Car of the Month : September 2008

ALWAYS a rare car even when new, the chances of spotting a 3 Litre on the road these days are akin to enjoying a big win on the Lotto.

This particular car, owned by Bernard Phillips, is in such good condition that it qualifies as a genuine timewarp car, looking no older than one year old. So, step back to 1971, and enjoy some time with this well cared-for director’s car, beautifully prepared to be sold on to its first, eager, owner…

Austin 3 Litre owner, Alexander Boucke, talks to Bernard about his magnificent car at the BL day in Peterborough.

Cream of the crop

THERE are always cars that look good on paper, but which in reality don’t live up to the promise – we can all think of examples of that. However, there’s also a breed of cars – even rarer – that look bad on paper, but which are actually excellent in real life, and turn out to be a real joy to live with. And that’s probably the main reason why cars such as the Austin 3 Litre are such a rare breed…

On paper, the 3 Litre didn’t have much going for it: the centre section was obviously shared with the smaller 1800, and having RWD meant less space inside. A strange decision all round considering BMC spent most of the 1960s trumpeting the benefits of its transverse FWD platforms.

On the road, the 3 Litre looked poor in comparison to its siblings, too – performance figures weren’t a significant step over the 1800 and petrol consumption was much worse. How could it not be with the engine that was nearly twice the size? And all that for the price of one and a half Austin 1800s? It’s not too hard to see why Austin dealers struggled to sell them.

Cars that do look good on paper have customers queuing up for test drives – and, once they’re in, they probably come back disillusioned. The 3 Litre’s main problem was getting people behind the wheel in the first place – because, once in, the car shines. Despite the visual similarity to the 1800, it’s a very different beast.

Firstly, it has a conventional driving position – not the typical Issigonis-style bus-driver stance. Space is ample; ignoring the centre console a lengthened front footwell means there’s even more than the 1800 has to offer. Turn the key and get driving – the driver will be rewarded with a very refined engine and one of the most comfortable rides money could buy back in the day.

Performance? Another traditional carmaker would have stated it as ‘adequate’. It’s no sports saloon, but the excellent underpinnings enabled the 3 Litre driver to achieve high cross-country averages without making life tiring for the occupants. What more to expect from a luxury saloon?

Old English Beauty at work.

Bernard’s car has enjoyed an easy and pampered life. Although there’s no service history, there would not have been many stamps given there’re only 30,000 on the clock. After undertaking some research, Bernard found some of the car’s history. His 3 Litre was delivered to Marshalls (Main Austin Dealership) of Norwich Road, Wisbech, sometime in February 1970, but wasn’t sold until the 4th June 1970 to a Mr Goode of Emneth, Norfolk.

He kept the car until 11th December 1989, covering just 27,007 miles. It was then sold to a Mr M Judge, a collector it seems, as it was on static display until an MOT was carried out in April 1994 – four years and five months later, with just 27,028 miles on the clock. A mere 21 miles addition would indicate the distance travelled to and from the test station. From then on, it was obviously used, but often covering less than 200 miles between the annual tests.

When the car was sold to Bernard earlier this year, the mileage was 30,551. What he found was a car that was not only barely run-in – it had covered a mileage that many big saloons would have put under their wheels in less than one year – but also in fine condition. The car remains in a condition that most classic car enthusiasts would dream of: it is unrestored and has never received serious cosmetic attention – yet it looks like a less than one year old car that has been well cared for.

The car is just too beautiful to be locked away in a garage and Bernard is taking it to quite a few car shows. He also offers the car for weddings and similar events, in exchange for a donation to a named charity, but he already has enough bookings to last until the end of next year. Bernard summarizes what the 3 Litre means to him: “The things I like most about the car are, first of all, the ride quality, plus the self levelling suspension. The huge boot space and the simplicity of maintenance are a bonus, as is, of course, the aesthetically pleasing shape.”

Bernard recently found the engineer who has serviced his car for much of its life so this 3 Litre is clearly in safe hands. He even has a couple of donor cars to help with the spares situation…


Inviting interior

The car’s best aspect – the elegant rear looking good next to more expensive machinery at the BL day.

Unused toolkit that came with the car, note the RAC phone-box entry key still in packet.

Alexander Boucke


  1. Gorgeous car. I have never ever seen one, despite living in the BL heartland of West Midlands! Bernard hope it brings you many years of happy motoring.

  2. The BMC dealer I worked for in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire sold a couple of these; the first in 1968, was to the esteemed inventor of the car’s Hydrolastic suspension, Dr Alex Moulton no less, who required one of the first built automatic variants for R&D work. That car, a de Luxe model was MAM222F, registered on 21st May 1968 and cost (after 14% discount) £1,256,16/8d. Moulton Developments kept it for approximately four years and it’s subsequent fate is unknown. A second 3 Litre was sold on 01.04.1970 to Messrs Whitbread Flowers Ltd of Monson Avenue, Cheltenham Glos, unknown but it was a Super de Luxe in Fawn Brown with extras listed; Overdrive, Hot Window (HRW), Auto Belts and Radio. Cost £1690 less £490 allowed in part-exchange for a 1967 Austin A110 Westminster.

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