Design and Production

of Club Cars

At first sight, the vast list of cars detailed elsewhere on this COOC Website may seem disconnected - almost random in fact. However they have two common threads linking them together - it is actually quite logical to place them all together into one club, honestly! Surprisingly these threads have nothing to do with Farina and not much to do with the Nuffield side of BMC.

When BMC was created on the 31st March, 1952 it was basically many little organisations within two giant halves. Austin at Longbridge and the Nuffield (Morris) group at Cowley who had 'brands' such as MG, Wolseley and Riley.

Austin's side of the conglomerate soon established itself as the dominant partner with Leonard Lord becoming Chairman after masterminding the merger from his position at Austin. Lord had worked under Nuffield for many years and had left after a fierce altercation in 1936. He had then joined Austin, Nuffield's main rival.

The post-merger world of the new 'BMC' needed much rationalisation; Nuffield's products were in some ways more advanced, using rack and pinion steering and OHC engines. However Austin's products were simple, reliable and in favour politically. The Chevrolet truck-inspired range of A, B and C series engines were being designed and they were to prove reliable, efficient and tuneable - qualities which made them sensible building blocks for the future.

The Austin A30 is, in fact, a very important car for it signposted BMC's technical future when it appeared in 1951. It was the first car to use any of the the new family of engines, an A series, and the first unitary construction bodyshell BMC made.

However the two building blocks, or to put it in a modern parlance, 'floor pans' for this Club both appeared in 1954 - the Austin A40/50 Cambridge and Austin A90 Westminster. These cars are not to be confused with cars that had carried those numbers or names before, in different combinations.

Every vehicle this Club caters for has a direct link to those two vehicles.

Styled by Austin's Italian in-house stylist, Dick Burzi, both these cars remained in production until 1959 with some minor changes. The floor pans, engines suspension systems, brakes, even minor electrical components and switch gear; were transferred, with modifications and changes, to the Farina-styled range of cars that we also cater for and which, it is fair to say, make up the majority of our membership's cars.

The Cambridge used the B series engine, which appears in all our Club four cylinder cars, as well as numerous other cars such as MG's A and B, boats, and Sherpa vans.

The Westminster used the C series engine which appears in all our Club six cylinder cars, many other cars including the Austin Healey 3000, numerous military vehicles and even generators.

Bizarrely HRH The Duke of Edinburgh then takes a hand in our story. He visited Longbridge in December 1955 and was taken around by Leonard Lord. As Barney Sharratt says in his enchanting book, 'Men and Motors of the Austin' through the voice of Joe Edwards who was there at the time:

"So we all trooped downstairs and after Len had shown him the models the Duke said, "Sir Leonard I think you ought to have another look at things because I am not sure these are up to the foreign competition". Old Len just did not know where he was. Eventually Edinburgh went and the next day Len sent for Farina. That's why Farina was brought in. He flew in one morning and went away with an £84 000 contract for designing our first Farina cars. Not many people know that but I assure you it was the Duke of Edinburgh's comments which brought it all about".

I make no apology for quoting verbatim from Mr Sharratt's book, which is the result of a lifetimes research. It is a great story and without that remark from the Duke this Club would probably not exist... !

Farina's first design for BMC was what became the Austin A40 but it was quickly followed by Farina's proposal for ADO9 (Austin Drawing Office 9), which went into production as the Austin A55 MkII Cambridge in 1958 (although not put on sale until 1959).

ADO 10 followed very shortly afterwards and became the Austin A99 Westminster.

A Cowley-based stylist called Sid Goble was tasked with producing the Nuffield versions of the car Farina had sent and so he designed what became the Morris Oxford Series V, Wolseley 15/60, MG Magnette MkIII, Riley 4/68 and Wolseley 6/99.

Vanden Plas produced the Princess themselves, at the last minute, in a tearing hurry; after they had initially intended to make higher quality versions of both the Austin and Wolseley six cylinder cars (The Austin A120 and the Wolseley 6/120).

Three months before the Motor Show Leonard Lord phoned them to cancel those two cars and suggest that they should make a separate car instead. A grille was quickly drawn - a cross between an Alvis and a Bentley, and duly held in front of a Westminster for Lord to look at, he approved and the car went into production!

The BMC Farina range was updated in late 1961 to become the A60 and the A110 - two far more restrained and elegant cars, if less flamboyant.

The four cylinder engines were taken out from 1489cc to 1622cc (to 60 BHP approx, hence the name A60 instead of A55 etc); the front track was widened; the wheelbase lengthened and the interiors redesigned. They were already an old fashioned and tall car when compared with the trendy, lower and faster new Cortinas but they continued to sell well, even after the Austin 1800 had been announced - the car that had been intended, initially, as a replacement for them.

The six cylinder cars gained more power (although no more cc) and a longer wheelbase as well as cosmetic differences toning down the 50s look in an attempt at the more restrained 60s look.

It is easy to think that the plethora of models available in this range equates to what we would now called L, GL, SRI instead of Riley, Austin etc. However it ran a great deal deeper than that.

BMC dealers had a great deal of influence (many would say too much) on the company and it was no good giving a Nuffield franchise an Austin sell, as they had been their deadly rivals since the 1920s. In fact some dealerships only had, for example, Wolseley and MG cars with Morris being held by a rival firm down the road. So badge engineering was then only way of giving the all important dealers product to sell, whilst the inevitable process of rationalisation, and therefore marque death, took place. The money was just not available for each marque to develop separate cars.

This Club's cars marked an ignominious end for the Riley marque - a name involved with ERA and the car in which Britain's first world champion, Mike Hawthorn, first came to the Motorsport worlds attention. The other marques involved soldiered on, on different and ever more desperate products until only MG was left.

The last BMC Farina rolled out of Cowley in the spring of 1971 by now long out of date and unlikely to sell quickly. You could still by a new one, if you hunted around, early in 1973.

However at the time they were a huge success story. Over one million BMC Farina Cambridge or Westminster derived cars were built in the UK alone and the design was made, sometimes in a mildly modified form, by BMC satellites in Australia and South Africa. It was then sold off to various countries; including Argentina, where Di Tella produced many variants!

The Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club hopes to be able to help preserve these wonderful old cars for many years to come.

John Lakey

Publicity Officer, The Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club

...written late one night in September 2002.

 

The above was all shamelessly researched using a number of excellent books, all of which I would recommend to anyone wanting to study the subject in more detail:

Men and Motors of the Austin - Barney Sharratt (Haynes)

The Cars of BMC - Graham Robson (MRP Books)

Cars in The UK Vol 1 - Graham Robson (MRP Books)

The BMC/BL Competitions Department - Bill Price (Haynes)

British Leyland The Truth about the Cars - Jeff Daniels ( )

The Leyland Papers - Graham Turner ( )

Britains' Motor Industry The First Hundred Years - Various authors (Haynes)

BMC and Leyland B-Series Engine Data - Lindsay Porter ( )

Vanden Plas Coachbuilders - Brian Smith ( )

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