?
Has anybody ever driven a LHD A-40? I did, some 60 years ago, and it was rather weird. The shift pattern was reversed, meaning 1st down and under while 4th would go up and above. You had to be very careful about what you did, because the whole thing was not reliable and you could end up with a broken gearbox. Anyway, these cars were imported in sizeable numbers to Brazil, until 1953. They were seen as a cheaper alternative to real automobiles, that is the American kind. And strictly for town driving, the British didn’ t take well to the unpaved roads of the time. A longstanding foreign exchange crisis meant no more imports until the country set up its own car building industry in the ’60s. And then, the Beetle just overran the market.
Column shift linkage on these, other British, hilarious. Remembering some Austin linkage have chains. For truly amusing entertainment, find Austin 152/Morris J2 shift linkage -ROTFL.
I learned to drive & took my licence test on our Austin Somerset in 1965. In those days we were tested by the police. My policeman said the car went like a hairy goat but he passed me first go.
A lot of those old English cars had four speed gearboxes, but first gear was so low it was rarely used, & everyone started in second gear. First gear made a grinding noise.
Interesting article, thanks for posting it. I know very little about card but I saw one of these today at a local show and shine! Looks like it’s had a lot of love, pretty little thing.
That one that hopped around Lethbridge then disappeared is mine. 😄 It was at my brothers house, then my Moms house, then we moved out of town and took it with us. Quite surprising to find it in the google images then on here. Ha ha ha!
Good to hear it is still around. What is its current status?
I have a Austin A40 Somerset and a parts car for sale. It has been in storage for 14 years. I also have a parts car. The running terrain is a Toyota Corolla from the 70’s. We are downsizing so I am selling off my Austin. I love this car. I do not have any recent photos. If there is anyone interested I will send some off to you.
Wallace and Grommit want their car back 🙂
For some reason, Somersets always seemed more prone to rust than the earlier Devons.
The A40 model that took my fancy was I think the last one – was it a Pininfarina design? Square and boxy, but quite attractive, and had a back door instead of a lidded boot. It also did very well in sedan – oops, I should say saloon racing, and the vintage classes still bring them out. I would love to have one …
The B-block engine was the first one I ever worked on, having had two Minis, and it was both an excellent item for that role and darn near immortal; I ran it with the radiator cap off (because I had no money and needed to get to Palo Alto, that’s why!), and had it towed to my mechanic’s the next morning. The oil had been cooked to Vaseline, but when Larry took it apart the cylinders needed only a bit of honing, and the pistons and rings and bearings were okay. He returned it to me with a minimal lecture and a gentler bill than I was expecting – under $200, but this was 1970 – and the car served us well in California, and then across the country to Nashville. My one hop-up mod was an MG 1100 head someone gave me, which gave me enough extra torque so I could stay in fourth on the long gentle inclines, such as one just south of San Jose. In fact, I got pulled over for speeding there, and the CHP guy was not pleased when he told me I’d been doing 70, and I said, “REALLY?? Wow!”
I have a 1953 Austin A40 Somerset Coupe ( convertible ) that needs a new steering mechanism. Does anyone know if someone has ever installed a rack and pinion set-up in one. New steering boxes are unavailable and mine is completely worn out. Any info or referral would be of great help.