My First Car: Austin A30

The body gave a clue to the power beneath
The body gave a clue to the power beneath
Being older than some, my first car takes us back into the mists of British automotive history. In 1970 I was a student at Bristol Uni. The first thing I did at the Fresher’s Fair was join the motor club, notwithstanding the fact that my only means of transport was a 1957 James Captain motorbike (don’t ask).

Soon I was navigating on road rallies in a Hillman Imp (beg its pardon, a Singer Chamois) but, basically, I was crap at the job, throwing up regularly and missing checkpoints. I wasn’t cut out to be a navigator, I needed to be driving. Badly. The solution came in the shape of a 1955 Austin A30, for sale with MOT and tax at a local garage for £20. I hummed and ha-ed at the thought of such a major investment but eventually I sold the bike for £15 and the Austin was mine.

Ah, the heady sensation of an 803cc A series engine with 30bhp under my right foot. And cable operated back brakes. And 5.20 cross ply remould tyres. I can still remember parking her proudly in the hall of residence car park and standing back to admire her. I wasn’t put off when I lifted the wads of old carpet in the driver’s footwell and found, well, nothing at all really, except a good view of the road beneath.

Displaying the lateral thinking required for old car ownership, I ‘borrowed’ the crumb tray from the Baby Belling cooker in the kitchen on my floor and after a bit of hammering to reshape it, pop riveted and fibre glassed it into service as my new floor. Perfect. (I must return it some day.)

I never actually rallied the A30 but it did carry me and a friend from Bristol to the Lake District where we assayed Honister Pass. At the steepest part it became clear that I would need 1st gear so I executed the perfect double declutch (no synchromesh on 1st) but the jerk when I let the clutch in with full throttle was enough to displace the fan belt. We arrived at the top in a huge cloud of steam but from there it was downhill all the way.

On another occasion it occurred to me that I seemed to slow down for corners more than other folk. I therefore resolved not to slow down for the next bend. Fortunately I was on a country lane at the time and the hedge provided a very soft landing. I climbed out of the passenger door in time to see the inside wheels still turning slowly in the air.

Eventually, the next MOT was due and by now the front lever arm shocks were totally shot – a situation that was apparent whenever I attempted a ‘sporty’ approach to a favourite corner with a rough road surface. The little Austin simply refused to turn in. Moreover, an axle seal had gone, soaking one drum brake in oil. Still, nothing ventured so I put it in for its test.

The tester disappeared up the road to conduct the brake test (no rolling road in those days) and I watched as a cloud of smoke came from just one back wheel and the car slewed across the road. He returned and commented thoughtfully, ‘she’s pulling a bit under brakes’, which was the understatement of the year.

So my Austin had to go and without MOT or tax I sold her for £22.50, a profit of £2.50. I thought ‘there’s nothing to this car owning lark’ as I sank £200 in a Morris Minor van. How very wrong that turned out to be…

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  • Briskdub 28 Nov 2012

    What a great read. My first car was an A35 (3604E where are you now!). My dad taught me to drive and on my first lesson I was stopped by the plod. I hadn't got half a mile from home; apparently there was a bit of the E missing off the number plate! That wasn't then only thing missing by the way - I filled the sills with chicken wire and isopon and hand painted the whole car sky blue to match my local football team.
    It's so different today. Back then you never knew if you were ever going to get to your destination and no mobiles of course. Loads more adventures mind you!

  • steev0 20 Feb 2012

    My father had a green A30 in 1970 too. I remember him transporting my granny and her friend squeezed into the back seat, with 6 year old me on their knees and my mum in the front. On attempting to take away from a junction with a bit of an incline, the front end of the car rose up and the back grounded! It was like something from the Wacky Races. I think we all had to get out until my dad got the car on the level again further up the road!

  • 357RS 13 Jan 2012

    I did several jobs on a friends A30, mainly fixing the brakes so they at least showed some intention of slowing the car slightly, while having a 1962 A40 Mk1 as my first car. A bargain for £30.

    My introduction to car DIY came very quickly as the gearbox had no working synchro on any gear so I learnt to double declutch and robbed a scrap A40 of all usable bits for a fiver.

    It taught me something about oversteer although maybe not enough since I parked it on its side once.
    Seating capacity may have been 4 but in a tight spot I found it could cope with 10, not necessarily all on the seats.
    The car was black so in a very hot summer I decided that it would be good to try to fry an egg on the roof. Standing on the roof created a suitable dent in which to break the egg but it still ran everywhere and set into a horrible mess that needed Brillo pads to remove it.

    On one occasion when it was not running I needed to get the front wheels up on the wheel ramps. With that lightbulb feeling I put it in 1st gear and put my back into winding the starter crank. Surprisingly I managed to get the car to the top of the ramps when the brilliant idea suddenly seemed a little less so; I had to yell for my Mum to come out and apply the brake - I could see no sensible way to let go of the starter crank and run round to stamp on the brake while retaining both arms!!

    Like most it eventually succumbed to tin work so I cut it up, mostly with just a hammer and chisel, and took it to the scrappy.

    Happy days.

  • grahamw48 05 May 2010

    The A30 has the very small rear window.

    Our first family car. smile

  • Morningside 05 May 2010

    I notice that Beccles auction (durrents) have a A30 (5) on offer - Dont know when but saw it parked out the front.

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