The 1951 Austin A-40 Van
by Rick Feibusch
Before we get into Austin history or the resurrection of this particular example, let me state that this is an extremely rare commercial vehicle. Though the majority of Austin A-40s were exported, few 10 cwt. vans or their sister skirted, step side pickups ever made it to American shores.
Overseas, these Austins were considered a bigger-than-average truck and were worked to death years ago. In England, the dreaded tin worm ate away most of what was left. In the US, the small engine and compact size categorized the little van somewhere between toy truck and sedan delivery. The few that we did get, had a hard time making it through the rodders of the fifties and the "flower children" of the late-sixties.
The A-40 was introduced in 1948 in two- and four-door sedan form. As an effort by the British government to rebuild it's war shattered economy, steel allotments became based upon export volume. "Export or Die" was the slogan! The A-40 was the first all-new Austin since before WWII. This large-by-British- standards car was built with export in mind. It featured a ladder frame, coil-springs in front, semi-elliptic leaves in back and a modern OHV 1200 cc four.
During the A-40's first year, well over 100,000 had been exported; 9672 to the United states. By 1950, it was announced that the A-40 had been identified as the single British product which earned the most US dollars for England - over 470 million in three years!
The Austin A-40 van, pickup, and a "Countryman" station wagon were developed in the late forties. All used the sedan steel bodywork from the doors forward, with formed aluminum at the rear. While the pickup had a pre-war style wood framed bed, the van bodies were stressed and welded. The Countryman version was basically a van with side windows and seats. Early models had fabric top inserts like a mid-'30s Ford, but these were dropped when the truck was updated in mid 1951. Though the A-40 passenger cars were superceded by the new Somerset models in early 1952, the A-40 commercials soldiered on in various guises well into the fifties.
This particular example, owned by Randolph Williams of Marina Del Rey, CA, languished in a Spokane, WA, junkyard for years. Like many rare cars that just "show up", this van was saved by years of neglect. It was spotted by a Don Shaver who acquired it to give to his friend, Art Blair, for Christmas in 1988. Art tired of the project and offered the van for sale in a Canadian publication. Randolph, an avid Austin collector, found out about it, bought it and had it shipped home on the strength of a few photos and an honest description.
Randolph had the van rebuilt from the ground up. A later model 1800 cc Austin engine bolts in place of the powerless, original 1200, and an Austin-Healey 100-4 ring and pinion raise the rear end ratio. Whitewall shod 16-inch passenger car wheels replace the heavy-duty 17-inch truck units. These minor mods allow this sage green oldie to cruise the highway comfortably at 65 mph and ride like a passenger car. Though near show condition, Randolph uses his A-40 from day-to-day in his pedal car company, Max Austin Productions, that market - you guessed it - Austin pedal cars!