Austin A40 Sports - The Jensen Connection

To develop and build lower quantity niche models Austin cooperated with various coachbuilding companies around England to produce bodies for cars to be sold under the Austin name. One of these long lasting cooperative arrangements was that between the Jensen Motor Company and Austin.

 

In the late 1940s the Jensen Motor Company was producing a conglomerate of low volume vehicles. They were building small trucks, buses to order and doing work for other car manufactures. But the Jensen Brothers were eying to produce a line of fast, modern, high end touring cars under their own name as well. According to Richard Calver the design which would carry Jensen forward into the 1950s had its genesis on a trip to Switzerland. Richard and Elizabeth Jensen were holidaying with friends Michael and Pam Christie (see Race Her!) when the idea for building the next Jensen in the Italian style was born. Impressed by the new Italian ideas Richard and Michael cobbled together some sketches which they discussed with house designer Eric Neale on their return to England (Calver 2007). For these projects Jensen needed mechanical components and orders to keep their company healthy.

 

Contacts to Austin already exsited from the fabrication of pickup bodies at Jensen and using Austin componets for the Jensen PW saloon. One account that has just recently been repeated (Barrett 2019, p. 26, the original source of this variant is unknown to me) tells a story of a slightly difficult start of this cooperation: The idea of the first Jensen post-war model "PW" was to offer a luxury saloon to compete with the more expensive offerings typical of Daimler, Bentley and Rolls Royce. So one can imagine the shock at Jensen when Austin came up with the same idea and a kind of similar design with their A125 Sheerline, beating Jensen's price by a 1000 pounds. In this story a furious Richard Jensen went to meet Austin chairman Leonard Lord to complain about stealing Jensen's design, only to come back with an offer to built a small sports car and to be allowed to use Austin components including an engine for their Interceptor model.

 

Barney Sharratt (Sharratt 2000, p. 93f.) summarizes Eric Neale’s recollections of the origins of the Austin A40 Sports as follows: "I went to Longbridge with Richard Jensen hoping to persuade Len Lord to let us have the A70 chassis and Sheerline engine for our Interceptor sports car. Lord loved wheeling and dealing [of the Interceptor design] and said he would agree provided we designed him a sports car too. So I designed the Interceptor and A40 Sports at one and the same time. […] When Dick Jensen took the drawings for the A40 Sports to Longbridge, Lord just said, 'Make one.' We made prototypes and got an order for 3,200. I didn't build any models. I just used my own method of line development to produce the different sections and handed those out to the panel makers in the experimental shop. The prototypes were all made by hand. The assembly of the production A40 Sports was all done at Jensen. We made jigs to argon arc weld the aluminium panels together. The motorised chassis came from Longbridge and we mounted the bodies, painted, trimmed and finished them. The bonnet was in steel but the external body panels, including the boot lid, were in aluminium."

The design of the Austin A40 Sports was unlike to any other car in the Austin range and unlike any of the other small sports cars British companies were offering. Leonard Lord was probably eying at the success MG had with their somehow dated T series abroad. Jensen got a contract to produce the small convertible in numbers so far way out of their reach! For Jensen this contract proved invaluable to test their skills at mass production and as competent partners for Austin. Producing an aluminium body not only suited Jensen's capabilities, it also resulted in a lighter car and helped out Austin's quota of steel.

 

A small number of prototypes were built and two finished cars were were sent to Austin for in depth pre-release testing Spring 1950. They were taken on an extensive test tour together with the Anstin A40 Somerset and Austin A70 Hereford also in the test phase for launching. One group took their cars on a continental tour to the French Alps and to the Riviera, a second group did their tests in British East Africa (Feilden 1951). The A70 Hereford and the Sports were finally ready to be presented on Austin stand No. 141 at the 1950 Earls Court motor show in London and in Geneva shortly afterwards. Michael Alexander Christie who was involved in the early scetching process liked the cars so much that he bought the first Jensen Interceptor and owned an Austin A40 Sports later as well.

 

A production line for the Austin A40 Sports bodies was set up along the Jen-Tug line at an interim plant Jensen had opened up at Pensnett Industrial Estate. Jensen historian Felix Kistler has just recently been able to find out about the exact location of this site and wrote an interesting background story about it (see sources). The basic pressings were supplied by Austin as well as the motorized chassis and the experienced coachbuiders at Jensen built and painted a body to be dropped on the chassis.

 

Volume production started January 1951 and was soon full under way. Model change to the later column change GD3 variant was done in August 1951 and from September 1951 to October 1952 there was a steady output of between 220 and 320 bodies per month! (thanks to Richard Calver for this interesting information). Production sharply dropped in November 1952. Leonard Lord had just struck a deal with Donald Healey to produce their Healey 100 as Austin-Healey 100 and the fate of the Austin A40 Sports was immediately evident to Austin and Jensen management. Especially American customers had wanted more power in a real sports car package and the Austin-Healey 100 promised to offer just that, using Austin components as well, so it could be offered at a price tag in between the Jaguar XKs and the small MGs. The outcome of this development for Jensen Motors was fortunate again! Since they had proved their skills to produce the Sports bodies in considerable numbers, they got a new contract from Austin shortly afterwards: they were chosen to produce the Austin-Healey bodies. But that is another story

 

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A GD2 Austin A40 Sports at the Pensnett factory with four proud workers.            Source Richard Calver 2007.

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 Sources:

 

Barrett, Scott 2019. 'Moulded Marvel. The glassfibre 541 was Jensen's first foray into the genuine high-speedgrand touring market'. The Automobile, 36, No. 11, Jan. 2019, pp. 24-30.

 

Calver, Richard 2007. '1950-52: Austin A40 Sports.' In: Richard Calver. A History of Jensen - All the Models. Privately Printed, pp. 154-155.

 

Feilden, Ralph 1951. 'Testing Two New Austin Models Under Severe Overseas Conditions'. Great Britain and the East, Vol. 67, 1951, p. 42-43.

 

Kistler, Felix. 'Jensen Motors - Pensnett Factory'. http://www.jensenmuseum.org/jensen-factory-pensnett-kingswinford/

 

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

 

Taylor, Mike 1982.  'Devon Cream’. Classic & Sportscar, 8/1982, pp. 47-48.

 

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