Road Test Report -- The new Austin A40 Saloon Deluxe

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A newly-styled small car of commendable fuel economy, capable of over 70 m.p.h.

When the British Motor Corporation announced an additional model in the Austin range last September, in the form of the A40 with body styled by Pinin Farina of Italy, considerable interest was aroused all over the world, which reached its peak when this new A40 was shown at Earls Court. Having examined the car then, and driven it for a few laps round Goodwood circuit, I requested a longer acquaintance with it, and on Christmas Eve was able to take over a Tartan red version and drive it for a distance of 500 miles.

At the conclusion of this investigation I formed the impression that, although the revised Austin A40 in Farina-styling is a refreshingly modern-looking small car, its original approach to finding additional luggage and rear-passenger space is not so effective as it might be, while the car disappoints in matters of detail apparently because there has been a skimping on shillings in the costing department. However, to a large number of motorists this will not be apparent, and they will enthuse over an eye-catching little saloon which operates with the fuel economy of a pre-war Austin Seven, is easy to drive and possesses a brisk performance, its maximum speed being in excess of 70 m.p.h. Only those who have experienced a wide variety of modern small cars are likely to compare, and criticise, the new A40 and no doubt future versions will be improved in those departments that do not at present entirely satisfy the exacting owner.

For example, the idea of combining some of the advantages of a station wagon in an attractive looking saloon are entirely commendable, but it is disappointing to discover first, that the spare wheel under a plastic cover occupies the floor of the baggage department, the width of which is reduced by the intrusion of the rear-wheel arches, and that although the back-seat squab folds forward to provide additional space, it does not lie absolutely horizontal, so that dogs or other livestock cannot be accommodated in comfort, nor, for that matter, loaded easily through the back door, the big rear window being a fixture. This door drops open and is held horizontally, but by a single feeble strap, which precludes carrying additional luggage on the dropped door or even of supporting heavy luggage thereon when in process of loading. Extra luggage is likely to be piled high, and for this reason I consider the A40 should be fitted with external rear-view mirrors. In these respects the conventional station-wagon scores heavily.

Then, although the extension of the roof over the luggage compartment provides excellent head-room for the back-seat passengers and, with the big back window, ensures excellent visibility and a light interior, it is disappointing to find that the back seat cushion, obstructed by the rear-wheel arches, is not particularly wide, so that three children find elbow-room somewhat cramped. Although 2 inches wider than the back-seat of the A35, Wolseley 1500 and 1.5 Riley and 3 inches wider than that of the Ford Anglia, the A40’s back seat is 2 inches narrower than that of the Standard Eight and Ten, nearly 13 inches narrower than the Volkswagen’s back seat, 13 inches narrower than that in the DKW Sonderklasse, measuring between the wheel arches, to take some random examples. So there is nothing especially remarkable about the rear-compartment seating width of Pinin Farina’s body form.

Those owners who regard the car as a normal four-seater and do not carry excessive quantities of luggage will have no reason to criticise the A40 on the score of accommodation but they may well object to some unsatisfactory matters of detail. Thus the doors possess sliding windows, which lock shut or 1-3/4 inches open as required, and while these in themselves function nicely and have no shortcomings, the suggestion that they have been adopted because winders reduce elbow room isn’t valid—the driver’s right elbow is hard against his door as it is!  Then, in a car with such emphasie on the rear compartment and luggage-carrying arrangements, it is surprising to find the only interior lamp in the form of a tiny exposed bulb up under the facia on the off side, which is ideal for telling the driver whether his shoes need polishing but is quite inadequate for illuminating the back of the car. Moreover, although actuated automatically when either door is opened, this lamp has no other switch and therefore cannot be used with the car in motion, which is sometimes decidedly inconvenient, particularly as the panel lighting, which in any case only illuminates the instruments, is sensibly subdued. Two other minor irritations are the fact that the screen-wipers are not self-cancelling  —  astonishing in 1958  —  and neither are the direction-flashers. The latter are controlled by one of three rather sharp flick-switches on the facia and to reach out to this after as well as before each change of direction is tiresome.

The trailing doors are of generous width for ease of entry, the whole front seat tipping up for access to the back compartment, which is less convenient than a hinged squab. They shut somewhat “tinnily” and the interior handles are unpleasantly sharp; the exterior push-button handles are excellent, each having a lock. As the key turns both ways in these locks it is necessary to remember which way to turn it when in a hurry, while the Wilmot Breeden locks are, additionally, reluctant to accept the key.

The seats are nicely upholstered in p.v.c.-coated fabric, with foam rubber cushions and rubberised hair squabs. The separate front seats are rather small, with low squabs, and not, I thought, particularly comfortable, although well-padded. The doors have 1/4-wndows with catches devoid of thief-proof locks and rather crude rain gutters; on the de luxe version the rear side windows can be opened slightly to improve ventilation. The de luxe A40 also has stainless steel screen and window surrounds, and a passenger’s sun vizor  —  these vizors do not swivel sideways. Forward visibility through the big curved windscreen, over the low set 2-spoke dished safety steering wheel, could hardly be better and the side pillars do not seem unduly thick. The pedals are off-set somewhat inconveniently to the left and the brake pedal could with advantage be nearer to the floor and larger. The left foot has to be parked beneath the clutch pedal. The controls of the Austin A40 are extremely simple. Flanking the central direction-flashers’ flick-switch are those for panel lighting and screen-wipers. Several tries can be required to fully park the noisy wipers, which are very effective against mud (just as well, as no washers are provided as standard), but leave considerable side areas of the screen unswept, although this does not seriously impair visibility. The wipers only work when the ignition is on.

Before the driver there is a slightly-hooded 80 m.p.h. Smith’s speedometer with commendably steady needle; with this speedometer are incorporated the usual, not too bright, indicator lights and a pessimistic petrol gauge. There is also a mileage recorder but this does not read in decimals, nor is there a trip recorder, so that those who use the car for mild rally work will be hampered  —  those who drive the brisk A40 in serious rallies will have to do something about this. On the right of the facia the ignition key turns to actuate the starter and the choke knob is on a little central mounting of its own, below the heater controls. A convenient stalk with plated handle, on the right of the steering column, operates the lamps very conveniently, obviating the dreaded foot-dipper. A rather uninspired horn is operated by a steering column button. That is the sum total of the minor controls; if a heater/demister is fitted there are two additional knobs and a sliding quadrant control in the facia centre. On the test car the Smith’s heater was effective but insufficiently sensitive and possessed a very noisy fan. Its air intake is on the scuttle, to reduce entry of fumes. A Radiomobile radio was located on the extreme left below the facia, its knobs placed very handily for the driver; the speaker grille forms the centre of the facia. Crash padding is provided across the full width of the facia, the sill of which is covered in anti-dazzle material and incorporates a lidded ash-tray. There is no ash-tray for the back compartment.

Accommodation for small objects is well provided for. There is a deep, full width, sensibly-lipped tray under the facia, with an unpleasantly sharp under edge, and an excellent deep cubby-hole, with recess, before the front seat passenger. The cubby-hole lid does not lock but has a good push-button catch, while its lid drops to the horizontal position to form a small shelf. Owing to the special luggage-carrying arrangements there is no shelf behind the back seat but a leather-cloth apron covers the luggage well and light objects could be carried thereon.

The big rear-view mirror is sensibly suspended from the roof but the view is slightly obstructed by the roof.

In action the small shortcomings of the new Austin are forgotten to some extent, because the little car performs so willingly. The good road-holding of the A35, from which the A40 borrows its coil spring and wishbone i.f.s., is enhanced by a 4-inch longer wheelbase and 2-1/4- inch wider track and the car is a delight round fast bends. The suspension is supple and on tight corners permits some roll, while the nose dips noticeably under heavy braking. Generally the A40 rides well, but with some wallowing and up-and-down motion; the presence of a rigid back axle located only by cart-springs is revealed over ruts and pot holes, which the tiny 13-in, wheels find very readily. Over really rough roads the suspension does not show up so well and the back axle tries to tie itself in knots.

The cam-and-peg steering is excellent, transmitting practically no road shock or vibration and being light and smooth, except for parking. It is somewhat vague steering, but has sensibly subdued castor return action. The wheel asks 2-1/3 turns, lock-to-lock, for a small turning circle (just over 35 feet). The brakes work pleasantly and without vice, firm but not excessive pressure on the pedal producing quite powerful retardation, when the back wheels tend to lock on a wet road. The central hand-brake works admirably.

The short, stiff gear-lever of the A35 is retained for the new car but the pleasure of using it was marred to some extent by a fierce clutch and because it is all too easy to beat the synchromesh when making the rapid changes possible with this gearbox. Used less rapidly, this is a pleasant gearbox. Bottom gear, on which there is no synchromesh, is sometimes difficult to engage; reverse gear is admirably located and guarded by a spring.

The Austin A40 is not a particularly quiet car, because some wheel noise is transmitted to the interior, the engine can be heard working, drumming is evident, and over rough surfaces some body rattles intrude. However, the performance from the series-A 948-c.c. o.h..v. engine, which, like that in the A35, develops 34 b.h.p. at 4,750 r.p.m. (so why is the car called all A40 ?), is excellent, although not quite the equal of the A35 due to slightly greater weight and perhaps greater wind drag. A cruising speed of 60 m.p.h. becomes habitual and the speedometer indicates 70 along any reasonable straight. The indicated speeds on the indirect gears are, respectively, 24, 35 and 60 m.p.h. but, in common with the majority of its kind, the speedometer is fast, the true maxima being 22, 33 and 57 m.p.h. The absolute maximum exceeds 70 by two or three m.p.h.

In 500 miles the engine, which needed more than the average amount of choke for starting and warming-up, needed no oil or water, nor did it run-on, but it did “pink” on premium petrol and benzole mixtures. Petrol economy is one of the A40’s better qualities, a figure of 41 m.p.g. being obtained without any attempt to save fuel. This should represent a range of 246 miles if the maker’s capacity of 6 gallons is accepted. In fact, a full tank lasted 182 miles. admittedly on journeys during which I spent over half-an-hour getting through Staines on Christmas Eve when everyone was homeward bound early after the office parties (widening operations on the narrow river bridge have been going on for months, with the work not finished yet, to the shame of the Ministry of Transport), and even longer in the back lanes leading away from Brands Hatch on Boxing Day, the engine being kept running to maintain interior warmth.

The Lucas lamps throw a useful beam and are still effective when dipped. The bonnet release is situated under the cubby-hole and the safety catch is placed at the near side of the bonnet. The lid is heavy, and has to be propped up—when will spring-loaded or overcentre hinges become universal ? The oil filler is accessible, its cap retained by a chain, the latest type one-piece-vent Lucas battery occupies the off side front corner of the engine compartment, the dipstick is rather close to the block and obstructed by the ignition leads.

Whether you are an expert driver in a hurry or merely a family motorist, the new Austin A40 will be found pleasant to drive, the latter catered for by notable flexibility, the high-compression engine making no complaint at walking away from 20 m.p.h. in the 4.55-to-1 top gear. On the other hand, by using the indirect gears 50 m.p.h. can be reached from rest in 21-1/2 seconds, 60 m.p.h. in 36 seconds.

Already the Farina A40 is appearing on our roads and within a few months its popularity will undoubtedly destroy the individuality its body styling has at present amongst small English cars. The price is £430, or £458 10s. in de luxe form, which purchase tax inflates to £689 2s.. This is £106-1/8 more than the equivalent A35, but only £21-3/4 above the price of the A35 Countryman station wagon. The B.M.C. might have skimped less over the A40 under the circumstances and thus have eradicated most, of the shortcomings I have outlined, many of which stem from price-cutting. No doubt modifications will be made which could well put this new Austin A40 at the top of its class. As tested, with heater-demister, radio and fresh-air unit, the price is £737 14s.  —  W. B.

***

The Austin A40 De Luxe Saloon 

Engine: Four cylinders, 62.9 by 76.2 -mm. (948 c.c.). Pushrod-operated overhead valves. 8.3-to-1 compression-ratio. 34 b.h.p. at 4,759 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 16.51 to 1;  second, 10.8 to 1;  third, 6.47 to 1;  top, 4.55 to 1.

Tyres: 5.20 by 13 Dunlop Gold Seal tubeless, on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: 14 cwt. 3 qtr. 0 lb. (without occupants but ready for the road with approximately half a gallon of petrol).

Steering ratio: Two and one third turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity:  6 gallons. (Range approximately 182 miles—but see text.)

Wheelbase: 6 ft. 11-1/2- in.

Track: Front, 3 ft. 11-1/2- in.; rear, 3 ft. 11 in.

Dimensions: 12 ft. 0.25 in.  by 4 ft. 11.37 in. by 4 ft. 8.75 in. (high).

Price: £458 10s. (£689 2s. inclusive of purchase tax). With extras, as tested, £737 14s.

Makers: The Austin Motor Company, Ltd., Longbridge, Birmingham, England.

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