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Austin’s famous J40 pedal car returns as a Continuation

WORDS: WAYNE BATTY | PHOTOGRAPHY: AUSTIN PEDAL CARS

After a Goodwood Revival unveiling of the final development model, British company Austin Pedal Cars has now released the production version of its brand-new J40 Continuation car. It’s been 52 years since a newly built J40 left any factory, but don’t be fooled by the exquisitely replicated appearance – beneath its period-correct Ensign Red paintwork lie design and production technology thoroughly representative of those five decades of automotive progress. 

Three years in development – using industry-standard 3D parametric solid-modelling software for design and virtual analysis – the drivetrain is described by the company as “a work of art”. Take one look at its predominantly CNC-machined billet-aluminium construction, precision-engineered steering links and pedals that appear to have graduated from the Gordon Murray school of lightweighting, and you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Not just beautiful to look at, the Continuation car’s lighter total package, premium free-running bearings, bespoke rack-and-pinion steering, cable-operated rear disc brake and a “perfectly balanced” pedalling system promise a user experience that is more rewarding to pedal and manoeuvre than ever before.

You can add laser cutting, CNC bending and additive manufacturing (3D printing) to the impressive list of processes used to manufacture the new model. Christophe Pennequin, engineering manager at Austin Pedal Cars said: “Every element of this car has been over-engineered.” Apparently the team felt the need to do justice to the original car that was “engineered to perfection with all that was available in 1949”. The injured miners who first started building classic J40s at the Bargoed, South Wales factory would surely be very proud. 

Although the three-man team who brought Austin chairman Leonard Lord’s “little idea” to life did an incredible job in creating an enduring and cherished classic, even they’d have to admit the new car has raised the bar significantly.

Every element of this car has been over-engineered

Every element of this car has been over-engineered

A much lighter, hand-formed aluminium body, aluminium artillery-style wheels with chrome hubcaps, all-new headlights, Austin badge and chrome grille provide the external visual nostalgia. That emotion is only amplified inside with a Moto-Lita wood-rimmed steering wheel, leather seat, gorgeous handbrake lever and set of Smiths gauges. As for those gauges, they’re electronic, relaying GPS-measured speed, time and remaining battery-charge readouts. Purists, relax; it’s not an EV! While the key-operated ‘ignition’ battery is a rechargeable unit, reassuringly it is there only to power the headlights and the horn. 

Slightly more than 32,000 Austin J40 pedal cars were made between 1949 and 1971, all finding homes with families more than willing to pay the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of the average salary at the time. 

The classic J40s may have been manufactured by ex-mine workers, but at £25,000 you’d have to own a mine to comfortably afford a new one these days. Yes, that’s the price tag for one of the 49 Legacy Edition Continuation launch cars. Apart from the seriously premium engineering and manufacturing, that price is arguably justified by the investment-grade specification that includes unique Legacy chassis plates complete with chassis numbers that follow on from those of the original cars. Still, there’s not likely to be a shortage of takers. After the initial unveiling at the Revival, Mark Burnett, managing director of Austin Pedal Cars said: “The car attracted the attention of the crowds for all three days, and we were delighted to take deposits to secure some of the very first J40 Continuations to be built.”

Legacy Edition Continuation cars available to view now – by appointment – at Austin Pedal Cars’ new showroom at Bicester Heritage, Oxfordshire, UK.