The Austin A40 Farina is the car that bridged the A35/1100 generation gap and is as practical as it is stylish. Tempted? Let us be your Austin A40 guide...
Think Pininfarina, and you tend to think of a long line of jawdropping stunners such as the Lancia Flaminia, Ferrari 288GTO and Fiat Dino. And yet this respected design house has long dabbled in much more workaday machinery, although few have taken the designer’s name. The stylish and practical little Austin A40 is one such, however, and its beauty is more than skin deep. Legendary rally driver, Pat Moss, drove one to tenth place on the 1959 Monte Carlo rally.
Practical, comfortable and charming in the way that only a British Fifties car can be, the Austin A40 is ideal for anybody who fancies some classic motoring fun on the cheap. Plus, its cute Pininfarina-penned lines cut a dash from any angle.
Yet despite its charisma and usability, the A40 is largely forgotten and values still have plenty of climbing to do. How can a pretty car that shares its underpinnings with the Sprite and Midget be so undervalued?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
It may have been styled by a distinguished design house, but the Austin A40 Farina still has feet of clay – or more accurately body panels of steel – and rots in all the usual places with the best of them.
Poor rustproofing, hopeless panel availability and low values ensure most A40s have at least some rust - often lots of it. Few owners sink much money into their A40s, so once corrosion starts it'll usually just get worse rather than be nipped in the bud. That's why you must check the entire car from bumper to bumper, prodding, poking and looking for any evidence of filler. Take a magnet with you. It's reckoned that the Mk II is more rust-prone than the Mk I because the later cars used thinner material. The Mk I also featured better rustproofing - although no A40 left the factory with truly decent protection from the elements.
Yu also need to check the whole car for signs of bodged repairs. There are a few key areas that are likely to be hit first. These include the sills, wheelarches and door bottoms along with the headlight surrounds, rear valance, floorpans and rear spring hangers. The A-posts, boot floor, lower wings and boot lid can also rot. So can the grille support and front valance, both of which bolt on. Replacement is easy - but finding the panels won't be.
Body panels are surprisingly scarce, given that more than 364,000 Farinas rolled off the production line (NOS front wings are particularly hard to come by, and the fit of some pattern parts can be truly appalling), so always source the soundest car you can afford.
It's easy to overlook the scuttle, which incorporates the heater plenum chamber. Repairs here are involved, awkward and can be costly. Check the front crossmember, which has the radiator sitting above it. Moisture gets trapped between the radiator and crossmember and corrosion sets in. Because it's hidden out of sight, the rot can really get going before it's spotted.
It’s mostly good news, here, since the 948cc and 1098cc engines are shared with other BMC cars, including the Morris Minor and Austin A35. They might not be particularly powerful, but they’re as tough as they come and can be tuned to within an inch of their lives. Mk1s and early Mk2s are often uprated using either the marginally more powerful (37bhp plays 34bhp) later 1098cc engine, or more powerful-still units from the loosely related MG Midget, too.
Expect to get 100,000 miles between rebuilds if it's looked after, by which point it'll probably be due a rebore. To check for the early stages of this, run the engine with the oil filler cap removed. If it puffs out fumes, a rebore might be due soon.
Before the bores have worn the big end bearings can wear out, so listen for rumbling denoting their demise. If you need to completely overhaul the powerplant, expect to spend the thick end of £1000 on having it done professionally. It'll cost a lot less if you do it yourself, naturally.
These engines thrive on regular maintenance, so evidence of 3000-mile oil changes, lubrication (rear spring shackles, brake balance lever, etc) and a new-looking fuel pump filter (which can last up to 6000 miles between cleans) are all good news.
Elsewhere, things to bear in mind on the Mk1 include checking the mechanical fuel pump pipe line unions for cracks and damage and the Zenith carb for evidence of silting up. The Mk2’s SU carb needs less maintenance, although rough running can often be cured by removing the suction chamber and suction disc assembly and cleaning them out thoroughly. A persistently glowing oil pressure warning light can be caused by something as simple as an old oil filter requiring replacement, but could be as a result of either a worn oil pump or – more seriously – worn engine bearings.
Thanks to the fitment of a scroll-type rear crank seal there's almost no chance of it being oil-tight, but for under £100 you can invest in an effective lip seal conversion. Fitting it is an engine-out job, though.
A little tappet noise is common, as is the rattle of a timing chain on worn gears. Replacing it with a Duplex set up is a simple, cheap and sensible upgrade.
Again, simplicity is the key here, and the A40’s oily bits are provenly tough. The A40's gearbox and axle were carried over from the A35. There's syncromesh on second, third and fourth, although it was weak on second gear of early gearboxes.
Mk Is will have a smooth gearbox casing (visible down the back of the engine), but it's often substituted for the later ribbed version as seen in the Mk II - this is stronger and features improved syncromesh. If the gearbox is getting worn, it'll jump out of gears, particularly when you lift off the accelerator - try this in each gear. Rebuilding the gearbox will cost around £200 if you do it yourself. A specialist overhaul will be closer to £600.
Worn halfshafts will eventually break if they’re not renewed, but if you’re planning to replace them with examples off a donor car, make sure you replace them like-for-like – ie, a donor left-hand halfshaft should always go onto the left side of the recipient car. A lack of soundproofing makes it easy to hear whines and knocks from the halfshaft splines when they begin to wear.
The differential is similarly hard-wearing. They’re often quite noisy, but will carry on in this vein for hundreds of miles before they finally expire. The clutch requires very little regular maintenance and should last for years as long as the slave cylinder pivot is kept oiled every 3000 miles or so. That said, a slipping clutch is usually as a result of worn thrust springs or a seized piston within the clutch slave cylinder, while a juddering clutch can usually be traced back to a pressure plate being misaligned with the flywheel or loose propshaft bolts.
Steering & suspension
At a time when rack-and-pinion steering was becoming the norm, BMC stuck to a cam-and-peg system. As a result the A40's tiller isn't very precise. If it's really vague, though, an overhaul is clearly due. Boxes last well, as shims can be removed and the peg can be gently tightened down. Oil leaks are common, but the cork oil seal can be easily replaced with a modern one.
The A40 features double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs and lever-arm dampers. The Mk II also has an anti-roll bar. At the back there's a live rear axle with semi-elliptic springs. The Mk I has lever-arm dampers while the Mk II features telescopic shock absorbers.
Kingpins form the basis of the front suspension on all A40s, with the Mk II getting a stronger set-up. Whatever is fitted, it'll need to be lubricated every 1000 miles if it isn't to wear quickly.
If there's lots of play in the system you can expect to pay around £120 plus labour to get both kingpins overhauled. New wishbones are often needed, too, at £55 per side for the parts.
To check for wear, jack up the front of the car by supporting it under the front crossmember, and grip the road wheel top and bottom. Try to rock it. Play suggests kingpin wear, but to be certain, get somebody to apply the footbrake while you repeat the process. If it's 'cured', the wheel bearing just needs adjustment. If there's still play, the kingpin bushes and/or lower links are due for replacement.
It's worth upgrading from the early to the late kingpins for greater durability and strength - the bottom bush is more substantial. You'll need to pay £50 for a pair of the later stub-axles. If you're converting to disc brakes, this upgrade is essential. The parts for a disc brake conversion cost £250 - replacing the entire front suspension assembly is the easiest option. The rear springs have a tendency to sag. If the wheelarch sits lower than the top of the tyre they'll need to be replaced. Expect to pay £260 for originals - but bespoke replacement can probably be fabricated for less.
Wheels & brakes
The steel wheels fitted to all A40s usually last well. They're easy enough to blast and paint or powder coat (the latter at £50-75 per wheel). Alternatively, Midget Rostyles will go straight on. The Midget's wheelnuts will also need to be fitted, though. Minilites are another popular option.
All A40s came with drum brakes all-round, but, as mentioned earlier, it's possible to convert the front anchors to the disc set-up. Things are easier if your start point is an A40 Mk II, which featured the same uprated kingpins as the Midget. Well-serviced and adjusted drums should provide ample stopping power, though.
The A40’s cabin is a simple and hardwearing as the rest of the car, which is extremely good news since NOS replacement trim components are virtually impossible to source now, and used items come up for sale on the specialist forums and at specialist dealers only very occasionally. There’s a modicum of common componentry between the A40 and some of its sister models, but on the whole it really does pay to keep your eyes peeled for any donor cars or parts that turn up on the web.
Retrimming is your only other option. Carpet sets are easy enough to make up and seats can be reupholstered - but at a price. Look for splits in the top of the dash as the sun can wreak havoc here.
It's a similar story with the brightwork, though new old-stock bits turn up regularly at autojumbles. Bumpers can usually be rechromed (and they're basically the same for Mk I and Mk II but have overrider holes in different places) while overriders can also normally be revived. Mk I front items are unique, but those on the back of the Mk I also fit the front and rear of the Mk II. The headlight surrounds are Mazak so they can age badly and can't be reclaimed.
Instrumentation and switchgear is reliable standard Lucas fare, while the electrical system is incredibly simple. New looms cost around £250. The lighting is also all standard Lucas. Tail light lenses (shared with the Riley 1.5 and Wolseley 1500) can be hard to track down.
With the A40 sharing so many mechanical parts with the Midget, Morris Minor and A35, availability isn't an issue. However, anything bespoke to the A40 can be hard to find, so club membership is key.
The Austin A40 is full of charm, but the usability of the Mk I is limited a little by their low gearing. That's why the Mk II is a better bet is you're planning on doing a reasonably high mileage each year.
It may not be as much fun to drive as a Mini, but with its low gearing and a kerbweight of under a ton, the A40 feels more zesty than you'd think - if a bit busy with it. If you want something more usable and you're not a slave to originality, higher-ratio back axles, bigger engines and disc brakes from the Midget are a straight swap - and you don't have to spend a fortune either. If you still think you'd rather take the Mini, the A40 is far more unusual, prices are much lower and you'll enjoy a lot more practicality, too - especially if you plump for the Countryman split hatchback version.
Amazingly, rarity is one of the big attractions of prospective A40 Farina ownership these days – parts, be they body panels, interior/ exterior trim or brightwork, are getting increasingly difficult to find, and the cars themselves come up for sale surprisingly rarely. Find a good one, and chances are you’ll have to organise orderly queues of people keen to have a look at it. Rarity aside, however, these are corking little classics in their own right they’re not especially quick, but they’re spacious, mechanically straightforward and handle and ride beautifully.
As the icing on the cake, we can think of few other classics that manage to be quite so practical, yet so compact overall.