History of the 1923 - 1930 Austin Seven
The quest for the first people's car, with classless appeal in the UK, was finally achieved when Lord Austin realised his dream of manufacturing a low cost, economical, 2-door, 4-seater family convertible in 1922. With full weather equipment, a 4-cylinder engine, 4-wheel brakes and 3-speed gearbox, the Austin Seven saved the company, which was on the verge of liquidation when War Department work ceased after World War I. The project was personally financed from 1920 by Lord Austin himself. He brought Stanley Edge, the very young Austin draughtsman, to Lickey Grange, where the design, based on Lord Austin's sketches, took shape in the snooker room out of sight of the Longbridge factory.
The following for these small cars has weathered all markets, from the aspirational first car owner through all decades, including the 1960s when they cost as little as £5, to the present. Special builders have always loved Austin Sevens and have built them from the 1930s to the present day. Likewise restorers have worked on them over many decades as they are easy and inexpensive to work on. Racing them at Brooklands in many guises proved to the public that these were hardy little cars well worth buying. At around £165 in 1923, the price dropped steadily every year until 1939, when a 2-seater cost £122 and a 4-seater £137. Bodies came in many forms: tourers, saloons, cabriolets, sports, coupes and vans, with model names including the Chummy, Super Sports, Ulster, Speedy, Nippy, Type 65, Ruby, Pearl and Opal.
The Austin Seven wiped out the cyclecar market overnight and succeeded in attracting the family man, sportsman, travelling salesmen, as well as the small commercial market with the van. Approximately 290,000 cars were produced from 1922 to 1939. Its 747cc side-valve 4-cylinder engine remained virtually unchanged, apart from two increases in crankshaft size, from 1 1/8" to 1 5/16" to 1 1/2" and from two main bearings to three. The initial 6'3" 'A' frame chassis with two quarter elliptic rear springs and a front transverse half elliptic spring supported numerous different body styles from in-house to coachbuilders such as Mulliner. Four-wheel brakes were initially operated by a footbrake on the rear and handbrake on the front. Later brakes were coupled to all four wheels on the footbrake while the handbrake still unconventionally operated the front brakes. The Austin Seven can also be credited with the start of Jaguar cars, with the Swallow Sidecar company, the American Bantam, Datsun, BMW, Holden in Australia, Rosengart in France and Lotus, not to mention Bruce McLaren's first competition car.
In July 1932 the long-wheelbase Austin Seven was introduced with a 6'9" chassis -- an increase of 6" -- and a 4-speed gearbox with limited synchromesh. This made all the difference to the increasingly demanding public, combating competition from other manufacturers such as Ford, MG, Morris, Standard, and Singer. The bodies grew heavier and more power was required to keep up with pre WWII traffic. As a rule, about 50mph was top speed for a standard car and about 47 miles per UK gallon, with speeds of just on 100mph achieved at Brooklands by the highly geared long distance racers.
Austin Sevens were constructed using high-grade materials for the chassis, axles and gearbox, and they consequently survived in large numbers. The early engines driving lighter bodies with 1 1/8" crankshafts are a little fragile as the two-bearing crankshafts 'whip' and can break if abused by revving in neutral or changing down a gear to slow the car, throwing counter revolution stress to the crankshaft. Toiling up hill in top gear at 30mph -- the crankshaft's most stressed period -- can also result in a snapped crankshaft. Larger 1 5/16" crankshafts from 1929 and the later 1 1/2" crankshafts much improved engine longevity. Current competition versions regularly get revved beyond 6000rpm and it is possible for con-rods to part company and break into daylight if not equipped with a modern crankshaft available in EN40 steel in all three sizes.
Steel bodywork and floorpans can suffer from serious rust, but all panels and new bodywork in all styles -- steel and aluminium -- are readily and widely obtainable, as are all running gear spares from many sources. Many clubs service the Austin Seven owner, from the Austin Seven Clubs Association to the 750 Motor Club. These small cars, afforded by people in all walks of life, all over the world to the furthest corner, will bring smiles from admirers wherever you go. A fun car to own and drive, which will win you many friends.