SPOTLIGHT ON - AUSTIN SEVEN
The tiny car that continues to punch well above its diminutive weight
Austin Seven Factoids
In production: 1923 - 1939
Number built: 290,944
Austin Seven (Image from the collections of the State Library of NSW)
Nicknamed the "Baby Austin", the Seven was marketed as a big car in miniature. It weighed in at 360kg (794lbs), with a front track of only 1016mm (40ins). The chassis was extended by 152mm (6ins) in 1931.
Baby Austin Seven
(Image from the collections of the State Library of NSW)
In an era when many British car manufacturers considered brakes to be a largely unecessary frippery, the Seven had cable-operated brakes on all four corners (handbrake for the front, and footbrake for the rears). The brakes became fully coupled in 1930.
The concept of the affordable Austin began to see light in an impromptu drawing office set up in Sir Herbert Austin's billiards room, well away from the critical gaze of the receivers looking to wind up the Austin Car Company in the tough years after the end of the First World War.
Herbert Austin funded the design and production of the Seven himself and patented all of his innovations privately, so he charged the Austin Car Company two guineas in royalties for every Seven it went on to produce.
Sir Herbert Austin at the wheel of an Austin Seven
(Image courtesy of the Birmingham Museums Trust)
The Seven range expanded rapidly, including a saloon, tourer, coupe and even a tiny van.
The sports models are rightly legendary, and are still well-represented in contemporary vintage car trials and in hill-climbing.
Austin Seven Ulster
A tough little challenger
The first ever BMW (the Dixi) was a licensed Austin Seven. Austin supplied the first 100 cars to BMW as self-build kits (IKEA, eat your heart out!)
Bruce McLaren of McLaren Racing not only learned to drive in an Austin Seven, he took his first ever race win in one
Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars began his racing career with an Austin Seven
The road to Jaguar began with Austin Seven Swallow, built by the Swallow Sidecar Company on an Austin Seven chassis
Holden & Co. Motor Body Builders (later to become GM Holden) imported Austin Seven rolling chassis into Australia, fitting them with tourer and roadster bodies
The Seven was built under licence in France as the Rosengart LR1, transformed with metric rather than Imperial thread sizes. Royalties to Austin ceased in 1936 with the launch of the LR4
An Unexpected Legacy
Although an attempt to popularise the Austin Seven in the USA resulted in the bankruptcy of the American Austin Car Company in 1934, the little car was to leave an unusual American legacy.
American Bantam (Image by Allen Watkin)
American Austin's main US salesman bought up 1,500 unfinished Sevens, founding American Bantam. Although the rebranding failed to make any more of an American hit than Austin had managed, the company did go on to develop and build the Jeep prototype.
Bantam Jeep leads the way in the Philippines 1941
This was reputedly the inspiration for the Toyota Land Cruiser after a Bantam Jeep was discovered by Japanese forces in the Philippines during their four years of occupation during WW2.
Classic Toyota Land Cruiser
Picture by DDZPHOTO (Pixabay)
Inspirational role model
The 1928 Australian Grand Prix (Hundred Miles Road Race) overall winner was a supercharged Austin Seven driven by Captain Arthur Waite. He was also the winner in his vehicle class, which saw other Austins placed second and third
Sporting Austin Seven at Phillip Island
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
A 747cc Austin Seven was driven to the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, in 1928 by Mr George F. Simpson. It took him and his passenger 7hrs 23mins to make their bumpy way to the top, but only about 2hrs to get back down again
The South African section of the East London Grand Prix (1939) was won by an Austin Seven driven by D. Van Reit at an average speed of just over 84mph
Few cars had previously been so actively marketed towards women (other than early electric cars). A Ministry of Transport survey in 1933 estimated that 12% of British driving licences were held by women. This under-served market was clearly seen as a ripe target for Austin's marketing department.
Austin Seven Chummy T-shirt, design by It's My Classic
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