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Homepage. This page: A 1950's Austin Cambridge found in an old wooden garage, covered in dust and cobwebs.
Barn finds - hidden classic cars

Austin A50 Cambridge "find".

I've been fortunate enough to come across a number of classic Austins in "barn find", or often "garage find" condition over the years, and the car featured here, a 1956 Austin A50 Cambridge, is one of those. As far as I know this Cambridge had last been used in the early 1990s, before being parked up for good in the garage it had known since 1957, when it was purchased at just a few months of age by the owner's late father.
Old wooden garage where the Austin lay
A few days after a friend and I had first heard about the Austin, some photographs appeared, showing it tightly parked within a rickety old wooden garage, the doors of which had been nailed up some time earlier to ward off scrap metal hunters. The car had been left, un-touched, for quite a few years and was definitely a non-runner. Being a small garage with minimal lighting, the photographs weren't brilliant but did serve to confirm that the car was all there, and definitely worth a closer look. Shortly afterwards arrangements were made to pay the owner a visit, and admire his father's car. Cambridges such as this one were once a very common sight on Britain's roads, but now are rarely seen other than occasionally at classic car shows. As this was just a fleeting visit, rather than a full-on recovery mission, the owner didn't want to prise-open the main garage doors, so access was restricted to a side door, behind which bags of junk and dismissed children's toys had been piled up, part-burying the Austin. With these turfed outside, and the garage light illuminated, a closer inspection of the old Austin and its environs could be made.
Bodily things were looking reasonably promising at first. The front wings and the doors seemed to be in good order. The sills bore witness to some home-made repairs - of the filler and trowel variety - but didn't look to be beyond redemption, and the floorpans looked similarly solid. Looking good. That was until several rolls of old carpet had been pulled out of the way, and the rear bodywork inspected more closely. The rear wings on the A40/A50/A55 Cambridge are notorious rot-spots, especially along the top edge. This car was no exception, and again filler had been ladled on at some point in the past, not unlike icing on a cake, before being treated to a lick of black Smoothrite applied with a 50p brush. The grot continued down the leading edge of the offside rear wing (the nearside of the car was inaccessible), so this was definitely a negative after what to that point had been largely a positive investigation.
With evidence of corrosion at the back of the body duly noted, it was time to open the driver's door and have a peak inside. This was to be the revelation of the entire "find" really. The interior was immaculate, the seats were superb, the steering wheel was immaculate beneath its aftermarket "glove", and the painted dashboard just as it would have been in 1956. The previous owner's old road maps and other motoring-related documents were stacked up neatly too, a proper time capsule if ever I'd seen one. It even smelt like a proper '50s car inside, and wore its original '50s registration.
It was a very interesting discovery indeed, but it was going to need more work than I could realistically take on at the time, and if I'm honest I wasn't really looking to buy any more old vehicles for myself. My pal, who happens to own a garage, did fancy collecting it and giving it some tlc though, so arrangements were made to make a return trip and extricate the car from its long-term residence.
A few weeks later we returned in his car, with a large trailer on the back. The Austin's owner arrived shortly afterwards, and we all made a start on removing the nails and fortifications that he'd added to the garage's doors. He was planning to have the garage replaced anyway, so delicacy in getting the doors open wasn't a priority (fortunately!). After 15-20 minutes or so, the doors were dragged open on their rusted hinges, and the rear end of the Cambridge blinked in the daylight, for the first time in many a year.
Austin A50 Cambridge
With more light on the subject, it became clear that the nearside rear wing was also in a poorly state beneath the grime, and on opening the boot, it was clear that welding would also be required around the boot aperture, the rear inner wings, and to the edges of the floor, despite the garage being dry inside. On the upside, the original tools were still dotted about, amongst the general clutter. All the tyres were flat as a pancake, so a rope was tied to the rear axle. The other end was connected to our tow vehicle, and the Austin gently towed outside so that all four sides of the car could finally be got at.
At about this time, it started to rain, so we retired to the cover of the garage, leaving a small 12v compressor to pump each tyre in turn while we surveyed the dusty, crusty old Austin. It also allowed us to have a root around in the garage for any bits and pieces that belonged to the car. A 1960s BP oil drain tray was discovered, as were some old grease guns. In an old filing cabinet, amongst some household items, I found a small notebook. In it was a record of every trip the Austin's owner had made in the car since purchasing it in 1957, with notes on fuel, spare parts purchased, and work undertaken at nearby garages - what a find, we could so easily have not found it.
The barn-find condition Austin car
With the tyres all holding air, it didn't take long to put it on the trailer, and wave goodbye to the previous owner. The journey back passed without incident, and the Cambridge was soon back at my pal's garage awaiting a hoped-for restoration. Had I not had several project vehicles sat at home already, I'd have been tempted to put this one back on the road myself (I probably should have done really).
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