The Modern Austin
“Motor Sport” Road-Tests the A105
A Spacious, Comfortable, High-Performance Family Saloon at a Competitive Price, Plentiful Flow of Smooth Power Characterises Two-Carburetter Six-Cylinder Engine.
During the Christmas recess we were able to sample the biggest model of the Austin range, the A105 Series BS7 De Luxe over a distance not far short of 1,200 miles.
The A105 follows the tradition long held by the make of Austin, that of offering at a distinctly competitive price a car which, in appearance, equipment and performance, rivals others selling at twice the price. In 1919 the first new post-Armistice British car was the Austin Twenty which, at just under £1,000, soon established itself as a dependable car capable of doing as good a job as luxury cars in the £2,000 category.
The modern Austin A105 saloon offers comfortable transport for five well-nourished or six slim persons and their luggage, possesses an effortless top-gear performance with 95 m.p.h. available at the top end of the speed-range, all the equipment necessary for enjoyable travel and is, withal, a very good-looking automobile. Yet, inclusive of purchase tax, the price is only £1,235 17s. Radio costs £39 7s. 6d. extra but all other amenities are included in this de luxe model.
On entering the A105 the facia layout seems over-elaborate, until the driver realises that permanently-lit lettered code-windows—slightly disconcerting to those who prefer all lights out for fast driving—serve to identify after dark a row of knobs controlling mixture control, panel lighting, wipers and starter. Between these knobs is the old-style twist-switch for the lamps, with the ignition key in its centre. To the left of the facia are the two switches for the Lucas fog lamps, with under-facia button for the screen-washers adjacent. Below the heater-box are knobs for the air-vent, bonnet-release and heater-fan. Above the row of four knobs is the radio panel, below it a pull-out ash-tray. The radio is flanked on each side by simple-to-use ventilator/heater quadrant controls and there is an electric clock over it.
There is a large, lined under-facia cubby hole before the passenger, its lid rather “tinny” and unlockable. Below the facia is a very spacious shelf with sensible lipped edge, unbroken save for the heater box, but, in common with prevailing B.M.C. practice, no door-pockets are fitted. There is a shallow shelf behind the back seat. The controls are completed by a foot lamps-dipper, overdrive toggle away under the facia by the front passenger, an umbrella-style hand brake set conveniently adjacent to the steering column, a full born-ring on the big two-spoke 18-in. steering wheel, and a stalk on the left of the column which operates the direction-flashers and has an indicator-light at its extremity.
The front seating is excellently arranged, two separate seats having their own folding arm-rests, so that three persons can be carried, or two persons very snugly. When three passengers are carried the gearbox cover somewhat impedes leg room. These seats, and the bench back seat with its generous centre folding arm-rest, are very deep and comfortable and provide adequate support for legs and back, together with generous leg room.
The doors, all four of which trail, have neat push-button exterior handles, lever-type interior handles which have an excellent action, arm-rests, fixed “pulls” and window-winding handles that call for 1¼ turns to fully-open the front windows and a shade over a turn to open the back windows. The window handles on the front doors are rather too far forward. There are locks in both front doors. A pull-out ash-tray is fitted on the back of each front seat.
Besides ventilator windows in the front doors there are similar openable windows for the rear compartment, enabling ventilation to be adjusted to suit all conditions. There is a central bright roof lamp which comes on automatically when the front doors are opened; the back doors have no effect on it, which is unfortunate, as its switch is not easily reached from the back seat. The top of the facia has a crash-pad but the lower edge is unprotected.
Before the driver are two hooded, matching dials, that on the left containing oil, gauge, temperature gauge and fuel gauge, while the other dial is the Smith’s 100 m.p.h. speedometer incorporating trip (with decimal) and total mileage recorders and full-beam and ignition warning lamps; the latter do not dazzle the driver.
From the driving seat both front wings are visible and the raised heater air-intake on the bonnet gives the pleasing impression of a vintage radiator, topped by the winged-A motif. Visibility is restricted sideways by the rather wide sloping screen pillars. Incidentally, entry and egress from all seats is easy and dignified. A reasonable rear-view mirror is fitted and the back window is of ample size. Twin swivelling visors are provided, but the lady passenger has to look elsewhere when her make-up needs replenishment.
The pendant pedals are well placed and feel firm. There is just room to park the clutch foot between pedal and transmission tunnel. The willing and very smooth 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine starts fairly promptly even in cold weather but needs use of the mixture control for about a mile before it runs properly—a notched mixture control would be an improvement. So silently does the 102 b.h.p. engine idle that only the absence of the ignition warning light indicates that it is running. This commendable silence of running is a feature of the A105 and when motoring in top gear at moderate speeds the ticking of the clock can be heard clearly.
As the accelerator is depressed a splendid surge of smooth power wafts this spacious saloon forward. If the lower gears are used 50 m.p.h. is reached from a standstill in 11 sec. and 60 m.p.h. in 15½ sec., a s.s. 1-mile occupying under 20 sec. In the 4.1-to-1 top gear the engine pulls away effortlessly from a mere 8 m.p.h. and accelerates until, under favourable circumstances, the maximum of 95 m.p.h. is reached. Here it should be explained that a Borg-Warner overdrive is fitted. This raises the top gear ratio to 2.87-to-1 and operates also in second and third gears. It is intended to be engaged when clear, level roads are reached, and its control is remote front the driver, who will probably use it comparatively infrequently, perhaps pausing to re-engage the normal ratios. There is, however, a kick-down control whereby direct drive can be acquired above 30 m.p.h. by depressing fully the accelerator. When overdrive is in use a free-wheel operates automatically below 27 m.p.h. This, and the wide gap between direct gear and overdrive, reduces the braking effect and for fast motoring we preferred to leave this overdrive alone—flick-switch selection and no freewheel would have better suited our requirements.
The gear-lever consists of a substantial steering-column stalk for the driver’s left hand, the higher rears being uppermost. This was the weakest feature of an otherwise good car. The action isn’t bad taken slowly but when attempting rapid changes the driver can “miss the way” and unless the clutch pedal is fully depressed the gears do not go in easily. Even then, bottom and second gear were often practically impossible to engage when at rest without excessive juggling of clutch and lever. Reverse position is obtained by first pulling out the lever knob which, in a hurry, can further confuse the driver. Whoever designed the Austin gearbox, together with this gear linkage, should quickly be found other employment.
The clutch works smoothly and lightly, with no trace of slip. The Austin A 105 also has very effective Girling 2LS brakes, amply powerful and fade-free for the sort of motoring the average owner will undertake, yet not fierce. The brakes are light to apply and progressive and have no vices apart from a faint squeal at times which by no stretch of imagination could be termed unpleasant. When a crash-stop was made on a damp road one wheel appeared to lock, calling for prompt work with the steering wheel to keep the car straight. The aforesaid hand brake holds and releases satisfactorily.
This big Austin is capable of an excellent performance. Apart from the good acceleration and 95 m.p.h. maximum speed, if the engine is fully extended maxima of 35 m.p.h. in first, 52 m.p.h. in second and 75 m.p.h. in third gear are reached before considerable vibration sets in. This vibration occurs at a few m.p.h. before these maxima, so that 50 in second and over 70 in third gear are practical speeds. Gears as well as engine function silently but at times back-axle hum is evident. The car cruises silently in direct top at 80 m.p.h. with the engine running at 4,250 r.p.m., engagement of overdrive dropping this to under 3,000 r.p.m.
Apart from being either a flexible top-gear car or a brisk performer, depending on its driver’s whim, the Austin A105 has the merit of handling well. The cam and peg 16-to-1 steering, which calls for just over three turns from one to other of a generous steering lock, is heavy for parking but becomes fairly light at speed. It is rather “dead” steering but controls the car quite well, without return shock at the wheel or much vibration. There is useful castor return action. There was about an inch of lost motion at the steering wheel; the odometer indicated a mileage of under 2,250.
The suspension, which incorporates coil-spring and wishbone i.f.s. and an anti-roll bar for the back ½-elliptic leaf-springs, is fairly supple, and permits too much floating up and down movement. On corners, however, roll is less than would be expected and the A105 corners fast with no anxiety to a keen driver and no protest from the tyres. There is slight understeer and on wet roads the car feels safe and secure when changing direction suddenly.
The throttle control is at times somewhat “snatchy” but, in general, the Austin is pleasant to drive in traffic and equally so when high average speed is desirable between towns. The minor controls are reasonably arranged, as has been described, but at night the lamps-switch is inaccessible for instant use when flashing of the beams is desirable.
The fuel tank is filled through a locked filler flap on the near side, the lid of which serves as the cap. Inside the boot there is a fuel tap. We carried out a test after filling the tank to the brim and discovered the range to be 318 miles. This included very varied running, including several cold starts and very little use of overdrive. Using overdrive more liberally, or even on a single non interrupted run, an even greater mileage might well be covered on a tankful. The fuel gauge is somewhat pessimistic so, unless a spare can of petrol is carried, refuelling would seem necessary after about 280 miles or so. A separate check, driving moderately quickly but without recourse to overdrive, gave a consumption of 20.3 m.p.g. With overdrive in use considerably more economical running should be possible. Half-a-gallon of oil was consumed, equal to a consumption in excess of 2,000 m.p.g., and no water was required. The heater functioned effectively and a good H.M.V. radio set was fitted.
The body had some rattles but these were neither excessively in evidence nor annoying. The bonnet is easy to open and props up automatically; it should also release automatically but the pawl was faulty on the test car and required hand assistance. Accessibility is good in the engine compartment, where the twin S.U. H4 carburetters are seen to be covered in aluminium paint and to have a thrum-type A.C. air-cleaner. The big Lucas 12-v. 61-amp./hr. battery is well clear of the engine on the off side and the dipstick fairly accessible. Incidentally, the sump holds about 11 pints, plus 1¼ pints for the oil-filter, and the pressurised radiator some 25 pints of coolant.
The Austin has a handsome appearance, set off by the duo-colour scheme, stainless steel wheel discs and slightly hooded headlamps. The radiator grille has a B.M.C. rosette set beneath glass! The test car was particularly smart in a white and maroon finish.
There is a luggage boot fully in keeping with the requirements of the occupants of a car like the A105. It is unobstructed by the spare wheel, which lives in a wind-down compartment below it, is exceedingly spacious, and its lockable lid props and releases automatically.
Throughout our long winter test this handsome A105 proved a willing companion. Its engine quickly warmed to normal temperature, oil-pressure indicated approximately 60 lb./sq. in. and no troubles of any kind intruded. The 8 ft. 7¾ in. wheelbase ensures that in spite of the generous luggage space leg-room in front or back seats is not restricted.
Altogether the Austin A105 is an excellent car and given a flick-switch overdrive control, floor gear-lever, and stiffer suspension it would constitute a vehicle very close to our ideal for fast motoring of the family as distinct from the sporting variety. It is available with Borg-Warner automatic transmission for £1,329 12s. inclusive of p.t. — W.B.