flying-a Austin A30 & A35 Owners' Club

Club Insurance Partners
(Home > Features > Style and Design)

Style & Design

The story behind our cars seems to begin in the late Summer of 1948 when Ian Gair Duncan arrived at Longbridge in a prototype small car of very advanced design. The car had been produced by Duncan Industries, already noted for Duncan bodied Alvin and Henley motor cars. The prototype was known as the Dragonfly and it was produced with the intention on offering it to a large scale manufacturer. The car had been taken to both Jaguar and B.S.A. but both turned it down. Presumably the decision to approach H.S.A. was due to the car being powered by a B.S.A. 500cc engine. The fact that the car was of unitary construction was advanced enough in itself in those days, but it also featured a transverse engine, Moulton rubber suspension and front wheel drive to mini-type wheels. Note that the Mini of Sir Alec Issigonis or 'Issi what's his bloody name?' as he was apparently referred to by Nuffield, who was not too keen on the proposed Morris Minor, was not to appear until some 11 years later. Photos of the dragonfly appear below.

dragonfly.jpg dragonfly

When Duncan arrived at Longbridge with the car, Leonard Lord very impressed. It was the tradition at Longbridge that all Austins should be able to cope with Lickey Hill in gear. Duncan set out with Lord as a passenger in the Dragonfly and they easily outpaced an A40 up the hill. This appeared to decide the matter and Lord made out a cheque for £10,000 on the spot. The price was to include all patents and spare parts that existed and a further condition was that Ian Duncan himself would work a three year contract at Longbridge. Lord had obviously seen the car's potential, but it is a matter for conjecture whether he purchased it with a serious intention of eventually putting such a car into production or of keeping the design and designer out of the hands of his competitors was uppermost in his mind. Perhaps he was simply backing two horses, but he was certainly taking no chances, for Duncan was handed the cheque and sent off home for an A40 and the Dragonfly remained at Longbridge.

Certainly Duncan was hoping to see the car in production and began work on the design of a four seater version intended for mass production. Only Duncan and Ken Garrott, who was to be of considerable assistance in the stress analysis and calculations, were to work full-time on the project but they 'borrowed' draftsmen to help out. Duncan was only at Longbridge for some three years but he is still remembered by some of those there as a very lively and advanced engineer in the Issigonis mould. There is little doubt that there was also an understandable feeling among the established engineers at Longbridge that he was something of an interloper. Johnie Rix (Chief Designer) Gill Elcock (Chief Chassis Designer) and Jim Stansfield (Chief Body Designer) were all men highly respected in their fields but, compared to this newcomer, must certainly be classed as orthodox in their approach.

Work carried on for 18 months or so. The lay-out of the car, which was completely new to Austin's, was the result of a painstaking study of lay-out drawings, and full stress analysis of all items which produced loads that had to be fed into the chassis/body structure e. g. front & rear suspension, engine mountings etc. The overall design was extremely economical. The amount of weight which had to be added to the body shell weight in order to provide reinforcements for feeding loads to the structure was extremely small.

Experiments took place with a two cylinder, water-cooled, four stroke engine that was a twin cylinder version of the A40. It had a capacity of 750cc and drove the front wheels. However, the project never came to fruition. Apparently Austin were beginning to cold feet about front wheel drive and the rubber suspension was deemed to be impractical. It developed excessive wear after 5000 miles and it appeared that the only cure would be to fit shockers as well and this meant that the system lost its attraction. Duncan was soon to discover that the project, in its original form, had been abandoned. Who broke the news to him ? ... the tea boy!

This brings us to the Summer of 1950 and it was then that Holden 'Bob' Koto came over to England from America on a four month assignment with Austin. His employer, Raymond Loewry, had landed a contract to do the styling for the new baby car. Loewry had established an Industrial Design Consultancy in New York in the 1920s and by 1939 was in charge of the styling for Studebaker.

Holden Koto was born in 1910 and studied engineering at Cornell University. In 1933 he got a temporary job with Briggs but stayed with them for six years. From '39-43 he was with Hudson and then joined Raymond Loewry to work on the Studebaker contract. Loewry had a large office in New York and others in Paris and London. Bob Koto found him a great person to work for and styled for him on a variety of cars.

Whilst at Longbridge, Koto stayed at the Raven Hotel in Droitwich and appears to have thoroughly enjoyed himself. He usually had Ken Howes and 'Whiz' Yarborough from Loewry’s London office working for him as design modellers. Ken Howes was later to design the Sunbeam Alpine. They had a chauffeur to and from the Longbridge works every day.

The photograph below was taken outside the Raven Hotel and is of an Alfa Romeo that was bought by Austin from Pininfarina reputedly as an aid in the design of the A90 Atlantic. Bob Koto had noticed the car in the Experimental Garage at Longbridge and had expressed a desire to buy it.

Kotos Alfa

Towards the end of his stay, George Harriman, the Managing Director, told him that they liked his model & would give him the Alfa as a bonus for £1,000. It turned out to be a bargain winning trophies and 400 dollars in prize money. Bob Koto sold it for nearly twice the purchase price.

We have digressed a little from our story but can return to it by pointing out that Bob Koto stands by the driver's door in the above photo, his son David looks over the bonnet and Ken Howes is seen on the far right, with his hands on his hips. 'Whiz' Yarborour: stands next to Ken. It so happened that when Ian Burden joined Austin, he too stay a time at the Raven Hotel but, shortly before Bob Koto came on the scene, he had leased what had been a laundry building in the centre of a beautiful orchard, just outside Droitwich. Within days of Bob and his two helpers arriving, lan took them to see the still unoccupied building and Ken Howes stayed on after the others to talk about decor. Ken produced a crayon drawing of his suggestions for the proposed lounge and they later got talking of how the new baby car might be styled if Austins insisted that it should look traditionally Austin. The photograph on the opposite page shows what was drawn on the reverse of the design for the lounge! The rough frontal view on the lower right was Ian Duncan 'talking paper' whilst the remainder represents Ken Howe's instant thoughts.

On arrival at Longbridge, Bob Koto was furnished with the 'package' by the Engineering Department and this detailed the desired length, width, height, seating capacity and engine capacity etc. His brief was to style a small, low-priced car that would hopefully be as successful as the pre-war Seven.

He began by making a few sketches and very soon translated these into 1/4 scale model.

original design sketches

This model was not produced to be shown to Austin but for the purposes of developing the full size model. It also served the purpose of keeping Raymond Loewry up to date with the progress because photographs of the 1/4 scale model were sent to him several times as the work proceeded. We are fortunate that this procedure was adopted because copies of the photos were retained by Bob Koto and due to his kindness we are able to reproduce these overleaf . On the top-left photo you may be able to make out pencil marks on the door. These marks were made by Loewry as a suggested change and you will see that this suggestion was incorporated in one side of the full scale model.

When Loewry had approved the initial model a start was made on the full size clay model which was produced in the Model Shop of South Works. The Woodshop produced the required armatures that formed the base for the clay and also furnished other requirements such as templates.

Bob worked with lan Duncan and found him very helpful. He says that they were in agreement that a suggestion made by Bob to move the seats and engine about 4" forward would give a better styling proportion. Ian Duncan had got as far as making proposed lay-outs but his boss, J.R.(Johnie) Rix, Chief Designer, did not agree with the idea and so that was that.

Bob Koto was careful to keep to the dimensions laid down and also tried to keep the cost very much in mind. When the full size clay model was completed it was painted with a special paint obtained in the United States. This was a paint that would adhere better to the clay. The photographs on pages 14 & 15 show different views of the full size model. Note that there was alternative styling of the sides presented on the same model as well as the alternative frontal treatment. The photographs have been reproduced from 30 year old colour slides and so do suffer a little in quality but are nevertheless quite priceless for our Club Archives. The colour slides themselves and the enlargements that we have produced from them give a much better idea of the beauty of the Koto designs. It is hoped that visitors to the Classic Car Show in Brighton will be able to see the colour enlargements on the Club stand and that members will be able to view the slides at future Club functions.

notice the two cars in one model Concept

The full size, painted, clay model was shown to Leonard Lord and George Harriman in the model shop where it had been made and Lord seemed very pleased and impressed. Bob left England very elated and he met Raymond Loewry in Paris. Loewry had heard of the results and was very pleased. However, they were both very surprised and disappointed when they saw the production car and felt that it had been changed round so that they didn't recognise it. They were told later that more resemblance to the A40 Somerset was required. Austin devotees will no doubt be wondering at this suggestion because the Somerset was not produced until 1952, but it existed as a prototype at the same time as the AS3.

Ian Duncan was in no doubt about the beauty of Bob Kate's designs. He reckons that it was very attractive indeed and would have sold like wildfire as it would have had very exceptional style for a small car. It appears, however, that Lord and Harriman tended to relate the cost of a car directly to its length. They decided that for reasons of cost the car would have to be shortened by 4.5". Duncan says that this entailed the rear seat being placed above the rear axle instead of its earlier position in front of the axle and he feels that the resultant increase in height spoilt the original design. The increase in height also meant that some of the metal saved in the length was simply put back again in height!

In 1955 Bob Koto went on to work for Ford and became head of the Mercury Pre-Production Studio. This involved work on Lincolns, Comets and Cougars and sometimes Fords. His last position before retirement in 1968 was Executive Stylist for the Comet-Cougar-Montego Studio. It is interesting to note that after a life-time of styling very many significant motor cars I can quote him as saying in his Autobiography that was published in 'Special Interest Autos' in 1976:

'People often ask me which of all the jobs I've had in my life -which I liked best. I suppose the most interesting and the most fun was when I went to England for Loewry. I had my whole family there. The fun was working with the Englishmen, Leonard Lord and Mr Harriman, the Managing Director. That was very nice. Leonard Lord said that he was so pleased with the work that I had done on the Austin - he pointed to the one that they'd been working on for two years and said 'Look at what you've done in four months.' He was so amazed and I guess he must have told Loewry, because Loewry was happy too. But doggone it they didn't come out with the job. But that was the most gratifying, living there en England. The English people were just great to us.'

A small but interesting point is that when the slide of the model that shows the horizontal grille was placed under the microscope the badge was seen to read Austin 25! No-one yet questioned sees any significance in this fact.

The decision to shorten the car by 4.5" was taken after Koto had returned to the States and it was not long after this that Ian Duncan asked to be taken off this job. He says that this meant that his contribution to the eventual production 'Austin 7' was just the original 'concept' lay-out and the chassis/body structures Apparently this basic work was relevant to the car in both its original FWD form and in its later rear drive derivative of whatever styling. The front suspension, however, was entirely different to his concept and so required very heavy local re-enforcement of the structure.

The styling of the shortened version of the car was then undertaken by Dick Burzi, the Head of Styling at Longbridge. That he didn't undertake the job in the first instance seems to have been partly due to the volume of work being undertaken at the time and partly due to the desire of the Longbridge management to ensure that they were in touch with American styling.

Dick Burzi had arrived at Longbridge in 1929. Although an Argentinean by birth he had been working for Lancia in Italy. He was forced to leave Italy after drawing some cartoons for a newspaper that was opposed to Mussolini and so Lancia moved him to his Paris coach building firm.

Lancia and Load Austin met each other on the Queen Mary whilst travelling to America and Senior Lancia had spoken very highly of Burzi. Lord Austin decided immediately that he had a job for such a man and very soon after Dick Burzi arrived at Longbridge wearing a green felt hat with a feather in it and not speaking any English. Although his name is Ricardo he was soon to be known as Dick by one and all.

Concept Concept

He styled two beautiful bodies for the Austin 16, a tourer and a two-seater, with long flowing wings, but was rather discouraged at first because Lord Austin thought his creations were too advanced for the conservative British. In 1938, however, Len Lord came in as Works Manager and put Dick on styling the Eight and from then on Dick was manager. It wasn't all plain sailing though. The day Italy entered the war, he found two security men waiting for him on arrival at his office and they took him off to the Isle of Man for the duration of the war. At least that was the intention because although he had been in England since 1929 he hadn't bothered to apply for naturalisation. Fortunately Lord Austin managed to get him released and he was allowed to work from home provided he reported daily to the police.

It will be of particular interest to members to know that it was Dick Burzi who designed the Flying A. At the end of 1939, Len Lord came into his studio and put the winged B from his Bentley on Dick's desk, saying, 'That's what we want'. That afternoon, Lord returned and Dick presented him with a plywood, silver-paper-faced model of the Austin winged 'A'. In post war years Dick Burzi was responsible for the styling of many Austins including the Sheerline, Devon, Dorset, Atlantic, Hereford, Hampshire and Somerset and as already mentioned, our own A30.

The problems faced by a stylist in getting his ideas accepted and into production were new to Dick Burzi. He looks back with particular pleasure to the years he spent with Len Lord, George Harriman and Joe Edwards. Nevertheless, he brings to life the problems of the stylist by saying with a smile, 'By the time the engineers and management had finished with my designs there was only that much of me in any car.' What 'that much' meant was depicted by holding his thumb and forefinger about a centimetre apart. He agrees that the Koto designs for the A30 were of better styling proportions than the actual production car, but says that the decision to lop off the tail end of a car was a common occurrence and in the case of the A30 it meant that he now had to re-style the car to the new constraint; a shorter car with more family resemblance to other Austins.

It would seem then that our car could well have been more advanced in style and design and that the factors discussed above led to the car that our club is all about. It was not the first or last car to have its wings clipped before it left the nest, but it was still well received by the motoring press of the day. The many appreciative tales that are regularly recounted to us by those who bought the car in its early days make it clear that then, as now, the car gave reliable service and value-for-money motoring. It is also in fact that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' and I know of a large body of people, namely the Austin A30-A35 Owners' Club, who wouldn't have their car any other way!

© Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Barney Sharratt

back to top