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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  • beanbag 20 Oct 2008

    The bike looks fantastic! Why shouldn't we ask!!!????

  • wackywedge 20 Oct 2008

    id love an a30 have you seen them racing at goodwood against ford falcons and jaguars etc they are good to tune and easy to make handle and they can look nice.

    Edited by wackywedge on Monday 20th October 10:01

  • Phanmall 20 Oct 2008

    The old A30 brings back many fond memories for me also, my A30 cost me £8 back in 1968! I can't imagine how young drivers these days would cope with such a weedy engine. I know mine would do 65, because I got a speeding ticket the same week I passed my test. In those days it was like a badge of honour!

    The one abiding memory of shoe string motoring in the late 60s was those bl**dy trafficator arms. They never worked and eventually they would end up stuck out permanently only to be broken by the first unsuspecting person who got out of the car. The next step was to sellotape them up and after that they would never come out so you had to be adept at driving with one hand and banging the door pillar with the other, which was always a good lesson in car control on left turns!

  • S3_Graham 20 Oct 2008

    good old read that!! makes me kind of sad that my first car was a nova!

  • dapprman 20 Oct 2008

    [Start Hovis advert music]
    When I were a lad .....


    Actually, brought back memories of my first car and my uni days (though a decade and a half later). I think all true petrol heads should own a car at some point that is older than them clap

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