There’s something entirely lovable about old ‘county’ Austins. The bulbous lines are quite fantastic – like scaled-down Bentleys to my eyes. Again though, they have been rather a blind-spot for me. I’ve driven quite a few Sevens right up to the Ruby, and I have also driven an Austin Ten – which was hard work and not very pleasant. The ‘county’ Austins have passed me by though, and I’ve only driven later Westminsters and Cambridges.
Here was my opportunity though – a 1953 A40 Somerset that had been driven to Wales all the way from Southend-on-Sea. I first had to be reminded where the gears were. It’s the same pattern as my old Westminster, but that was a few years ago now. I was impressed. This column-change felt absolutely marvellous. A quick twist of the ignition/headlamp switch – yes, for some reason they are combined – and the engine fired into life. This was actually a 1489cc Wolseley B-Series rather than the 1200cc original. That’s a jump from 42bhp to about 55, enough to get the 0-60mph time down from a laughable (even to a 2CV owner) 36 seconds to something more like 25 at a guess.
Certainly, as I accelerated, enjoying the delicious first gear whine, it felt brisk enough. Not quick by any means, but not too shabby either. It seemed to handle far better than I expected too, with the huge wheel seemingly free of play given the steering box. It felt more positive about the idea of going around a bend than the Westminster did too and while it hardly encouraged you to really chuck it in, it didn’t cause the bottom to clench unwillingly either.
It all left me feeling like a bit of a fraud really. If a 23-year old can use such a vehicle as daily transport, why haven’t I got anything older than 1986?