The Austin Gipsy was announced in 1958 as a replacement for the Champ which had been produced for the Royal Army. The small utility vehicle was intended as a commercial rival to the increasingly popular Land Rover and was hoped to sell to both civilian and military customers. The first vehicle produced with an independent trailing arm rubber suspension on all four wheels it was designed to cope with off-road use and serve as a capable cross-country machine. With a rugged box section chassis and an all steel body it was powered by the A70 2199-cc four cylinder engine. An optional, smaller 2178-cc diesel engine was available (the unit would also be fitted in countless London taxis) that offered better economy and longer life. A four-speed transmission with an unsynchronized first gear worked in conjunction with a transfer case that could allow use in 4-wheel high and low modes. The Flexitor rubber trailing arm suspension on all four wheels was designed to deal with the rough road conditions and provide a serviceable ride in civilian usage.
The Champ had proven the utility of using an independent front and rear suspension for use in difficult conditions and it was determined that the Gipsy suspension should offer comparable performance at lower cost for series production. The wishbone suspension of the Champ was abandoned due to the cost to manufacture the complex system and a desire to avoid the routine maintenance that would have been required to ensure reliable operation. An answer was found when Austin engineers observed a light military trailer that was equipped with a cost effective Flexitor rubber suspension that required no lubrication and decided to adopt a similar suspension for use in the Gipsy.
The Flexitor suspension used pre-compressed rubber cylinders which were chemically bonded to a tubular steel housing and to an axial shaft on the end of which was mounted the trailing arm carrying each wheel. All deflections of the arm resulting from impacts were absorbed by the twisting of the rubber. The units incorporated self-dampeniing, but the addition of hydraulic shock absorbers all round provided extra control. Spring failure was virtually impossible (in theory) and tests showed that it had a life of over three times greater than that of conventional leaf springs. Eventually a conventional leaf spring suspension was offered as an option that promised greater simplicity and more reliability in actual usage.
Sold in several variants and an array of body types, the Austin Gipsy was successful but was never a legitimate rival to the more popular Land Rover. Military sales were never comparable to the Land Rover, but several hundred vehicles were purchased by the Home Office and placed in long term storage for use in the event of a national catastrophe (such as nuclear war) but were eventually sold off in the 90s in essentially new condition. The BL merger doomed the Gipsy and production was discontinued in 1968 so as not to scavenge sales from the more commercial viable Land Rover.
By Johnny Oversteer
Information courtesy of austingipsy.net