Driving “Mr. Magoo”

I never owned anything other than two-seat convertibles, until I bought a pickup, and that was only to drag or carry broken bits of classic British convertibles. Being young and childless, and only dating carefully chosen women who liked convertibles, there really wasn’t a need for anything more. But then I grew up.

For a brief interlude, recently ended, I felt some moral obligation to provide a four-door sedan when picking up friends at the airport. Perhaps it was professional embarrassment: “I can take you or your luggage on the first trip, then come back for whatever is left.”

The sedan, a turbocharged Subaru, offered some measure of both cargo capacity and performance. Actually, Subarus offer box-loads of performance.

Being known around Moss as the Wing Master (because of the Subaru’s enormous rear wing) never quite fit the profile of a successful businessman. So the Sooby is gone, and I’m back to two-seaters. Somewhere out there must be a coupe or sedan which can appeal at all levels.

Such a mythical machine does exist, and it’s a British classic to boot. The Austin A35, in all of its faded empire glory, is like Mr. Magoo’s homburg hat…on wheels. It looks like a carrying case for two humans. Just put a handle on top and take it onto the plane as carry-on luggage. While I have always admired the A35 from afar, circumstances have thrust the venerable Austin forward into the breach.

Fred Lynch, Moss Motors’ COO, recently returned from a stint in the UK with not one, but TWO A35s in tow. I kept my jealous lust a secret for about three seconds. One day Fred asked about the supercharger on my MG Midget. He’s been thinking about putting one on one of his A35s and wanted to see how they drive. I mapped out my conditions. He could drive the Midget if, and only if, I were allowed to drive the Austin in exchange.

After he finished laughing, Fred tossed me the keys, along with an admonition I needed to connect the battery before attempting to start the car. It seems he has some fear the poor little thing would spontaneously combust if left connected to a powerful car battery. With its narrow, upright stance, and a carburetor the size of a walnut on its anemic 34 bhp 948cc lump, the A35 promises little in the area of performance.

The seats are a harbinger of what’s to come. You sit on them rather than in them. However, the car’s lack of lateral grip, offset by a general lack of brakes, means one needn’t fear. I’m not at all certain the car could generate enough force in any direction to make one slide off the seat. Be that as it may, a lap belt will at least keep the driver from tipping over as the car drags its door handles through turns.

Therein lays the true beauty of the A35. It does everything in a slow, almost regal fashion. It cruises comfortably at a stately 45 mph. Speed is for kids after all, the little purring BMC lump whispers to me, we’ll get there eventually.

Cornering and braking are perfectly adequate—at low speeds. In fact, cruising around town was a real joy. I couldn’t help laughing while crawling along down the block. Freeways, I don’t know, but in the city, any respectable octogenarian would feel perfectly happy in an Austin A35.

It simply is not possible for me to look at an A35 and not hear Mr Magoo’s voice bouncing around in my head. If faced every morning with the choice between driving a Porsche or an A35, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t pick the A35. Now that’s a serious admission of impending old age.

By Robert Goldman

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'Driving “Mr. Magoo”' has 1 comment

  1. November 21, 2012 @ 8:08 am Barry Triplett

    Mr. Goldman, as a lifelong Anglophile, buying my first MGA at 17 years old, I have been a Moss customer since Hector was a pup. I have lived in the UK for eight years, leaving behind my 62 B and 68 B GT in my garage in RI to sit most of the time and then be pressed into service for a major flailing once or twice a year. Anyway, a couple years ago I accidentally bought a 54 A30 to go with the 74 BGT I have here. Really did not intend to keep it, but what a Sweetie. It is now my daily driver. I have driven it to London four times, a distance of about 400 miles. Obviously just catching up here, but do get one of the A35s if you can. It is a cartoon car. The kids love it. Everyone I meet here in Scotland where I now live who is older than fifty tells me they learned to drive in one. It is a lovely old motor that will carry you with stately panache wherever you want to go.

    Just for fun, check this out. http://www.austina30a35ownersclub.co.uk/ Go to ‘Forums’, click on it and ask for Knock, Knock.

    Cheers, Barry


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