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Buyer's Guide

Printed in Sidelights Spring 2016

I know most people reading this magazine are longstanding members of the club, who have owned and maintained their cars for many years.

But, what about those people who have just joined the club, or who are thinking about buying their first baby Austin? Are you looking for a restoration project? What type of things should I look out for? Are there any peculiarities? What can go wrong? All these questions and more need to be asked before you spend your hard-earned cash on a car that you may wish to cherish for many years to come. Many things can, and do, go wrong. A quick fix can be often used get the car home after a breakdown or, to cover up a much more serious problem to sell a car.

This is by no way a comprehensive guide to buying a baby Austin, but a few things to look out for. If you would like further information then I would highly recommend a couple of books:

  • Post War Baby Austins by Barney Sharratt ISBN 0-85045-710-6, published in 1988. Although this book is long out of print, copies do still turn up.
  • Accessible Classics, Austin A30/35 by Kim Henson ISBN 0-9547629-0-8 published in 2004.

early_Buddy The first thing to remember when looking for a car is, some of our Austins are, now, over 60 years old.

When you go and look at a potential purchase, always, take along a friend or a mechanic who is completely impartial.

It is so easy to take one look at a car, fall in love with it at first sight and hand over your money, without giving the car a thorough examination. Vehicles advertised on eBay are fine, as long as you view the car BEFORE bidding on it. Plus, ALWAYS, set yourself an upper limit. I know how easily auction fever can cut in and the excitement takes over. Buying the most structurally sound car, you can find will pay large dividends. Rust can often be the first major cause for concern when buying any car.

front Outer sills, inner sills, door frames and door bottoms, the lower rear portion of the front wing, inner wings, front wing leading edges, front panel, floor pans, rear chassis rails, spring hangers, wheel arch edges and boot floor should all be examined properly. Due to the age of the car, a degree of repairs will probably have been carried out over the years. Maybe a quick patch to get an M.O.T. or a full replacement panel. rust Welded patches are not always a cause for concern as long as the repairs have been done properly and that they are fully welded. More worrying, are patches welded over the top of previous repairs. The rust is often just plated over and not cut out. The rot is still there and will quickly spread into the "new" repair. Maybe, you are looking for a restoration project and a bit of corrosion isn't going to put you off. But a small amount of visible rust can soon escalate into a nightmare of unseen rust. Front and rear floor pans, sills, front wing repair panels and many other panels are available from some of the specialists who advertise in the club magazines but, quality and fit can vary terribly. Second hand and new old stock doors occasionally turn up but can prove very tricky to fit. Each door was made to fit the car it was assigned to at the factory. Sometimes drastic twisting and manipulation are required to get a good fit. Quite often it's better and easier to repair an original door rather than replace it. Boot lids and bonnets can cause similar problems.

An old tip, of taking a magnet with you when buying a car is always worth repeating.

Many rusted areas may have been repaired using just body filler or fibreglass. This adds no structural strength to the car and has certainly been done as a quick bodge. Sticking a magnet onto a filled area will result in the magnet falling off. Body filler does have its place in vehicle repairs, as long as it's used properly. Covering a hole in a sill, the size of your fist, packing it out with newspaper with yesterday's date on it and filling over the top is definitely not one of them.

The "A" series engine, originally fitted to our baby Austins, is available in 803cc and 948cc for saloons, AV4 vans had the 803cc, AV5 and AV6 vans had the 948cc with the later AV8 receiving either the 850cc or 1098cc engines. Although it's not uncommon to find a van engine fitted to a saloon or vice versa. The engine is a fairly robust unit, although the 803cc engine is a little bit more fragile. All engines can sound a little bit rattly when running. Fitting a duplex timing chain and setting the tappets correctly will help considerably. See the Winter Spotlight magazine 2015/16 for more details on how to do this. Blue smoke emanating from the exhaust on start-up maybe down to worn valve stem seals, or valve stems, but could also mean the piston rings are passed their best. Serious blue smoke will mean an engine rebuild is necessary. Parts availability is excellent, with the A series engine being used in a huge range of BMC models through the years. 803cc pistons are getting a lot harder to find now as are bearing shells. 803cc water pumps are quite expensive and so are older type oil filters. Many owners will fit an aftermarket adaptor kit that allows the use of a later, screw on type filter. A low rumbling, knocking noise from deep within the engine block will probably mean bearing failure. A full engine rebuild will be required. The crankshaft will have to be reground and oversized bearings fitted.

Normally the cylinders will be re-bored and oversized pistons fitted at the same time. This is not cheap and should be considered when thinking about the asking price of the car. A Zenith carburettor may have been replaced with an S.U. unit along with the associated manifold. This substitution has been said to give a couple more B.H.P. and a couple more miles to the gallon. Kits to repair both types of carburettors are available, although the Zenith is slightly less well catered for. Head gasket failure can be a problem. Although, this is normally down to using a cheap head gasket. A good quality, copper-faced head gasket should be fitted. The original cylinders heads are not suitable for use with unleaded fuel without modification. Unleaded head conversions are available for around £200 exchange and are fitted with hardened valve seats. Some people say that no long term damage will occur to the valve seats whilst using unleaded fuel. But this is open to debate. Fuel additives are available but, they can work out to be very expensive. Better to save that money and put it towards an unleaded head.

Complete exhaust systems are readily available. Either in steel or stainless steel.

Distributors are generally reliable although cheap, imported, points, rotor arms and condensers can fail quickly. An electronic ignition upgrade is a common fitment. Complete kits are available at reasonable prices.

Generally the electrics are quite simple and are well behaved. Common problems are normally down to a poor earth or corroded bullet connections. Also, the control box can play up. Cheap control boxes are available but can stop working after a relatively short time. The Austin A30 and A35s were originally wired positive (+) earth, although many will now be wired negative (-) earth. This is important to know if you want to fit things such as a modern radio, electronic ignition system, an alternator, a cigarette lighter or a phone charger.

An alternator conversion is a sensible upgrade if you intend using the car a lot in colder weather. The charging power is much greater at lower engine speeds and it is possible to do away with the problematical control box. A classic Mini alternator is ideal although you will need to change the bracket bolted to the engine block and a shorter fan belt will be required. A kit is available that includes all of the necessary components, at a relatively low cost from specialists who advertise in the magazine.

A30 and A35 brakes are adequate as long as they are treated with respect. A lot of people do moan about them. After driving a modern car, they do take some getting used to. The most common problem is often just down to poorly adjusted brakes. An article published in Spotlight summer 2015 covers adjusting the brakes in detail.

a40_2 Often, brakes are upgraded. The front hubs, drums and shoes etc. from an Austin A40 Farina can be fitted quite easily giving you 8" drums rather than the standard 7". Fitting a servo is an option. Or even disc brakes from an MG Midget along with associated parts are often used. Brake shoes are available at reasonable prices (sometimes new old stock). 7" and 8" brake drums are still available. New front wheel cylinders, master cylinders and the rear frame cylinders are commanding high prices. The club spares system hold a few of each of these items in stock. Many cylinders will have been reamed out and a new stainless steel sleeve fitted along with a new piston. A30 and A35 wheel cylinders incorporate the brake adjusting mechanism. This is often seized to the piston. Often an owner will grab the nearest pair of mole grips and try to twist the adjuster. This usually just ruins the brake adjuster, although the club spares have pistons with the adjusters attached in stock. The brake pipe that goes from the 3-way union on the bulkhead to the master cylinder can only be replaced whilst the engine is out. The master cylinder is located under the driver's floor as is subjected to water and salt thrown up by the road wheels. Several options involving locating the master cylinders onto the bulkhead are available, but that is the subject of another report. On the whole, the handbrake is usually very effective. Often problems are overcome by properly adjusting the rear brakes. Suspension and steering wise the cars are normally quite good, although regular oiling and greasing are essential to the longevity of components. The steering can feel quite heavy as there is no power steering. The steering box AND the steering idler should be regularly topped up with EP90 gear oil. There are several grease points on the front and rear suspension that should be greased every 3000 miles or 12 months. A full report about rebuilding a steering box will be featured in a later magazine article. Kingpins, lower fulcrum pins and wheel bearings should also be thoroughly checked during any examination of any A30/35. Any play in any of these components will make the car handle badly and is potentially fatal. New wheel bearings are widely available. Kingpin kits for the saloons and vans are available via the club spares scheme as are lower fulcrum pins and the lower fulcrum threaded bushes. All of the rubber bushes for the front suspension are also available via the club spares. Front shocker absorbers are available but beware of buying "reconditioned" ones. Quite often they have just had a coat of paint and have been refilled with a thicker grade of oil. Rear shockers are harder to find. Rear leaf springs can fracture and crack. They can also wear at the extreme ends of the leaves if they are not kept clean and lubricated. This can lead to a slightly notchy feeling in the rear of the car when going over bumps. New van (11 leaves) and saloon (8 leaves) springs are available, but some after-market ones do make the car look too high at the rear when fitted. They do settle down after a while.

The original gearbox, on an A30 or A35, has no synchromesh fitted to 1st or reverse gears. This is not normally a cause for concern as you soon get used to it. One thing that will help prolong the life of a gearbox is to learn how to double de-clutch. Basically when changing gear you press your foot on the clutch pedal and engage neutral. Then slightly increase the engine speed with the accelerator pedal. Put your foot back down on the clutch pedal and finally select the next gear. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. Two types of gearboxes are fitted to our Austins. These are known as smooth cased and ribbed cased. The ribbed cased is normally considered as the slightly stronger 'box. Bearing noise can become an issue. Jumping out of gear whilst driving is also cause for concern. Expect to pay around £300 - £350 + VAT for a gearbox rebuild. Bearing kits are available but due to the complex nature of the gearbox I would entrust this to a specialist. Plus you have the added protection of a warranty. 20W50 engine oil is used in the gearbox. pints of oil will be needed after draining the gearbox. The filler plug is located under a rubber bung in the gearbox tunnel. A tip passed onto me by another member is make sure you can undo the filler plug before draining the oil. Guy the gorilla could have tightened it last time!. A simple tip that can save hours of heartache. Gearboxes can be swapped between the A30 and A35 variants, but it's not as simple as swapping one type with another. Several modifications need thinking about. This will be another subject printed in a future magazine. Also, there are two sizes of the clutch. 6 ¼" and 7 ¼" Again they can be interchanged but not easily without modifications.

Rear axles are quite long lived as long as they are looked after. Keep the oil level topped up at all times. But never overfill an axle as the oil may seep through the oil seals and rear gasket and contaminate the rear brake shoes. Rear wheel bearings are lubricated with grease and some of the oil from the axle.

midget shaft Rear wheel bearing replacement is seldom necessary. Half shafts can have a habit of shearing at the end where they attach to the differential. The standard shaft is not hardened as much as it should have been. A common upgrade is to use MG Midget or Austin Healey Sprite half-shafts. These are slightly harder and can be identified by the small groove at the end of the shaft that goes into the diff. Several rear axle ratios are available and there is a comprehensive article on this in autumn Sidelights 2015.

interior Original interior trim is very hard to find, but kits are available to re-trim seats and door cards.

The headlining is very easily damaged and torn. Replacements are available, but renewal is quite an awkward job. The rear screen needs to be removed as does the rear seat. Then the frame needs to be very carefully removed. It's very easy to damage and bend the frame. Also scratching the paint around the car's header rail. Placing several strips of masking tape along the header rail will help. Carpets sets are available from many suppliers, but quality varies. Soundproofing is a sensible option if you use your car regularly, the Austin can be quite a noisy car, especially compared to a modern. Some cars had rubber mats fitted to them from new and these are now all but extinct. Those mats that do find their way onto the market command extremely high prices.

Original starter pull cables and choke cables are also hard to find new. The original door check straps are almost impossible to find new although kits are available to replicate them. A heater, if fitted, normally gives no problems if maintained properly. Although the Bowden cables can be awkward to set up if they have been disconnected from the heater unit at any point. Exterior trim and rubber seals are quite well catered for. Although the front and rear quarter light rubbers are very difficult to find. New front rubbers can be obtained, but the fit is not always as good a fit as it should be. Door seals for the 4 door vehicles are often a very tight fit when new and can make closing the door very difficult. Some people have even done away with then completely. But they do settle down in time.

Original front grille badges are another rare item although some are being remanufactured. Van and countryman specific trim can be much harder to find. The various original Mazak chrome plated components will probably be very pitted by now.

All chrome items are available via specialists who advertise in along with over riders are being remanufactured although commonly in polished stainless steel rather than chrome plated. A full set of bumpers with over riders will cost you in the region of £600. At the time of writing, second-hand spares are fairly easy to obtain, but this is likely to change sooner rather than later.

So there we go. I hoped this has helped a few of you out and let's hope you find that dream car soon. Until the next time, enjoy your Austins.