Austin A55 Cambridge
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
The A55 Austin Cambridge was manufactured from 1957
through to 1959
, and was replaced by the Farina A55 Cambridge model. Externally the A55 was much like the old A50
but with a slightly longer tail, hooded headlights and fancier chrome-work on the sides. The Austin engineers uprated the engine by raising the compression ratio from 7.3 to 8.3 to 1; this giving the 1489cc B type B.M.C. motor 51 bhp @ 4250 rpm and a maximum torque of 81lb./ft. @ 2000 rpm.
This was developed in top gear at 31 mph, which was ideal for the conditions the A55 would have experienced around town and on the highways in the late 1950’s. A low top-gear ratio of 4.875 to 1 gave 15.01 mph per 1000 revs -which cut down gear-changes to a minimum but limited maximum top speed to around 75 mph. And fo 1957 that was not such a bad figure.
Behind the Wheel
Inside, the driving position of the A55 was comfortable and the horizontally-lettered speedometer was easily seen through the top half of the 17-inch twin-spoke dished steering wheel, with central horn button. The speedo panel incorporated both trip and total mileage recorders, fuel gauge, water-temp gauge, and warning lights for oil pressure, generator charge and headlight beam position.
was difficult to read, with many road testers from the time claiming it near impossible to determine the exact speed at any given moment, and the inclusion of kilometre calibrations added to the confusion. A control panel containing ignition and headlight switches, choke, screen-wiper, panel light and starter control knobs was located in the centre of the dash, under a recess for a car radio which was flanked by the heater and demister controls.
There was a large slide-out ashtray under the ignition switch, but it wasn't easily accessible when the key was in place. A lockable glovebox was provided on the passenger's side, and there was a full-width parcel shelf under the dashboard. The pedals were well spaced, but the accelerator was very lightly sprung making it less suitable for highway conditions here in Australia. The position of the pull-out type pistol-grip handbrake, left of the steering column, was not ideal - but the brake more than made up for this by being extremely effective, not only as a hill-holder but as a genuine emergency anchor as well. The screen-wipers were self-parking and lay flush along the bottom of the windscreen.
The turn indicators were operated by a finger lever on the steering column; a warning light was built into the tip of the lever (and not located on the dash), and this flicked on and off in unison with the turn indicators. Rearward visibility was excellent via a decent sized rear-vision mirror (some English cars of this time had tiny ones) and there was a wide back window. Visibility forward was good, but road testers claimed it could have been improved by eliminating the high metal cowling below the windscreen.
On the Road
The traffic manners of the A55 were impeccable. Even with the Manumatic transmission
the A55 was a delight. Top gear was incredibly tenacious at 30 m.p.h. and was adequate for most hills and corners. On corrugated or potholed roads the handling
remained compliant all the way to 70 mph. The cam-and-peg steering, of 15-to-1 ratio, was light and accurate - practically no road shock was transmitted to the steering wheel. Spring-return action was excellent. The tail had a tendency to slide when dodging bad potholes, but no more than usual, and slides were easily corrected.
The ride was soft by British-car standards, yet firm enough to prevent any unpleasant pitch or sway. Hydraulic lever-type shockers eliminated bottoming on all potholes – although there was always an exception on some of the very poor road surfaces the car encountered in Australia. Dust proofing was also only average - dust tending to seep in at the leading edges of the front doors, while road noise and "drumming" were about average for this type of unitary construction. On the overrun in second and third the gearbox emitted a particularly musical whine, typical of most B.M.C. cars. Not unpleasant to the ear, it is today one of the endearing qualities that Austin
aficionados really enjoy.
Cornering was generally good. There was little body tilt and the car neither under- nor over-steered at moderate speeds. At higher speeds, however, oversteer became evident and the tail would slide to a moderate and controllable degree on smooth surfaces. The back was prone to feel spongy, but this could to some extent be overcome by increasing rear tyre
pressures. But if you did, the rear end would then buck and bounce when cornering at speed on bumpy or rough surfaces.
The manumatic was a not perfect – but it was much better than you would have thought. You couldn’t pull away in top gear from less than 15 mph because at lower speeds the system would disengage the clutch. And because of the automatic clutch it was impossible to make the car "snatch" or "judder" at too low a speed in any gear. Third gear, of 7.26-to-1 ratio, was perfect for the A55. It gave a 20-30 mph acceleration time of 4.1 sec., while the powerful second-gear ratio of 11.71 to 1 reduced the time for the same test to a mere 2.4 seconds. Acceleration times through the gears were slightly hampered by the Manumatic-control unit, which, although certainly fast enough for normal driving, did not allow you to swap cogs as rapidly as on a real manual. Nevertheless 0-30 mph in 7.4 sec. and 0-50 in 21.5 was ample for the type of motoring the A55 would have encountered in the 1950s.
The engine itself was also a very good unit, spinning all the way to 6000 rpm before valve-bounce occurred in the indirect gears. The standing quarter-mile was covered in 24 sec. dead, with a speed of 76 mph. The brakes
were, when judged for the time, also very good. They required comparatively little pressure, showed little fade after prolonged use and stopped the car well in normal circumstances. The A55 was econimical too - not to the point of a current day Prius, but 31.5 mpg was brilliant. The 8.5 gallon tank allowed a cruising range of 300 miles which was reasonable.
The Manumatic transmission
system was a A£A66. It worked by disengaging the clutch automatically when the engine is idling. Once a gear was selected, gently accelerating the engine would cause the clutch to engage, providing a smooth take-off from rest without any other action on the part of the driver. The column-mounted gear lever
contained a spring-loaded switch which operated the Manumatic control unit mounted under the bonnet, just behind the air-cleaner. Immediately the knob was grasped, an electrical circuit was completed which disengaged the clutch and closed the throttle - whether you had your foot on the accelerator pedal or not. Releasing the knob restored the drive. Productin of the A55 finished in 1959
, after some 154000 had been produced.