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Austin 7

Austin 7 Published: 9th Apr 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Ulster
  • Worst model: Anything rusty
  • Budget buy: Saloon
  • OK for unleaded?: No, needs converting
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3227 x W1295
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: A1
  • Club support: Second to none
  • Appreciating asset?: Some more than others
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Perfect antidote to modern motoring for all ages
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Charming charismatic prewar classic, known as ‘Chummy’, that’s as simple as it’s affordable and enjoyable. Great specialist and club support and a charmer if you buy right

If you fancy a prewar classic that’s easy to own, then it has to be Austin Seven, the car which mobilised Britan and provided the basis for many inspiring designers and engineers to work their magic on – not least one Colin Chapman – and they still make competitive competition classics to this day!

Dubbed ‘Chummy’, this vintage classic is certainly a friendly as well as an easy to own one, although there’s many pitfalls to be aware of. Just because the Seven is mechanically primitive, don’t be fooled into thinking there’s little to go wrong – as this guide illustrates all too well.

However, fi rst you should choose your magnifi cent Seven and the decider is what do you want from it. Pre-1930 (vintage) models, usually found in Chummy or Top Hat guises, are too agricultural for many. If it’s a vintage car that you want, a 1929/30 Chummy is the best bet.

Models built between 1932 and 1934 have a longer wheelbase and wider track, to give a more spacious interior. The best compromise between vintage looks and a comfortable driving experience is a 1934 box saloon, which has the traditional upright radiator.

From the Ruby’s introduction in 1935, things started to look less dated – but of course part of the Seven’s appeal is its vintage appearance.


1922 The first Sevens built as four-seater open tourers. Nicknamed the Chummy, the first 100 examples featured a 696cc four-cylinder engine, which was superseded by a 747.5cc unit that survived until the end of production 17 years later.

These first cars featured an upright rear edge to the doors and a sloping windscreen; from 1924 the windscreen was upright while the body was longer and the doors had sloping rear edges. 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.

1923 A little more power is gained from a capacity increase to 747.5cc as early as March plus electric starting was installed.

1928 Improved cooling and the new-fangled coil-assisted ignition is fitted.

1930 Previously, the footbrake only operated the front brakes, with the handbrake being used to work the back ones. Now they were more conventionally linked via the foot pedal! Hooray.

1931 Bodywork was restyled with a thin ‘ribbonstyle’ radiator.

1932 Seven only sported three forward speeds until now, when a welcome fourth cog was added.

1933 That summer, synchromesh to the ’box was fitted, albeit only to the top two ratios. Austin stretched the body by six inches to offer more interior space, while this year he also introduced the DeLuxe saloon.

1934 The more streamlined Ruby, Pearl and Opal are introduced.

1936 With car in its prime but rather getting on, Austin introduces a new three bearing engine design plus further upgrades and enhancements to the body and trim.

1937 The engine was upped to 900cc to make the Big Seven range and this carried the fl ag through to the end of Seven production in 1939, after around 290,000 Austin-badged versions had been built.

Driving and what the press thought

Many racing drivers during the 60s and 70s cut their teeth modifying and driving A7s – today you really know when you’ve driven one well.

Your first impression is that the Austin is indeed tiny and primitive – with such a snug cockpit for the occupants it’s no wonder the car was dubbed the ‘Chummy’! At rest, there is some play in the steering and it’s essential that some slack remains because without it, the action is so direct. As owners will tell you, the trick is to relax into the car rather than to constantly try and correct it.

The clutch is a rather abrupt affair as you move rapidly from fi rst, 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 in reserve until you are on the straight. The inherent skittish handling can be quelled by reducing chassis fl ex and Sevens were popular and successful racers in their day.

A well-maintained Seven will sit happily at 45-50mph, and thanks to a sharpish steering plus a surprisingly comfortable ride, even long-distance journeys are enjoyable. As long as you’re not in a hurry anyway but If you’re looking for an antidote to the pace of modern life, the Seven is just the ticket…

They wear quite well. Autocar, testing a well preserved 1983 model back in 1972 said,”General performance is good (20-40mph in top gear 19.5 seconds), being lively in ordinary road work”. The gear still retained its synchromesh on third and top gears but there was considerable whine present but no backlash.”The suspension was good, little pitching experienced” and while the brakes weren’t considered the best “fairly heavy pedal pressure produced sufficient braking in an emergency”. Autocar’s verdict was that the “Seven continues to give good, reliable service to thousands of motorists”. The car incidentally was on sale for £290 – more than double its original £131 price list so Sevens were appreciating even back then!


Colin Chapman, founded a sports car company and F1 team starting from a humble Austin Seven and there’s still no shortage of potential or available options, from those just wanting a bit more pep for less nerve-jangling road use or perhaps building their own special for some club motorsport.

Pigsty Racing ( is the leading A7 tuner. Minor but pleasing gains can be had from just a better carb such as a single 1.25in SU from a Mini 850 or Minor with a No.6 needle and blue spring for starters. Better still is to combine it with the inlet/exhaust manifold from a later Ruby. A range of tuned inlet and exhaust manifolds are available starting from under £200. Another cheap and trusted tweak is to have 80-100thou skimmed off the cylinder head.

Reliant engines can fit too, as it used a modified A7 side-valve unit well into the 1960s (along with a four-speed gearbox) before it was replaced with Reliant’s all alloy ohv engine, albeit still based on the Austin unit, which, in standard tune, spells a solid 40bhp on its own.

Better springing (with more extreme alternative to the beam axle arrangement for motorsport, usually to Ulster spec) is worth having but the biggest gain lies in an adjustable, twin damper conversion which, Pigsty and Oxfordshire Sevens claim, makes a big improvement on any model, reckon the specialists. You can modify the existing cable brakes to achieve four-wheel compensated brakes (as described in the 750 Motor Club’s Austin Seven Companion), scrap the existing system altogether and go for the new but still mechanical Pigsty developed alternative (Oxfordshire Sevens has similar upgrade) or, convert the car to a full hydraulic operation based upon many Morris Minor parts.

However, there’s a lot of work involved and may not be needed if you’re a gentle driver. Modern Smart city car (front radial tyres) can be fitted and are said to make a huge benefit to grip plus are usefully cheaper than classic ones – it depends if you hanker for originality but go to 350x19 types from Longstone tyres if you do.

Values and specialist view

Aside from saloon and tourers, there were also vans and sports derivatives, like the Le Mans, with the supercharged Ulster the most revered. Saloons are the most plentiful and usable, particularly the De Luxe models, which, incidentally possess a steel body that’s much easier to repair and restore. It’s probably better to buy a good saloon rather than a poor Tourer if finances are tight because the fun factor is much the same and we’d certainly suggest trying a few Sevens before making any decisions – just to see if you actually like one.

A double-edged sword, on the one hand these cars are simply designed and parts plentiful, but on the other, restorations are quite difficult and costs can soon mount up. So only consider a major project if a restoration is what makes you happy; expect to pay a couple of grand for something saveable. That said, you should be able to get one in need of some TLC but still perfectly usable from as little as £6000 with Rubys around £1000 on top.

Then it starts to get quite expensive as open-top cars cost considerably more, up to £20,000 in the case of a genuine Ulster but from as little as £7000 for a regular Tourer.

Ian Tillman runs Oxfordshire Sevens (07743 263791 and says the car is as popular as ever enjoying a wide buying base age (typically the sportier models go to those around 40) although the standards of cars vary a lot, due, in no small part, to MoT exemption, he claims and owners are surprised just how much better their A7s feel after a proper service and taking out the wear and slack from the brake linkages.

A good number of owners fit LED lights for added safety but few normal owners improve the chassis. Ian says more pep is really worthwhile having, if nothing else than making pulling out or turning or junctions less fraught.

We have to mention the Magnificent Seven’s support by an army of specialists and clubs over the many decades, the latter forming the Austin Seven Clubs Association as long ago as 1968. Why not join a club before then?

Power unit problems

Despite knocking on 100 years old the A7’s engine is quite complex consisting of an aluminium crank case, cast iron block and cylinder head. You’ll be doing well to manage much more than 20,000 miles between rebuilds.

Until 1936 there were just two main bearings fitted (one at each end of the crank); later models had an extra one – but any Seven crank breaks due to flexing and white metal repairs to its shells are specialist and expensive. Rumbling from the back of the engine belies a worn main bearing, either because it’s tired or because it’s worn a groove in the crankshaft, damaging it as a result. Replacing the bearing costs around £200, but if the crankshaft needs replacing as well, the bill will be more like £800. If the engine has been previously rebuilt it should have had a new Phoenix crankshaft – if not budget on close to £1000 – and many have.

Oil leaks are par for the course, but expect a weep rather than a torrent. Silly amounts of oil suggests a cylinder block retaining stud has broken, for which there’s no quick fix. Dismantling of the engine and some machining are essential, so expect a bill of at least £500 to put everything right.

Being lucky with a seven

Pre-1932 Sevens sport a three-speed crash gearbox while later cars have the benefit of a four-speed unit – from 1934 there was synchromesh on third and fourth to make driving easier. It’s a strong enough transmission, but the three-piece clutch has to be set up correctly if it’s to disengage cleanly; this is a specialist bench job for A7 specialists. If the clutch is slipping, it’s highly likely that oil has got onto the driven plate from either the engine or gearbox. The only cure is a new set of components although your best bet is to get a specialist to fit everything to ensure it’s set up correctly.

Pre-1931 axles are particularly weak and crown wheel and pinion both wear out and as the job requires special tools and knowledge to set it all up, the task is best left to the experts. Expect to pay up to £1200 for an axle to be rebuilt.

As well as the diff, its mounting can also wear, given away by clonking as you take up drive. The mounting is in the form of a ball joint which can be adjusted up to a point. It can also be down to worn couplings in the propshaft, which didn’t use universal joints until 1934.

Even when in good condition you can expect a couple of inches’ play at the steering wheel – any more though and the box probably needs a rebuild. However, before you condemn it, make sure the problem doesn’t lie elsewhere, like in the many links. The suspension is simple and generally durable enough, but the leaf springs can wear rapidly if they’re not oiled every 1000 miles.

Not just for trips around the block

One time designer and art editor of this magazine when it was called Classic Cars For Sale, Graham Baldock has been a life long lover of the Seven and has taken his 1932 RN Box saloon on a number of continental tours, the last one being to Austria to mark the A7’s 95th anniversary. Far from being a gentle jaunt, Eurotour 17 was a tough course for any classic let alone a little 85 year old A7. “They don’t call them the ‘Mighty Atom’ for no reason,” says Graham who looks forward to the Austin’s centenary tour.

Sorting out a seven


Sports version: 65 has alloy body while Nippy’s is made of steel


Very rare wasp-tailed model made from 1934-1935. Ulster/Nippy hybrid

Box saloon

Nickname for saloons built 1930-1934

Brooklands super sports

Gordon England-built road/race car made 1924-1926


Nickname for the original shortwheelbase tourer built until 1930


Rare three-seater built 1928-1931. Features single transverse rear seat

Gordon england cup

Sports derivative built 1925-1929 with a fabric body

Opal (Type apd)

Two-seater model with a chrome radiator grille

Opal (Type ape)

Two-seater with cowled radiator grille

Open road tourer

Produced from 1935 but based on earlier body style until 1936, when it was updated. Features cowled radiator


Cabriolet version of the Ruby


Updated saloon with cowled radiator and low chassis


Boat-tailed sports Seven built 1924- 1926

Top hat saloon

Nickname for 1926-28 saloons


Official name for Chummy

Two-seater (LWB)

Semi-sporting two-seater built 1931-1934

Two-seater (SWB)

Semi-sporting two-seater built 1928-1931

Ulster/ea sports

Sports model built 1930-1932. Sometimes supercharged; Ulster is just a nickname not official one. Originals now scarce so this is the most likely derivative to be reproduced

General points

Overhauling a Seven’s interior is simplicity itself. By now most cars have been retrimmed, often in hide regardless of what was there originally. Despite the apparent simplicity of the Seven’s weather equipment, expect a bill of £1500+ as there’s a lot more work involved than you’d think.

Dynamos give problems as they’re mounted on top of the engine, leading to damage from fumes and high temperatures. To overhaul the dynamo it needs to be removed, but this then leads to the engine timing being knocked out. Magnetos also give trouble, but if properly rewound by somebody who knows what they’re doing, years of trouble-free use is normal. A properly overhauled magneto costs some £200 – which is why a largely maintenance-free £260 coil conversion is a common upgrade.

What To Look For

Not so magnificent seven?

Despite the Austin’s simplicity, its bodyshell can cause all sorts of problems. Most cars have been restored by now, some better than others, so check the door gaps; if they’re all over the place then the structure has either been rebuilt badly or weakened by rot.

There’s timber in every bodyshell; Tourers featured alloy panels until 1931, when they became steel, although special-bodied cars could be clothed in aluminium, steel or fabric – a complete professional overhaul will typically cost around £3000. Many of the more popular body types are available and it’s normally easier to start again than try to revive a seriously tired original, which is why specialists offer the most common designs from anywhere between £1400-£5000.

Felt pads were employed to isolate the bodyshell from the chassis below; the felt soaks up water then the metalwork gradually dissolves. Inspection is tricky because it’s the top face of the chassis that’s affected the worst. On a pre-1930 car, finish off by looking at the chassis near the front crossmember, which is prone to cracking.

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