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Homepage. This page: A former owner of two Austin A40 Somersets recalls his time with both cars in the 1960s.

Austin A40 Somerset.

I first spotted the colour photo shown below of a 1950's Austin Somerset in November 2018, on Facebook. After contacting the source of this great photo, Dave Hunt, the story of how the two A40s came to be purchased swiftly followed, and it's thanks to Dave that I can publish the photo, and his recollections, of the two Somersets here, on OCC. As a former owner of a Somerset myself (that a subsequent owner converted into a factory-style pickup of all things - the story of that conversion can be found in the Austin cars section of the OCC Forum, here), I particularly enjoyed these memories.
Anyway, back to Dave's A40 story now ...

A tale of two Somersets and a roll-over.

"1961 saw me on a BSA C12 250, but after almost a year, I thought a car would be better. On the spur of the moment, I went into a shop and bought a paper to scan the ads. In there was an A40 Somerset for sale in Congresbury, Somerset. I went straight down and it was someone who had towed caravans with it (or so he said). The test drive showed a very severe snatch in first, and I should have turned it down, but was so keen to get a car that I agreed to buy it. I took it on Hire Purchase but cleared it all up within about three weeks, and it was mine. This would be March/April 1962. After a short while, it started to misfire, and someone told me it would be a head gasket. I had never done any major repairs but I had a go and did the job. After a couple more weeks it happened again, and the chap asked if I had tightened the cylinder head down in sequence? "What?" I told him I had done them from the ends in or something, and he explained it should be from the centre, working outwards alternately. So I stripped it again and found the head was warped and the head needed new inserts. I got that done and rebuilt it."
A40 Somerset

Brake failure.

"Over the years I went all over the place, and found that on long runs, the brakes would fail. The back axle whined so I had put Duckhams white oil in it to cut the noise own. Then one day, July 28th 1963, we had been to London and Tilbury looking at ships, (funnily enough, as I type this, my wife is on the phone to one of the girls that we went with 55 years on!!!!), and I dropped my friend and his girl, (the one on the phone), and I went off with my girl-friend. After the kisses and cuddles, I set off down this country lane and towards the end, the road comes out onto a main road, and as I came to the last bend, found I had no brakes. I had to think quick, and chose to turn into the embankment to stop it, expecting a crunched wing. We were only going maybe 20mph guesstimate, but it was down an incline and with a bend and the main road ahead, we would have gained speed. However, the bank was not steep enough to stop the car, and it bounced though some thin bush/small trees, and came to a stop within yards. BUT..... the bank was too steep to hold it upright, and it rolled over onto the roof. I daren't think of what the view was with us two upside down and probably entangled when trying to exit the car."
"Petrol was pouring out onto the road, almost a full tank, as I had refilled at Reading. The windscreen just popped out without being broken. The fire brigade washed it all away and the car was taken to a local garage where they said they couldn't find the reason for the brake failure. It was always on a long run, and I thought the handbrake was binding so had slackened it right off. (We learn as we get older, don't we?). When I checked the brakes, I saw white oil on the shoes one side and realised the failure was from the back axle. It seems that the back axle was overfilled and the pressure build up on long runs caused it to go through the seals, so again, I learned from that."

More work required.

"The car was taken to my hired lock up, and I bought an A40 pickup and a 1949 Hillman Minx whilst I worked on getting the car back on the road. The pickup was exchanged for a Somerset write off, which I used for spares and cut up the body for scrap. I put my back into the seats, feet into the roof and pushed like mad, to get the roof back into position, but there were creases everywhere, so I used filler. The end result was a finish looking more like the Alps than a smooth surface. That's where the repaint came in. I cannot spray without runs, so I got hold of some brushing cellulose undercoat. And that is what you see in my photo. I didn't do the wheels at that point, but at least had the car back on the road. I never got down to the top coat in those colours, because I later met the girl who became my wife, and she thought it was rusty !! I eventually repainted it beige again."
"After a while, I bought a grey one, which you can see behind in the picture, and I kept the first one in lay-up. In 1967, a year after we were married, we were on our way to Kent for a wedding. The big end went and I damaged the crank shaft. I managed to drive it back home, all 180 miles of it, and then broke it up and put "Bessie" back on the road. Old Faithful then served us for a bit longer, when I sold it for 17 pounds. (7.00 for the new battery, and a tenner for the car), and we bought a maroon Corsair."
"I think I had better stop here. I can see you yawning, and I can take a hint!!"
Thanks for putting the article together Dave, the A40 roll must have left quite an impression - in more ways than one. As a footnote to Dave's story, a similar occurrence happened to the next owner of my wife's A30. We sold the car and it went to a new home in the USA. A garage-owner spent some time checking over and adjusting various items on the car, including the brakes .... I later heard that the brakes failed shortly thereafter while its driver was negotiating a gently sloping road, the end result being that the A30 ambled up a grass bank, and slowly tipped onto its side. Fortunately, no lasting damage was done.
Many more tales of car ownership in years gone by can be found in the motoring memories section.

More A40 Somerset pages on OCC.

Two pages of period photographs that feature Austin's A40 Somerset model, can be found within the image archive section here at Old Classic Car. Page one is here and page 2 is here. A few notes that cover my time spent with a beige Somerset in the early 2000s can be found on this page (before it was converted into a pickup).

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