Austin A50 Cambridge
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
Introduced in September 1954
, and with a body identical to that of the A40 Cambridge, the Austin A50 Cambridge was powered by a then new 1.5 litre (1489cc) B-Series four-cylinder engine with single Zenith carburettor which was good for 50 hp (37 kW). Technical advances in the A50 Cambridge included an optional Borg-Warner overdrive unit for the top three (of four) gears. A semi-automatic transmission (branded "manumatic" and providing pedal-free clutch operation) was also offered, but it was unpopular with buyers.
Not only different in engine and styling to the old A40, the A50 also featured unit construction thereby saving weight and increasing the room available for passengers and luggage. The four-cylinder overhead valve engine was very quiet at moderate touring speeds but transmission noise would become objectionable when even moderate speeds were run up in the three lower ratios. This noise was particularly noticeable when reversing.
A definite point in favour of the transmission, however, was the manner in which the clutch behaved. Several road testers of the time tried to find any weakness in the clutch, and failed. During standing start acceleration runs the clutch would unprotestingly prove that it was without peer with regard to providing fast, smooth take-offs. During these runs really fast acceleration was noted up to 47 m.p.h. in third gear, after this speed was reached power fell off and you needed to make a change to top gear - and from there to the final top speed progress was slow.
The steering column gear lever
was large and solid, although more than a few road testers commented that there was plenty of play between the gears. Thankfully medium-fast changes could be made without beating the synchromesh
. Highway cruising was fine at speeds up to 60 m.p.h. Much above that, however, and the A50 would provide a vague feeling and you would not really know what was happening between the two front wheels and the road, so we can only conclude that the suspension and steering were ok, but not great, and finding their limits was not too difficult.
But it was a different story on dirt roads, which brought out the handling virtues of the Cambridge. Rough sections and deep potholes were taken in the car's stride. On gravel corners the A50 was up with the best of them, losing adhesion only when pushed to very high speeds. This lateral stability and the nice degree of understeer found when travelling under these conditions was a good feature for those having to travel long distances on country roads – and remember this was the era of the travelling salesman. Dust-proofing was good – which again made a British car up to the task of handling the poor quality and often unmade roads in Australia in the 1950s. Deep puddles of water taken at varying speeds showed had little effect on the brakes, in fact very few road testers reported any noticeable brake fade.
Inside the A50 Cambridge
The doors on the A50 were fitted with drop windows controlled by balanced regulators and had ventilator louvres hinged at their forward edges. Continuous sponge rubber seals which act by deflection instead of by compression provided a more effective seal for the doors and also ensured that they could be closed without slamming. Finally it seemed that BMC wre putting some thought into preventing rust
, with particular attention being paid to draining away any water that found its way inside the doors in order to prevent corrosion from attacking their lower edges. Ample-sized slots are therefore provided instead of just drain holes.
The front seats had latex foam Dunlopillo cushions and spring case and rubberised hair squabs. They were independently adjustable by a pivoted type adjustment giving three set positions, but could also be placed side by side to form a bench seat. The combined instruments, consisting of a speedometer with trip, petrol gauge and water temp gauge, were mounted in a binnacle-type housing directly in front of the driver, which also incorporated warning lights for oil flow, ignition and main headlamp beam.
The interior of the Cambridge was attractively designed and the bench seats gave big car comfort. Unfortunately the fittings did not come up to the same standard. Door handles, window snibs, parcel tray and glove box all gave the impression that they were put there in a hurry - and owners were soon reporting that they were forced to fix these items themselves. In a retro step, Austin used "push up and snib" windows instead of the far superior "wind-up" type - which was fitted to the Austin A40 - and we can provide no explanation as to why. The windows on the A50 protruded at least 1.5 inches above the window sill when at their lowest extremity.
In the body shell itself there were a number of ingenious features. The front wing pressings were bolted to the assembly and could be detached with reasonable ease should replacement become necessary owing to damage. The one-piece bonnet, which extended down at the front to meet the top line of the grille, was stiffened by a box-section member running round the edges and also by a duct which conveyed air from the intake louvre at the top front of the bonnet to both a rectangular fresh air inlet in the scuttle pressing and to a circular air intake on the top of the heater. Both of these intakes had very soft rubber surrounds against which the bonnet duct abutted when the bonnet was closed.
The A50 Engine Bay
Released from inside the car, the bonnet swung up easily and was held up by its stay at a reasonable height for maintainance - which most buyers of 2nd hand A50s were likely to perform themselves. Most components were easy to reach and service with the exception of the distributor which was buried down on the right-hand side of the compartment next to the steering column. The angle at which it was tilted did not improve matters. The oil dipstick was perfectly positioned to almost ensure you would burn your hand on the cylinder head
while groping for it. It was even more difficult to replace.
The neat rear-end housed a very practical amount of luggage space between its haunches. The boot had a flat floor with no nasty obstructions that could cause damage to suitcases. The Cambridge was a car that offered reasonable value for money, reasonably brisk performance when judged against its competitors, good life and safe travel for four in the hands of the family driver. The ace up the sleeve was its ability to negotiate tricky dirt roads at speed - provided the family driver was also a competent driver. And it was for these reasons that the A50 became popular, remaining in production through to 1957
with nearly 115,000 being made.
The de luxe version had a heater, leather seat facings, carpets replacing the standard rubber matting, armrests on the doors, twin-tone horns, a passenger sun visor, and some extra chrome including overriders. A de luxe version tested by The Motor magazine in 1955
had a top speed of 73.6 mph (118.4 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 28.8 seconds. A fuel consumption of 28.0 miles per imperial gallon (10.1 litres/100 km; 23.3 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost UK£720 including taxes. A radio and a clock were optional extras. As with its predecessor the A40 Somerset, the A50 Cambridge was built under licence by Nissan in Japan; the arrangement ended in 1959. A number of modifications were introduced in October 1956
including smaller 13 in (330 mm) wheels and increased compression ratio (8.3:1).
Austin A50 Quick Specifications:
4 cylinder. Bore: 73.025 mm. Stroke: 89 mm. Capacity: 1600 c.c. Compression ratio: 7.2:1. valves
: Overhead. Rated horsepower: 14.; B.H.P.: 50 at 4,400 r.p.m. Piston speed at maximum b.h.p.: 2,566. Top gear m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m.: 14.5.
Clutch: 8 in. single dry plate. Gearbox: Four speed. Ratios: 1st, 19.23; 2nd (SM), 11.71; 3rd (SM), 7.06; 4th (SM), 4.875. Propellor shaft: Open. Final drive: Hypoid bevel. Final drive ratio: 4.875 to 1.
Front: Independent by coil springs and hydraulic shock absorbers. Rear, Semi-elliptic springs and hydraulic shock absorbers. Anti-roll bar
Cam and lever. Turning circle: 36 ft. Turns of steering wheel (lock to lock) : 3-1/3.
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 3i in. Length: 13 ft. 6.5 in. Width: 5 ft. 1.5 in. Height: 5 ft. 1.5 in. Ground clearance: 7 in.; Weight: 21.75 cwt. Petrol tank: 83 gallons. Track: Front, 4 ft. 0.5 in. ; Rear, 4 ft. 1 in.
5.60 x 15.
Acceleration: 0-50, 17.6 sec. Top gear: 10-30, 10.8 sec. : 20-40, 10.6 sec.; 30-50,. 13.1 sec.; 40-60, 19 sec. Max speed.: 76 m.p.h. Average m.p.g.: 29. Maximum speeds in gears: 1st, 19 m.p.h. ; 2nd, 38 m.p.h. ; 3rd, 56 m.p.h, ; 4,th, 76 m.p.h.; Braking distance from 30 m.p.h. to stop: 34.5 ft.; Lbs. per b.h.p.: 44.8; Tank range: Over 230 miles.