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The Austin Atlantic, A Mid-Atlantic Design Disaster

By the end of World War II Britain's economy was in a mess. Also, quantities of steel had been consumed by armaments and there was a dire shortage of it. Car manufacturers needed plenty of steel so the government decided to ration it, giving priority to companies that used it for manufacturing products for export. The Austin A90 Atlantic was designed for the biggest market for cars then in the world – United States of America was it's main export target.

The car was designed to, hopefully, appeal to both American and British tastes. It failed dismally in both aims. Nippy, simple sports cars were all the rage in Britain whereas the Americans preferred big cars, fancy designs, lots of extras and colour schemes which, to British tastes, were pretty garish. Austin's designers took the worst of both and produced the car which appealed to neither.

The Atlantic was launched in 1948 with a determined sales drive in America. The body design was certainly American inspired (at least Austin's designers thought so) and the range of extras included hitherto unknown (at least in the UK) flashing indicators, hydraulically powered windows, a choice of radios, and even a hydraulically powered top for a convertible version! Metallic paint versions were available with weird and wonderful names.

The 2660cc engine, producing 88 brake horsepower, gave moderate performance; a top speed of 91 mph was possible with a nough to 60 time of just under 16 seconds. This however was at a time when Americans expected big engines with lots of power. It was heavy to drive; petrol consumption was also heavy at a time when it was expensive and in short supply. Americans were not impressed and British motorists were even less so.

As if the failings of the car were bad enough, Jaguar had the effrontery to bring out their XK 120 which debuted at the very same 1948 motor show; this was an instant success. Conversely sales of the Atlantic were sluggish; even a price reduction of about £650 failed to kick start a buying spree and only around 350 of them were sold in America out of a total production run of around 8000.

Perhaps, for the sake of Austin's reputation, it was just as well that so few were sold; it proved prone to rust, possibly as a result, at least partly because of the poor quality steel that was available at the time, and few examples have survived to this day.

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