BMC six-cylinder Farina Buying Guide

As proper old-school luxo-barges, the six-cylinder Farinas are smooth, swift, comfortable but thirsty. Even though values are increasing, they’re still a bargain

How much to pay

• Project £650-900 • Good £1750-3500 • Concours £4250-6000 •

Overview

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

Looking for some affordable and relaxed classic executive motoring, but don’t want to follow the Rover P5/Vauxhall Cresta/Ford Zodiac herd? Well, a six-cylinder Farina could be just what you’re looking for, because when it comes to stately transport, few cars deliver the goods like these big saloons. All come with straight-six engines, while most examples pack lashings of wood and leather – along with plenty of chrome, acres of space and great club support.

Built for the new motorway era, these big Farinas offer the ambience of a Jag but without the flash exterior design – or the flash image. With more than 100,000 examples built in all, encompassing Austin, Wolseley and Vanden Plas marques, the cars are immensely strong – which is why they were always so popular with banger racers. Thankfully they’re generally now being saved rather than raced, but you still need to act fast if you want to secure a good one.

Your BMC six-cylinder Farina inspection checklist

Engine

All these cars were fitted with a 2912cc straight-six, which is smooth, long lived and easy to maintain. It’s the C-series unit that’s shared with the big Healey, and while it’s an easy enough engine to rebuild yourself, it’s not cheap to overhaul – partly due to the fact that there’s six of most things.

Thanks to its simplicity, this engine’s weak spots are the same as those of any other conventional all-iron overhead-valve engine of the post-war era. That means you need to be on the lookout for evidence of worn piston rings and/or cylinder bores. Check for blue smoke as you start up the car then accelerate through the gears, as this signifies that oil is being burned. If in doubt, remove one or two of the spark plugs and check whether they’ve sooted up – which they will have done if oil is being burned.

If the engine is really worn it’ll probably be knocking from the bottom end, which will be particularly evident when starting up as well as when pulling away. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the oil-pressure gauge; expect to see 25psi at tickover and around 55psi when cruising.

Be suspicious if the engine is warm when you arrive to see the car; you need to start it from cold, ensure it gets up to temperature within a reasonable timeframe, then check that it doesn’t run too hot if left idling for a while.

Gearbox

Until the MkII cars were launched in July 1964, these Farinas had three-speed manual or automatic transmissions; later manual gearboxes featured an extra ratio. The earlier manuals also had synchromesh on the top two cogs only, whereas the later transmissions were all-synchro units. All cars featured a column change until 1961; from this point on, the three-speed manual came with a floor-mounted change instead.

The manual gearboxes are tough and unlikely to give problems unless the car has racked up a massive mileage or its driver has been especially ham fisted. If the box has worn out it’ll be whining heavily, and there will probably also be some crunching of gears because of tired synchromesh. By this stage, a rebuild is needed.

The auto is a Borg-Warner unit; until 1964, a DG box was fitted, then a Type 35. Both are strong, so any problems are most likely to stem from a lack of maintenance, which is why your first move should be to check the fluid level. Be wary if the oil is black and smells of rotten eggs. If the box has worn out it’ll be jerky when shifting ratios. You can source a used transmission, but be careful as worn units outnumber the good ones.

Suspension and brakes

Steering problems are unlikely, aside from wear in the box or various joints. However, there may also be leaks from the steering box, while cars with a power-assisted set-up could well be suffering from leaky hydraulics. If this is the case, you’ll probably need to strip everything down and replace all the seals, which is a specialist job.

The front suspension incorporates coil springs and wishbones, with trunnions top and bottom. In 1964 the suspension design was modified; unfortunately the change wasn’t much of a step forward, as these later cars tend to suffer from worn inner wishbone bushes. Those fitted to earlier cars also wear, but not as readily – the important thing is that all the bits are available and easy to fit.

While the springs can sag, it’s more likely that there’ll be wear in the trunnions, wheel bearings and steering joints. These are all easily and cheaply replaced, however, so even if it’s all worn it’s no big deal – although if the suspension has had it there’s a good chance the rest of the car’s mechanicals will be tired, too.

The lever-arm dampers may well be leaking; look for evidence of stray fluid, which signifies that replacements are due. While you’re underneath the car, also take a look at the various rubbers, including those that locate the crossmember that carries the engine.

All big Farinas were fitted with steel disc wheels; until 1964 they were 14 inches in diameter, then they shrunk to 13 inches. All cars featured disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear, and as the system is completely conventional there’s nothing to worry about in terms of weak spots or unavailable parts.

Bodywork

While these Farinas don’t rot as badly as their contemporaries, rust and bodges are common. In terms of structural rot, check everything including the bulkheads, sills and chassis rails, although only the latter two are usually severely affected by corrosion. That’s just as well, because bulkhead repairs are involved, while the others are relatively straightforward to fix. While the sills can be replaced on a DIY basis, it’s a time-consuming job. If the drain holes are blocked up, which is likely, the inner sills will probably be as rotten as the outer ones, so major welding will be needed.

The outer panels are more rot prone than the structural ones, so you need to inspect everything to make sure there’s no filler or festering steel. Start at the front of the car and go all the way around it, checking from top to bottom. You’ll probably find holes in the front valance (and the rear one, too), the leading edge of the bonnet, the front wings around the headlamps and along their trailing edges.

The doors are likely to be rusty, especially along their lower edges, while the rear wings corrode around the wheelarches; expect filler here. Take a close look at the underside of the front inner wings. There’s a box section here that’s welded in to give the structure some additional strength. It rots badly, weakening the car’s front end.

Lift the carpets as best you can, to check for bodges to the floorpans and sills. If significant corrosion is visible when you check the footwells, the whole car is likely to be too far gone to save economically.

Interior

One of the most appealing aspects of these cars is that mobile drawing room of an interior – but not all models got the full wood and leather treatment. Some entry-level Westminsters got vinyl trim and no timber, but such cars are very rare. Whatever you find, check every bit of interior and exterior trim; some bits are now very hard to source, while refurbishing brightwork, upholstery and wood is costly.

The Farina’s electrical system is full of parts-bin components, and generally all available. The key exception to this is the indicator stalks, which are hard to find – but they’re usually reliable. Regulator boxes pack in, along with the overdrive solenoid, so check they’re working.

History

  • 1959: The Wolseley 6/99 replaces the 6/90, with a 2.9-litre engine, three-speed all-synchro manual gearbox with overdrive, front discs and optional auto. Soon after, the Austin Westminster A99 debuts; it’s mechanically the same as the 6/99 but with a simpler interior. Next comes the Princess MkI with plusher trim and more soundproofing.
  • 1960: The Princess is rebadged the Vanden Plas Princess.
  • 1961: The MkII Vanden Plas is introduced, with a floor change for cars equipped with a manual gearbox. Soon after, the A110 Westminster and Wolseley 6/110 appear. There’s now 120bhp thanks to a high-lift cam and stronger valve springs. There’s also a floor gearchange, twin exhausts and a wheelbase that’s extended by two inches.
  • 1962: Power steering is now optional on all cars and air-conditioning is made available on the Vanden Plas and Wolseley.
  • 1964: MkII editions of the Austin and Wolseley are launched. There’s a four-speed manual gearbox with optional overdrive or a Borg-Warner Type 35 auto, improved suspension and brakes, plus 13-inch wheels. The Westminster is now offered in Saloon (no wood, vinyl seats), De Luxe (painted dash and leather seats) or Super De Luxe (wood, leather) forms. Meanwhile, the 4-Litre R replaces the Vanden Plas Princess.
  • 1968: The Austin 3-Litre replaces the A110 and 6/110.

AutoClassics says…

Don’t confuse these cars with their four-cylinder siblings, which were only supposed to provide cheap transport for the masses. More highly specified, much more relaxing to pilot and altogether classier, the big Farinas offer a lot of metal for the money – but you’ll have to look hard for a really good example.

It makes little difference which derivative you buy, as they all feature the same engine. However, the straight-six came in various states of tune, and the driving experience differs significantly between manual and auto editions.

In reality you’ll have to buy whatever you can find, and with the best cars usually staying in the same hands for years you’ll probably have to bide your time to purchase something really good. But if you do secure a decent six-cylinder Farina you’re bound to love it.

Specifications

Austin A99 (1959-1961)
  Power 102bhp
  Top speed 98mph
  0-60mph 15.8sec
  Economy 20mpg

Austin A110 MkI (1961-1964)
  Power 120bhp
  Top speed 102mph
  0-60mph 15.1sec
  Economy 18mpg

Austin A110 MkII (1964-1968)
  Power 120bhp
  Top speed 102mph
  0-60mph 16.2sec
  Economy 19mpg

Wolseley 6/99 (1959-1961)
  Power 120bhp
  Top speed 101mph
  0-60mph 17.2sec
  Economy 19mpg

Wolseley 6/110 MkII (1964-1968)
  Power 120bhp
  Top speed 99mph
  0-60mph 15.1sec
  Economy 19mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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