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
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?’
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.
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.
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.