Following the Second World War, the Austin Motor Company decided to produce all-new versions of the firm's mid-range models based on pre-war designs - the Eight, Ten and Twelve, plus the overhead valve Sixteen - followed by the new, mid-range A40 and much larger A70, but there was still no small Austin.The A30 was one of the first cars to feature unitary construction, chassis-less bodywork that was very light and strong. The newcomer was filled with independent, coil and wishbone type front suspension - similar to that already used on the A40 and A70 models - although conventional leaf springs were employed at the rear.
Powering the A30 was a new, overhead valve four cylinder engine (similar to the 1.2 litre A40 engine). With a capacity of 803cc, the unit produced 28 bhp, which may not sound much by today’s standards, but gave the car lively acceleration for the early ‘50s. The rear wheels were driven via a four-speed gearbox, with synchromesh on the upper three ratios.
Revisions in October 1953 included detailed bodywork changes and a new dashboard. Customers could opt for a two-door saloon, van or Countryman estate versions. Changes were made during 1956, and later that year a more powerful model was introduced to the range based on the A30 but designated A35. Key differences between the A35 and A30 were the addition of a new painted grille within a chrome-plated surround, and on saloon versions, flashing indicators located on the front panel to wing join lines. From the rear, the A35 saloons were easy to spot, due to the much wider, wrap-around rear window, by contrast with the small flat pane of the A30.
Powering the A35 was a more potent, stronger engine. With a capacity of 948cc, the new BMC A-Series unit was based on the 803cc motor, but featured a more durable bottom end and a full flow oil circulation system. It developed 34 bhp - a 20 per cent power gain - making the A35 far livelier than the A30. Making driving easier was a remote control gearbox, with a slick gear change quality, more evenly spaced gear ratios and a higher ratio final drive unit which allowed more relaxing cruising at higher speeds.
As with the A30, saloon versions of the A35 were sold as two-and four-doors, there were van and Countryman variants, plus a short-lived pick-up. This sold in small quantities from 1957 (475 are believed to have been produced). In truth, the vehicle had a small load compartment and was not much use as a pickup. However, these rare versions are highly sought-after today.
Production of A35 saloons was discontinued in 1959, due to the arrival of the A40 Farina and the Mini. However, A35 Countryman estate versions were produced into the '60s and A35 vans were built until February 1968.
Between 1962 and 1966, new 6 cwt variants of the van were fitted with low compression versions of the 1098cc A-Series engine (endowing them with what is believed to be the highest power to weight ratio of any small van of the time). The 1098cc vans also received a larger clutch than the 948cc models, a revised gearbox with superior baulk ring type synchromesh, and a higher axle ratio. The same, improved gearbox was used in the final 848cc vans (1964 to 1968) – these were fitted with the Mini engine, mounted conventionally.
The A30 and A35 gained a reputation for reliability, practicality and frugal fuel consumption. The cars did well in motorsport too, with John Sprinzel, Dickie Barrett and Graham Hill achieving success. Affection for these Austins has not diminished, and many are still in dally use today.
How do they drive?
A30s have relatively low power output and low overall gearing compared to today’s standards, but in contrast, the 948cc A35s feel more modern and most drivers prefer their remote control gearbox with its more evenly spread ratios. Acceleration is lively and a cruising speed of 55-60 mph is fine. An A35 can top 75 mph, around 10 mph faster than an A30. Unmodified vehicles can achieve up to 45 mpg out of town and 35-40 mpg inner city driving. The very late, 848cc A35 vans provide similar performance to the 948cc models, although the toque output of the 848cc unit is not as great. The fastest are the 1098cc vans, with a top speed of around 80 mph. It is easy to uprate an A30 or A35, and many have had larger versions of the A-Series engine installed - 1275cc Midget/Sprite powered examples are commonly encountered - often with front disc brakes from a Sprite or Midget.
Four adults can travel in reasonable comfort, with good head and leg room in the front and rear. Ride comfort, road holding and handling characteristics are great for a small classic, but the overall feel of an A30 or A35 can be dramatically improved by fitting radial tyres.
The saloon's boot space is generous for a car of its proportions and the flat-floored load compartment of the van and Countryman estate is especially useful.
The 803cc engines fitted to A30s are not as strong as the A-Series units in A35s. A hard-driven A30 will suffer from bottom end problems after 50,000 miles or less. Many A30s have had later A-Series power units fitted, and unless you plan to use the car just for concours events, this engine swap is a good move. If you view an A30 with an 803cc motor (easily identifiable by it’s screw-on type oil filter), make sure that the engine if fully warmed up during a long test run, listen out for a tapping noise under part throttle conditions - such rattling is usually caused by failing big ends and a worn crankshaft and should be avoided - unless you have budgeted for a full engine rebuild.
The A-Series engines used in the A35s are longer lasting, even capable of clocking up between 120,000 and 150,000 miles between major overhauls. On all versions, check for clouds of blue oil smoke when accelerating hard. The cause is usually wear in the pistons, rings and/or cylinder bores. In all cases, regular oil and filter changes, ideally every 3,000 miles, will help protect and preserve the engine.
Gearbox problems usually include weak synchromesh, noisy bearings and, on A30s, imprecise gearchanges. The baulk ring-type gearboxes in 848cc and 1098cc vans are longer lasting, and in good condition, have a smooth, precise gearchange. Rear axles last well, unless oil has been allowed to leak from the hub and/or pinion seals.The front suspension and steering must be lubricated regularly. Greasepoints are provided for the king pins, fulcrum pins and bushes, these need to be attended to at least every 1000 miles. Check for signs of recent greasing and raise the front of the car and rock the wheels - any excessive play will be felt. Note that wear in the wheel bearings can confuse matters. Get an assistant to apply the footbrake, and then repeat the rocking test.
Replacement stub axle assemblies are available from specialists on an exchange basis, with new bushes installed and reamed to the correct size for the new king pins. However, fitting and reaming out the new bushes to existing stub axles can be carried out at home if you have access to the correct double diameter reamer.
Check for worn and/or leaking front shock absorbers. This is a particularly important to ensure good ride quality and handling. All versions of the A30/A35 used the same hydro-mechanical braking system. In a good condition this works well. However, before attempting to test drive, look under the car and squeeze by hand the rubber cover on the brake master cylinder (mounted under the floor), also the rear slave cylinder. These gaiters should be completely dry inside but can fill with brake fluid if the cylinders are ailing. The front wheel cylinders can seize and leak too. This doesn’t sound like a big problem, but original Lockheed hydraulic cylinders for these cars are now scarce and very expensive. Fortunately, in recent years techniques have been developed for successfully re-sleeving the cylinders using stainless inserts. This is usually a more cost effective option.
Tatty interiors are not uncommon, due to the age of the cars. However, good examples can still be found. Particularly sought-after are A35s with the front compartment's original rubber floor mat still fitted and intact.
A30s and early A35s were only factory-fitted with carpets in the front, although many later cars which originally had rubber floor mats have since been retrospectively equipped with carpets.
Check specifically for torn headlinings, broken seat frames (on A35s) and damp floor coverings, which can eventually result in rusted floors.
Structural condition is everything. Check carefully for evidence of serious corrosion and or bodged repairs. It is worth looking very closely first along the sills and inner sills and adjacent sections of the floor plan, also around the mountings for the rear springs. Serious rusting in these areas can be very difficult and time consuming to rectify.
The mounts within the bodywork at the rear ends of the rear leaf springs are especially complex. The factory-built estate versions were designated Countryman and these were fully trimmed in the rear compartment. They featured a full-length headlining, plus sliding rear side windows. Many A30/A35 vans were converted to estate cars in the ‘50s and ‘60s by the addition of rear seats and side windows. Such estates are often advertised as being a Countryman, but a giveaway for a converted van is the existence of an air vent in the roof - only fitted to vans - and a headlining which just covers the cab. Converted vans, which are no less practical than the rear thing, are now more numerous than Countryman models, which are regarded as more desirable. Original BMC body panels are difficult to source, but occasionally turn up at autojumbles or in the hands of owners’ club members. Fortunately repair sections are available from specialists for most areas which commonly require attention.
With the exception of brake cylinders (already mentioned), most mechanical components are readily available. It is helpful that many engine and transmission parts are common with those used in A40s, Minors, Sprites and Midgets. It is sometimes easier and cheaper to upgrade to components from later examples of these models, than to try to source the correct A30/A35 items.