They're probably the closest things to teddy bears on wheels, but buy a bad A30/A35 and it could be more of a gremlin...
After many decades in the doldrums these tiny saloons are finally beginning to be more widely appreciated for the brilliant concept that they were - helped no doubt by the sight of their giant-killing attempts in historic saloon racing.
Modern small cars are finally giving more than 50mpg, but 50 to 60 years ago, both the Austin A30 and the A35 could easily return 50mpg up hill and down dale, and if you really tried more than 60mpg was possible. Its secret was low weight and a small engine with a tiny Zenith 26 carburettor.
They were revolutionary when new - monocoque construction, brand-new overhead valve engine, tiny 13in wheels (even the Morris Minor had 14in), good handling aided by a rear anti-roll bar, four-speed three-synchro gearbox and four doors in such a compact package. Including the very popular vans, well over half a million were built.
Original 803cc cars are fine on level ground but struggle a bit on hills - there's a big gap between third gear and top so you have to slog up at 30mph in top. A35s had more power and a higher third gear, so are much more usable. Many have been fitted with larger, later engines - and providing the conversion has been carried out well, with the right gearbox, they should easily keep up with modern traffic.
Engine 803/848/948/1098cc ohv four-cylinder with single SU carb
Power and Torque A30: 28bhp @ 4800rpm; 40lb ft @2 400rpm. A35: 34bhp @ 4750rpm; 50lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission Four-speed three-synchro manual, rear-wheel drive
Top speed 64-72mph
0-60mph 42.3/30.1 sec
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
This is the biggest enemy. Vans are worst, especially the last ones, which were made from thinner-gauge steel and had waistline trims under which rust begins. The rear spring hangers are trickiest to repair, especially the rearmost ones where the bumper mountings and rear wing corners also meet. Ideally you need a jig to ensure alignment is correct when welding in new panels. The front hangers of the rear springs are rot-prone too. Be wary of any car where the doors are drooping. It could be something as simple as worn hinges, but it could also point to rot in the A-posts, which is difficult to repair.
Although original Austin panels are now rare, quite a few handy repair ones are available, and the club also stocks a great deal of bits that might be needed.
Sill box section
Behind the lower corner of the front wing the sill box section continues forwards, stepped in and protected by a rubber seal between wing and sill. The rubber perishes and lets in water and mud, which then rots right through the sill box section, the wing and the bottom door hinge area - open the door to check this area for rot and filler. Repair is complex, usually necessitating removing the wing, door and adjacent interior trim.
Other areas where rust is found include the box section supporting the radiator and tying the front end together, sills, floors, bottoms of doors (especially rear doors and their shut faces on four-door cars), front valances, bootlids and rear wings above the wheelarches.
Interior trim is not available in kits, so unless you're very hands-on, retrimming is a bespoke job for a professional retrimmer. The original Rexine leathercloth is usually replaced with vinyl; leather was a rare option, almost never seen today. The headlining is woolcloth and difficult to clean and even more diffcult to replace if very grimy. They must be stretched and stitched to the frame, which is then clipped in place.
Any electrical problems are usually down to corroded earths, looms going hard or bad DIY fitment of accessories - look for the trademark bullet connectors. Otherwise the car's wiring system is extremely simple. Mazak interior trim items tend to get pitted.
The engines are shared with Morris Minors (and in the case of the 948, with A40 Farinas and early Sprites/Midgets), so most parts are readily available and fairly cheap.
The 803 is costliest to rebuild and is also weaker, relying on bypass oil filtration and small bearings. It needs frequent oil and filter changes and is often worn out by 50,000 miles - once the crank is worn beyond limits, you'll struggle to find another. The 948 engine is strongest, the 1098 being quicker to knock out its big ends. Upgrading a car with a more powerful A-series is common and not that frowned upon by enthusiasts.
On all the engines, blue exhaust smoke on start-up and on the overrun signals oil bein gburnt, probably due to worn piston rings and bores. An uneven idle speed could be down to carburettor issues but may also point to burnt valves. Valve gear and timing chain rattle is common, but should be able to be adjusted if it is too loud. Oil leaks are almost inevitable, but there shouldn't be a slick underneath.
Unleaded conversion has not yet been done on most cars, as many years running on leaded and gentle use means valve seat recession is slow. When required, converted cylinder heads are readily available.
Gearboxes are generally long-lived, with weak synchromesh on second usually the first sign of age. The A30 gearbox is shorter with a long 'wand' gearlever and parts are harder to find; 948 gearboxes were much stronger. The A35s, with its remote stick, has more pleasant gearchanges than the A30.
Converting A30s to a later gearbox is possible but involved, requiring an enlarged gearbox tunnel, shorter propshaft and either a repositioned gearlever or adapting the later gearbox to the wand type. Alternatively, A35 gear clusters can be fitted to the A30 gearbox. Ribbed-case gearboxes from 1098 BMC cars are strongest and a straight swap for A35s. If reconditioning is needed, you get what you pay for - some in the past were of very dubious quality.
Disappearing synchromesh is likely on the high mileage cars, with second likely to be the first casualty. A noisy gearbox suggests the bearings are wearing out. Propshaft universal and halfshafts are also prone to wearing out eventually, but replacement isn't that costly or difficult. Clutches should see about 100,000 miles of use before they need replacing, while rear diffs should be double that unless they've been allowed to run low on oil - which does happen, as they are prone to leaking. A whining means this has probably happened.
Hydro-mechanical brakes (mechanical rear operated by a single hydraulic cylinder in the middle) can be a weakness and must be set up properly to work efficiently.
The front cylinders are prone to seize from water ingress and lack of use; new-old-stock cylinder supply is running out, soBull Motif hopes to be making new ones soon. At the back, oil leaks from the back axle into the brakes can be fiddly to cure - look behind the wheels for tell-tale dampness.
The steering is unique to the car and, although robust, the box and the six balljoints wear. The idler is more likely to seize than to wear significantly - check it if the stering is heavy. Check the steering box for leaks and wear; there are three variants. Shock absorbers wear and reconditioned ones are of poor quality.
Leaks from the steering box will lead to wear here. One way that people try to tackle is it overtightening, which will help in the short term but will eventually accelerate the wear and result in tight steering. Make sure the steering centres after a corner.
Front suspension needs frequent lubrication to 12 grease nipples to keep it supple and unworn - if they aren't, they will rapidly deteriorate and sloppy handling will be the result. If you suspect this, jack the car up and try to rock each wheel top to bottom while somebody presses the brake. Check for wear in the kingpins (which Bull Motif can replace with a complete unit that avoids the need for honing).
Wishbone bushes also wear out and aren't easily replaced - most people just change the wishbones as a whole. Lever arm dampers are fitted all around but lose their efficiency, especially if leakages have occurred. Front coil springs and rear leaf springs can also crack and sag - you should be able to see the top of each tyre under its wheelarch. Rear shackle pin asssemblies also need greasing every 1000 miles, otherwise handling will be badly affected.
Non-servo assisted drum brakes are quite straightforward, but handbrakes often lose their effectiveness due to linkage wear and amateurish adjustment.
They're not fast (not in standard form at least, though they are very easily tuned), but they are fun and are very easy to own and drive.
The A30/35 Owners' Club does an excellent job of co-ordinating spares supply and assisting owners. Many parts were shared with Minors and much of the running gear was carried forward into the Sprite and Midget range, and the A-series engine that started life in the A30 in 1951 was in use in Minis until 2000, so most service parts are very cheap.
The A30 and A35 are the kind of cars that bring out the affection in everybody. Assuming you keep on top of the body care and lubricate the suspension every 1000 miles, they're very simple to look after, cost peanuts to run and are eminently usable and entertaining vehilces to own. Assuming you don't mind taking the pace of life just a little slower...