The Austin 7, the “The little Friend of the World’
The Austin 7 is an economy car that was produced from 1922 until 1939 in the United Kingdom by the Austin Motor Company. It was nicknamed the “Baby Austin” and was at that time one of the most popular cars produced for the British market and sold well abroad. Its effect on the British market was similar to that of the Model T Ford in the US, It was also licensed and copied by companies all over the world. The very first BMW car, the BMW Dixi, was a licensed Austin 7, as were the original American Austins. In France they were made and sold as Rosengarts. In Japan Nissan also used the 7 design as the basis for their first cars, although not under licence.
In 1920 Sir Herbert Austin commenced working on the concept of a smaller car, mainly to meet the needs of young families aspiring to own an affordable motor car after World War 1. This idea was spurred on by the introduction of the Horsepower Tax in 1921. His design concept marked a departure from his company’s conservative motoring past and Austin received considerable opposition from his board of directors and creditors. Because the company was in receivership Austin decided to carry out the project himself on his own account and in 1921 hired an 18-year-old draughtsman, Stanley Edge, from the Austin factory at Longbridge, Birmingham to aid in the drawing of detailed plans. This work was carried out in the billiard room of Austin’s Lickey Grange home.
The standard Austin 7, with 40 mpg fuel economy & top speed of around 40 mph, was the go-anywhere car. With it’s large skinny wheels, lightweight 425 kg body (2.8m long x 1.17m wide for the earlier models, a tad longer for the later ones), small 747cc motor, & high power to weight ratio it went on to compete successfully (with over 200 wins) in a lot of different motor racing events – being particularly successful in hillclimb races against far more expensive & powerful cars. In 1932 a supercharged, lowered version set a Class H record of 102 miles per hour, and Austin sevens took first place in around over 200 hill climb, touring, and other races. Also, because of their cheapness & simplicity, many of them were converted into “Specials” with an astounding variety of body shapes.
290,000 Austin 7’s were produced between in the UK from 1922 to 1939 in a variety of body styles, including vans.
A further 100,000 Austin 7’s were produced internationally – under license in Germany, under the Dixi brand (which later became BMW), in France as Rosengart & in the USA by the American Austin Company as Bantam (which went on to produce the first Jeeps.) They were also claimed to be copied, without license, by Nissan/Datsun of Japan.
As the Austin 7 name had become so popular it was also used for the first Austin A30’s (in 1951) & the first Austin Minis (in 1959)
Nick Mason, Pink Floyd drummer & car enthusiast, had an Austin 7 “Chummy’ as his first car, & Mick Fleetwood, of Fleetwood Mac, shared his love of the wee beasties
The Australian Connection
Sir Herbert Austin has a strong connection with Australia. In 1884, an 18 year old Herbert Austin emigrated to Australia, to work with his uncle who was works manager of a general engineering firm in Melbourne. In 1887 Herbert became manager of another engineering workshop that was developing a sheep-shearing machine for the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company. Herbert married his wife Helen, the 7th daughter of Scottish parents in the same year in Melbourne. In 1888 Herbert joined Wolseley in Sydney, developed improvements which he patented in his own name and traded for shares in Wolseley. By 1893 Herbert and his family moved back to the UK after Wolseley had transferred to a new company based in London, although its operations still continued in Australia. Herbert Austin became interested in motor cars and built a few 3 wheelers but the Wolseley board saw no profit in them. In 1901 Vickers bought out Wolseley’s motor car business and Herbert moved to the new operation and then in 1905 started his own factiry in an old print business in Birmingham, which was on a block of land that was well served by a railway line.
The Austin 7 in Australia
In the aftermath of World War I the Australian Government imposed a tariff on imported vehicles, with tax concessions applying to rolling chassis, as a stimulus to develop a sovereign motor vehicle industry. The chassis concession acted as a financial incentive for local coach-builders to import factory built rolling chassis, and fit Australian designed and built bodies, leading to the establishment of an Australian motor vehicle bodybuilding industry in the early 1920s.
The largest and best known of these Australian coach-builders was Holden’s Motor Body Builders. Holden built Australian-bodied Austin Seven tourer and roadster models from the mid 1920s.
However, several smaller coach-builders built limited numbers of Australian-bodied Austin Seven sports models between 1924-34. Some examples of these Australian-bodied sports models are; the Standard Sports, built by Flood Motor Body Works, St Kilda Road, Melbourne; the Wasp built by William Green, Parramatta Road, Petersham, Sydney; the Moth built by Geo Sykes, Gordon Road, Chatswood, Sydney; the Comet built by Bill Conoulty, Sydney; and the Meteor. The Meteor was built by Several coach-builders ( Flood Motor Body Works, St Kilda Road, Melbourne; Jack Lonzar, Kent Town Adelaide; and A Robinson & Co., 181 Castlereagh St, Sydney), with individual variations to the common design.
Austin 7 Clubs were founded in the UK as soon as the last Austin 7 was sold new. Here in Australia we have 5 Clubs, one in each of the larger States.
The Austin 7 Club of Victoria was founded in January 1950 by eleven Austin Seven enthusiasts came together and formed an interim committee, immediately embarking on an active and varied motor sport career with a series of club runs, treasure hunts, hill climbs, border runs and observed section trials.
The Austin 7 Club of SA was founded in 1953, by a group of people, keen to foster motoring activities centred on the Austin Seven motor car. They rebuilt their Austins for road use and at weekends used them in road trials and sprints. After a few years, as the desire to go faster grew, many built special versions of their Sevens
The Austin 7 Register of Qld. Inc was set up by several young enthusiasts 50 years ago in 1967 to promote, preserve and assist in the restoration of a wonderful, small car that is so much a part of our motoring history. Many Austin 7s have been saved from destruction by these enthusiasts, many of whom are still active members of the club.
The Austin 7 Club NSW Inc has been active since 1984 and aims to bring together people with the common interest of restoring, preserving and driving Austin Sevens.
Austin 7 Club WA, after an advertisement appeared in the paper, 21 like-minded people who had an interest in Austin Seven motorcars met on the 6th August 1986.
3 OF THE REMARKABLE CARS THAT MAKE THE 2017 AUSTIN SEVEN NATIONAL TOUR SPECIAL
The 1931 Works Austin 7 Racing Car owned by Ian Moore from the UK
This is one of the original Austin Works racing cars from 1931, the fact that it has survived after a long history of 20 years of continued racing, neglect and eventual successful resurrection is remarkable. The photo below shows the car is still involved in Historic Racing. The previous owner and restorer Grant Cowie is racing the car at Hampton Park NZ in 2013.
In 1930/31 the Austin Motor Company decided to build a Streamliner Austin Seven to break the Class H Records at Brooklands. After successfully achieving in excess to 100 MPH, the 1931 Austin ” Bluebird “,was converted into a Racing Car. The Austin Motor Company decided to build three additional Racing Cars to make a team of four cars to be entered in the October1931 500 Mile Race at Brooklands. These Racing Cars had Chassis Nos:- AX 1010, AX 1011, AX 1012, and AX 1013. After racing at Brooklands and Donington between 1931 and 1934, the Cars were dispersed. By this time they had been affectionately named ” Dutch Clogs ” or more popularly the ” Rubber Ducks “.
In 1934/5 the X-Streamliner, AX 1010, and AX1011 were sent to Robb’s Motors, in South Africa, AX1012 was sold to Seabrook Fowles in New Zealand. In August 1933 AX 1013 was sent to Germany for Kohlraush to drive, followed by Walter Baumer.
Grant Cowie discovered, AX 1012, in New Zealand, the Car having been raced from 1935 to the 1950’s and when he moved to Australia, it came with him and over a number years he painstakingly restored the Car to what you see today.
In 1936 it was transported to South Australia to take part in the Australian Grand Prix in Victor Harbour where it is pictured (left).
I first came to the National Rally in Australia in 2002, then 2007 followed by 2012, during these years I became friends with John and Dorothy Bowring, Graeme Steinfort, and Grant Cowie and his family.
Being an Austin 7 nut for many years and after much negotiation I purchased the ” Duck ” and decided I would leave it in Australia until the 2017 Rally.
Pictures and story provided by Ian Moore, additional photos also provided kindly by Grant Cowie.
The 1931 Swallow Saloon owned by Graeme & Annette Burbidge of Victoria
Sir William Lyons, founder of the Jaguar marque, started off building side cars for motor bikes and by the early 1930s, complete bodies for Austin Seven and Standard Motor Cars. This car was owned by one family for 38 years in England. It them passed theru the hand of sveral hopefull restorers until it was restored in 1994. That owners death meant that “Lizzie” was laid up for another 12 years when Graeme and and Anette Burbidge of Victoria bought the car
1930 Austin 7 Chummy Owned by Matthew, Martin & Trent Potts of Brisbane.
My father, David Potts, bought his 1930 Chummy in 1960 for £35. It was his first car. As a little boy, I loved going on club outings and test drives with Dad and my family. Dad passed away in 1987 only days after giving me my first driving lesson – in the Austin of course. The car fell into disrepair while I was off working in North Qld and lay idle for 14 years. When I moved back to the Sunshine Coast to live, I bought the car off my other 3 brothers shares in the car, and with lots of help from members of the Qld Club got the car back on the road in early 2006. Now my boys love to travel in the “fast (windy) blue car”. The distinctive sounds (and smells) of my Austin are permanently etched into my memory and have renewed my passion for driving and maintaining this car that is so special to me. I really appreciate the Austin 7 Register for their support, assistance and friendship over so many years.