Needle In a Haystack
Ted and Mary Jones from northern Victoria have a passion for things that are a bit different. For many years Ted has collected and restored Austin A40s and A30s, Jaguars and Mercedes. Since retiring a few years ago he also started restoring classic trucks, and is currently working on one of the rarest Mercedes diesel-powered trucks from the early 1950s. In 2004 he also acquired a rare Austin A95 Countryman that he intends restoring in the near future.
Some time ago the A30/A35 Austins grabbed Ted and Mary’s attention. They’ve bought and sold many and currently still have an A30 Countryman, two two-door saloons and one four-door, as well as our feature car, an incredibly rare A35 Pick-up.
When they first saw some information on the Pick-up they decided they just had to have one, but with only 475 made, none ever sold new in Australia and none known to have come here over the years, that was not going to be an easy task.
The A35 Pick-up is a very rare beast indeed. Released at the end of 1956, just a couple of months after the A35 saloon went on sale, the Pick-up was virtually doomed from the start, due to mistakes in its concept.
Originally planned as a two-seater coupe, and designed by Austin stylist Dick Burzi, who was responsible for the entire A30/A35 range, the idea was to leave the boot section as an open cargo area to take advantage of the tax-free status of commercial vehicles.
However, with no tailgate and a load area barely big enough for a couple of well-behaved piglets, arguing that it was a commercial vehicle seemed ludicrous. It didn’t help the cause that the load bay floor folded up to form a crude, if unpadded, seat and that publicity photos used in the brochure showed two boys sitting in the back. Austin thought that promoting the car as “Everyman’s Utility Vehicle” would be enough for it to receive special consideration.
Barney Sharratt explains in his tome on the A30/A35/A40 Farina, Post-War Baby Austins; “As it turned out, the Customs & Excise folk were not interested in such debates. They simply pointed to the ‘Vehicle Construction and Use’ regulations, which stipulated that the rear platform of a pick-up had to be at least two-thirds of the vehicle’s overall length. Tax would have to be paid.”
The little Pick-up was dead in the water. With £180 tax added to the base price of £360, it was only 20 quid less than the Countryman version, at £560, which was a full four-seater with the convenience of reasonable cargo space with the rear seats folded down.
A true commercial variant already existed in the A35 Van, which cost only £400 with £51 purchase tax. A number of companies also offered rear seat conversions for the van, but woe betide if you added side windows, as Customs & Excise would immediately stick its hand out for more tax.
The A35 Van was so successful that it outlasted the saloon by nearly a decade, with later versions receiving the 1098cc engine, and the last being built in 1968.
It seems that neither Austin nor potential customers really knew what to make of the Pick-up or where it sat in the range, and sales were snail-paced. “A short production run was inevitable”, Sharratt continues. “It was going to be very difficult to sell a two-seater vehicle of limited carrying capacity, which had lost the advantage of tax avoidance. Many dealers had the vehicles on their hands for so long that they threw in the towel and used them as garage runabouts. The production records show that the date of production and registration of a large number of pick-ups were many months apart.”
Consequently, the last A35 Pick-up was built in November 1957, twelve months after the first, giving an average production of only 40 per month.
Even England’s obsession with exports didn’t help. Of the 475 Pick-ups built, only 234 were exported, some in left-hand-drive. According to an article in New Zealand Classic Car magazine, 48 went to Chile, 23 to Asia and the Pacific Isles, 27 to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), 17 to New Zealand, 11 to the West Indies, nine to the Sudan, five to Canada, and fewer than five each to a number of other countries, including South Africa, Denmark, Gibraltar, Malawi, Fiji and Kuwait.
While all Pick-ups sold in the UK were painted Tweed Grey with Cherry Red trim, exports were also available in County Cream with Cherry trim, Spruce Green with green trim and Island Blue, Streamline Blue or Speedwell Blue with blue trim.
The rear tonneau, which in each case matches the interior trim, is strengthened with strips of timber, to cope with the weight of snow in northern UK and European climates.
The metal sun visor, usually painted body colour, was a popular accessory, while the vinyl spare wheel covering, also in matching colours, was standard. As the spare tyre was in the open, it was fitted with a lock on one of the wheel nuts, to prevent theft.
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The BMC Experience Issue 18. Jul-Sep 2016 Magazine
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