WHAT TO LOOK FOR
WHERE’S THE WOOD?
The Westminster’s interior isn’t as highly specified as you might think, which reduces the costs of restoration but slightly reduces the car’s appeal. While you might expect these cars to have a cabin that’s swathed in wood and leather, the reality is that the dashboard and door cappings are painted steel. Indeed there are no fillets of timber anywhere, but at least the seats are trimmed in leather while the door trims are finished in leathercloth. There’s a good chance that the leather will have seen better days by now so look for cracking along with splits in the material and evidence of the stitching coming apart. The simple design of the seats mean retrimming is simplicity itself for any competent trimmer, but if everything needs to be done the cost will be a significant proportion of the car’s worth.
The inner and outer sills, front suspension crossmember and the steering box mounting are likely to be harbouring corrosion. The front chassis outriggers also rust. There are two on each side, one perpendicular to the sill and the other meeting it at 45° to form a triangle with the chassis rails. Also check for corrosion in the rear outriggers and the rear spring mountings. Finish by scrutinising the rear valance and crossmember.
The driving experience offered by these cars is something of a mixed bag. While there’s ample performance and the suspension does a good job of soaking up the bumps (ably assisted by softly sprung seats), the Westminster rolls in corners – but any bangs or judders suggest something is amiss. At higher velocity there’s also a lot of wind noise, thanks to the upright windscreen. However, this is how executive saloons were in the 1950s, so the Austin is no different from its rivals.
The C-series 2.6-litre engines are tough. Changing the oil every 3000 miles should enable any Westminster engine to rack up 100,000-120,000 miles or more. The engine’s conventional construction means the signs of wear are predictable (blue exhaust smoke is the key one), rebuilds are easy to perform and parts are also generally available thanks to this engine powering a raft of other BMC models, not least the Big ‘Healeys.
NO RESTO NIGTHMARES?
These unitary-construction Austins can rust badly, so you need to analyse the whole bodyshell for corrosion, from bumper to bumper. Start with the front valance, the inner and outer front wings and all of the panel seams. Expect rust along the top edge of the rear wings; repairs here are especially awkward because of the curvature.
The rest of the running gear is tough, but the kingpins in the front suspension may have seen better days if they haven’t been lubricated regularly. Kits are available to overhaul everything; you’ll pay £76.65 per side from Earlpart. Lever arm dampers are £70 apiece on an exchange basis while replacement coil springs are £122. More of a problem is vague steering because if it’s the box that’s worn out you’ll be doing well to find a replacement, or anybody to recondition it.
column gearshift provides space for the fuller-hipped figure in the front row.
all those curves make body repairs more complicated, so check for corrosion all over. The 2.6-litre c-series engine is more or less unbustable, but watch out for smoke signals.