Angular styling was very much in vogue as the 1960s beckoned, and the popular versions of BMC's family cars, featuring body design by Farina, were part of the 'new look' revolution.

In fact the Austin A55 Mark II Cambridge and the Morris Oxford Series V, both introduced in 1959, were 'badge-engineered' versions of the same car, differing only in grille design and trim details. More up-market variations on the same theme were also produced wearing MG, Riley and Wolseley badges.

By comparison with earlier models, the new family cars from Austin and Morris were very boldly styled, with sharply pointed rear fins and vast amounts of bright trim. Much attention had been paid to ensuring that the cars were practical for everyday family use, so spacious five/six seater, four-door bodywork came as standard, as did a huge, easily loaded luggage boot, which opened from bumper level.

Underpinning the concept in both cases were the mechanical units proven in the previous Austin Cambridge models. BMC's conventional and very tough overhead valve (pushrod) 1.5-litre 'B' Series engine drove the rear wheels through a four-speed gearbox.

New A60 Cambridge and Oxford VI models arrived in 1961, featuring revised styling (incorporating generally 'softer' lines and slightly mre 'rounded' rear fin profiles), and even more powerful, 1622cc engines.

The cars found appreciative buyers throughout the 1960s. The A60 was built until 1969, and the Oxford soldiered on until 1971. By this time the new, rear-wheel drive Morris Marina was ready to be launched, and effectively took over from the Farina Cambridges and Oxfords.

WHAT ARE THEY REALLY LIKE TO LIVE WITH TODAY?
These vehicles were never intended to be sports cars, but are still capable of cruising at motorway speeds for hour after hour, and make ideal family classics.

In all versions, passenger and luggage accommodation is generous. The excellent ride quality, coupled with a high standard of interior trim (featuring large, comfortable, leather-upholstered seats and quality carpets, for example), means that these Austin/Morris models are pleasant cars in which to travel over long distances.

In addition, the large glass area helps to provide a light and airy interior.

Boot space is excellent, and the spare wheel is easily accessed when required by winding down a cradle beneath the boot floor, so there's no need to remove all the luggage in order to change a wheel.

The now-rare estate versions are even more practical than the saloons, incorporating a long, flat load bed and a horizontally divided tailgate. The values of the estate (Austin A55/A60 Cambridge Countryman, Morris Oxford Series V/VI Traveller) are increasing more rapidly than those of the saloons.

The cars are all easy to drive (although the steering is heavy at low speeds, especially if radial ply tyres are fitted), extremely reliable and generally inexpensive to buy. Do-it-yourself maintenance is straightforward too.

Problems? Rust is the main enemy, and if you are considering buying a Cambridge or Oxford, it's wise to opt for the best example you can find, in terms of structural integrity. Mechanical condition is less important, but still needs to be taken into account, of course.

Carefully examine the body shell in all areas, but especially in the vicinity of the sill assemblies, jacking points, floor pans, front cross-member assembly (beneath the radiator support panel), 'chassis' outrigger assemblies - especially those just behind the front wheels - pillars, bulkheads, front inner wings and rear spring supports.

In addition, assess the condition of the front and rear outer wings (the fronts can be especially expensive to repair or replace), the lower edges of the doors, the bottoms of the rear wings and the base of the boot lid. Check the condition of the boot floor too.

If in good condition the interiors are lovely, but worn leather is costly to have renovated... check very closely.

The mechanical components are long lasting, but the engines eventually show signs of wear in terms of smoking due to worn piston rings and cylinder walls. Check for a smokescreen in the rear view mirror when accelerating away from the bottom of a long descent.

Austin A60 (Cambridge)

Bright sparks of the '60s

FACTS AND FIGURES:

Built: A55 Mark II/Oxford V: 1959-61
A60: 1961-69 Oxford VI: 1961-71

Bodywork: Four-door saloon, five-door estate

Engines: Overhead valve, in-line four-cylinder A55 Cambridge/Oxford V: 1489cc, 53 bhp A60 Cambridge/Oxford VI: 1622cc, 61 bhp

Top speed: 1489cc: 80 mph 1622cc: 82 mph

0-60 mph: 1489cc: 24 sec 1622cc: 21 sec

Typical fuel consumption: 27-35+ mpg

PRICES*:
Saloons:
Rough, 250. Good,
1,200-2,000. Top notch, 3,000+

Estates:
Rough, 400. Good, 1,500-2,500. Top notch, 4,000+

Check too for very low oil pressure. With the engine fully warmed up, the oil pressure gauge (a standard fitting) should indicate around 50psi at normal road speeds. Listen for rumbling from the bottom end of the engine too (indicating worn crankshaft/bearings), and ensure that the oil pressure builds up rapidly from a cold start.

Assess manual transmissions for weak synchromesh and noisy gearbox bearings. On versions equipped with Bog Warner automatic transmission, check for smooth ratio changes and ensure that the transmission fluid is clean and at the correct level.

These models need to have the front suspension re-greased regularly (ideally every 1,000 miles or so), or the king pins and bushes, and the lower fulcrum pins, can wear badly, eventually resulting in MOT test failure. Rectification is a time-consuming job and can be costly.

VERDICT
Enjoyable user-friendly and still practical family classics.

Organizations catering for the cars include: British Made Car Club; www.britishmadecarclub.co.uk
Cambridge-Oxford Owners' Club; www.co-oc.org
Austin Cambridge Westminster Car Club;
www.acwcc.org
 

Values estimated at July 2008.

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Stylish, comfortable and dependable, the mid-range Cambridge models from Austin, and equivalent Oxfords from Morris, take some beating today as practical classics. Kim Henson looks closely at these family favorites.

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