Simanaitis Says

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JULIAN BALME WRITES A CHARMING ARTICLE “Austin A90 Atlantic: One for the Album” in Classic & Sports Car, March 14, 2023, about a car built in 1950 that made an LP cover in 1982 and received a recently completed meticulous eight-year restoration. It’s a tale of a design based on the flamboyance of Pinin Farina, an “Austin of England” marketing ploy for Hoovering U.S. dollars to a war-weary Britain, and cannibalization benefiting a popular British sports car.

1950 Austin A90 Atlantic convertible. This and following images from Classic and Sports Car, March 14, 2023. 

The Stargazers’ “Watch This Space.” Julian Balme (a designer of record sleeves) writes, “The band members had a keen appreciation of retro style and were big fans of all things 1950s. Drummer Ricky Lee Brawn had always been fascinated by the reimagining of American design and culture through British eyes, and loved the way that in the UK we never quite got things right but managed to create something unique of our own.”

Balmes adds: “Think Elvis versus Cliff Richard, Flash Gordon versus Dan Dare—or Hudson Hornet versus Austin Atlantic.”

Export or Die. In the late 1940s, Britain was suffering from post-war shortages. Steel, for example, was allocated only to firms generating much needed revenue. (By contrast, there was a glut of aluminum; to wit, bodywork and other bits of the Dellow.)

Balmes quotes Austin enthusiast David Whyley: “Austin had set about breaking into the American market with a clear strategy.” He told Balmes, “… the managers decided on using the association with England, rather than Britain, thinking the words ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ might have political overtones in the USA. ‘England’ or ‘English,’ they thought, would convey an impression of tradition and craftsmanship.”

Balme says, “The phrase ‘Austin of England’ was soon accepted in the US and world markets.” He cites the firm’s Leonard Lord admitting “the prices of full-size Austins in the US had been reduced to such a level as to incur a loss, yet he viewed exporting loss-making vehicles to the USA as ‘buying dollars for the Labour Government.’ ”

David Whyley noted, “The Atlantic was the first high-production Austin to bear the ‘Austin of England’ logo. The prototype had four; production cars used two.”

It’s in fine script, but there on each flank.

English for Americans, With Italian Brio. Balme writes, “Its distinctive shape was inspired by a certain Alfa Romeo 6C-2500, restyled and bodied by Pinin Farina in 1946 for perfumer Giuliana Tortoli di Cuccioli.”

The Alfa Romeo 6C2500 designed by Pinin Farina for Giuliana Tortoli. Image from

Balme notes the A90 Atlantic’s rear wing spats, “Frenched” rear lights, and middle headlight (“a feature Loewy’s company had been developing for the likes of Ford and Studebaker’s first post-war offerings…”). I’m reminded as well of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo’s similar exuberance. 

Chrome and Other Features. “Acknowledging the car’s target market,” Balme says, “and following the example of the one-off Alfa Romeo, Austin bedecked its standard-bearing new convertible with as much chrome as it could muster.” 

Balme continues, “More signs of luxury were the Atlantic’s innovative electro-hydraulic windows and roof that replicated the systems then current in the USA. Forget Alvis or Daimler, the Atlantic was the first UK mass-produced car to have a powered hood and windows as an option.”

The “hood” (we Yanks call it the “top”) entertained Whyley in his restoration with its 42 hydraulic joints.

I also enjoy the home-market Trafficators. The U.S. version had conventional directional signals. 

Indy Records Galore. The A90 was more or less glued to the Austin of England U.S. showroom floors. Of 7981 produced (3718 of which were convertibles), a total of 3597 were exported; alas, only 350 sold in the U.S.

On the other hand, Balme cites Motor Sport magazine: “The Stock-Car Records established by an Austin A90 at Indianapolis rather take one’s breath away! In sober fact the car, driven for three-hour spells by Charles Goodacre, Dennis Buckley and Alan Hess, established or broke 68 AAA-recognised standard-car records, 53 in the 3-litre class and ten in the unlimited class.” (Wikipedia appears to get the total right at 63.)

The A90 traveling 11,875 miles at an average of 70.68 mph “is sufficient in itself to prove the worth of the achievement and to put it in its true perspective.”

You’re telling me. 

Plus, the A90’s Donor Life. Wikipedia notes, “The lack of factory rust proofing and styling that produced a multitude of mud traps led to rapid corrosion commonplace among many rushed post-war British designs. As a consequence of this and many Atlantics being broken up to provide spares for the Austin-Healey 100, very few examples survived into the 1970s, let alone the next century. In the UK today, it is estimated that fewer than 60 survive, half of them roadworthy.

Yes, but think of all those roadworthy Austin-Healey 100s benefiting from A90 generosity. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023  


  1. Keith Jackson
    March 26, 2023

    There was a Vanden Plas version that featured a woodgrain instrument panel, floor-mounted gearshift, and in at least one example, dual fuel fillers atop the rear fenders (or are those mudguards, or perhaps wings?).

    • simanaitissays
      March 26, 2023

      Thanks for this link. I’m amused by how automotive illustrations always seem to show the people at 3/5 size. (“My, how roomy that car is…”)

  2. sabresoftware
    March 26, 2023

    You can see a small hole in the front valence just under the central headlight.

    What was that for? Actually I know the answer, but just curious to see if others know. Even some BMC models from the 1960’s sport a small central hole in their bumpers.

    • Mike B
      March 26, 2023

      Hand crank for starting!

      • sabresoftware
        March 26, 2023

        Yup. But I also read today that it could be useful for turning the crankshaft for setting points.

    • Andrew G.
      March 27, 2023

      Wow, the A90 Atlantic is very eye catching, but it seems like the epitome of earlier Art Deco style.

      Anyway, my dad’s Peugeot 403 had the orifice for hand cranking (which had the potential for a weird plot twist in an episode of Columbo). My Audi Fox had a hole that I used (like Sabresoftware said) for setting the points. It was hidden behind the bumper, so inserting a tire iron in an emergency and giving it a yank was out of the question.

      • Mike B
        March 30, 2023

        Had a big handheld pushbutton with clips on a long, heavy cable to bridge the starter solenoid and bump the engine, in an Opel 1900 (Ascona), when setting points. These days, it’s hard to even find a starter solenoid in an accessible location. Like, “Daddy, what are points in a car? I only know what they are in online stores.”

      • -Nate
        March 30, 2023

        @Mike ;

        I still have and use, several of these .

        My cute K-D TOOLS one I bought in 197? that’s delicate and uses far too thin wires but looks really cool remains in the top of my primary rollaway box .

        I have at least two others I made up out of U.S.A. made (Boston, Ma.) Cole Hershy brand heavy duty (50 + amperes) push buttons and some heavy line cord salvaged from some curbside appliance and some old stock clips, for this work I don’t really like the ‘Alligator’ typ as they’re too small and light duty, even the old stock copper MEULLER ones I bought .

        Currently I’m using this handy – dandy tool to crank the engine on an ailing 1959 VW Bug with 1192 CC engine, the engine sat five years after rebuilding and the valves are sticking in their guides after the engine warms up .

        Any ideas of what I should spray on the valve stems ? .

        I tried KROIL because it creeps and loosens anything rusted but that made them stick worse .



      • -Nate
        March 30, 2023

        Datsun 1200 pickups from the 50’s & early 60’s had a nifty button on top of the inner fender well mounted starter solenoid that one depressed to crank the engine during tune ups, valve adjustments and so on .


    • simanaitissays
      March 30, 2023

      The comment on ignition points reminds me of the automaker touting its new transister system as “pointless.”

  3. -Nate
    March 29, 2023

    I love this car and always have .

    It looks fine and not terribly aged to my eyes, yes I’m old .

    ‘L.B.C.’s are a joy to drive and own .


  4. David Whyley
    April 30, 2023

    Thank you for featuring my car on your site. I appreciate it. I am however a little puzzled by your last sentence, surely you are not condoning the srapping of restorable cars just for engine and transmission and steering boxes?

    • simanaitissays
      April 30, 2023

      An excellent point. No, I’m thinking of wise recycling of components from less-than-restorable cars.

      • David Whyley
        April 30, 2023

        Unfortunately that is not what happens. Many restorable Atlantics are broken for their engines and transmissions – very sad. Having restored this car – It is my considered opinion that it was never intended to be a mass produced car. It was (IMO) a flagship vehicle intended to provide a wow for the fledgling Austin ( Later BMC) US dealership network that was being created.

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