For a spacious British classic consider the Austin A55...
The first thing to strike you getting into an A55 is the sense of spaciousness – one of the key selling points when it was new. The thin pillars provide great visibility and enhance its ease of use on today’s roads. A large, well-shaped boot means four-up touring is well within the scope of this comfortable classic. But it’s behind the lovely thin-rimmed wheel where the big Austin proves most enjoyable, the well-weighted steering and comfortable ride making light work of long journeys.
For a car of this size, the 1.5-litre B-Series engine provides ample performance, and while acceleration is hardly electric, as you might expect, it doesn’t leave you struggling to keep up with the flow of traffic either. Response from the SU carburettor-fed unit should be smooth and linear on a well-tuned example and while cabin noise increases noticeably once over 50mph, the engine rarely feels particularly strained. Despite a fairly hefty kerb weight, a well-sorted A55 handles well, further adding to its long-distance touring credentials.
AUSTIN A55 FARINA
Power (bhp@rpm) 52bhp@4350rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 82lb ft@2100rpm
Top speed 78mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
There are some well-known rot spots that need careful checking if extensive refurbishment is to be avoided. Key areas are the inner and outer sills, rear wheel arches, the headlight surrounds, and the back of the front wings where they meet the sills. Be sure to check the boot floor and rear bulkhead along with the A-posts, but to be honest all of the panels are at risk on the A55, so it pays not to rush any checks here. The good news is that just about all panels are available from clubs or specialists.
Take a good look at the chrome too – there is plenty of it on an A55 and replacement and refurbishment costs will soon mount. Some trim parts were also cast in Mazak zinc alloy and these can be difficult to find now, as well as tricky to restore, so worth bearing in mind if parts are missing or in poor condition.
Although the A55 uses a monocoque bodyshell, there are still a number of ‘chassis’ rails and box sections that need careful examination. The point where rail and outrigger meet below the front footwells
is a known rust spot – many have had a triangular repair made here and while not original, is much stronger. The box-section crossmember behind the front valance often succumbs to rust and can be a tricky repair, although the iron crossmember that supports the engine is often protected by leaking oil! Cracks can appear where the steering box mounts to the chassis so it’s worth checking for this.
The 1489cc engine is often considered among the best of the B-Series units and is capable of racking-up substantial mileages if well-maintained. Oil leaks are the bane of many an owner’s life, the crankshaft oil seals being a particular weak point. Watch too for water leaks. Worn pistons or cylinder bores will lead to plenty of blue smoke from the exhaust, and while an engine re-build is a realistic DIY task, oil pressure of 50-60psi when warm will provide some reassurance that things are healthy. Excessive noise from the top of the engine indicates valve-gear or timing chain wear. Corroded radiators, water leaks, and subsequent head gasket failure are also common problems to look out for.
The four-speed manual gearbox (which lacks synchro on first gear) is a strong unit and rarely gives trouble – a test drive will reveal any issues. Interestingly, while the majority of cars had a floor-change, a column-change arrangement was optional, although it appears that few cars were built in this spec. A whining rear axle will also be obvious on the move but rarely leads to complete failure.
The suspension set-up is thoroughly conventional, with coil springs and wishbones up front and a live axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs aft. Oil leaks from the Armstrong lever arm dampers are worth watching for as are sagging rear leaf springs, but neither are costly to replace. A check for rot around front suspension mountings and rear spring hangers is advised, though. The cam and lever steering will get excessively sloppy over time. However, rebuilding or replacing the steering box and
steering joints is a cost-effective way to bring a tired example up to scratch. Brakes are drums all round, originally with Girling hydraulics, and while they can be tricky to set up properly, seized or leaking wheel cylinders on little-used cars is the most likely issue to
Leather trim was standard on the A55 and, while tidying a scruffy cabin is a relatively straightforward task, some parts are getting scarce and the cost of a major refurbishment needs to be factored into the asking price. Reproduction carpets are easily available, but leather will be expensive as more than two hides were used to make the upholstery. Watch too for leaks from front or rear screen seals that may have damaged trim or allowed rust to take hold. If you can find an example fitted with options such as a radio and electric clock,
so much the better, but all cars came with three ashtrays as standard, which may, or may not, be handy!
If comfort, space, and ease of use rank high on your list of priorities for a classic car, then you’re likely to enjoy what the A55 has to offer. The car represents the most pure Farina styling of the range. Good parts availability and simple, robust engineering only add to the appeal.
There is no ignoring the fact that rot can be a major factor with these cars but many have already been restored, so find a good one and we’re pretty sure you won’t be disappointed. And with plenty of chrome and optional two-tone paintwork, you’ll get a welcome dash of style too. Don’t hammer them down the motorway, but cruise at 60mph and they’re fine.