Wednesday August 15, 2018
Imagine you were paying a visit to Earls Court in 1948, revelling in Britain’s first Motor Show for a decade. Naturally, your head would have been turned by the Jaguar XK120, the Morris Minor, the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 and the other new vehicle while on the Austin display is an open tourer which featured a power-operated top.
Here was a glamour far removed from ration books and demob suits, for the A90 Atlantic seemed to belong to a world of James Mason, Stewart Granger, Margaret Lockwood and the other stars of the silver screen. For domestic customers, the price was £952 (although the waiting list was literally years) but, as its name suggested, this was a car aimed at well-heeled American motorists
The A90 Atlantic was, in fact, an extremely ambitious car and the fact that it made its debut a little over three years after the end of the Second World War is little short of incredible. Leonard Lord, the Chairman of Austin, saw a need for a tourer that would appeal to US buyers, but the resources of Longbridge were understandably limited.
One major stylistic inspiration behind the A90 was the 1946 Farina-bodied Alfa Romeo drophead, but the latest Austin would have to be based on rather less exotic machinery. The chassis was derived from the A40 Devon and used the engine of the reliable but very non-sporting A70 Hampshire, now bored out to 2.6 litres and with the addition of twin SU carburettors.
There was also a steering column gearchange which would have the advantage of appealing to Chevrolet and Dodge owners in addition to making the A90 a five-seater; the rear bench was only suitable for two occupants.
The Atlantic was not just well-equipped and a ‘car of distinction that will bring an added zest to business or pleasure-motoring’. It was also available with optional extras beyond the dreams of nearly any Briton – in addition to the electric hood, you could also specify power-operated windows – and such detailing as the gold-faced instrumentation were a welcome relief from post-war austerity.
Full production commenced in 1949 and in April of that year an A90 broke 63 stock car records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, sales in the States remained limited, as its price meant that it about 75% cost more than the new Pontiac Chieftain Convertible (‘The Most Beautiful Thing On Wheels’). A British “Big Four” could not really hope to compete with an eight-cylinder Detroit cruiser, and only 350 A90s found a home in the USA.
For 1950 the Atlantic was available as a very good-looking coupe, one that was fitted with a winding rear windshield, controlled from a handle above the front screen. The Convertible ceased production in 1951 while the hardtop lasted until 1952, the same year that Leonard Lord encountered the Hundred on the Healey stand at the London Motor Show.
The future of convertibles at Longbridge would now be in the form of the Austin-Healey rather than an ornate touring car. However, the A90 Atlantic could never be classed as a ‘failure’; it was an Austin product that was instrumental in raising the profile of a famous brand. ‘On a warm sunny day there is no finer open air motoring than in the Austin Atlantic’. And who could resist a convertible of such verve -