Why you’d want an Austin Cambridge or Westminster
Representing a sea-change from the dumpy, separate chassis A40 Somerset and A70 Hereford (and the A90 Atlantic), the Cambridge and Westminster ranges brought unitary construction – first used by Austin on the A30 – to the British firm’s larger saloons.
The engine and front suspension were on a separate subframe, rubber-mounted to the body to reduce vibration, noise and harshness.
The styling was all-new, too – modern enough for 1954, though after a few years the Duke of Edinburgh famously sent Leonard Lord scurrying to Farina for the next model.
But to today’s classic owner they have a wonderfully solid, traditional feel and style – and it would be unfair to consider them devoid of innovation.
The Austin badge on the bonnet proudly rode over a strategically positioned intake (refined by wind-tunnel testing, no less) for the ‘air-conditioning system’ – not air-con as we know it today, but ram-air ventilation and heating far superior to most contemporaries.
The Westminster boasted the new C-series six-cylinder engine and, despite its near-identical styling, it was both wider and longer than the Cambridge – the only panels shared were the doors.
The 2.6-litre engine was enough to give it a 4mph advantage over rival ‘sixes’ from Ford and Vauxhall, despite having just 85bhp at first.
Mechanically, there were fewer surprises on the smaller model. The B-series engine was only a few years old, and would go on for decades: in 1200cc A40 form it was gutless by modern standards, but the A50 had the new 1489cc version and some surviving A40s have been uprated.
The engine was modified considerably to cope with its enlargement, and the 1200 also benefited from the stronger block and crank, bigger bearings and improved cooling.
A column gearchange was standard at first, because it was still fashionable to carry three people on the front seat, but a hydraulic clutch and baulk-ring synchromesh (on the top three ratios) brought improvements in drivability.
The old A40 had been Britain’s most-exported car, contributing significantly to the country’s post-war recovery; the Cambridge continued this trend and was even built in Japan, by Nissan.
Sixty-five years down the line, rot has claimed many and Westminsters are now as numerous as Cambridges, but both offer strong classic appeal and a usability that belies their age.
Images: James Mann
Austin Cambridge & Westminster: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Being shared with the Austin-Healey, the Westminster ‘six’ is well served for parts and is a lusty, low-stressed unit offering great durability.
Four-cylinder engines also benefit from the equally robust B-series being shared with others, though parts for the 1200 can be rare. Engines tend to run hot on modern fuels.
Austin persevered with Zenith carbs, while Morris/MG used SUs. Parts are available but a rebuild can be tricky – conversion to SUs is straightforward.
The front suspension can get very sloppy, but can be rebuilt or replaced.
Costs will add up if it all needs doing, especially steering box and dampers.
A column gearchange was fitted to all but late cars; the example photographed here is a rare Borg-Warner automatic.
Linkage, synchros and bearings can all wear on the manual versions.
All but basic models had leather trim, which a good trimmer can repair, with leather cloth on non-wearing areas. A good original interior is a bonus.
Austin Cambridge & Westminster: before you buy
While the A40 Cambridge has to work hard to keep up with modern traffic, the A50 and A55 are reasonably lively for their age and the Westminsters offer respectable performance.
It’s no surprise they’re a popular choice for endurance rallying with good ground clearance, a comfortable ride and great tuning potential. Roll and understeer in corners is the norm, but they should not feel loose or wallowy.
Check the engine that’s fitted: Cambridges are often uprated to MGA/B spec, Westies to Healey 3000. Raising the axle ratio is an option for more relaxed cruising, too.
Engines show wear in blue smoke, rattles and knocks before the pace is noticeably dulled – poor performance is more likely to be due to carburettor wear or a tired ignition system. Get a compression check if in doubt: unleaded petrol will eventually cause valve-seat failure, while long periods of disuse can lead to piston rings breaking.
These cars date from when servicing meant 18 grease points every 1000 miles, and oil and filter every 3000 – look for evidence that this has been maintained, because wear sets in rapidly if it’s neglected.
Rubber bushes fail if contaminated with oil. Steering boxes often leak; heavier oil is okay, or even semi-fluid grease.
Lever-arm shock absorbers seem an anachronism, but are fine if looked after. Check for play at the inner end of the top wishbone caused by loose/failing splines, necessitating complete replacement (parts are hard to find). A soggy ride can indicate worn dampers, but they may just need refilling with oil.
Austin Cambridge & Westminster: price guide
- A40: £1000/3000/7000*
- A50 & A55: £1200/4000/8000*
- A90 & A95: £2000/8000/14,000*
- A105: £2500/9000/15,000*
- Vanden Plas: £4000/15,000/25,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Austin Cambridge & Westminster: history
1954 Oct: A40/A50 Cambridge launched; A90 Westminster with optional overdrive
1956 May: A105 added, with twin SUs, lower suspension, plus half-ton van and pick-up
1956 Oct: 13in wheels replace 15in on Cambridge; A50 gets optional overdrive or Manumatic; A90 replaced by A95 with longer tail, new grille, two-tone paint (shared with A105); A95 Countryman estate added
1957 Feb: Cambridge facelift; 5in longer A55 replaces A40/A50, with fins, new lights, wraparound rear screen, optional floor change
1958 Jan: A105 Vanden Plas added (500 made); Jack Sears wins first BSCC with A105
1958 Oct: A55 replaced by Farina-styled MkII
1959 Oct: A95/A105 replaced by A99 Farina
1962 Van/pick-up facelift, plus Morris version
1963 Van/pick-up get 1622cc B-series (A60)
1969 Sun-Tor camper launched, based on A60
1971 Half-ton van and pick-up production ends
The owner’s view
This rare A95 Westminster automatic has only recently joined Paul Campbell’s eclectic classic car collection – of which the star is an MG VA Magna he’s owned since he was 18 – but it fills a special place.
“My father had an A105 when I was 10,” he recalls. “It was a lovely car, but my older brother put his finger through the rear wing when it was only three years old – there’s a terrible rust trap there!
“This one has only done 47,000 miles from new, and has had a respray but it’s never been rebuilt. It has lots of power and a nice, smooth engine.
“It’s been fitted with electric power steering, servo brakes and a Kenlowe Hot Start. The auto was an extra £150 when new so they are rare: only three others are known to exist.
“I absolutely adore it – it gets lots of interest everywhere I go and I’m using it more and more.”
FORD CONSUL/ZEPHYR/ZODIAC MkII
Ford replaced its MkI range in ’56, competing with Austin with a modern, US-influenced shape that was a huge success, especially in six-cylinder form.
Sold 1956-’62 • No. built 682,400 • Price now £4-15,000*
Launched before the Austin but always behind in sales, despite the same engines and the option of an estate version of the Oxford and Isis.
Sold 1954-’59 • No. built 179,649 • Price now £2-12,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Austin Cambridge & Westminster: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Whether you’re looking for a classic to cruise in to beauty-spot picnics or to rally to the ends of the earth, the Cambridge and Westminster ranges should be able to provide the answer to your dreams.
Key areas for inspection are the quality of past corrosion repairs (and the need for more), originality and specification, and modifications.
Track down a good example, maintain it and it should prove remarkably economical to own and enjoy.
- Solid construction
- Spacious and comfortable interior
- Simple and relatively easy to restore, with good parts availability thanks to sharing most mechanical components with MGs and Healeys
- Great club back-up
- Rust can be rampant and tricky to sort with few repair panels available
- Trim is hard to find
Austin Cambridge & Westminster specifications
- Sold/no built 1954-’ 71/300,000 (4cyl), 60,400 (6cyl)
- Construction steel unitary
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1200/1489/1622cc ‘four’ or 2639cc ‘six’, single Zenith or twin SU carbs
- Max power 42bhp @ 4500rpm to 102bhp @ 4600rpm
- Max torque 58lb ft @ 2400rpm to 142lb ft @ 2400rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual/Manumatic, optional overdrive, or three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front double wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic springs, anti-roll bar; lever arm dampers f/r
- Steering cam and peg
- Brakes Girling drums
- Length 13ft 6¼in-15ft 1in (4128-4597mm)
- Width 5ft 1½in-5ft 4in (1562-1626mm)
- Height 5ft 1½in-5ft 3½in (1562-1613mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 3¼in-8ft 10in (2521-2692mm)
- Weight 2268-3164lb (1030-1438kg)
- Mpg 18-35
- 0-60mph 33-15.4 secs
- Top speed 70-96mph
- Price new £808-1235 (A55-A105, 1958)
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