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BMC Austin A40 Farina Mk1 / Mk2

Buying an Austin A40

Model history

The A40 Farina came along as BMC's first attempt to inject some Italian design flair to what was an ageing, pre-Mini, model line-up. Getting Pininfarina on the case resulted in the cute but elderly A35 being repackaged into a sharp suited Italian 2 box design.
A40 Mk1 Countryman (with shallower Mk2 sidelight lenses fitted)
Beneath the slick lines of the A40 Farina, introduced in Mk1 guise during 1958, sat standard A35 mechanicals. So this meant A series power, courtesy of a mighty 948cc of Austin engine, 4 speed manual transmission (still no synchro on first gear) and the dubious delights of the A35's hydraulic cum mechanical brake arrangement, albeit with slightly larger drums and a master cylinder tucked away under the bonnet, rather than under the floor as on A30s and A35s. Shortly after the launch of the saloon A40, came the A40 Countryman. The latter now made full use of the cars boxy rear styling, as now there was a wider lower tailgate, and a brand new lift up rear window assembly, making loading bulky objects a whole lot easier than had been the case with the letter box shaped bootlid of the saloon, which continued in production alongside its new stablemate. The Mk1, with its wavy grille and large shiny chrome headlamp surrounds, was only produced until 1962 when it was replaced with the much altered Mk2 version, initially still saddled with the rev-happy 948cc engine, and replaced a few months in with the larger 1098 version, as found in the Minor and A35 vans. The Mk2 featured revised interior trim, and a different dashboard featuring a strip speedometer in place of the Mk1s A35-derived item. Early Mk2s had a black crackle finish dashboard, while later examples had the gushing luxury of wood effect trim. The Mk2 also had a slightly longer wheelbase, revised front grille and wings, different gearing, and a host of minor changes. In this guise, the A40 soldiered on largely unaltered til its demise in 1968.

Bodywork

The condition of the steel bodywork on an A40 is crucial when buying examples today. Values of A40s, despite being rarer than the cuter A30/35s, are still low for all but the very best examples, and economically it is not really viable to restore a complete shed of a car, unless you fancy doing it for the fun of it. Farina cars, whether the baby A40 or larger A60 variety, all seem to rot in the same places, so when viewing a car it pays to check over the bodywork in close detail, looking out for bodged repairs and tonnes of polyfilla. Start at the front, and check the panels below the radiator grille. These can rot out from behind, usually worse on Mk1s but both variants are happy to rot in this area. Repair panels can be bought, but be warned, finding any original BMC panels with which to rebuild an A40 will be a long drawn-out undertaking. The front wings disintegrate in all the usual places, namely around the headlamps, below the side strips, and behind the front wheels, where there are a number of water traps.

Bonnets and doors usually survive ok, and s/h replacements can be found. Sills often rot out, as do the corner of the floors (lift up the floor carpets to check properly, or mats on Mk1 examples). The back wings rot too along their lower edges, and the bottom edge of the double skinned bootlid is another favourite area to fall apart. Whilst you're around the back, lift up the spare wheel cover and have a good nosey at the boot floor. To properly inspect an A40 you really need to get underneath, although if the aforementioned areas are shabby, you can be pretty sure underneath is little better. The prime area to worry about underneath is where the rear leaf springs pick up on the structure, if a car is holed here you should really consider running away and finding a better one - that, or paying next to nothing for the car and expect to get through a few reels of welding wire. Likewise if the front wings are really shot, think long and hard about the cars resurrection - NOS wings are very hard to find (I know, I've been looking for years!). NOS BMC Mk1 wings turn up occasionally for sale, but their opportunist vendors hike the prices up way over the odds due to their rarity. Repro steel wings, and fibreglass copies, are around, although I'm told their quality varies considerably so tread with care.

Engine

At least there are few problems with finding engine parts for the 948cc A series, having been fitted to a myriad of other BMC cars during the 50s and 60s. One thing to watch is running a car on unleaded fuel, these engines soon suffer from valve seat erosion, so a car thats already been converted to run on the 'green' stuff will save you a few bob in converting the engine yourself - but make sure the valve seats have been done, and the 'conversion' isn't just one of these largely-untested pellets in the tank. The alternative is to run an unconverted engine on pump fuel, adding in a drop of additive at each fill up. The 1098cc engine is equally well served when it comes to engine parts, and is a little torquier (but less revvy) than the 948 version. Both can be significantly tuned, if speedier progress is your priority, and larger engines from Midgets can be persuaded to fit with minimal modifications being required, although at this point it is worth thinking about beefing up the brakes a little!

Transmission

The transmissions are usually quite tough on these old stagers, but halfshafts do break occasionally, and diffs whine away to themselves for years before disintegrating, so don't let this put you off buying an A40 if thats the only problem. If replacing a halfshaft with a secondhand example, make sure its from the same side of the car. Halfshafts are in theory interchangeable side to side, but informed wisdom suggests that over time they become 'conditioned' to being stressed in one particular direction as the car drives along, and popping this shaft into the other side of the car, causing the stresses to work in the opposite direction, can lead to them shearing, as with any car using this type of driveshaft.

Suspension

There is nothing particularly irksome with the suspension of these cars. Kingpins wear out eventually, so make sure the car has been regularly greased - a look through a BMC manual will illustrate all the lubrication points on the A40s suspension and steering assemblies, though over time some track control arms get replaced with sealed-for-life replacements. Rear springing is by semi-elliptic leaf springs, and these can sag with age. This isn't in itself a major problem, and repro springs can be bought from Austin specialists or else have your own reconditioned.

Trim

The A40s interior trim is usually quite hardwearing, although the original doppled rubber mats as fitted to Mk1s have mostly disappeared, fallen apart, or been replaced by cosier carpets, standard fitment in the later Mk2 A40. Seats, vinyl and never leather, last ok though can sag if they've regularly suffered large behinds on them. New interior trim is virtually impossible to find nowadays, but there is some s/hand stuff out there if you know where to look - the A40 Owners Club is probably a good place to look. Exterior trim lasts ok too. Side trims are prone to wayward supermarket trolley dents, and the large chrome headlamp surrounds of the Mk1 can cost upto 40 a side to replace, if you can find them. Bumpers usually last reasonably well and can be rechromed. New rear bumper corners turn up from time to time, though make sure they are correct for your model - the Mk2 with its longer wheelbase has shorter rear quarter bumpers than the Mk1, and the centre section varies on Mk1s also as the number plate fitments varied during the Mk1s production. Rear lamp assemblies are tricky to source in new condition, though patience usually turns them up if you're not in a rush (also fitted to late Wolseley 1500s, Nickri Ford Specials and Gilbern Mk1s).

Hard to find parts

Hardest to find are front wings, as already mentioned, and when they do will relieve you of several hundred pounds a time due to their scarcity. Original Mk1 rubber flooring is also tricky to find nowadays, most people substituting carpets or non-original rubber matting as an alternative. Other NOS panels are also tricky to find, although perseverance should turn up factory produced sills, and occasionally rear quarters.

Easy to find parts

The mechanicals, much of which is shared with the A35, are quite easy to find both new and secondhand. A flick through any bunch of classic car magazines should result in leads on s/h A40 engine parts and assorted oily bits, so this isn't really a problem area. New pattern exhausts are easy to buy, both in mild steel or stainless, and fuel system parts can also be bought mail order from any of the small Austin car specialists.

What to Pay

Probably most desirable on the A40 ladder of greatness is a Mk1 Countryman due to its rarity, though with all A40s condition is everything and variations of model and year mean little when it comes to value in the real world. A real minter of a Mk1 or Mk2 may struggle over the 3500 mark, with most presentable examples in good, MOT'd order, existing in the 1500-2000 bracket regardless of Mk or body configuration. A restoration project should cost no more than 500 or so, and a spares donor/landfill candidate should be yours for 100-200, simply because finding the parts and funding the renovation of a real basket case is not really a viable proposition for all but the true A40 lover.

A40 Books & Manuals Sale

A quick look on Amazon will bring up a range of A40 workshop manuals and A40 restoration books, have a look by clicking here.

Who should buy one, and who should not?

If you want an unusual, cheap to run (40mpg+) & charismatic runaround with a very practical loadspace, then the Austin A40 Farina is for you. If you like creature comforts, and need to cruise at 70mph up and down the motorway in serene silence, then perhaps the A40 is not your best choice!

A40 web links

A40 Owners Club
A40 rubber parts for sale
The Italian Innocenti-built A40S Combinata

My family-owned-from-new Mk1, currently under restoration
An early Mk2 A40 I once owned
Speedwell A40 conversion
Memories of owning a Mk2 A40 Farina
Plastic toy Innocenti A40 Berlina

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