Wednesday June 13, 2018
The Austin A30/A35 has been a cornerstone of the classic car scene for so many years that it is sometimes easy to forget that they were everyday transport well into the 1970s. Long after the last A35 van ceased production as recently as 1968 you would see the baby Austin; a highly polished A30 four-door saloon in the driveway of an OAP neighbour, a two-door A35 fitted with slightly unfortunate-looking Ro-Style wheels as the first transport for a student in the local grammar school’s VIth Form. And, yes, you might still see Wallace and Gromit style local tradesmen in their light commercials; albeit without a “Play Bunny” on the roof.
And, as any A30 enthusiast will tell you, when the first examples made their bow in 1951, they marked a watershed in the history of the marque. Not only were they first really compact post-war Longbridge product – the A40 Dorset was considerably larger – they were the first with unibody construction and the first to be powered by the A-Series engine. The original four-door version may have features a restricted list of standard equipment – a heater and a passenger sun visor were optional extras while the door glasses were counterbalanced. It was also, despite the best efforts of the Austin PR department to suggest that ‘two adults may sit at ease in the rear compartment, where there is room to spare for free movement’ extremely compact. Tall drivers were frequently un-keen on the fact that the front seats were ‘instantly adjustable to one of three positions’ but for all these minor issues, the A30 was one of the most attractive compact family cars on the market.
The range gained a two-door option in 1953 and, in the following year, the exceptionally delightful Countryman estate and van. For those motorists who wished to save money, it was a widespread practice to order the latter, fit a rear seat and side windows – and still save on Purchase Tax. Throughout this period, the A30 was officially known as the “Seven”, marking the first time that Austin would try to revive the name – the second came in 1959 with the Mini. However, the brand never really took, largely as the new model created its own image and had no need to borrow from another model.
In October 1956 the A30 was succeeded by the A35, which was instantly recognisable via its flashing amber indicators on the two and four-door versions, its larger rear screen and its painted radiator grille. There was now a remote-control gear change and a 948cc power plant, a combination that appealed to sporting motorists such as the young Graham Hill. That same year also saw the debut of the charming but unsuccessful A35 Pick-Up, there was no tailboard and the two folding seats in the luggage area resulted in HM Customers classifying it as a car with a consequent price increase.
The introduction of the A40 “Farina” in 1958 hinted at the end of the A35 but while the last saloons were made in 1959 the Countryman lasted until 1962; as a historical footnote, it was the last British car to be equipped with semaphore trafficators. The van remained in production until February 1968 and one famous latter-day owner was James Hunt. Wiltshire Constabulary also used A35 Commercials as police patrol vehicle - although how they would be able to cope with a high-speed pursuit is open to doubt.
Fifty years later, you can still see the A30 and the A35 – at shows, at major events or just on the road. They really were built to last – and, as this newsreel demonstrates, they were also utterly spiffing motorcars: