Austin cars of the 1960s

Austin A60 Cambridge, 1964
Austin A60 Cambridge, 1964

Austin was part of BMC for most of the 1960s. BMC joined forces with Leyland to form British Leyland in 1968. The BMC brands in the 1960s were Austin, Morris, MG, Riley, Wolesley and Vanden Plas.

Austin cars ranged from the Mini, through to medium sized family cars, to large and powerful cars saloons. The tie up with Donald Healey added a small sports car, the Austin Healey Sprite and the powerful Austin Healey 3000.

A complete list of Austin cars from the 1960s is:

Mini

Austin Mini
An early Austin Mini

Alec Issigonis designed the Mini in the late 1950s. It was BMC's answer to the bubble cars from German manufacturers which were taking away sales from BMC.

BMC sold the Mini as both an Austin and a Morris Mini from 1959. The Austin was originally called an 'Austin Seven' after Austin's small car from the 1930s. The public did not like the name Austin Seven and the name 'Mini' stuck.

The original Mini was basic. It did not even have wind up windows.

In 1967 Austin launched a MkII version of the Mini. It had a few minor improvements and the option of a 1000cc engine offering some useful extra power.

Mini Cooper

Austin Mini Cooper S grill badge
Austin Mini Cooper S grill badge

Austin/Morris Minis were available in a more sporting guise, the Mini Cooper. The basic Cooper had a 1000cc engine with a higher state of tune and twin carburettors. The Mini Cooper 'S' was an extremely fast car. The Cooper 'S' boasted a range of tuned engines and better brakes. Top speeds were approaching the magic ton (100 mph).

Austin A40 Farina

The A40 Farina was a small car available with a boot or an estate. The styling was by Pininfarina of Italy. The estate had a two-part tailgate, but otherwise it was much a like small hatch-back.

The A40 Farina competed head-to-head with the Morris Minor, also by BMC and the Ford Anglia and Vauxhall Viva from the competition.

Austin 1100 and Austin 1300

Austin 1100, interior
The interior of the Austin 1100

Issigonis took the Mini concept a stage further with the 1100 range. BMC chose to launch the Morris version first in 1962. The Austin 1100 followed with different grill and minor styling tweaks.

Unlike the Mini, which was pure Issigonis, the final styling of the 1100 was done by Pininfarina of Italy. It had crisper, neater look to it. The quirky basic look of the Mini was fine for a revolutionary small car, but sharper styling was better for the more mainstream 1100.

The 1100/1300 range was a huge success. It was Britain's best-selling car from the 1960s.

In 1967 the Austin 1100 got a facelift and became the MkII. The Austin 1300 was introduced that year. It was also badged as a MkII.

Austin America

The Austin America was a specially-adapted Austin 1100 for the American market. BMC had done well with the MG 1100 in the USA. The Austin America was the car the dealers wanted.

It had an automatic gearbox as standard and seatbelts for front and rear passengers. Inside there were special seats with head restraints. It also had a unique steering wheel. The America was only sold in export markets and is rare in the UK.

Austin Cambridge

Austin A55 Cambridge
Austin A55 Cambridge

Morris was based in Oxford and so had a saloon called the Morris Oxford. Austin had the Austin Cambridge, named after the other famouse University town, but nowhere near Austin's factory in the West Midlands.

The Cambridge was Austin's mid-range saloon from 1954. By the start of the 1960s it had a smart new body designed by Pininfarina. The new style incorporated tail fins and some two-tone paint jobs.

The car was a medium-sized saloon with a 1500cc engine. In 1961 the whole range was upgraded and received a new 1600cc engine and a new body with a wider track.

The Cambridge soldiered on to the end of the 1960s with little improvement. It was a favourite with buyers who did not like the new-fangled front-wheel drive cars such as the Austin 1100, 1800 and Maxi.

Austin Maxi

Austin Maxi, interior
The interior of the original Austin Maxi, c1969

The Maxi was the first new car launched after the merger with Leyland in 1969. It was a true hatchback car with a five-speed gearbox and a 1500cc engine. There was just one model of the Maxi. The Maxi deserved to do well. Penny pinching let it down. BMC management insisted on using the same doors as the Austin 1800 (see below) and this spoilt the styling. The original Maxi was not a great success and Leyland hastily restyled it for the 1970s.

Austin 1800

Austin 1800 Mk I
A very late Austin 1800 Mk I from 1967

The Austin 1800 was introduced in 1964. This too was designed by Alec Issigonis. It was a front-wheel saloon with a huge passenger compartment. Unlike with the 1100, Issigonis did the design and styling. The design was plain looking for a large saloon.

The engine was the 1800cc version of the B-series engine used in the MGB, but in single carburettor form. The twin-carb version of the engine made it into the 1800 'S'.

The Austin 1800 was a quite a risk for BMC. It was a bigger than the medium-sized saloons, but not as big as the large cars that the major manufacturers made, such as the Ford Zephyr, Vauxhall Velox and Austin Westminster.

The Austin 1800 was a modern, practical car, but the styling was not well liked. It was wide rather than long and earned the knick-name 'Land Crab'. BMC's risk did not pay off.

The range got a facelift in 1968 with better styling, complete with tail fins, which were unfashionable by then.

Austin Westminster

Austin A110 Westminster
Austin A110 Westminster from 1967

Top of Austin's range was the Westminster. The Westminster was designed by Pininfarina. It was a big brother to the Austin Cambridge. The styling looked well-balanced and pleasing.

Taking many mechanical parts from the Austin-Healey 3000, these big cars had big engines and oodles of power. They got better and better throughout the 1960s. The original model, the A99, boasted 103bhp and a top speed of 98mph. The final engine of the final model developed 120bhp and it had a top speed of 102mph.

Inside the interiors were constantly improved. The last model had a wooden fascia and picnic tables for rear-passengers.

Austin 3-litre

Austin 3-Litre
Austin Princess 3-Litre 1968-9. This particular car was originally sold to an undertaker.

BMC replaced the Westminster with the Austin 3-litre in 1968. It was more of planners' and accountants' car than a designer's one.

BMC management thought: why not save production costs by adapting the Austin 1800 to be the new big car?

The body was extended with a longer nose and bigger boot. Just like the Westminster the 3-Litre was luxuriously trimmed but it had less room inside than the Austin 1800. The 3-litre was also slower than the outgoing Westminster.

At its launch in 1967 the Austin 3-litre cost £1418. The Austin 1800 cost just £924 and the outgoing Westminster £1231 in deluxe spec with automatic transmission. Buyers must have questioned if the 3-litre was worth the extra cost.

It was not a great success for BMC.

By Steven Braggs, September 2021

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ 20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles ★