Type: Austin 1800 Mk1
Transmission: Was automatic, now manual (manual conversion May 2016)
Colour: Neutral Grey (original colour)
So why an Austin and why an 1800?
My dad had a white Austin 1800, blue interior, manual transmission, in the early 70’s. Here’s a photo of Dad’s Austin. If you look close at the photo on the left, you can see dad sitting behind the driver’s wheel and my younger brother and I are in the back (another photo of my brother and I in the back of the 1800 with Dad in the driver’s seat). I was about 5 and remember riding in the car. Dad also had, a “Baby Austin”, A30.
The search begins
I attended the All British Day at Tennyson in 2013 where I introduced myself to the Austin Club and David Bright, who had a couple of Austin 1800s for sale (as he needed the space in his shed for another restoration project). David took me for a drive in his Austin 1800, mark 2 and allowed me to have a drive, so I could experience for myself driving an older car in comparison to a modern day car and whether, after my turn at driving the 1800, I was still keen to have my own – I was hooked.
Both 1800s were located at David’s Springbrook property and had not been running for sometime. However, both were kept in a large shed, covered and protected from the elements. David removed the cover from the first 1800, a white one, which being the same colour as dads, appeared to be the sentimental choice. However, it was in very poor condition and would need a great deal of work. David then removed the cover from the second 1800. It looked as though you could get in it right then and drive it away. The exterior was tidy, a bit of surface rust, but looked good. The interior was in great condition. I knew that the choice between the two 1880s was easy, this was the one for me. I also believed that it would be the easier of the two to restore – it ended up not being as easy as I thought or hoped.
A long list of repairs
David very kindly transported the 1800 from his Springbrook property to my cousin’s at Worongary and from their transport to Grafton, NSW, where my parents and uncle live, was arranged. My uncle has restored a number of vehicles, including a Mini, Holdens, Fords and others, as well as vans and an old caravan. There, in Grafton, my father and uncle worked on the car and I helped when I could get down there. Some of the items that were done:-
· New engine mounts. These were specially made by Queensland Rollers and Liners at Rocklea, QLD. They were quite an effort to get back in – so my father and uncle told me!
· New battery – once we found one that would fit;
· The brakes needed some work, including new shoes for rear drum brakes and the brake drums machined. Luckily, living across the road from mum and dad’s was a retired brake specialist who had worked on English cars (which he kept reminding us of and how difficult they are to work on!)
· Master cylinder was reconditioned;
· New exhaust pipe to fit the manifold – which again was difficult to re-fit, again as my father and uncle told me.
I have also added:
· Rear louvers;
· Front Sun Shade;
· Genuine 1965 RACQ Badge (it did have an old NRMA badge, but as it was going to be a Qld car, I gave it to my uncle).
It actually did not take long to get the engine to start. After cleaning the spark plugs and flushing the fuel line, we actually turned over the engine within 20 minutes of working on the car. It was great to hear it start up for the first time in what I believe was several years (albeit noisy, as it needed a new exhaust part). However, we still had all of the above listed repairs to be done.
After attending to the above list of repairs, my father and uncle believed they had it to a condition where it could be sent back to me and get registered.
Unfortunately, the automatic transmission was completely shot, no good, unrepairable!
When I got the car back to Brisbane I had it inspected for Roadworthy and registration and was advised by the mechanic that there was a noise that seemed to come from the gearbox. The mechanic was quite concerned about the noise (it turned out that his concern was justified). The job to remove the gearbox and inspect was going to be big. I took the car back and sent it to a friend to have a look at. During this time the following was done:
· Refurb the generator;
· Fill the Hydraulic suspension, which was not a problem. She rose up as the liquid was pumped in.
After quite a period of time, where we could not work out what the noise was, and we could not find a mechanic to work on an Austin (every mechanic I contacted, including those who advertised that they specialised in old cars, said “no” as soon as they knew it was a British car), I took the car to Abingdon Motors at Dutton Park. Unfortunately, I was told that the noise was the automatic transmission and it was completely shot, no good, unrepairable. I was quite deflated with this news as it seemed like the end of the project.
A couple of days later, Abingdon Motors called me and suggested a conversion to manual transmission. They had discussed it at the workshop and whilst they worked on MGs and the like, were confident they could complete a conversion to manual transmission, however, I would need to source the parts for the conversion. After some investigation, I found a guy outside of St Marys, (near Penrith) west of Sydney who had a number of Austin 1800’s, Ron Franks (you can see photos of his property and his 1800s on the NSW Austin Club website). Ron was fantastic, he provided all the parts for a manual transmission, packed them all, with instructions and sent to Abingdon Motors. He was also happy to answer any questions they had. We also needed a bottom end gasket kit, which I got from a contact in Adelaide (this same contact supplied a refurb radiator that I got installed recently – the original had deteriorated and the car was overheating).
Abingdon Motors did a great job with the manual transmission conversion and late on 2 June 2016, my Austin 1800 was registered and I took it for its first drive, on a road, for some years. This first drive was from Abingdon Motors to my office at Milton. I had parked it behind my Magna station wagon in the basement car park. It was the start of the weekend and the weather bureau had forecast a large amount of rainfall (the forecast was very true). So I decided to leave the 1800 at the office and drive the Magna home. However, in my excitement of picking up the 1800 from Abingdon Motors, I had not enquired as to where reverse was on the manual transmission. Also, the way the Austin had been parked at Abingdon, I had not needed to reverse the car to exit their premises. This, I realised, when at 6.30pm on that Friday evening, I went down to the car park to reverse out the 1800 from behind the Magna, so I could drive the Magna home. No matter how many gear stick positions I tried, I could not find reverse! Luckily, the floor of the car park was slopped to the centre, in case the car park flooded, so I put the 1800 into neutral, opened the driver’s door, put my leg out and pushed the 1800 back to the centre. When it was far enough back, I started it up and drove it forward to park beside my Magna. I could then reverse the Magna out and drive home. I managed to get hold of Ron Franks then next day who told me how to engage reverse in the 1800. After the heavy rain over that weekend, I drove back to the office late Sunday afternoon, got in the 1800, found reverse and drove it home.
I am very grateful to Abingdon Motors to have the manual transmission conversion completed, the car passing its safety certificate and able to drive from Brisbane to Grafton. The 1800’s first big trip for some time – some 350 kilometres.
It was very important for me to get the 1800 registered and on the road as quickly as I could. As I have said, I had chosen an Austin 1800 as my dad had one when I was young. Dad had been battling a number of cancers (three of them) over the previous 6 years and in March 2016 was told that one of them was terminal and there was nothing further, medically, that could be done. I wanted to get the 1800 back to Grafton to show him and take him for a drive.
Fortunately, I did get the Austin 1800 to Grafton to show him and take him for a drive, which he thoroughly enjoyed (see photo below). Unfortunately, this would be his only trip in my Austin. After spending 6 weeks in Palliative Care in Grafton Base Hospital, Dad lost his brave fight on 30 August 2016. There is still a lot to do to finish this restoration project, including: new door seals, interior and new paint job, and I would have loved Dad to be here to work on it with me. However, he will be with me every step of the way to bring my Austin 1800 back to looking its best and he’ll be with me every trip I take.