Buy­ing Guide

The A40 Farina may be get­ting rare, but there are still some crack­ing ex­am­ples around. If you’re look­ing for a prac­ti­cal clas­sic that’s cheap to run, look no fur­ther

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

Austin A40 Farina

The Austin A40 was the world’s first vol­ume-built hatch­back, with sharp lines penned by Ital­ian de­sign house, Pin­in­fa­rina. Prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able and charm­ing in the way that only a Fifties car can be, the A40 is ideal for any­one buy­ing their first clas­sic – or any­body who just fan­cies some clas­sic mo­tor­ing on the cheap. Yet de­spite its charm and us­abil­ity, the A40 is largely for­got­ten and val­ues are still low, even though they’ve climbed in re­cent years. How can a car that shares its un­der­pin­nings with the Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Mid­get be so un­der­val­ued?

The A40 was un­veiled at the Oc­to­ber 1958 Paris Mo­tor Show. Those first cars were all two-door saloons with a hatch­back sil­hou­ette; by Septem­ber 1959 the split-tail­gate Coun­try­man edi­tion was on sale. Of­fer­ing hatch­back prac­ti­cal­ity, no small car had ever been so ver­sa­tile. The A40 MkII ar­rived a year later with a wheel­base stretched by 3.5 inches, wind-up windows, a full-width grille, hy­draulic brakes and two-tone trim. The best A40 yet went on sale in Septem­ber 1962, when a 1098cc en­gine re­placed the 948cc unit. It brought with it a higher fi­nal drive, stronger gear­box and king­pins, and a larger clutch. This was the spec­i­fi­ca­tion for all A40s un­til the model’s demise in Novem­ber 1967. All A40 vari­ants are charm­ing, but MkI edi­tions aren’t as useable be­cause of their lower gear­ing. That’s why the MkII is a bet­ter bet if you’re plan­ning on do­ing a rea­son­able mileage each year. The A40 shares so many me­chan­i­cal parts with the Mid­get, early Mini and Austin A35 that avail­abil­ity isn’t an is­sue. How­ever, any­thing unique to the A40 can be hard to find, so A40 Farina Club mem­ber­ship is key; its re­man­u­fac­tur­ing scheme has helped many mem­bers to keep their cars on the road. It may not be quite as much fun to drive as a Mini, but it feels perkier than you might think – if a bit busy. If 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.

‘How can a car that shares so much with MGs be so un­der­val­ued?’

CHAIN RE­AC­TION

The A-se­ries en­gine was bor­rowed from the Austin A35 and Austin-Healey ‘Fro­g­eye’ Sprite. Tap­pet noise and a rat­tling tim­ing chain are nor­mal, but if you find the tim­ing chain too noisy a Duplex assem­bly will make it run more qui­etly. Ex­pect to get 100,000 miles be­tween re­builds; that’s when the cylin­der bores will prob­a­bly be too worn to func­tion ef­fi­ciently. To check for this, run the en­gine with the oil filler cap re­moved. Any fumes mean a re­bore is due. Be­fore the bores have worn the big end bear­ings can wear out, so lis­ten for rum­bling de­not­ing their im­pend­ing demise. If you need to com­pletely over­haul the powerplant, ex­pect to spend the thick end of £1000 on hav­ing it done prop­erly.

CABIN PRES­SURE

No new cabin trim is avail­able (in­clud­ing re­man­u­fac­tured) and most used parts tend to be tatty. Car­pet sets are easy to make up and seats can be re­uphol­stered too – al­beit at a price. Look for splits in the top of the dash­board; the sun can wreak havoc here. It’s a sim­i­lar story with the bright­work; new-old stock bits turn up on eBay and at au­to­jum­bles but there are no guar­an­tees you’ll find a spe­cific part. Bumpers can usu­ally be rechromed (they’re the same on MkIs and MkIIs but the over­rider holes are in dif­fer­ent places) and over­rid­ers can also nor­mally be re­vived – MkI front items are unique, but those on the back of the MkI also fit the front and rear of the MkII. The head­light sur­rounds are made from Mazak, so they tend to age and usu­ally can’t be re­claimed.

THE HOLE TRUTH

Most A40s have some rust – of­ten lots of it. MkIIs are more rust-prone than MkIs, but you need to check the whole of any car for bodged re­pairs. Con­cen­trate on 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 also rot, as can the grille sup­port and front valance, both of which are bolt-on so re­place­ment is easy – if you can find re­place­ments. The scut­tle in­cor­po­rates the heater plenum cham­ber, which makes re­pairs in­volved, and the ra­di­a­tor sits above the front cross­mem­ber. Mois­ture gets trapped be­tween the ra­di­a­tor and cross­mem­ber and cor­ro­sion starts, and be­cause it’s hid­den out of sight, the rot can re­ally set in be­fore it’s no­ticed.

IN SUS­PENSE

King­pins form the ba­sis of the front suspension, with the MkII get­ting a stronger set-up. Lu­bri­ca­tion is re­quired ev­ery 1000 miles; if there’s lots of play, bud­get £120 plus labour to have both king­pins over­hauled. New wish­bones are of­ten needed too, at £55 per side for the parts. Later king­pins are stronger; the bot­tom bush is more sub­stan­tial and you’ll pay £50 for a pair of the later stub axles. This up­grade is es­sen­tial if you’re con­vert­ing to disc brakes. Disc brake con­ver­sion parts are £250 – re­plac­ing the en­tire front suspension assem­bly is the eas­i­est op­tion. The rear springs are unique to the A40; if the whee­larch sits lower than the top of the tyre they’ll need to be re­placed or retem­pered; ex­pect to pay £260 for a pair.

ALL THE GEAR

The A40’s gear­box and back axle were also bor­rowed from the A35. There’s syn­chro­mesh on sec­ond, third and fourth, al­though early gear­boxes had weak sec­ond gear syn­cromesh. If the gear­box is be­com­ing worn it’ll jump out of gear while you’re giv­ing it a test drive – re­build­ing the gear­box costs around £200 if you do it your­self. A spe­cial­ist over­haul costs closer to £600. Half-shafts break or bend, es­pe­cially if the en­gine has been up­graded. A lack of sound­proof­ing makes it easy to hear whines and knocks from the half-shaft splines once they be­gin to wear.

A com­plete in­te­rior is es­sen­tial be­cause re­place­ments are no longer avail­able.

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