When I was 15 years old, a friend sold me his eight year old 1948 Austin A40 Dorset for $20.00. After painting it and getting it running, I taught myself to drive on a half acre oval track I made out of the family garden. I didn't know much about the fine points of adjusting the Austin tie rod ends or steering gear, so when it became time to take it on the road, my Dad decided that it wasn't going to be very safe driver and made me sell it, and bought a car for my mother (who didn't drive - but who I had to ask any time I wanted to go somewhere) for me to use instead. Other cars came and went, some of them really nice, but in the back of my mind, I always had a hope of owning another Austin. When I finally retired, I looked around and found a beautiful and rare 1953 Austin A40 Somerset Drop Head Coupé and brought it home to restore over the next four years as I had time and money to move the project forward. I started a website featuring the Somerset Coupé, bought any literature and books I could find and, when I was close to being done, learned how to operate it's unusual 4-speed column shift, and started getting used to driving on bias ply tires once again. I was in hog heaven, until one day I learned about a 1948 Dorset that was for sale in Texas. It was thoroughly rusty and had been sitting outside for many years, but I had it shipped up to Michigan and made room in the garage for it to sit where I could spend a few hours a week puttering around on it. That, I thought, was truly the end of the story.
But that was really the beginning of the new story I want to tell. It isn't even about me, but about another young man of about fifteen. Like me, Blake grew up in in an automobile-centric home. I was from Michigan, and my dad worked in the auto plants. He was from California, the son of an automobile mechanic, and had learned to drive in an American Austin Bantam. Blake's father bought Blake's mother, a new Austin A40 Devon early in 1950 and young Blake loved it from the day it came home - but his mother preferred her Hudson Terraplane and wouldn't drive the Austin. Blake's dad dealt with that setback by putting a handful of gravel in one of the Hudson's hubcaps so that when mom drove it the next time and heard all the noise, she was sure that something was terribly wrong and had to take the Austin. Dad took the Hudson to the local garage and told them what was wrong and asked them to sell it quickly.
Blake's mother only drove the Austin to the store, and to church on Sunday, and when Blake was old enough, it officially became his car, although his mother continued to drive it several times a week. Blake's father, and then Blake kept meticulous records of mileage and service on the Austin. Every invoice was carefully filed away, several journals included monthly mileage records and service notes when the invoices were not specific. The car never sat outside overnight.
The Austin and Blake grew old together. When Blake and his wife moved from California to Oregon, the Austin went with them, right inside the Bekins moving van, just like a member of the family. Then, in 2005, failing health and the inability to drive made it necessary to sell the car. It went first to a car collector in North Carolina, who towed it home on a 2-wheel dolly. The new owner painted the wheels red and added turn signals, but otherwise left the Austin as it had been when Blake's family owned it. After a while, he sold it to a collector in Michigan who had planned to put in a big engine and make a gasser out of it.
The collector in Michigan had purchased the car sight unseen and only when it arrived did he realize that this car was too original, and so well documented, to cut up and modify, so he put it in his garage until he needed the space for a Corvette he had just purchased and then advertised it for sale once more. When I learned that what was supposed to be a nice Austin for sale less than 2 hours away, I just had to go look - with no intention of purchasing it at all - just a quick look.
When I got out of my car at the sellers home, the little Austin was sitting in the driveway waiting for me. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It had 85,000 miles on the odometer, along with a little note saying that the speedometer had been changed when the car was fairly new and the mileage was about 100 miles off. The immaculate seat covers were put on when the car was nearly new. The carpet was a little worn, and some of the trim around the doors was also a little frayed. In the glove compartment was the original owner manual. Under the bonnet, in the box where a radio would have been installed was the original tool wrap with a complete small tool kit. In the boot, were the jack, the crank and even a pair of wheel chocks and the original spare tire. Then, there were boxes of spare parts, boxes containing scrapbooks and piles of original factory literature, and even a collection of photographs, showing the car the first day home, at several car shows and some taken on it's 50th. birthday.
I asked the seller how much he wanted for the car and when he named his price, a voice that came from somewhere in me said: "I'll be back for it in 2 days", gave him a small deposit and floated home. It is a wonderful car. The love that Blake had for it has permeated every part of it. I have since talked to Blake and his wonderful wife, Jacque, and since I first talked to them on the phone, they have sent me additional boxes of literature and records, and even a Dinky car which is the same color as it's bigger brother, except for the wheels are black. Blake keeps asking me when I am going to get that awful red paint back off of the wheels, and I told him I would do it as soon as driving season is over for the year.
Austin A40 automobiles aren't big ticket cars like Packards and Pierce Arrows. They are, and always were just little family sedans. They helped to rebuild England after World War II, and they helped introduce small foreign cars to American car buyers. I've had to modify my website to include the other Austins, and you are invited to check it out: http://austin-somerset.org