Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
It could be argued that the Austin 7 transformed motoring for residents of the UK as Henry Ford’s Model T
did for the Americans. The Seven would be built for 17 years between 1922 and 1939, filling a market segment between the cycle-cars and the more established larger cars of the day.
The Seven was powered (if that's the right word to use) by a puny 42ci 696cc side-valve engine, although this would be later “enlarged” to a whopping 46ci (747cc). The fact that it was relatively underpowered did not deter the buyers, the car soon accounting for nearly 40% of all new car sales in the UK.
The Seven sat on a very small wheelbase, only 6ft 3”, with a track of 40”. The chassis was in the form of an “A”, with the engine mounted between the channel sections at the narrow front end. While the earliest iterations were not fitted with shock absorbers, the rear suspension
system did use quarter elliptic springs cantilevered from the rear of the chassis, the front beam axle having a centrally mounted half elliptic transverse spring.
Surprisingly for such a cheap and cheerful car, the Seven boasted all-round brakes, although early models required the driver to be rather dexterous, having to apply the front brakes
via the handbrake control and the rear via the footbrake. Thankfully after 1930 the brakes
became fully coupled. Naturally the Seven having such a long production run, and at a time when automobile
innovation was arguably at its peak, there were other significant improvements made along the way.
An electric starter motor
was introduced in 1923, the magneto ignition system was replaced by a coil type in 1928, a four speed gearbox replaced the original 3 speed unit in 1932, then synchromesh
was added to 3rd and 4th gears in 1933, and finally added to second gear in 1934.
The Seven in Motorsport
That the Seven was a starter at the first Australian Grand Prix, held in 1928, was no surprise. The Seven had, by then, established an enviable reputation in motorsport. The Phillip Island GP was won by Herbert Austin's son-in-law, Arthur Waite, driving a brand new Ulster prototype (dubbed "Slippery Anne") never previously raced and not even properly developed. It ran away from two Bugattis and an assortment of Aston Martin
and other expensive machinery.
That incredible feat was not a oncer. Three years later, in 1931, another Austin Seven, this time driven by Cyril Dickason, leapt away from the start line of the Australian Grand Prix and put in a 114 km/h (71 mph) standing lap. It roared on to take second place outright in the event, behind a straight eight Bugatti 39. Dickason averaged 111.8 km/h (69.8 mph) for the three hour race. The tiny Austin put in an average speed of 106.7 km/h (66.7 mph) - sensational stuff from a car with a 747 cm3 engine, skinny tyres and cable operated brakes.
These Sevens were not exactly stock, being supercharged and specially developed for racing, but so were the machines pitted against them. In many ways the early racing Sevens were closer to the production line than anything on a race track these days. Apart from the Bugatti-designed Peugeot, the baby Austin was the first well-engineered four-cylinder miniature family car. In its day, it was a genuine alternative to a motorcycle with side car - and cost around the same money. Little did Herbert Austin
, or anyone else, realise that within a few years side valve Austin Sevens would top the magic "ton", reaching speeds in excess of 160 km/h (100 mph). Fifteen years after the first Seven appeared, a twin overhead cam racing Seven reached 208 km/h (130 mph).
For that matter, no one could have foreseen the manner in which the little car would shape motoring history. The very first BMW four wheeler, the Dixi, was an Austin Seven built under licence. Datsun
made its start with a baby tourer that was as close to the British product as the firm could go without attracting legal action. You could argue that had not William Lyons
built up a thriving business fitting Swallow bodies to Austin Seven chassis, Jaguar Cars would never have been spawned. Colin Chapman
, like so many before and after, discovered that trialling an Austin 7 provided more fun and performance per dollar spent than any other car. Some Lotus
aficionados will argue today that Chapman's original Austin Seven provided the inspiration for the Lotus 7, thus launching Chapman
on his career.
The Dixie Rosengart
The Seven became so popular that German concern Dixi (one of the manufacturers to later make up BMW) built the ubiquitous little car as the “Rosengart”. Even the Americans got in on the act, building under license the “American Austin”. And Japan’s Nissan concern used the 7 design as the basis for their original cars – although no license was ever granted.