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Austin Seven

Published: 20th Jun 2011 - 2 Comments

Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven
Austin Seven

Buyer Beware

  • Naturally the car will rust but being a simplistic design isn’t that difficult to restore, plus boasts a separate chassis. With some 100,000 still around, there are many part-restored cars around and spares aren’t a problem either.
  • Apart from chassis rust, on a Ruby in particular remove the cover on the spare wheel carrier and check for rot – it’s an often overlooked area. Fuel tank repairs are also widespread so always crawl underneath to check the state of things.
  • Mechanically the A7 couldn’t be any simpler. A rumbling from the engine’s inners when cold donates worn bearing or a knackered crankshaft (if noise stops when clutch is depressed, it’s the bearings or a loose flywheel).Worn cranks have to be ‘spray metalled’ which is a specialist job.
  • A7 engines always leak lube and it’s really something you have to live with. However at least it ensures that the chassis is rarely troubled by rot at the front!
  • Noisy transmissions and especially the axles are common. Don’t try any old additive as some may be corrosive to the bronze bushes. Lack of lubricant is common on the suspension king pins; jack the car up and check for lateral movement.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Good if sedate fun after you’ve mastered the art of driving one

  • Usability: 3/5

    Not a daily driver but surprisingly versatile and useable

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    As simple as they come and a pleasure to tinker with

  • Owning: 4/5

    Couldn’t be easier or cheaper plus there’s great club support

  • Value: 4/5

    A lot of practical fun for pennies, plus they hold their value well

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Can a car that debuted in 1922 still have a place on Britain's roads nearly nine decades on? We think it most certainly does!

The Austin Seven was truly the car that mobilised Britain. Designed be Herbert Austin in 1920-21, it was aimed at a mass market that had previously not existed. Some doubted that such a market even existed in the 1920s, and the car was only grudgingly accepted by the Austin board,their general opinion being that Herbert’s new baby would be the ruin of the company. As it happened, the exact opposite was true. Details of the Seven were released to the public in July 1922: a four-cylinder engine sweeping 696cc and powering it to 50mpg and 52mph.. All very respectable stuff for the era, but the price was remarkable as the Seven cost little more than a decent motorbike and sidecar combination, hitting that market hard. It also decimated the cycle car industry, few customers being willing to shell out on their often-crude offerings when they could buy instead the Austin with its four-cylinder smoothness and genuine big-car features, albeit scaled down into a miniature package. Overseas the Seven was built under licence in France (Rosengart), Germany (Dixi) and America (Bantam), as well as being copied almost in its entirety in Japan for the Datsun 7HP. In Britain, it had no serious 7HP competition until Morris unveiled its Minor in 1928. That inspired Austin to stretch the body slightly to offer more interior space, while in 1932 he introduced the DeLuxe saloon on a chassis that had been stretched by six inches to offer four full seats for adults. 1932 was also the year that Ol’ Henry weighed in with his Ford 8, the price of which would drop to £100 by 1935 and signal the beginning of the end for Austin’s Seven. But that’s not before the Longbridge trendsetter had evolved through the more streamlined Ruby, Pearl and Opal in 1934 to the 900cc Big Seven of 1937 that carried the flag through to the end of Seven production in 1939.

Which model to buy?

There are a huge range of body styles out there and quite literally hundreds of known variants of the Austin Seven. We will therefore rely on a few broad pointers to start your research off rather than attempt to examine each of them in detail. The first point to make is that these cars may be simple and parts surprisingly plentiful, but restoration costs can soon mount up so only consider a major project if restoration is what makes you happy. After all, you should be able to get one in need of some TLC but still perfectly usable from as little as £4000. That will inevitably be one of the saloons such as the car in our pictures, which is a 1932 RN saloon. This has the longer DeLuxe chassis so there is more room for four inside, and a steel body rather than the earlier fabric ones and as such should be more
familiar territory to the DIY enthusiast. This age of car does still retain the upright styling that gives an early Seven such vintage charm though, whereas the later Rubys may be a tad cheaper, but also look slightly more modern. Open-top cars will cost considerably more, up to £20,000 in the case of agenuine Ulster but from as little as £6000 for a regular Tourer. It may be better to buy a good saloon rather than a poor tourer if finances are tight and while it is true that many people who buy a saloon regret it on the first fine summer day, most wives are much happier in the windfree comfort of a saloon. Remember too that the later the car, then generally the better its mechanical specification. For example, brakes were split until 1930 with the footbrake only operating on the front, and the handbrake being used to work the back brakes. From 1930 they were more conventionally linked via the foot pedal. Similarly, the Seven had three forward speeds until 1932, when a fourth cog was added. From August 1933, synchromesh was fitted only to the top two ratios. Mind you, after seventy-odd years this is often theoretical rather than actual in any case and any Seven will require a degree of adaptation on the driver’s part to get the most enjoyment from it, as our driving experience section will amply show.

Behind the wheel?

Newcomers are surprised by their first taste of Austin 7s

Your first impressions from being up close to the Seven is that it is indeed a tiny vehicle. Those skinny wheels are just 3ft 4in apart and the overall impression is of a fragility that is totally at odds with the model’s remarkably high survival rate. Open the generousdoor and slip behind the wheel though, and this impression changes.. Yes it is still a small car, but there is no feeling of claustrophobia. A body that slopesoutwards as it rises provides just enough shoulder and elbow room, and the minimalist approach does make the most of every spare inch that the body provides. With such a snug cockpit for the occupants no wonder it was dubbed the ‘Chummy’! The seats are hard and flat, with a curved back that provides some degree of lateral grip. Big drivers can get comfortable, especially if there are no passengers in the back to limit your seat adjustment possibilities, although headroom is adequate rather than generous (you’ll need the Top Hat saloon if you want more), as is foot room around the pedals. But at least those pedals are laid out in what we would now call the conventional position – the Morris Minor with its accelerator pedal in the middlecan provide a few hairy moments for the uninitiated! At rest, there is some play in the steering and although some of this gets taken up on the move, it is essential that some slack remains because without it, the action is so direct that you would soon end up in the hedgerows. The trick is to relax into the car rather than to constantly try and correct it. The clutch is a rather abrupt affair, either in or out with only a centimetre between the two. You can still slip it though, and you will have plenty of practice as you move rapidly from first, up through second and into third in no time, double-declutching the gearbox along the way. To make the best progress, third gear is then held as long as possible, keeping top ratio in reserve until you are on the straight. Most newcomers are actually surprised by their first taste of Austin Seven performance: the original engine may have put out a modest 10hp at 2400rpm, but in such a lightweight body it should feel quite perky. The long stroke gives it a usable amount of torque too, and cars gained a little more power from a capacity increase to 747.5cc as early as March 1923. And in an era when many upmarket manufacturers still regarded front brakes with suspicion, the little Austin was provided with an anchor at each corner. Rather tiny, cable-operated anchors it must be admitted, but better than many from this era.

Ease of Ownership?

It’s hard to think of a car that is easier to own

It is hard to think of a car from this era that is easier to own. The spares supply is incredibly good, insurance costs are low and the cars are so small that storage should not be a problem. They obviously require more frequent servicing attention than a modern classic, but given the limited mileages that most cover then this is rarely an onerous obligation. Just be prepared to spend a weekend on the annual service rather than an hour or two, as you will need to add such novelties as greasing between the rear leaf springs and careful adjusting of the brakes to your job sheet. Everything you are likely to need to keep a Seven on the road is available either used or new from a network of specialists, and prices do not command the pre-war premium of some other models. And where some components are known to be weak (such as the Mazak updraft carburettors on 1929-32 cars), it is normally simple enough to adapt an alternative from later in the Seven’s production run, or even a later Austin altogether. Bodies may be made of fabric, aluminium orsteel. A small tear in a fabric body can require quite a large repair to make it invisible and the aluminium can oxidise and be very difficult to repair. In this respect, steel is probably the easiest option despite its ability to rust, not only because of its familiarity but also because of the wide variety of panels and repair panels still being manufactured.

The Daily Option?

The Austin makes an excellent city car: low-geared, perky and almost unable to overheat given its lowly compression ratio. If your journeys tend to be short and you have an adventurous spirit, then you could quite conceivably use it every day. In reality though, most will be bought as occasional playthings, and at this they excel. The practicalities are all there: a gearbox that is more forgiving than most of its contemporaries, a comfortable cruising speed of 45-50mph and a starting price of around £4000. There is a starter handle for the ultimate period charm, but also an electric starter for the lazy. The puny six-volt electrics can even be uprated to 12-volts if you need wipers and lights on a regular basis but the further you go along the uprating route, the further you get from the true Austin Seven experience.

Timelines

1922

Launched that July for just £165 the Seven range comprised of a saloon, tourer, van and coupe. Some racing models also available,chiefly the famous Ulster.

1931

Reacting to the Morris 8 Austin introduced longer wheelbased models and uprated specs. By now car had also inspired Jaguar, Datsun and BMW to produce clones or specials.

1934

First real facelift with an new body design better known as the Jewel range (Ruby Opal and Pearl) with prices starting from under £100 – top Ruby sold for a heady £120.

1936

With car in its prime butrather getting on, Austin introduces a new three bearing engine plus further upgrades and enhancements to the body and trim.

1937

Stop gap ‘Big Seven’introduced but was never a success and the Austin was phased out in 1939 by which time a staggering 64 derivates were available and 300,000 cars made!

We Reckon...

Your first go at the wheel of an Austin Seven may be something of a culture shock, but once you get used to the pre-war dynamics, you'll be amazed at how usable and enjoyable this baby Austin can be. It is a piece of British social and automotive history and as you get to know it, you will find yourself driving it more and more.



User Comments

This review has 2 comments

  • Quote :
    "brakes were split until 1930 with the footbrake only operating on the front, and the handbrake being used to work the back brakes."
    I'm afraid that this is the wrong way round.

    Comment by: Brian Hutchings     Posted on: 16 Jul 2011 at 08:59 PM

  • Thanks for the correction

    Comment by: Editor     Posted on: 30 Jul 2011 at 09:38 AM

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