The A90 Atlantic was Austin’s bold attempt to break into the lucrative and critical US market at a time when dollar exports were of huge importance to the UK economy.
It was a streamlined vehicle with a separate chassis, and was powered by a derivative of the 2.2-litre engine first used in the Austin 16 h.p., bored out to 2.6 litres and with twin SU carburettors in place of the single Zenith used in the 16 h.p. and the subsequent A70 Hampshires and Herefords. This 2.6 litre/twin SU variant of the engine went on to power the Austin-Healey 100/4.
Available as both a saloon and a convertible, the Atlantic had a number of unusual features, including a third ‘cyclops’ headlamp, and for some of the saloon models, a wind-down rear window, with the handle located near the driver, above the rear-view mirror.
An A90 Atlantic Convertible participated in a number of endurance record attempts at Indianapolis, led by Austin’s publicity supremo at the time, Alan Hess. Amongst the records achieved was an average of 70mph for a full 24 hours – a record which still stands to this day. The vehicle involved is kept in the Birmingham Museums collection, and, whilst not on permanent display, can be seen on their regular open days. The Collection also kindly allowed the club to borrow the vehicle for our stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show in 2009.
Whilst the Atlantic was never the great breakthrough that Austin were looking for in America, there has been a longstanding misconception that the car was a disaster for Austin – which it was not – it sat alongside the Austin A40 Devon in helping deliver Austin’s record-breaking export performance in those post-war years. The cars are now highly-valued, with Convertibles in particular commanding strong prices.
The A90 Atlantic Convertible was launced in September 1948 with production starting in February 1949 and ceasing by the end of 1950. Production of the Atlantic began in January 1950, and continued until September 1952.