Austin Cambridge A55 MkII (1959 - 1961)

Although the A40 of 1958 was the first Farina-styled BMC car to make its appearance, the family of B-Series cars launched progressively from December 1958 was commercially the most important of all. It was this finned design, eventually built as Austin, Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley, which led to BMC being accused of cynical badge-engineering - yet the critics all conveniently forgot the fact that sales boomed during the 1960s when the process was at its height, so BMC must have been getting something right!

The first B-Series Farina car to be announced was the Wolseley 15/60 of December 1958, and the Austin-badged car, given the name of A55 Cambridge Mk II, followed it in January 1959, actually as the first Longbridge-built derivative from this family. It took over directly from the A40/A50/A55 MkI family of 1954-58.

All five cars used the same basic body structure, with different nose treatment and sometimes different rear details to make them different, but all used the same, rather squared-up, four-door passenger cabins and one version or another of the ubiquitous B-Series engine/transmission package. As launched in 1959, the A55 Mk II had a rather severe, square, mesh front grille, very prominent fins and a body style which left the wheels well tucked in and looking a touch too small for the rest of the machine. There was a plain and simple instrument display, a split-bench front seat arrangement and a rather willowy centre-floor gear-change position (a steering-column change was optional, but few such cars appear to have been built); the handbrake lever was tucked away between the driver's seat cushion and the door sill.

Mechanically there were no surprises, except that the 1,489cc engine had adopted the 'Nuffield' type of SU carburation and gained a few horsepower in the process. There was no transmission alternative, the overdrive and Manumatic options of the obsolete A55 having been dropped when that car disappeared.

At first there was only the four-door saloon, but from the spring of 1960 a neat four-door Countryman estate car version was added to the line-up (this style also being offered for the Morris Oxford, but not the MG/Riley/Wolseley versions).

This was the BMC period in which Austin and Morris dealer chains still had a separate existence, still fought each other in thousands of high streets for individual sales, and still demanded their own versions of every range to sell. Nowadays, of course, it goes without saying that the Austin A55 MkII was exactly as fast, economical and spacious as the Morris Oxford Series V, but in 1959 it was more than dealer's reputation was worth actually to admit this!

This situation persisted throughout the 1960s, by which time the A55 had become the A60, a change which occurred in late 1961.

Austin A55 Cambridge Mk II specification

Produced: Longbridge, 1959-61. 359,325 cars built, including the earlier 1957-59 A55 model.

General layout: Unit-construction, pressed-steel body-chassis structure, in 4-seater, 4-door saloon car style. Front-mounted engine driving rear wheels.

Engine and transmission: BMC B-Series engine, 4-cylinder, ohv, in-line 1,489cc, 73.02 x 88.9mm, 52bhp at 4,350rpm; 82lb ft at 2,100rpm; 4-speed gearbox, no synchromesh on 1st gear; centre-floor gear-change or steering-column change; live (beam) rear axle with hypoid-bevel final drive.

Chassis: Independent front suspension, coil springs and wishbones. Cam-and-lever steering. Rear suspension by half-elliptic leaf springs. Front and rear drum brakes. 5.90-14in tyres.

Dimensions: Wheelbase 8ft 3.25in; front track 4ft 0.87in; rear track 4ft 1.87in; length 14ft 10in; width 5ft 3.5in; height 4ft 11.75in. Unladen weight (approx) 2,473lb.

Typical performance: Maximum speed 78mph; 0-60mph 23.6sec; standing 1/4-mile 22.5sec: overall fuel consumption 28mpg.

Launch Price: £802

Derivatives: Estate car (Countryman) from late 1960. The A60 of 1961 was a further developed version of the A55 Mk II. All other B-Series Farinas were closely related.

Fate: Discontinued in 1961 in favour of the updated A60 model.

Trivia fact: Austin A55 Mk2: ADO 9 or Austin Drawing office 9 was the nearest to production car to Farina's design proposal. This was the only car in this family to be built exclusively at Longbridge as although the A60 started it' s production at Longbridge it moved to Cowley to make way for the 1800, the car that was supposed to replace it.

Source: "The Cars of BMC" - Graham Robson (Motor Racing Publications, 1987)