- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Melvin Gamble has spent his adult life being diplomatic for the State Department at various posts around the world.

From 1999 until 2002 he was assigned to Pretoria, South Africa. A few months after their arrival, he told his wife, Janelle, that he was going to an auction to perhaps get some painting to help decorate their home.

He failed to find any art work for their home but, before he left the auction, out rolled a cute little 11.5-foot-long green car with black fenders and 54-spoke wire wheels that caught his eye.

The diminutive car had an “A” on each hubcap and flanking the radiator was a pair of 7-inch “King of the Road” headlights. A small parking light sat atop each front fender.

Mr. Gamble lingered at the auction to witness the fate of the car that had arrested his attention.

Diplomatically speaking, Mr. Gamble says, “Your wife is never with you when you buy a car.” He was the successful bidder on the 1935 Austin Sedanca that August day in 2000. He believes that he is the fourth owner.

Mr. Gamble went home to explain the art work he had purchased wasn’t exactly for the house. Actually, it was more suitable for the garage.

For the next two years the Gambles were a familiar sight in Pretoria as they drove about the city in their 5.25-foot-tall Austin with its 93-inch wheelbase and its 4.50x18-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.

As those in government service know, each assignment must end. As Mr. Gamble’s South Africa tour of duty came to a conclusion in August 2002, the Austin was placed in a shipping container, trucked off to Durbin and put on a ship bound for the port of Baltimore.

He and his family flew back to the United States and settled in Reston. He was at work when the car was delivered to his house.

As a red MG was rolled off the truck, Mrs. Gamble informed the delivery men, “My husband has a green car.”


They reloaded their mistake onto the truck and two days later returned with the 1935 Austin Sedanca.

“It was in good shape,” Mr. Gamble recalls. 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 once more turning freely, cooled by a two-blade fan.

Mr. Gamble was pleased to once again step over the rubber on the running board and climb behind the right-hand-drive car with its four-speed manual-transmission lever at his left hand. The hand brake is next to the lever. He soon learned that visibility to the rear was only through the 5x19-inch rear window.

Landau bars on each quarter panel stand ready to hinge the top down, a task Mr. Gamble has yet to attempt.

However, 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,” Mr. Gamble says, “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 vertically stored spare tire against the back of the rear seat.

Peeking out below the trunk as well as the bumper is the 1-inch-diameter tailpipe.

Driving about Northern Virginia with his wife and daughters in the 56-inch-wide Austin is an exercise in family togetherness and a delight for Mr. Gamble.

“It’s rather cozy,” he says.

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