Hints and Tips - In defence of the Austin Seven

Date: Thu, 21 Mar 1996
From: Sergio Montes
Subject: Austin Sevens

>John Hardy wrote:
>>All on the prewar list,
>>Anyone out there an Austin 7 fan. i've come
>> across someone doing Gordon England Cup bodies to original patterns.
>> This has got toappeal to antone who would ambition is to drive their
>>lawnmower down the road!

John has described very well my feelings regarding Austin 7's. I had one about 30 years ago, one of the last of the sevens, a 1937 Ruby saloon, a quite smart and well kept car, in light grey over darker grey. At that time the car (in Santiago, Chile) was not considered "vintage", but was my daily transportation and vehicle for occasional outings to the coast with the family. I can honestly say that no worse car was ever made, with the possible exception of some Willys cars of the same vintage. The standards of braking, roadholding, handling were appalling. The power was totally insufficient even for city driving, maybe that is an unfair comparison, but the car was "only" 25 years old then , younger than my present Rover 2000, and the engine was always boiling in the hot summers. Brakes were the reason why I finally disposed of the car. I felt totally insecure in it when driving the family. I found a good, sympathetic buyer and he kept the car well, although he used it but little.

When compared with the excellent American cars of the same period (with the Willys exception), or even with other English cars (I purchased a nice 1940 Hillman Minx afterwards), the Sevens were atrocious. I have never understood the mystique surrounding them , or even why other people bothered building them elsewhere. The Americans tried (American Bantam),a dismal failure. The Germans produced a much nicer version, the Dixi, built by BMW, and the French had the Rosengart, essentially tarted up derivatives of the Seven, about as underpowered and under-braked as the English version.

Nostalgia is all very well, but, why can't we direct the object of our dreams to a worthier subject ? If the interest is in the preservation and restoration of of a small, cheap "peoples car", an infinitely better car is the Fiat Topolino, which lasted until the middle fifties in several versions, or even some of the smaller Renaults. Those which are attracted to neat engineering solutions of the problems of designing a "people's car" will find the Citroen 2CV or the even better known German KdF hard to beat.

"Classic Car" had some years ago a very interesting review of the cars sold in England in the 1930's and later another of the cars sold in the 1970's, compiled by the inimitable LJK Setright, if my memory is correct. He coined the name "grey porridge", for cars of average engineering distinction, with no memorable features, but with honest, solid characteristics. Say the Standards, Morrises , Peugeots of the period. Where would the Sevens stand in Setright's estimate? I did miss those issues of Classic Car where the Sevens were reviewed.

Date: Thu, 21 Mar 96
From: Hugh Barnes
Subject: Austin Sevens

I'm afraid that I have to reply to Sergio's comments about Austin 7's. Not wishing to start any sort of argument at all, but I felt someone had to answer on Austin's behalf.

I have to start by saying (if you hadn't guessed already) that I'm a dyed in the wool Austin 7 man. My first car was a 1933 Austin 7 Saloon, which I still own today, bought as an 18 year old in 1970. Even in 1970 Austin Sevens were not generally considered 'desirable' and certainly not 'exotic', a fact reflected in the prices one had to pay then. I well remember people drawing breath and shaking their heads when I told them that I'd paid 125 GBP for it. To be fair, one could still have bought a 'runner' for 50 quid then. However by then they already had tremendous popular support. The first Austin 7 rally I went to, the 750 Motor club rally at Beaulieu in 1969, had something like 300 cars attending.

Austin 7's have always had areas where people found them lacking; Brakes, always the top of everyone's list. Many people have tried to improve them with hydraulic conversions. Indeed, my car when purchased had these fitted. Although the car stopped, I never had any real trust in them. Converted back to cable, admittedly with the later Girling (ie Ruby) front axle and brakes the car stops perfectly. As with all cable brake systems, the condition of every moving part is of paramount importance, any movement in bushes etc is magnified through the system resulting in loss of performance. IMHO conversion to hydraulic brakes is a bit of an excuse to overcome decent maintenance (a bit contentious that, what?) Roadholding has never been an issue to my knowledge. The only Austin 7 I have ever known to fall over or drive off the road in any way was when one of my pals had a cow jump into his car (another story that!). Handling. Again, never been seen as a problem. A decent Austin 7 will have as delightfully light steering as you could wish for. Power can only be answered with the example of an Austin 7 , Lands End to John O'Groats (875 miles?) in just over 17 hours. My saloon will cruise at 45/50 mph all day, quite sufficient I think.

"Why not preserve a worthier subject"

I have to say, I can think of no car worthier to preserve. It is one of the most significant cars in the history of the motor car. When Herbert Austin and Stanley Edge laid out the plans of the car on the billiard table at Lickey Grange, the were designing a car that bought cars to the masses. At the time Austin had a foreman who came to work on a motorcycle combination, the Austin was designed to take up the same room but transport a family in comfort, which it did admirably. The fact that Dixi, Rosengardt, Datsun (though they never admitted it) chose to build copies is a testament to that. The Bantam failed in America as they just couldn't cope with the concept of a small car (witness the sale to people such as Buster Keaton, sadly it was considered a joke and failed before it had started).

I dont know what LK Setright might have to say, but I think most commentators on the history of the motor car would accept the above, certainly Bill Boddy, editor of Motorsport magazine for God knows how long, and now in his 80's still drives an A7 Ulster. Lord Montegue of Beaulieu rates them so highly that a very early Chummy shares the entrance hall to the National Motor Museum with the London to Edinburgh Silver Ghost and Paddy Hopkirk's Monte Carlo winning Mini. Illustrious company indeed.

I'm sorry that Sergio obviously had a bad example and that has set him against the other 290,999 that were made, but in England we still have 10,000 to prove him wrong!

Regards to all

Hugh Barnes

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