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1951 Austin A90 Atlantic

The Austin A90 Atlantic was a British car made by the Austin Motor Company from 1948-52. Originally intended as a four-seat sports convertible, it debuted at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show and was in production the following year. The 2-door coupé appeared at the 1949 Earls Court Motor Show and was in production at Longbridge from 1950-52.

The Atlantic is not to be confused with the A90 Westminster.

Development

The Atlantic was one of the first post-war cars engineered from scratch by Austin, and was said to be styled from a thumbnail sketch by Leonard Lord, then Chairman of Austin and later the British Motor Corporation (BMC) — though in truth the styling was more likely the work of resident Italian Austin stylist Dick Burzi. The car was almost certainly influenced by a 1946 Pininfarina-bodied Alfa Romeo cabriolet, which just happened to end up at the Longbridge factory in mid 1947, a few months before the light blue 16 hp sports prototype made its first appearance in the experimental department and on nearby roads around the factory. A rare edition was a coachbuilt estate car, regularly seen in the 1950s used by a convent in Leith, Scotland. The car had a lifting rear door, and sported then unusual curved perspex roof panels.

With the then Government edict of "Export or die" and steel allocated only to those who generated much needed dollar revenue, the Atlantic was designed specifically to appeal to North American tastes (certain aspects look like a 1949 Mercury and the hood brightwork looks similar to the Pontiac Chieftains of this era). The car featured up-to-the-minute detailing, with front wings that swept down to a rounded tail with enclosed rear wheels, a centrally mounted fog light built into the letter-box style air intake, and then unheard of luxury in the form of hydraulically powered windows and hood (roof), "flashing indicators" (rather than trafficators, for the United States market at least) and the option of EKCO or HMV Autocrat radios. The range-topping Austin was offered in a variety of "jewelescent" colours. Few people in the car's native Britain would have ever seen anything like the futuristically-styled Atlantic before, and certainly not from a conservative mainstream manufacturer like Austin. The radical Atlantic suffered, however, from the dramatically new Jaguar XK120, also launched at the 1948 Motor Show.

Exports

Out of a total production run of 7,981, 3,597 were exported, 350 of which were to the US. This low level of sales in the US was despite a huge focus by Austin, including a successful attempt at breaking 63 stock car records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April 1949 by Alan Hess, Charles Goodacre and Dennis Buckley). Even a US$1000 price reduction in 1949, the four-cylinder 2.7-litre couldn't compare in power output to native V8 engines — though for its time, performance was strong. A few were also used in civilian versions of the Austin Champ.

The car did see more success in former British Colonies, Europe, Scandinavia and Australasia.

Performance

The Atlantic was powered by a modified Austin A70 engine, enlarged to 2,660 cc (162 cu in). The large four-cylinder produced 88 bhp (66 kW) @ 4000rpm and later saw service in the Austin-Healey 100.

A convertible tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1948 had a top speed of 91 mph (146 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 16.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 21.7 miles per imperial gallon (13.0 L/100 km; 18.1 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car which had the optional hydraulically powered hood and window operation (£40 extra) cost £824 including taxes.

The handling was poor, due to a combination of comparatively short wheelbase and rudimentary springing, coil (independent suspension at the front but leaf springs at the rear). The underpinnings were somewhat less exotic than the all-enveloping bodywork: the chassis and running gear were based on that of the 1949 Austin Hampshire saloon, and that in turn had been based on the entry-level Austin A40 Devon of 1947. Brakes were initially a mix of hydraulic (front) and mechanical (rear) with 11 in (279 mm) drums, replaced by a fully hydraulic brake setup from 1951 onwards.

Longevity

A combination of no rust proofing at the factory, and styling that included a multitude of mud traps led to the same rapid corrosion as beset many rushed post-war British designs. As a result, very few cars survived into the 1960s, let alone the next century, a fact not helped by many cars being broken up to provide spares for the Austin-Healey 100. In the UK today, it is estimated that fewer than 30 roadworthy examples survive, with possibly the same number being restored or awaiting restoration.

Gallery

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