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Austin 7

Austin 7 Published: 19th Dec 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin 7
Austin 7
Austin 7
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Austin’s Magnificent Seven is a friendly vintage classic that proves speed and prestige isn’t everything…

Why it’s a winner

Can a car that débuted in 1922 still have a place on our roads nearly a century on? Most definitely yes in the case of the Austin 7, the car that not only mobilised Britain but also provided the basis for many inspiring designers and engineers to work their magic on – not least one Colin Chapman! Nicknamed ‘Chummy’, this vintage classic is certainly a friendly as well as an easy to own one.

History

1920-21 Designed by Herbert Austin it was aimed at the growing mass market although the car was only grudgingly accepted by the Austin board, as their general opinion was that Herbert’s new baby would be the ruin of the company. As it happened, the exact opposite happened.

1922 Details of the Seven were released to the public in July: a four-cylinder engine sweeping 696cc, powering it to 50mph and 52mpg. All respectable stuff for the era, but the price was the most remarkable thing as the Seven cost little more than a decent motorbike and sidecar combination, hitting that market hard. 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 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!

1932 Seven only sported three forward speeds until 1932, 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 introduced the DeLuxe saloon.

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

1936 With car in its prime but rather getting on, Austin introduces a new three bearing engine 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 flag through to the end of Seven production in 1939.

Driving

Your first impression is that the Seven is indeed tiny – 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 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 might soon end up in the hedgerows! 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, 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 in reserve until you are on the straight.

Most newcomers are actually surprised by their first taste of Austin Seven pep: the original engine may have put out a modest 10hp, but in such a lightweight body it should feel quite perky, more so if you add Renault 4 pistons and a Mini 850 SU carb. 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. The inherent skittish handling can be quelled by reducing chassis flex and Sevens were popular and succesful racers in their day.

Best models

Some 400,000 were made and as such there’s a huge range of styles. We will therefore rely on a few broad pointers to start your research off rather than attempt to examine each of them in detail.

Saloons are more plentiful and usable, particularly the De Luxe models, which incidentally possess a steel bodying much easier to repair and restore. Magnificent Sevens are the Tourers and the Ulster, the latter which was a supercharged racing derivative. Light commercials are as rare and coveted, too

Prices

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; expect to pay a couple of grand. That said, you should be able to get one in need of some TLC but still perfectly usable from as little as £5000 with Rubys around £1000 on top.

Open-top cars will cost considerably more, up to £20,000 in the case of a genuine Ulster but from as little as £6000 for a regular Tourer. 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.

Verdict

It is hard to think of a car from this era that is easier to own or so much fun. The spares supply is incredibly good, insurance costs are low and the cars are so small that storage should not be a problem. Your first go at the wheel of a 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 actually be. It is a piece of British social and automotive history and as you get to know it more, you will find yourself driving it more and more – and simply loving life in the slow lane.

Five top faults

1. RESTORE 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.

2. BODY 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 so always crawl underneath to check the state of things and inevitably past repairs.

3. ENGINE 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’, a specialist job.

4. TRANSMISSIONS Noisy gearboxes and especially the rear axles are common. Don’t try any old oil additive to sillence the din as some may be corrosive to the bronze bushes.

5. RUNNING GEAR Lack of lubricant is common on the suspension king pins; jack the car up and check for lateral movement here.



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