Updated: May 27
"One of my earliest childhood memories is being taken for a ride in the van when it was quite new" says Cliff Knox, aviation photographer and owner of the 1961 Austin A35 van. Bought new by his father's life-long friend Les Howard, who, dissatisfied with the paint finish, promptly requested that the factory resprayed his van in the green it still wears today. A ship's engineer in the Merchant Navy, Les' exacting standards were equally applied to the care of his van, which covered very few miles in his ownership.
BMC's response to Les' letter & the original sales invoice
Circa 1978, Les decided that his 1961 Austin was in need of an upgrade and offered it to a young Cliff, who, at that time, was learning to drive. From then onwards, Cliff drove the van until 1983, as it was becoming clear that it was in need of some major work to keep it roadworthy. By then, the original A-series had run its course, its place taken by a unit from a Morris Minor, and an electric fuel-pump fitted. With life getting in the way, the van languished in his mother's garage until 2009, when it was decided that Cliff's beloved Austin deserved a professional restoration.
"Half the fun of the vehicle is living with it's faults, the other half is seeing the smiles on the faces of people I drive past"
Having never suffered unnecessary modification, the restoration process aimed to keep Cliff's A35 'AV5 model', as original as possible retaining all period features including semaphores, unassisted drum brakes, and no seatbelts. An original 948cc engine was sourced to replace the Morris powerplant, which naturally, has caused problems since. Cliff is considering going one step further on the road to originality, fitting cross-ply tyres, which improves ride quality at the cost of 'interesting' handling in the wet.
"It has only done about 90,000 miles even now"
Being an industry stalwart in the world of small family saloons, Austin was no stranger to success and their all new model for 1956, the A35, was the replacement to the renowned A30. As highlighted by the Austin A30 A35 owners club, the A35 not only benefited from a remote gearbox, larger rear window and a bigger engine, but also several detailed changes to the body and interior (for the full list, visit the link above) that set it apart from their previous model. As is evident, Austin's success extended beyond saloon cars, and their small commercials became the choice get about for tradesmen, Post Office Telephones, and the constabulary. The little Austin also accrued favour among the likes of F1's James Hunt and was the transport of choice for Aardman's Wallace and Gromit.
The condition of Cliff's Austin A35 today is testament to the hard work and enthusiasm of both Les and Cliff, that has ensured this little commercial has remained a time capsule for years to come.
Words by Talk Wrench team
Pictures by Cliff Knox