Austin A40 Sports - Sports car for the million?

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The late 1940s and early 1950 were busy times at the Austin Motor Company in Birmingham. The company needed to restart civil production, come up with new models when raw materials were in short supply and push exports to bring hard currency into the war ravaged British economy.

In a few years an enormously broad range of cars was launched including small to luxurious passenger cars, vans, small trucks, tractors and all kinds special use vehicles like ambulances. Austin even designed and produced two models of pedal cars!

Austin engineers developed a new overhead valve engine that would prove to be the forerunner of the A- and B-series engines used in many variants until the mid 1980s and a new indepandant front suspension. In 1951 Europe's most advanced car production plant was opened in Longbridge. 

 

One backbone was the Austin A40 Devon, launched in 1947 that used the new engine and was the company's first successful postwar export hit. It was simple and economic, readily available for export and sold all over the globe.

Based on this initial success Austin also tried other models to test the export market, including the Austin A90 Atlantic and the Austin A40 Sports.

 

The Austin A40 Sports was a cooperation beween Austin and the Jensen Motor Company. Austin chairman Leonard Lord asked the Jensen Motor Company to develop a small sports car based on Austin's successful Devon.

Jensen's new chief designer Eric Neale was put on the job and in a very short time, was able to come up with a design for a car using Jensen's 1950s Interceptor as a basis. Neale further developed the Interceptor design to come up with the first mass produced car in Britain to follow the new continental lines envisioned in Italy by Battista Farina for Cisitalia (see "Relatives" section). Lord liked the design and Jensen got a contract to produce 3000 bodies to be put on a strenthened version of the Devon chassis. The Austin A40 Sports was completed for the 1950 London motor show at Earls Court. 

 

In Britain the Austin A40 Sports was very well received by the press and the public alike! The Motor was full of praise: "In the A40 Sports Convertible, the Austin company has produced one of the prettiest and most modern cars in this class to be found on the British market". For the Daily Mail it was "one of the outstanding new cars at the 1950 Motor Show". The Autocar was equally pleased: "The successful application of the full-width body to the smaller cars is not easy, and Austins are to be commended for their successful effort in the new A40 Sports car" and proclaimed it to be a "Sports Car for the Million". This certainly was exaggerated and it was noticed the fact that "Sports" was a bit of a misnomer. Owners quickly realized that they had no true sports car in hand, but a tourer that was and still "is a joy to drive" and could actually seat four or even five people. Eric Neale used an Austin A40 Sports for some time himself and recalled: "we had two small children and a baby at that time; it was ideal and the car attracted great interest whenever we stopped". (Tylor 1982, p.48)

 

Austin also used the A40 Sports to introduce various technical features, that were to be included in the Devon successor launched in 1952. Above all a fully hydraulic brake system and a revised cylinder head. 

 

Dreams for a new export hit did not come true though, especially in the US, so the majority of the cars remained the British Commonwealth. By early 1953 a total of 4011 vehicles were produced until the A40 Sports was replaced by the A40 Somerset Coupe and on the production line at Jensen, by the Austin-Healey 100 bodies.

 

Wonderfully restored GD2 A40 Sports in California                                               Courtesy of Bill Wilkman

 Sources:

 

Brown, Stuart J. and David Whyley 1992. Austin - The Counties Years. Newbridge, Arthur Southern for the Austin Counties Car Club.

 

Calver, Richard 2007. A History of Jensen - All the Models. Privately Printed.

 

Peck, Colin 2009. The Last Real Austins: 1946 to 1959. Veloce Publishing.

 

Reed, John. In England with Austin. Austin Counties Car Club Publications.

   

Sharratt, Barney 2000. Man and Motors of 'The Austin'. London: Haynes.

 

Whyley, David 2000. 50th Anniversary of the Austin A70 Hereford & Austin A40 Sports. Newbridge, Arthur Southern for the Austin Counties Car Club.