Austin A30 & A35 Buying Guide

These diminutive classics combine quintessential British charm with low running costs and enormous fun, despite the limited performance on offer

How much to pay

• Project £200-700 • Good £1500-4000 • Concours £5000-10,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★

The Austin A30 and its successor the A35 are ridiculously cute – and despite looking like they couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, they’re giant killers on the racetrack. So whether you’re aiming to take on all-comers in circuit racing, or you just want the occasional Sunday trip down memory lane, these charming British saloons are hugely desirable – especially once they’ve been uprated to better cope with modern conditions.

The A30’s introduction was a big deal for Austin back in 1951, with its monocoque construction, brand-new overhead-valve engine, four-speed gearbox and tidy handling thanks to the fitment of an anti-roll bar. Taking into account the later A35 and hugely popular van, more than half a million of these vehicles were built in a production run that lasted all the way through to 1968.

In standard form there’s not much performance on tap, especially with the 803cc engine. As a result long-distance drives can be hard work, but the A30 and A35 are still much more fun than you might expect – although most cars have been improved by now. Even in upgraded form these models won’t tick many boxes if you’re a speed junkie, but if you’re after cheap, reliable, fun transport, then look no further.

Your AutoClassics Austin A35 inspection checklist

Engine

The A30 has an 803cc A-series engine; the A35 got a 948cc version of the same unit. This latter motor was also fitted to some vans, with others featuring an 848cc or 1098cc A-series lump. The 803cc engine makes the going very hard; even the 948cc powerplant isn’t especially pokey, which is why hotter units are common.

Because the 803cc engine has such a hard life, it tends to wear faster than the later units; by 50,000 miles its big-end bearings have usually had it, whereas the bigger motors will typically last twice as long. It’s easy to spot when an overhaul is required.

The symptoms of wear are the same for all A30 and A35 engines; worn piston rings and cylinder bores will lead to oil being burned, given away by blue smoke from the exhaust on start-up as well as when accelerating after the over-run. The reality is that these engines will just keep going even when self-destruction appears imminent, so you have to have your wits about you when buying.

Luckily, the A-series powerplant is simple to rebuild, while the parts-supply situation is good thanks to it also being fitted to an array of BMC models including the Mini and Morris Minor.

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Gearbox

A30 and A35s have a four-speed manual gearbox that drives the rear wheels, with synchromesh only on the top three ratios. However, while the A35 was originally fitted with a remote change that’s pleasant to use and has more evenly spaced ratios, the A30 featured a different mechanism that’s less slick. Unfortunately, because of the shape and size of the transmission tunnel, it’s not possible to fit the later gearchange to the earlier car without major bodywork surgery.

Second-ratio synchromesh is the first sign of a tired ’box, although if the oil level is maintained everything tends to last well. The same goes for the bearings, which will eventually wear, just like the universal joints on the propshaft and halfshafts – but it’s all cheap and easy to replace.

If the gearbox needs an overhaul, aim to replace it with a post-1962 van unit, given away by its ribbed casing. This was also fitted to the post-1962 Minor 1000 and A40 MkII. This later transmission is stronger, but you’ll also need to fit the flywheel and clutch from a 1098cc engine.

Clutches typically last 100,000 miles, and as long as the oil level has been maintained the back axle lasts 200,000 miles. However, oil leaks are common, and if the diff has been allowed to run low on lubricant it’ll probably be singing like a canary. Rebuilt diffs aren’t available, but good used units are.

The original halfshafts are prone to snapping, yet 1275cc MG Midget items are much stronger and go straight on.

Suspension and brakes

The steering box fitted to all of these cars is tough, but the inevitable leaks usually lead to wear. The resultant overtightening could well have increased the wear rate and led to tight spots. Ensure the steering self-centres after a bend, and check it feels smooth; rebuilt or used steering boxes are available.

The kingpins need to be greased every 1000 miles. Neglect leads to rapid wear, vague handling and a theoretical MoT failure, so support the car on axle stands at the front and try to rock each wheel by grasping it top and bottom. You’ll need an assistant to press the foot brake, so you can ensure that any play you can feel isn’t due to wear in the wheelbearings.

Wishbone bushes wear, too, and because they’re brazed in they’re not easy to replace – which is why fitting exchange wishbones makes the most sense. They’re the same as Midget items, so you can fit those instead.

Lever-arm dampers were fitted all round, and once these lose their effectiveness (especially if they’ve been leaking) the car will be floaty and potentially dangerous. The front coil springs and rear leaf springs also sag or crack; if the top of the tyre isn’t visible underneath the wheelarch, assume some fresh suspension bits are needed.

It’s common for the rear suspension to have worn – potentially spectacularly. Shackle pins, bolts and bushes can all erode through a lack of lubrication; the shackle-pin assemblies also need greasing every 1000 miles or so, but this important maintenance often isn’t carried out.

None of these cars had a servo, yet the all-drum brakes are perfectly adequate for the available performance. There’s no self adjustment, so long pedal travel is normal; you can easily adjust this out manually. Wear in the various handbrake linkages is common, but it’s easy to set everything up properly unless it’s all too badly gone to do so.

Bodywork

Rust is likely and replacement panels are scarce, but repair sections are available. When checking for corrosion, home in on the valances, sills, door bottoms and floorpans; you’ll definitely need to look underneath before buying. Panel seams harbour corrosion, while the inner wings rot out.

Remove the back seat for a closer look at the suspension mountings; it’s quite normal for the road to be visible at this point. The rear spring hangers dissolve, with repairs being a pain, so again you must closely analyse it all from underneath.

While you’re there, make sure the boot floor is intact and check that the doors haven’t dropped. If they have, it might be due to worn hinges, or the A-posts may have rotted. If so, repairs are involved – but a car with rotten A-posts will be obviously rotten elsewhere, too.

Interior

The cabin trim is simple and hardwearing; vinyl was standard for most cars, although leather seats were optional from June 1955. The leathercloth-trimmed door panels are easy to recover, with good-quality repro trim now available. Be wary of tatty cloth headlinings; they’re tricky to clean and a nightmare to replace.

The exterior trim is a mixture of chromed brass or steel with a bit of mazak thrown in for good measure. As the latter can’t generally be revived, and rechroming is costly, check everything is there and in good condition – it often isn’t.

There’s nothing to worry about with the electrics. Everything is available and cheap – although new bits are rarely needed as it’s also very reliable. Corrosion of earths and loom hardening are the most likely issues, but a bit of attention with emery paper sorts most problems.

History

  • 1951: A30 is launched with 803cc A-series engine, in four-door saloon form only.
  • 1953: Two-door saloon joins range, while seats of four-door edition are modified to give extra interior space. There’s also a larger boot opening and redesigned facia with a full-width parcel shelf.
  • 1954: A30 van launched, then Countryman estate arrives.
  • 1956: A35 editions of two and four-door saloons plus Countryman replace previous A30 models. Larger rear window, separate indicators below headlamps and chrome grille surround, while engine capacity is increased to 948cc.
  • 1959: Two and four-door saloons discontinued.
  • 1962: Last Countryman built and 1098cc van appears.
  • 1964: 848cc van joins 1098cc edition.
  • 1968: All production stops.

AutoClassics says…

The A30 and A35 look great and are surprisingly usable in standard form – as long as you’re in no hurry. But for the cut and thrust of modern traffic you really need to invest in some upgrades, and thankfully there’s a raft of these available at very sensible prices. Speaking of which, the cars themselves are eminently affordable, and even if you spend more on the car than it’s worth you’ll still have a fabulous classic for not much cash.

Most of these models have already been uprated, so before buying do pin down exactly what’s been done. The sort of thing that you’re looking for is the fitment of a 1275cc twin-carb engine. A 3.9:1 diff (from a Midget 1500) will provide more relaxed cruising, while a disc-brake conversion up front and a five-speed Ford or Toyota gearbox will improve reliability while also helping to make progress more relaxed.

Whether you want a standard-spec car or one that’s been uprated, your best bet is to buy something that doesn’t need lots of bodywork as the cost can run away with you. But this can be easier said than done, as it’s not unusual for an A30 or A35 to look quite presentable when it actually needs a lot of work.

Specifications

A30
  Power 28bhp
  Top speed 65mph
  0-60mph 38sec
  Economy 40mpg

A30
  Power 34bhp
  Top speed 75mph
  0-60mph 29sec
  Economy 40mpg

A35 van (948)
  Power 34bhp
  Top speed 75mph
  0-60mph 29sec
  Economy 40mpg

A35 van (948)
  Power 45bhp
  Top speed 80mph
  0-60mph 23sec
  Economy 40mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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