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SNAPSHOT 161: 1950-53 Austin A40 Sports

Here is the fourth and final Snapshot in the series showing the cars owned by Adrian Stokes.  If you want the whole story, have a look too at the Raleigh Safety Seven in Snapshot 145, the Singer Le Mans in Snapshot 149, and the Lea-Francis Hyper in Snapshot 154.

Just as Adrian named his Lea-Francis (“Phyllis”), so did he name his A40 Sports.  He called her “Septima”.  Unlike the Leaf, we have no idea why he used this name – since the A40 was never to our knowledge called an Austin Seven – that was the privilege of the A30, launched in 1951.

This car took Adrian all over Europe on his honeymoon; in fact, we have two photographs of the car on this Grand Tour.  Normally we would have to choose, because the rule has always been one picture only.  But the second picture is so good that we hope that the late, great Malcolm Jeal, founder of the Snapshots and giver to your webmaster of strict instructions on the rules when he handed over the reins, would not mind in this instance – so we have added the second picture at the end.

Our main picture shows the A40 Sports alongside the Rhine.  It almost seems that, alone for a moment, Septima is reflecting on the view in a brief period of calm before her owners gently cajole her away to continue her journey.

The A40 Sports was launched at the 1949 London Motor Show.  It was a four-passenger, aluminium-bodied convertible version of the Austin A40 – designed and manufactured in conjunction with Jensen Motors. It was intended as a sports tourer rather than a true sports car.  Production commenced in November 1950, and just over 4,000 were made before the end of production in 1953.

The idea for the A40 Sports was born when Austin’s Chairman Leonard Lord saw the 1950 Jensen Interceptor.  If you make a quick comparison between the Jensen and Austin, the influence is obvious – though the underpinnings of the cars are quite different.  The Jensen is much larger, though still very much based on Austin running gear: the 3,993 cc straight-six engine and transmission from the Austin Sheerline.  The Jensen’s chassis was a lengthened version of the one used on the Austin A70.

Lord asked Jensen to develop a body that could use the smaller mechanicals of the Austin A40 Devon, and Eric Neale (who had designed the Jensen) set about creating the A40 Sports.  He boxed the centre section of the chassis to provide rigidity for an open body.

The engine was the Devon’s 1.2-litre, fitted with twin SU carburettors and delivering 46 bhp instead of the 42 bhp of the Devon – not a massive increase for a much sportier look under the bonnet.  The performance of the car bore out these limitations: 0-60 mph in 25.6 seconds, and a top speed of only 78 mph.

But the car was tough.  As a promotional publicity stunt, Leonard Lord bet Alan Hess of Austin’s publicity department that he could not drive round the world in 30 days in the car. In 1951 an A40 Sports driven by Hess achieved the feat in 21 days rather than the planned 30 – with the assistance of a KLM cargo plane – covering about 10,000 land miles, averaging 475 miles per day and consuming 29 mpg.

No doubt Adrian Stokes and his new bride were grateful for this reliability.  We can even speculate that his tour came after the 1951 achievement, and he may have selected car number four for this very reason.  We’ll never know.

As promised, we leave you with a lovely final picture of Septima, presumably with Adrian and his wife on board, being prepared for departure from a hotel on the honeymoon tour – in superb weather.

And just a final word of thanks to Neil Thorp for letting us have this wonderful series of pictures.

Photographs published with the permission of the Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford.


3 responses to “SNAPSHOT 161: 1950-53 Austin A40 Sports”

  1. Eunice Jeal says:

    I’m sure that Malcolm would have been happy on this occasion for the second photograph to be published!!
    You are doing a fantastic job Peter.

  2. Peter Neale says:

    You correctly credit Eric Neale, my father, with the design of the A40 Sports; you may also be interested to learn that one of the other cars owned by Adrian Stokes was also designed by my father, namely the Singer 9 Le Mans. To misquote Meatloaf: two out of four ain’t bad.

  3. Teresa Stokes says:

    This belonged to my father, Adrian Stokes, now aged 90. He remembers all his cars well, and he tells me that the name Septima was because of the registration plate, which was MLP 777.

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