AUSTIN A55 CAMBRIDGE REVIEW

Practicality meets affordability with the Farina range...

 

In 1958 the British Motor Corporation enrolled the help of Italian designer Battista Farina to revamp its range of saloon cars, including the Oxford V, which arrived in 1959. The car was joined in the ‘Farina’ lineup by the Wolseley 15/60, Riley 4/68, Austin A55 Cambridge and the MG Magnette, which came on stream between 1958 and 1959. 

 

VITAL STATISTICS

Austin A55 CAMBRIDGE

Engine                                    1489cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power (bhp@rpm)                  55bhp@4400rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 81lb ft@2000rpm

Top speed                                78mph

0-60mph                                  25.4sec

Consumption                           29mpg  

Gearbox                                   4-speed manual

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

As with most cars of this era, rust is the main issue. Mechanical components can be replaced with ease, but a rotten body will be considerably more difficult – and therefore expensive – to put right. Wheel arches and sills are the first place to check as they’re usually the first areas to rot. Ensure you feel right up inside the bodywork for any crustiness. Surface rust isn’t the end of the world, but keep an eye out for rotten, soft patches. Wings can rot by headlamps and at the lower rear - check for GRP replacements and negotiate the price you’re about to pay accordingly if it bothers you.

Rust isn’t just a cosmetic issue with these cars – it could be terminal. Give A-posts a thorough inspection, and also pay close attention to chassis rails and outriggers. Any rust here could be a death sentence for the car. It’s best to get the vehicle on ramps for this check, and to employ the services of a garage if you’re unsure what to look for. If you don’t have access to a garage lift, sagging doors can indicate A-post trouble and is not to be ignored. Open each door then gently lift to check for this.

 

ENGINE

In 1959 all the BMC Farinas were fitted with the tried and tested 1.5-litre B-series engine mated to a four-speed manual gearbox, both of which were well known for being built to last. These four-cylinder engines have been known to last as long as 150,000 miles and are tougher than their 6-cylinder C-Series counterparts, which came in later. 

Don’t be overly concerned by minor oil leaks. Checking the driveway or garage floor will be a good indicator. Some smoke is to be expected on startup and should be of little concern, but a whisper-quiet engine suggests over-tight tappets, which will burn out with time. 

Four-speed manual gearboxes are strong, but are well known for a weak synchromesh on second gear. It’s worth checking this on your test drive – if its fine you can assume the ‘box is in good condition. Clutches can last nearly as long as the engine, so if it needs to be replaced its likely a one-time job. 

 

RUNNING GEAR

While the majority of components are quite rugged, the BMC Farinas Achilles’ heel was steering and suspension. While the steering is never going to be pin-sharp, excessive vagueness can be a real problem. Some adjustment of the steering box is possible, but if the problem remains its likely caused by worn cross member mounting bushes. Replacing these items is a major undertaking and will cost a small fortune. 

Early cars have a number of grease nipples, which need attention every few thousand miles – quiz the seller to check they haven’t been neglected. For this reason, avoid cars that have sat for any length of time on a dealer’s forecourt. 

Press gently on each corner of the car to assess the state of the suspension – any creaking or groaning is likely to be a costly fix, so factor this into the negotiations. Check that the car sits evenly on its springs – rear leafs lose their tension over time and can cause the rear end to sag. While the parts aren’t expensive, it is a home-fix for the more confident amateur mechanic. 


INTERIOR

The electrical systems on cars of this period are simple and straightforward, but it pays to check that everything is working as it should. Pay particular attention to switches and heater controls, but also check exterior lighting. 

Interiors are still available, but will be secondhand. 

OUR VERDICT

The BMC Farina range models are well built, tough and reliable classics when properly maintained. A conservative image has led to values remaining low, but this won’t continue. As fewer cars survive each passing year the price of these attractive saloons is sure to rise. 

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