UK’s rarest cars: 1969 Austin 3-Litre, one of only 52 left on British roads

During its lifetime and for a long time afterwards., the 3-Litre was an often-misunderstood vehicle. As the story goes, it was a prime example of how a lack of vision produced the wrong vehicle launched at the wrong time. Yet in recent years, many enthusiasts claim that the Austin was unfairly criticised, including Neil Kidby, whose 1969 model is one of only 52 survivors. 

The British Motor Corporation (BMC) first considered a replacement for its Austin Westminster/Wolseley 6/110/Vanden Plas 3-Litre Princess “Big Farina” line-up in 1963. The basis would be the Austin 1800 “Landcrab”, which debuted in 1964, but with rear-wheel drive. BMC’s directors believed the average solicitor or bank manager would be highly suspicious of a front-wheel-drive machine.

Power for the new Austin was from a seven-bearing variant of the BMC C-series straight-six engine shared with the MGC. The Mini-like Hydrolastic “fluid” suspension was self-levelling at the rear via an engine-driven pump to compensate for changes in load. The 3-Litre was launched in September 1967, although BMC made a batch of only 25 cars to be trialled by a select group of customers. 

Sales commenced in 1968, shortly after BMC merged with Leyland, and production models sported twin round headlights instead of the square units of the first examples. For £1,604 17s 2d (with optional automatic transmission), you gained a five-seater saloon that was “not some cheap mutton dressed as lamb”. Even if it was fitted with the Mini’s flashing indicator stalk.

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