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Classic car: Austin Seven appeal

2013-11-19 08:11

SEVEN OF THE BEST: What a big heart the original Austin 7 of the late 1920s had. Millions were made in the ’20s and ’30s – a real British classic, if ever there was one. Image: DAVE FALL


1954 Mini reborn

2013-11-14 09:48

A 1959 Austin Seven classic Mini has been 'reBorn' after being hidden in a barn for 25 years. The six-month restoration project was done at a Munich-based plant by a five-strong team. It's gone from a rickety rust clump, reborn into a second life.


The story of the barn-find 1959 Mini reported on Wheels24 in November 2013, reminded this writer as to that car’s original roots. Attend any classic car meeting and invariably away from the limelight will be an Austin Seven or two, a spindly little car, perhaps but what a big heart these diminutive cars possessed.

As you may know the classic car movement is particularly strong in the Western Cape and especially in Cape Town. A recent classic car meet saw hordes of like-minded people in my area attending a Crankhandle Club meeting – purported to be the oldest car club in the country.


There wasn’t a competition of any sort that day, just a social gathering of car enthusiasts who had brought along a really eclectic range of machinery from a 1905 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, numerous Bentleys, illustrious Daimlers and Armstrong Siddeleys – but the car that caught my eye that day was a standard Austin Seven in original condition, dating from around 1924.

Almost languishing, it seemed, under a shady corner of the Plumstead clubhouse, this little two-tone baby Austin seemed to be having a day out too!

Manufactured for about 16 years between 1923 and 1938, it was arguably the car that saved the Austin Car Company. Born during a massive financial crisis for the company – the boss, Sir Herbert Austin had insisted on a one-model policy – but had completely misread the market. The car he reckoned would take his brand forward incidentally, was the “Twenty” model, but it was proving expensive to build and buyers weren’t stepping forward as he thought they might.

In 1922, in complete secrecy on the billiard table at Austin’s home, he and his chief designer mapped out the way forward for the marque with the “Seven”. It weighed in at just 363 kg, had four seats and a somewhat diminutive four-cylinder engine of 696 cc – to cap the horsepower rating below the magic number seven.

Showcased to the public in March, 1923, the engine had grown slightly to 10kW but was offered at the bargain-basement price at the time of £165 – Austin couldn’t make enough of his eponymous cars!

Billed as the car of the decade — indeed both in the ’20s and ’30s — many different types of bodies were fitted including fabric-bodied ones, some by Mulliner Coachworks (who usually only made bodies for the landed gentry), coupe (Opal) boatback versions to a particularly sporting derivative made by the Swallow Sidecar Company (a company owned by William Lyons, he of Jaguar fame.)


Throughout its 16-year lifespan the “Seven” was always up for modifications. In 1924 an electric starter was added, coil ignition in 1927 a tougher crankshaft implemented (a two-bearing crankshaft was never going to cut the mustard for competition work), and even a four-speed gearbox across the range in 1933. The one component that let the car down though its lifetime, though, were the brakes — it might as well not have had any!

I can well remember helping my father out every weekend trying to re-adjust the cable brakes — talk about stretch cables . . . from cable shorteners to other mods he had heard about just to effect some sort of braking to see him through the week. Still, with a top speed of just (55km/h) perhaps we shouldn’t have worried too much.

Some say the advent of the Mini in 1959 signed the death knell for the British motorcycle industry. I think it goes back a lot earlier than that because in 1924 there were 496 000 motorcycles on the road and only 474 000 cars; 10 years later cars had risen to 1 308 000, while motorcycle sales could only manage 548 000 — could the success of the Austin Seven be responsible — you decide!

Engine: Four cylinders in line, two bearing crankshaft
Power: 10.5 kW.
Transmission: Three-speed gearbox with direct-acting central gearchange.


The first of the next series of Minis - this one a hatchback with new tech and new engines - had its international launch in its home town, Oxford in the UK. Wheels24 was there...

Read more on:    austin  |  mini  |  dave fall  |  south africa  |  classic cars

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