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THE CLASSICS 1935 Austin treasured auction find

February 16, 2019 GMT

While working for the U.S. State Department some 20 years ago, Melvin Gamble was assigned to South Africa. Settling into their new post, Gamble told his wife he was going to an auction in search of some paintings to help decorate their home.

He failed to find artwork, but before he left the auction, a cute little 1935 Austin with 54-spoke wire wheels caught his eye.

The diminutive car had an “A” on each hubcap and a pair of 7-inch “King of the Road” headlights flanking the radiator. Gamble lingered at the auction to witness the fate of the car that had caught his attention, and he ultimately placed the winning bid on the Austin.

Gamble went home to explain to his wife how the artwork he had purchased wasn’t exactly for the house. Actually, it was more suitable for the garage.

The couple enjoyed driving about in their 5.25-foot-tall Austin with its 93-inch wheelbase and its 4.50-by-18-inch tires. Lighted semaphore arms that spring from the sides of the car signal impending turns to other drivers. A lever at the hub of the three-spoke steering wheel activates the signals.

When the government assignment came to an end, the Austin was placed in a shipping container bound for the U.S. “It was in good shape,” Gamble recalls when it was delivered state side. However, the four-cylinder engine was seized. Even trying the hand crank proved fruitless in freeing the engine.

A visit to a British car specialist resulted in the engine turning freely. Gamble was pleased to once again step up on the running board and climb behind the right-hand-drive car with its four-speed manual-transmission lever at his left hand. Visibility to the rear is only through a 5-by-19-inch rear window. Landau bars on each quarter panel stand ready to hinge the top down.

At the front of the car, the one-piece windshield can be pushed out at the bottom for ventilation. The two wipers suspended from the top share a single electric motor. A side vent on each side, forward of the door, draws cooling air into the cockpit. Conversely, three similar vents on each side of the engine hood release heat from the engine compartment.

The interior is green leather from the front bucket seats to the storage pockets in the doors. The half of the dashboard in front of the passenger is entirely for storage, while the half before the driver holds all the instrumentation, including the 80-mph speedometer. “It’ll go 50 mph,” Gamble said, “and that’s pushing it.” Four-wheel brakes are ready to halt the rolling mass.

The trunk lid is hinged at the bottom, allowing the lid to be lowered to form a platform on which luggage can be secured. The actual trunk space is occupied by a spare tire stored vertically against the back of the rear seat.

Driving about with his wife and daughters in the 56-inch-wide Austin is an exercise in family togetherness and a delight for Gamble. “It’s rather cozy,” he said.