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Buyer's Guide

The following guide was written by our Club Mechanic, Steve Turner.
References to pre-Farina cars are for models produced before 1959, such as the Austin A50 
4 Cylinder cars are broadly the 1500/1622cc B-Series, mid-size saloons, such as the Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge
6 Cylinder cars are the bigger, C-Series, executive models, such as Austin Westminster, Princess and Wolseley 6/110

The BMC range of pre-Farina and Farina saloons and estate cars are among the most practical and reliable cars ever produced. Although production ended in 1972, they are still capable of every day use though most are now treasured classics brought out during the summer months for shows and rallies. 

If you are looking for one of these great cars, follow our simple buying guide to help you find the right one for you.

The most important thing with any older car is the condition of the body and under side of the vehicle. Though exceptionally reliable both Farinas and earlier models to some extent were just as prone to rust as any other car of it's time. Careful checks must be made to the sills both inner and outer, the front floors and outriggers. 

One area that must be checked are the front A-posts which do corrode especially if the front doors have a tendency to drop - don't dismiss this as worn hinges! This area is almost impossible to repair without removing the front wings. 

Six cylinder Farina models and all pre-Farina models have inner wing strengtheners which continue from the A-post to just behind the headlight area. These also need very careful checking as they can be missed by some MOT testers and again cannot be repaired properly with the front wings in-situ. 

Other places to check for corrosion are the front cross-member under the radiator and around the anti roll bar mounts, the rear chassis around the spring shackles and the rear out riggers. Less important structurally but still time consuming to repair properly are the front grille closing panels on A60's and Oxford VI's.
The rest of the bodywork will be more obvious to check in all the usual places, such as front wings, rear wheel arches and door bottoms etc.
Repair panels are available for almost all areas of Farina bodywork and re-manufactured wings are available, although unless the wings are completely rotten, it is often easier to let in repair panels. 

Body checks for the commercial variants which are based on the pre-Farina Cambridge are the same but careful inspection should be made to the loading bay areas, rear doors and tail-gates on pick ups.

Mechanically these cars are just about as tough as they came in the 1950's and 1960's - their reliability was legendary. But as the youngest cars are at least 42 years old it is wise to make some checks before purchase. 

 Four cylinder engines can last over 150,000 miles but the six cylinder engines are not usually quite as long lived and can suffer from worn bores and have high oil consumption at relatively low mileages.
Bear in mind a full overhaul will set you back around £1,000 for a B-Series and more like £1,500 for 6 cylinder C-Series. 

Low oil pressure and a noisy bottom end usually signifies a full overhaul is on the cards. Some oil consumption is normal as are a few minor oil leaks, though excessive smoke will signify worn bores. Smoke on over-run may just be worn valve seals and this is not a great cause for concern and a cheap and fairly easy fix.
Expect some tappet rattle, in fact be wary of an over quiet engine as the vendor may have over tightened the valve clearances which will quickly result in burned valves. 

Both B & C series engines do need modifying with hardened valve seats to run on unleaded fuel although higher mileage engines will have work hardened their valve seats and many run happily without any additives or modification.

All parts to service and repair or overhaul a 1500 or 1622cc B-Series engine are still readily available at reasonable prices. The 2.6 and 3 litre C-Series 6 cylinder engines are also well served for spares but it is worth remembering any major repairs, although straight forward, are made more difficult by the shear size and weight of all major components.

The 4 litre Rolls Royce engine fitted to The VDP 4 Litre R is much more complicated to repair and parts are not quite as readily available. These engines though reliable can suffer all kinds of problems if neglected. Rattles signify worn valve gear, piston slap and little end wear.
Any overheating should be treated with the utmost suspicion as the all alloy construction means internal corrosion is often a factor.

The transmission and clutch are equally long lived though early models often prematurely loose the synchromesh on 2nd gear. Most owners live with this and double de clutching on down changes just becomes second nature. Later boxes have stronger baulk rings and cover high mileages without problems. 

Expect between 80 and 100,000 miles out of a clutch with normal use. Some juddering is often apparent but usually cured by replacing engine and or gear box mountings. 

Automatic transmission was offered on all but 1500cc models and is generally very reliable and trouble free though high mileage cars with tow bars fitted should be checked carefully. Problems usually are noises from the torque converter or lazy and slow up-changes. If acceleration is slow check the kick down cable is still working. These are still available but a fiddly job to replace.

The rear axle/differential is a strong unit and although some noise may be evident they rarely give any problems.

The steering and suspension are long lived if looked after properly. Neglected cars usually suffer from worn king pins, but with regular maintenance they can last in excess of 100,000 miles.

Early cars have more grease nipples that all need attention every 3,000 miles. Later cars still have grease nipples on the steering and these should not be neglected. Most owners like to attend to these every 1,000 miles or so.

Suspension bushes can collapse and if the car creaks at the front like an old barn door expect a full suspension overhaul before the next MOT.
A car that sits low at the rear end signifies worn or weak rear springs. These can usually be re tempered and replacements are still available. Many owners choose to fit stronger 7 leaf estate springs which last much longer and are not that much more expensive. 

Shock absorbers never did last long especially the front ones and a car that nods up and down or lurches on corners need the shockers replacing. Exchange reconditioned units are still available though new ones have been out of production for some time. 

All steering and suspension bushes track rods and king pins are available and replacement although time consuming is straightforward. A reamer is needed when overhauling the king pins though rebuilt stub axles can be obtained ready to bolt on. 

A problem confined to big Farinas is vague steering which is caused by the mounting bushes for the main front cross-member becoming worn. These are a major job to replace involving a full suspension strip and supporting the engine while the cross-member is removed.

Check for excessive play in the steering box. Some adjustment is possible but a worn box will fail the MOT. Replacements are available but this is quite an undertaking as the whole column comes out with the box.  
Power steering boxes on 6 cylinder models are prone to leaks but can be reconditioned. Most other likely mechanical maladies are the same as any other 60's British saloon and easily dealt with and parts still available.

Chrome work and body trim parts are now getting hard to source and although bumpers and the chrome body mouldings can be re-chromed, most re-chromers won't touch the  head light surrounds, door handles and tail light surrounds.

Wolseley & MG models share the same front side light indicator assemblies and these are very prone to corrosion. They are hard to find and usually expensive to replace. Be wary of any car with dim or none working front side lights.

The condition of the interior has to be an important consideration when looking at a possible purchase  Although carpets and furflex (door edging trim) are readily available, most of the interior is only available 2nd hand or will have to be re-trimmed.

Although never a ball-of-fire, four cylinder Farinas and earlier models are capable of keeping up with modern traffic but in standard form are a little out of their depth on motorways. Performance upgrades are available using mainly MGB parts. Engine swaps usually for the 1800 lump are quite common.
Five speed kits are available using the venerable type 9 Ford gearbox. It is also possible to fit an overdrive though some body modifications are needed.

The six cylinder range should provide you with as much power as you will need and more than capable of motorway conditions, though don't expect good fuel economy.

Whether you are looking for a near concourse show car, a nice usable one or something to restore Farinas have a lot to offer. Even now, 40+ years after production ended, they are still reasonably plentiful and with careful searching you can own the right one for you.

Values for Four Cylinder Cars

Cars for restoration from £350 upwards

Condition 3 cars between £800 and £1,500

Condition 2 cars between £1,500 and £2,500

Condition 1 cars from £2,500 to £5,000

Concourse or show standard up to around £7,000

 

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