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Make Way for the Freeway

The problem for the Austin Freeway was that by 1962 its shape was outdated.

That's the car, not the big road in Texas, and its plusher sibling, the Wolseley 24/80. And before you ask, 24/80 means 2.4 litres and 80 BHP (that's 59kw in today's currency).

The six cylinder Freeway/Wolseley combination was developed because in 1962 the British Motor Company (BMC) was losing the sales battle against Holden, Falcon and Valiant with their UK inspired and decidedly underpowered 1.6 litre four cylinder Austin A60s, Morris Oxford, and Wolseley 15/60. This trio had remained almost unchanged since their release in 1959.

Lacking cash to develop a new engine, local BMC engineers simply added two cylinders to the existing four cylinder motor, boosting power by 35%.

The marketing folk called this 2.4 litre engine the “blue streak” and the advertising slogan shouted out to customers to “make way for the Freeway”.

What potential customers actually did was to make their way directly to a Holden, Ford or Chrysler dealership and BMC's dreams of a sales bonanza fell short. After only selling 27,000 units production was terminated in 1965. By comparison, Holden sold 154,000 of the EJ model in just 18 months.

The problem for the Freeway was that by 1962 its shape was outdated. Italian styling guru Batista Pininfarina had penned the original design in the mid 1950s. He gave the BMC cars a slightly wrapped windscreen and modest tail fins. Trouble was by 1962 the Freeway was too tall , too narrow and just too much of 1959 when compared to the longer, lower, wider , more stylish and more powerful competitors.

Mind you, Pinnifarina made lucrative use of the BMC design. He used the same styling template for the Peugeot 404, the 1957 Lancia Flaminia and the Ferrari 250GT Pininfarina. If you do not believe me, take a look at a Peugeot 404 and a Freeway. Both come from the same cookie cutter. Alternatively, you can Google it. There are websites devoted to this very subject!

Freeway enthusiasts refer to the cars as the ‘BMC Farinas’ and you'd be surprised at the strength of their following and legion of devotees. Go to any “All British” car club show and I guarantee you the most prolific marque on display, with the most enthusiastic supporters, will be Farina styled BMCs.

David Burrell is the editor of www.retroautos.com.au