The Austin A90 Westminster, which was launched in late 1954, was the first car to be powered by the BMC C-Series engine and the marque’s first large unitary-bodied saloon. The Westminster was a rear-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-door five-seater and subsequently a five-door five-seater estate car. The A90 was supplanted by the faster and more luxurious A105 in 1956 and superseded by the modified A95 for the 1957 model year. Production of all models ended in early 1959.
The Austin A90 Six Westminster, as it was originally known, looked considerably sleeker than the A70 Hereford (q.v.) it replaced and motorists did appreciate its six-cylinder engine. Its body was derived from the Austin A40/A50 Cambridge (q.v.) with which it shared its doors although the A90’s track was wider and its wheelbase longer. The Austin A90’s suspension was by independent front coil springs and wishbones with rear leaf springs and an anti-roll bar on a live axle. Brakes were drums all-round and the gear lever was column mounted. The Westminster was sold in either Standard or De Luxe forms, the latter with hide upholstery and a heater as standard.
In early 1956, Borg Warner overdrive became an option for the A90 and the line-up now included the Austin A105 Westminster, which sported two-tone paint and foglamps, had lowered suspension and was powered by a more powerful dual carburettor engine with overdrive as a standard fitting. In autumn of that year, the line-up was updated with a longer boot, wraparound rear screen and a modified grille, with the A90 being replaced by the slightly more powerful Austin A95. These versions of the Austin Westminster are commonly known as the ‘long tail’, as opposed to the earlier ‘cow-hip’. The A95 was also available as a very attractive Countryman estate and Borg Warner automatic transmission was now an extra across the range.
In Spring of 1958 all Austin Westminsters could be ordered with a floor mounted gear lever; these had already proved popular with the earlier models specified by police forces. That year also saw the introduction of a special version of the Austin A105 with a lavish Vanden Plas trimmed interior.
The engine for the Austin Westminster is the 2,639 cc OHV S6 BMC C-Series plant with a single Zenith carburettor on the A90 and A95, and twin SUs on the A105. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual box that was devoid of synchromesh on bottom gear; with optional overdrive for the A90 and A95 – this was standard on the A105. Some A95s and A105s were fitted with three-speed automatic transmission.
The Westminsters have developed a considerable following over the years, the long tail A105 being particularly highly regarded for its combination of looks, performance – the top speed is more than 90 mph – and luxury. Many enthusiasts believe that the floor gear change brings out the best in the car, making it the nearest Austin ever came to building a ‘Big Healey’ saloon.
All cow hip models are now rare, especially the early A105, few examples of the Vanden Plas version were ever made and the A95 Countryman is sadly almost extinct in the UK. Running gear for the Westminsters can be found and the main challenges lie in sourcing brightwork, trim for the cabin and body panels. The A-pillars, door bottoms, rear arches, front cross-member beneath the radiator, inner and outer sills and the front wings should be examined for corrosion. The C-Series engine can suffer from high oil consumption and worn bores.
Rivals to the Austin A90/A95/A105 Westminster were the Morris Isis Series I/II – which shared the C-Series engine, the Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk. I/II, the Standard Vanguard Phase II/III/Sportsman and the Vauxhall Velox/Cresta in E-Type and PA forms.