Turning this 1950s shopping trolley into a Goodwood Revival-style roadburner is both affordable and uncomplicated, as Nigel Boothman explains.
Formula One legend and motoring playboy James Hunt loved his A35 van, saying how much he enjoyed sliding it around on its cross-ply tyres. And if they’re fun as standard, they’re a lot more fun with a few upgrades. Plus, they make terrific racing cars – Rae Davis, the UK’s main tuning specialist for the model, thinks there are at least six currently being built to add to the numbers already on track.
The A30 appeared in 1951 with an OHV A-series engine of just 803cc and 28bhp before growing up a bit in ’56 when the A35 arrived with 948cc and a remote gearchange. If you just want an entertaining road car or something for low-budget road rallying, the starting point should perhaps be two cars rather than one. Buy an A30/35 with a decent shell (£2000-plus) and a thoroughly rusty 1275cc MG Midget (about £300), and you’ll have many of the parts you need, ready to swap, as MG and BMC specialist Andrew Doney of Edinburgh Sports Cars explains.
‘The Midget’s stub axles can be fitted to allow the front disc brakes to be used, and ideally you’d swap the pedalbox into the Austin as well. This requires a little cutting and welding but lets you use the better master cylinder with the larger reservoir, so pedal effort is reduced.’
The Midget’s front anti-roll bar can go on too, where there is none as standard. You should avoid stiffer rear springs unless the racetrack beckons, and even then, firmer damping is more important. ‘It’s much better to go for a stiff front end and a softer rear on an A30 or A35,’ says Doney. ‘Stiffening the rear will cause the car to hop about.’
Uprated dampers are available, but make sure any aftermarket items aimed at Midgets will actually work. Rae Davis gives an example: ‘People ask me to make them a special anti-roll bar, because they’ve found that the Midget one won’t fit after they’ve bolted on a telescopic damper conversion. It’s better to buy the appropriate bits first time round.’
With serious power (100bhp or more), you’ll need stronger half-shafts and maybe a tie-bar kit to remove axle tramp under hard acceleration. For more modest changes, the only modifi cation needed at the back is the Midget’s taller differential. The Midget’s 1275cc engine boosts an A35 from 34bhp to 65bhp – but for many, that’s just the starting point. Top of the tree might be one of Rae Davis’s racing engines: an all-steel 1293cc unit that makes 130bhp and costs around £8500.
The steering box should be left alone, especially as most competition regulations forbid changing to a rack. Wider wheels and tyres are popular, but you’ll have to roll the rear wing edges to get rubber under those arches.
PRODUCED: 1951-59 (vans and estates survived longer)
ENGINES: 803cc/948cc 4-cyl
PRICES: £500 (rusty project) to £5000 (spiffing original or restored)
UPSIDE: Tiny, nimble, gets bucketloads of attention and the bits are cheap.
DOWNSIDE: Hefty chaps will feel they’re denting the performance
WHY YOU WANT ONE: Giant-killing exploits at Goodwood have given the model race credibility without harming the cute classic image
CLUB: Austin A30 A35 Owners Club (www.austina30a35ownersclub.co.uk)
Rae Davis Racing: www.raedavisracing.com / 020 8570 8858)
Moss Europe (www.moss-europe.co.uk / 020 8867 2020)
Frontline (www.mgcars.org.uk/frontline / 01235 832632
Edinburgh Sports Cars (www.edinburghsportscars.co.uk / 0131 654 1613)
Bull Motif (www.austina30a35parts.com)
PARTS PRICES: (various sources above)
OE Borg & Beck clutch: £109.95
Larger (9”) brake discs and calipers: £445.95
Uprated water pump: £14.95
Supercharger kit for 1275cc engine: £3058
K&N Sports air filters: £40 - £140 depending on model
Facet electric fuel pump, positive earth: £70
Dynalite alternator conversion: £435.95
Uprated lever-arm dampers, front/rear, each: £95.95/£84.95
Published in the January 2011 issue of Classic Car Mart.
To subscribe to Classic Car Mart click here.