Austin Westminster
Austin Westminster (Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Austin Westminster: A Guide to this British Classic Car

The Austin Westminster holds a distinguished place within the British automotive narrative as a range of vehicles that underpinned the nation’s mid-century motoring culture.

First introduced in 1954 by the Austin Motor Company, the Westminster series was intended to replace the preceding A70 Hereford models.

Renowned for their robust build and huge interiors, these vehicles catered to an era of motorists hungry for a blend of comfort and performance in their daily driving experience.

The cars in the Westminster series, identified by model numbers such as the A90, A95, and A110, stood out with their distinctive styling and engineering advances.

They showcased the shift towards monocoque construction in British car design, which was a move away from the traditional body-on-frame approach.

Westminster models encompassed both saloon and estate body styles, thereby offering versatility to a broad audience of consumers.

The culmination of their production in 1968, giving way to the new Austin 3-Litre, marked the end of an influential chapter in Austin’s history.

Key Takeaways

  • The Austin Westminster series was a pivotal development in British car manufacturing, replacing the A70 Hereford.
  • These vehicles were known for their solid construction and spacious interiors, making them popular in the mid-20th century.
  • Key advancements with the Westminster range included monocoque construction and a variety of body styles to suit different consumer needs.

History and Development

They played a pivotal role in establishing Austin as a manufacturer of sizeable family cars that offered a blend of practicality and performance.

Birth of Austin Westminster

The journey began with the Austin A90, introduced in 1954 to replace the outgoing A70 Hereford.

This vehicle set the precedent for quality and design in the Westminster series.

Initially, the A90 established itself as a popular choice among family car buyers seeking reliability and space.

The line quickly expanded to include various models, such as the A95 and A99, which offered enhanced performance and luxury features.

The Westminster flourished at the Longbridge plant, embodying the post-war motoring spirit of the era.

Evolution into Later Models

As the series progressed, the models evolved to meet the growing expectations of motorists.

The evolution led to the creation of the Austin A105, which was recognised for its higher-powered engine and refined interiors.

During the 1960s, Austin unveiled the A110, marking the top of the Westminster lineage.

With more potent engines and an expansive body design, the A110 catered to a market dominated by competitors such as Ford, Vauxhall, and Morris.

This model eventually paved the way for successors like the Austin 3 Litre.

Notably, badge-engineered versions of the Westminster were also manufactured under the prestigious Wolseley marque, exemplified by the Wolseley 6/99.

Design and Engineering

The Austin Westminster series is a testament to British automotive engineering, marking a significant evolution in design from its predecessor, the A70 Hereford.

The range boasted advancements in various technical aspects, from bodywork to engine specifications.

Bodywork and Chassis

The Westminster’s bodywork echoed the aesthetic of its time, with models like the A110 exhibiting the quintessential look of British automobiles from the 1950s and 60s.

The Farina design lineage is apparent, offering a distinct elegance.

The chassis incorporated a traditional setup with longitudinal mounting, supporting a body-on-frame construction, providing a durable foundation for the saloon.

Engine Specifications

Under the bonnet, the Westminsters featured the robust C-Series engine, starting from the 2.6-litre unit in the A90 to the more powerful 3-litre variant found in later models such as the A110.

With twin SU carburettors installed, they achieved a blend of performance and reliability.

Model Engine Capacity Configuration
A90 2.6-litre Inline-6
A95/A105 2.6-litre Inline-6
A99/A110 3-litre Inline-6

Transmission and Suspension

The Austin Westminster line commonly featured a 4-speed manual transmission with synchromesh on all forward gears facilitating smoother shifts.

An optional overdrive unit provided by Borg-Warner was a coveted feature for improved fuel economy at high speeds.

The cars used coil springs at the front with wishbone and anti-roll bars to improve stability, while the rear featured a classical leaf spring arrangement (which tended to squeak when dry).

Interior and Features

The Westminster was often appointed with a luxurious leather trim, affirming their position in the market as premium vehicles.

Despite their classic roots, some models were offered with modern amenities such as power steering and a sort of ram air ‘air-conditioning’, although these were considered optional.

The capacious interiors with their rich detailing spoke to the craftsmanship of the Longbridge factory craftsmen (can I still say that?).

Model Variants

The Austin Westminster series encompassed several distinct models, notably the A90, A95, A105, and later the A99 and A110, catering to various levels of luxury and performance demands within the large car segment of the 1950s and 60s.

Austin A90 Westminster

The Austin A90 Westminster debuted as a large and formidable saloon in 1954, aiming to succeed the A70 Hereford with enhanced space and a refined driving experience.

With a robust 2.6-litre C-Series straight-six engine, it established the Westminster as a reliable and comfortable vehicle for both families and business professionals.

Austin A95/A105 Westminster

Subsequent developments led to the Austin A95 and A105 Westminster models, both offering advanced features for the time and a premium edge over the initial A90.

The A105 notably boasted a luxurious wood veneer with the option of a high-performance upgrade – the Westminster Vanden Plas – often compared favourably to the upmarket Bentley in terms of interior appointments.

Austin A99/A110 Westminster

Later evolution in the series brought the Austin A99 and A110 Westminster.

Introduced in the early 1960s, these models were equipped with a more powerful 3-litre engine and featured a longer wheelbase to provide additional rear-seat legroom.

Balancing power with sophistication, the Westminster held its own against competitors, including those from Ford and Mercedes.

Commercial and Long-Wheelbase Models

Beyond personal use, the Westminster line also expanded into the commercial sector, offering long-wheelbase models. Also the police loved the big Westminster for catching crooks.

The utility variants were less common and often converted into hearses and ambulances, fulfilling a niche in the commercial vehicle sector during the 1930s.

Despite being primarily recognised as passenger saloons, the adaptability of the Westminster series allowed Austin to cater to a wider market, even encroaching on territories typically occupied by brands like Nissan, which also had a strong presence in commercial vehicles at the time.

Performance and Handling

The Austin Westminster series represents a range of large cars that delivered varying degrees of driving satisfaction.

The earlier models such as the A90 and A95 laid the groundwork for the more advanced A99, A105, and A110 versions.

Each incremental model brought improvements in power and drivability, frequently incorporating features like synchromesh gearboxes (no need to double de-clutch) and optional overdrive, enhancing the driving experience.

Driving Experience

These vehicles were equipped with a six-cylinder engine, which provided a smooth and powerful ride.

The A110 model, in particular, benefited from this robust engine, offering a more refined driving experience.

Options such as overdrive on third and fourth gears meant that longer drives could be undertaken with additional comfort and efficiency.

Handling Characteristics

The Westminster models were known for their distinct handling traits.

While they offered roomy interiors and favourable engine performance, their handling could sometimes be described as ‘wallowy‘.

The steering was often considered indirect, especially in the earlier models like the A90 – not helped by them having steering boxes.

However, later models such as the A99 and A110 made strides in improving handling with the introduction of features like lowered suspension and power steering, which somewhat improved the responsiveness and driving issues.

Additionally, some models boasted front-wheel disc brakes, which improved stopping power and safety on the road.

Market and Legacy

The Austin Westminster holds a notable position in the classic car market due to its historical value and the lasting impact it has made on British motoring heritage.

Classic Car Enthusiasts

The Austin Westminster series, with its quintessential British design and engineering, remains a firm favourite among classic car enthusiasts.

They appreciate the vehicle for its originality and the connection it offers to a bygone era of British car manufacturing.

The Westminster’s presence at classic car shows and auctions underscores its enduring appeal and contribution to the classic car community.

Restoration and Maintenance

Preserving an Austin Westminster in its original condition is a task that restorers and owners approach with great dedication.

Rust is a common challenge faced during restoration, as it was with many vehicles of that era.

Maintenance usually requires a careful approach to conserve as much of the car’s original features as possible, honouring the Austin Westminster’s unique legacy.

Adequate restoration not only enhances the vehicle’s market value but also ensures its continued enjoyment for years to come.

Cultural Impact

The Austin Westminster’s journey through the decades showcases its dual heritage as both a symbol of British automotive engineering and a featured player in various cop shows.

Its persistent presence underlines a rich legacy that intersects with media, society, and history.

Representation in Media

The Westminster series has frequently featured in British cinema and television, serving as a backdrop to stories steeped in the mid-20th century. It has encapsulated the essence of an era, often associated with detectives in series or government officials in films.

As a quintessential British car, its solid appearance and no-nonsense design conveyed a sense of reliability and understated elegance befitting the characters it was paired with.

The Austin A50 Cambridge, too, found its way into the visual arts, representing post-war British society’s journey towards increased mobility and prosperity. Think pipe and trilby hats.

Significance in Automotive History

From its introduction in the 1950s by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), the Austin Westminster line became a staple of British classic cars.

Marked by its robust engines starting from the Austin A90 and evolving through the Austin A110, these models became typical examples of the period’s engineering and design philosophies.

It’s not only a reminder of the BMC’s impact on the UK car industry but also an embodiment of the transition from the Austin A40 to the more sophisticated designs of the 1960s.

The Westminster series stand as enduring icons, marking a point in history where the car became truly integral to the fabric of everyday life and an indelible part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

Ownership Tips

Owning an Austin Westminster is a journey into classic car stewardship. The following tips aim to assist enthusiasts in buying and maintaining these British classics, with special attention to preservation and resolving common mechanical issues.

Purchasing Guidance

When considering the purchase of an Austin Westminster, it’s imperative to check for rust on the bodywork and undercarriage, a common culprit in classic cars.

They should seek vehicles with a well-documented maintenance and repair history to ensure originality and reduce future restoration costs.

  • Examine the Vehicle: Check for bodywork rust, particularly on wheel arches and sills.
  • Documentation: Look for comprehensive service records that verify the vehicle’s history.

Common Issues and Solutions

The Westminster, while robust, has known issues that owners can anticipate and address.

Rust can again rear its head, primarily within the wheel arches and door bottoms. Maintaining a schedule for rust prevention and treatment is crucial.

  • Rust Prevention: Regular inspections and treatments such as rust-proofing sprays or electronic rust prevention systems.
  • Mechanical Maintenance: Regular servicing of the engine and electrical system can prevent common breakdowns. Wires insulation can become brittle and rubber grommets disintegrate, causing all sorts of electrical mayhem.

Spare Parts and Customisation

Sourcing spares for an Austin Westminster might challenge some, but specialists and classic car clubs, like The Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club can often help.

  • Parts Suppliers: Engage with specialist suppliers who stock or manufacture replacement parts.
  • Customisation: Choose period-appropriate upgrades to maintain the car’s classic appeal.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, one will find details that address common queries about the Austin Westminster, encompassing distinct features, comparisons between models, price considerations, technical specifications, production data, and model differences.

What are the distinctive features of the Austin Westminster A110 model?

The A110 model of the Austin Westminster, notable for its grand design, boasts a spacious interior and a characteristic large boot. It differentiates itself with a powerful 3-litre engine and luxurious trim options, making it the series’ range-topping variant.

How does the 1965 Austin Westminster compare to earlier models?

The 1965 Austin Westminster models incorporated improvements over their predecessors, such as enhanced performance from refined engine tuning and upgraded interior appointments for better comfort and sophistication during the drive.

What price range can one expect when looking to purchase an Austin Westminster?

The purchase price for an Austin Westminster can vary significantly based on the condition, model year, and rarity. Generally, prices span from affordable amounts for models needing restoration to higher figures for well-maintained or fully restored examples.

What are the technical specifications of the Austin Westminster’s engine?

Austin Westminster engines vary by model; however, they typically feature a straight-six configuration renowned for smoothness and power. The engine sizes range from 2.6 litres initially, culminating in the 4-litre engine found in the Type R model.

How many Austin Westminster A105 vehicles were produced?

The A105 is among the rarer variants of the Westminster line, with production figures significantly lower than other models. Exact numbers are often hard to come by, but it is understood that only a few thousand units were produced.

What differences exist between the Austin Westminster A95 and A105 models?

The Austin Westminster A95 and A105 differ primarily in performance and luxury appointments.

The A105 received a power boost and overdrive as standard, along with a plush interior to distinguish it as the more upscale option in the Westminster range.