Sunday, November 10, 2013

1959-1960 Austin Cambridge / Cambrian

"One look at the Austin Cambridge and you know why people are calling it the most beautifully-styled car in its price class. And there's much more to the Cambridge than its fresh, flowing lines! It seats five people in deep-cushioned comfort  . . .  cruises all day at top highway speeds  . . .  gives you up to 40 miles per gallon! But to discover the full beauty of the Cambridge, you have to visit your Austin showroom to see it in person — and price it in person. You'll find it hard to believe a car so lovely could be priced so low."

At a quick glance, our pictured Austin from Matanzas could easily be mistaken for one of the few Peugeot 404 that populate Cuba's automotive landscape. And in fact, this resemblance ain't accidental, because the French and the British car were both styled south of the Alps by Pininfarina of Torino. More than a few times, Italian car styling companies sold pretty similar looking proposals to different clients. At the end of the day, their work had to be profitable and they sure wouldn't completely "reinvent the wheel" on each new contract. 

That said, it was a fairly big assignment that Pininfarina had received from Austin's mother company BMC. For 1959, all BMC brands should use just one standardized body for their cars. Thus, the Austin shared its body with the Wolseley 15/60, the Riley 4/68, the MG Magnette Series III and the Morris Oxford. Front- and rear ends were individual, so that at least the dealers could pretend that all these cars were different.

The Austin, fortunately, was the most modern looking of the pack. Being bigger than its tiny predecessor, the Austin Cambridge Mark II became quite successful on both continents. It arrived in America just amidst the massive "compact" car boom, and Austin could snatch its share of the market, before the "Big Three" would launch their own "compact" cars in the early 60s.

Through 1959, Austin sold its A55 Cambridge in the US exclusively as Cambrian, because earlier Plymouth models had been named Cranbrook, Cambridge and Concord between 1951 and 1953. In apprehension of a possible lawsuit, Austin choose to use another name, but as soon as the lawyers gave their clearance, the name was changed back into Cambridge here as well.

But now we need a bit of concentration, as we are diving deep into the "logic" of contemporary British car fabrication: even if it was supposedly just a name change, the Cambrian wasn't all identical with the Cambridge. It had a 1,622cc engine installed, rather than the 1,498cc engine that was fitted into the English Cambridge. You wouldn't notice it, but the Cambrian also sported ever so slightly altered rear body panels, because it shared its rear lights with the Morris Oxford Series V. That car, by the way, looked identical to the English Cambridge, except for its slightly higher tailfins, and a different grille insert pattern... Are you still following?

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