The Development of the Racing Austin Seven
[Last month we dealt with the Austin Seven racing history from 1928 to 1930. This concluding instalment covers the period 1931-1939 and embraces the famous twin o.h.c. cars. — Ed.]
Early in 1931 Sir Malcolm Campbell took with him to Daytona, when he went out to attack the land speed record, a 4-speed Austin Seven with fairly normal racing bodywork. Daytona Beach did not prove very suitable to the little car, but, nevertheless, the Class H mile and kilometre f.s. records were captured, at 94.03 and 93.97 m.p.h. respectively.
Meanwhile, a more specialised car was being prepared under Capt. Waite’s direction at Longbridge for record attacks. It had an off-set propeller shaft with the driver’s seat set low down beside it and the body was a very well streamlined single-seater finalised after tests in Vicker’s wind-tunnel. It took a similar form to that used for the Irving-Special “Golden Arrow,” the radiator being cowled in and isolated from the bonnet, and fairings filling in the space between front and rear wheels, with additional fairings behind the rear tyres. The engine was still the famous 747-c.c. s.v. unit, virtually standard in most respects, but blown at 15 lb./sq. in. by an Austin-built Roots supercharger, so that 56 b.h.p. was developed at 6,000 r.p.m.
Much depended on this car, for Class H rivalry had become intense. As early as 1927 a 746-c.c. Grazide had done 96.76 m.p.h., and G. E. T. Eyston had set his heart on being the first man to exceed 100 m.p.h. in a 750-c.c. car. He failed with a special Ratier, and abandoned a plot to instal a short-stroke Riley Nine engine in a Thomas-Special chassis, turning, instead, to the M.G. Linered down to 750 c.c., this car proceeded to break Austin’s 1930 records, doing 100 kilo. at 87 m.p.h. Supercharging it at 12 lb./sq. in. put the power up by 9 b.h.p., to 52 at 6,500 r.p.m., and early in 1931 Eyston realised his ambition, taking all Class H records up to 10 miles at over 100 m.p.h., and clocking no less than 103.13 m.p.h. for the 5 kilo. run.
Thus Austin lost the coveted honour of first exceeding 100 m.p.h., but they were still anxious to show that they had a side-valve car which would beat these speeds. S. C. H. Davis had been measured and the new single-seater’s cockpit built to fit him, but Cushman was of similar build and took over after Davis’s accident. At Brooklands, preliminary tests were conducted at a lap speed of 99 m.p.h., and the engine was then stripped down for examination. A cracked valve-seat was discovered, but the block was changed, and off Cushman went. Discs were used on all wheels and a tricky wind made things a bit hectic coming off the bankings into the Railway straight. However, the kilometre was covered at 99.64 m.p.h. The front discs were then removed and Cushman tried again. This time he went over the two-way kilometre at 102.28 m.p.h. and over the mile at 100.67 m.p.h., bettering the M.G. speeds for these distances.
Then Viscount Ridley entered the fray with his ingenious twin-cam Ridley-Special, which, with Laystall’s help, he had built at his Blaydon Hall workshop in 1929. He set the Class-H mile to 105.42 m.p.h. and the kilometre to 104.56 m.p.h. Now it was Austin’s turn, and Mrs. Stewart took the new single-seater to Montlhèry and, with wheel discs in place and the radiator even more carefully cowled, did 5 kilometres at 109.13 m.p.h., 5 miles at 109.06 m.p.h., 10 kilometres at 109.05 m.p.h., 10 miles at 108.95 m.p.h., 50 kilometres at 98.09 m.p.h., and 50 miles at 98.48 m.p.h.
Cars of this type, with the wheel fairings and discs removed and more stumpy tails, were also used for racing, and three of them, one the actual record-breaker, started in the 1931 500-Mile Race. They used 26 by 3.75 tyres. Balls also ran a special-bodied Austin Seven which was lighter than the “works” jobs. The team had to be withdrawn because the radiators split when they were running well, and Balls also failed to finish, but in 1932 Lord March won his heat in the British Empire Trophy outer circuit race, averaging 92.51 m.p.h. for 50 miles.
Late in 1931 Eldridge broke the Austin’s 5-kilometre record with an M.G., and Eyston did over 100 miles in the hour, also for M.G. But the “T.T.”-type Austin continued to do well in road-racing, Goodacre finishing second in the 1,100-c.c. class of the Italian 1,000Mile Race, at 46.8 m.p.h. At Brooklands, Willis’ unblown “B.C.” Austin lapped at 84.27 m.p.h., and Cushman’s orange single-seater (the record-type car) at 99.01 m.p.h., while the team of single-seaters won the Relay Race, at an aggregate average of 81.77 m.p.h.
Nineteen-thirty-two opened badly for Austin, for Eyston, recovered from the burns he suffered at the end of his 100-in-the-hour attempt, and using the first 750-c.c. single-seater M.G., put the 5 kilometre to 10 miles Class-H records up to over 114 m.p.h. A little later the “Magic Midget” M.G. did nearly 119 m.p.h. for the short f.s. records, and in December achieved the distinction of being the first 750-c.c. car to exceed 120 m.p.h. Altogether it was not Austin’s year, although, at Brooklands, a “works” single-seater lapped at 103.11 m.p.h. in Driscoll’s hands, and a team of these cars finished 4th in the Relay Race, making fastest time of the day, at an average of 91.13 m.p.h., driven by Driscoll, Barnes and Goodacre.
It began to look as if the little side-valve car would have to give way entirely to its o.h.c. rival, but those who felt this way had reckoned without T. Murray Jamieson, who now took over the design of the racing Austins.
In 1933 he evolved a special single-seater for record work, but while this was undergoing development Sir Herbert Austin continued to enter the team of older single-seaters. Driscoll, Barnes and Goodacre handled them in the International Trophy Race, finishing 5th, 6th and 8th, at 78.03, 74.09 and 72.64 m.p.h., respectively, which won them the team prize. In the Relay Race the same team started, and, heavily handicapped, finished in 4th place, again making the fastest average speed of the day – 91.60 m.p.h. In the 500-Mile Race the Austins had much trouble, Barnes finally retiring with a seized clutch, Driscoll with a burnt-out valve, and Duller with elusive mis-firing.
So far as record-breaking was concerned, Driscoll took the Class H 50-kilometre record from M.G. at 100.24 m.p.h., using one of the pale green single-seaters, and later improved this to 101.52 m.p.h., taking, also, the 50-mile and 100-kilometre records, at 102.23 and 102.26 m.p.h., respectively. Later these records were regained by M.G., at 105-106 m.p.h.
Then Jamieson announced his new single-seater ready. It had a supercharger of his own conception and a new body somewhat on the lines of Campbell’s “Bluebird.” (It is interesting to note how Austin Sevens of this period were based on land speed record cars. Spero ran a single-seater at Brooklands the frontal aspect of which rather resembled the 200 m.p.h. twin-engined Sunbeam, although the rear wheels were exposed.) The radiator was cowled in by a sort of tunnel which also carried a wide fairing arranged to deflect air over the front wheels. Other fairings ran beside the body between the wheels and behind the rear wheels, this streamlining having been evolved from wind-tunnel tests. At Montlhèry Murray Jamieson himself drove the car and captured from M.G. the 5- and 10-mile and 10-kilometre class records, at 119.38, 119.39 and 119.19 m.p.h., respectively. This beat the fastest M.G. record by 1.97 m.p.h.
Shortly afterwards Denly and the M.G. recaptured these records at over 125 m.p.h. and set the short-distance speeds to nearly 129 m.p.h. Doggedly, Murray Jamieson returned to the attack, putting the 50-kilometre record to 113.47 m.p.h. with the new Austin, beating M.G.’s record by 7.71 m.p.h. Eventually, however, even this record fell to the o.h.c. car, at 115 m.p.h., and 1933 closed, as 1932 had done, with M.G. holding every Class-H record on the hooks. In amateur hands older Austin sevens continued to put up some good performances, including class wins at Shelsley Walsh and victory in a 50-mile race at Southport. At Brooklands, Driscoll lapped at 105.97 m.p.h. with one of the team single-seaters, but experienced trouble in many of his races.
Reverting to Murray Jamieson’s record-breaker, this was a fairly normal engine with two-bearing, stiff counter-balanced crankshaft, but the alloy head and the block were secured by many additional studs, and dry-sump pressure lubrication was used. Oil in a dashboard tank was drawn by a pump and passed through a cooler to the front end of the hollow crankshaft, and at reduced pressure to the camshaft, each cam having its own oil pipe. A scavenging pump cleared the crankcase and fed the lubricant through another cooler back to a separate tank. Pump cooling was used, and as the radiator was small and low-set there was a header tank on the dashboard beside the oil tank. The pump ran at engine speed and air left the radiator via channels on either side of the body. Part of the cylinder head was cut away at one side to take a water-pipe flange. The Murray Jamieson two-bladed Roots supercharger was set upright ahead of the engine and driven direct from the crankshaft. Fuel was pressure fed by a propeller-driven two-cylinder air pump in front of the engine beneath the radiator cowling, pressure being regulated by a valve on the instrument board, and there was supplementary hand-pump feed. Ignition was looked after by a magneto, protected by an asbestos shield from exhaust heat and by a distributor over the flywheel, two plugs being fitted for each cylinder, sparking together. The rest of the car was fairly standard, steel con.-rods and 3-speed gearbox included, but the clutch pedal possessed extra leverage and off-set transmission was used, with the special crown-wheel and pinion adjacent to the near-side rear wheel, allowing the driver to sit between the propeller-shaft and off-side side member. To clear the engine the steering layout incorporated a swinging link in the fore and aft rod. The handbrake had limited movement. The body was in aluminium and the fuel filler was concealed, while a vertical rectangular funnel, coinciding with an orifice in the top of the bonnet, took cool air to the S.U. carburetter. Weight was not specially saved, as stability improved with extra equipment aboard. Thus the Lucas electrical equipment included starter and dynamo! The instrument panel, with oil and water inlet and outlet thermometers, had at least ten dials.
It was this car which at last allowed Jamieson to achieve his ambition of exceeding 120 m.p.h. with a 750-c.c. sidevalve car. On Southport sands, in March, 1934, Driscoll wrested the f.s. kilometre record from M.G. at a mean speed of 122.74 m.p.h. for the two-way runs. The car ran at the Brooklands Easter Meeting in the same driver’s hands, and, although unplaced, lapped at 111.92 m.p.h.
Austin’s now decided to return to racing, as distinct from record-breaking. For this purpose a very light, single-seater was evolved, with off-set transmission, a straight tubular front axle with the transverse spring beneath it, and a very narrow body shell. The engine was that from the record-car, and an inclined cowl, protruding ahead of the radiator and cut-away at the base to clear the axle, covered the radiator block.
This car was entered for the International Trophy race but failed to appear to complete its qualifying laps. However, at the Brooklands Whitsun Meeting, Driscoll finished 3rd in a Mounthin Handicap, and in doing so took the 750-c.c. Mountain lap record by .04 sec., from Hamilton’s M.G., the speed being 69.74 m.p.h. Then, at Shelsley Walsh, Driscoll climbed in 46 sec., second to Letts’ M.G. by 0.2 sec. The Austin now gave 75 b.h.p. and weighed 8 1/2 cwt.
At Southport Stephenson, with one of the 1933 ex-works single-seaters, won a 50-mile race, and in the Empire Trophy race Thompson, on one of these cars, and Driscoll in the 1934 car, started, but were unplaced, Driscoll retiring with a broken exhaust manifold. The Relay Race was won by Thompson’s team of Austins, driven by himself, Turner and Selby, who averaged 84.65 m.p.h. Driscoll lapped at 103, to Thompson’s 94, but eventually stopped on the Byfleet banking and Pat, taking a short cut to the pits, was disqualified. Selby drove Thompson’s 1933 car and Thompson an ex-works single-seater. Turner’s car had shed a nut from a crankshaft balance-weight in practice and bent two rods, but was repaired in time.
In a Mountain race at the August Brooklands meeting Driscoll beat the 750-c.c. lap record on every lap, finally setting it to 72.37 m.p.h., a whole second faster than the 1,100-c.c. class figure! It beat the “Q “-M.G. record by 2.4 m.p.h. Even so, Driscoll only took second place in his race. At the Closing Brooklands meeting Driscoll again broke this record, setting it to 72.87 m.p.h. in finishing 3rd in the race.
At Shelsley Walsh, Driscoll won the 750-c.c. racing class in 46.6 sec. over a wet course. No Austins were placed in the 500-Mile Race, but Thompson’s was circulating when flagged in. Driscoll, however, raised his Mountain lap record to 73.64 m.p.h., and, in Prague, the German Burggaller, with an Austin resembling Driscoll’s, took the Class-H s.s.-kilometre and mile records from M.G., at 73.4 and 83.5 m.p.h., respectively. A “Q” M.G. finally captured the Mountain record, at 74.58 m.p.h., as the 1934 season closed, and the kilometre and mile figures, at 75.42 and 85.59 m.p.h., respectively.
Encouraged by the excellent season enjoyed by the new single-seater, Austin’s built another for 1935 and also cleaned up the front cowling. Charlie Dodson made his debut on one of these at the Easter Brooklands meeting. At Shelsley Walsh Driscoll won his class in 43.4 sec. The new twin o.h.c. car was in course of preparation, but failed to appear in the International Trophy race, so that Stanley Woods stood down in favour of Driscoll, backed by Dodson, in the s.v. cars. Dodson eventually had gasket leaks and Driscoll’s magneto became duff. About this time an ingenious new front axle was evolved, a roller-bearing isolating two separate sections, so that, although the beam was virtually rigid, a slight i.fs. effect was permitted. Driscoll said he gained 15 m.p.h. on the banking turn of the Mountain circuit after this axle was fitted.
Driscoll retired with sticking valves in the Relay Race, Goodacre appeared in a 25-mile Donington race and finished 2nd, and Driscoll won a Mountain handicap at 70.91 m.p.h. In the Record Holders’ Mountain race he was 2nd, behind an E.R.A., and 3rd in another of these races. All this was achieved with s.v. cars, as the sensational twin o.h.c. job wasn’t completed that year. Driscoll also regained the s.s. kilometre and mile class records for a while from M.G., at 77.43 and 85.97 m.p.h., respectively.
M.G. again held all records at the close of 1935 and Longbridge followers were relieved when the new twin-cam Austin was tested at Donington early in 1936. It was rumoured to have done 123 m.p.h. over a half-mile, and was a magnificent job of work. Murray Jamieson used a 60.82 by 65.09-mm. 744-c.c. engine, with its two o.h. camshafts driven by a train of eleven gears from the rear of the crankshaft, which was machined from the solid and ran in two roller bearings and a plain centre bearing. A Jamieson-Roots blower was driven at 1 1/2 times engine speed from the timing gears and delivered at 20 lb./sq. in., drawing from an enormous S.U. carburetter. Full dry-sump lubrication was employed, with a triple pump having high and low pressure and scavenge sections, oil being carried in 3-gallon tanks, one on either side of the propeller shaft.
The timing gears also drove a water pump and Scintilla magneto, and the side-located starting handle drove through them. Each camshaft ran in three bearings, had cams 2 in. wide and operated valves with triple springs, set at 90 degree included angle. Chromium-plated buttons were set between cams and valves. Head, block, crankcase and camshaft casings were of R.R.50 alloy, nitrided steel wet-cylinder liners being used. An oil-cooler, with steel tubes six-thousandths of an inch thick, was set behind the radiator. Transmission from the unit synchromesh gearbox was not off-set, but a double-reduction final drive was used. The wheelbase was 6 ft. 10 in., the track 3 ft. 11 in. The new front axle was retained, the body resembled that of the s.v. cars, and the running weight was 9 cwt. 84 lb. The fuel tank held 25 gallons and Dunlop 5.25 by 16 tyres were used, with a 5.5 to 1 top gear. The engine was stressed for 12,000 r.p.m., but was not taken over 9,400 r.p.m. On sprint fuel 116 b.h.p. was developed for a consumption of 3 1/2-4 m.p.g., and 90 b.h.p. at 7,600 r.p.m. on long-distance fuel, at 7 1/2 m.p.g. Twelve-in, brakes were used at the front, 10-in, at the rear, cable-operated. A fully illustrated description of this magnificent little car appeared in Motor Sport for April, 1936.
At the Brooklands Easter Meeting, Dodson was bringing the new car along the aerodrome road when he was dazzled by the sun and hit a post, damaging the tank and rear axle too badly for the car to run. However, a team of three twin-cam cars appeared in the International Trophy race, in which Dodson was still running at the end, after Driscoll had broken an oil filter and Goodacre suffered ignition trouble. Dodson was still running when the course was closed in the Isle of Man, and Baumer’s s.v. car won its class at Shelsley Walsh and made second f.t.d., actually beating all three o.h.c. cars! In the Nuffield Trophy race the o.h.c. team looked like winning, but plug troubles were again encountered, leaving “Bira” to finish 5th at 62.29 m.p.h. in a blue s.v. car. At Madresfield speed trials the Austin team gained the team prize, with two o.h.c. and a s.v. car, Driscoll using twin rear wheels. One Austin was running at the end of the 500-Mile Race but the other retired with engine trouble.
Nineteen-thirty-six, therefore, was not too successful, but in subsequent seasons the twin-cam cars, repainted British green instead of white, and modified from time to time in respect of details, notably the position of the big fuel fillers, that were first in the headrest, later beside it, and the bonnet cowl apertures, really got going. The major successes in 1937 were the Junior Handicap at Donington, which the new driver H. L. Hadley won at 61.24 m.p.h., the Coronation Trophy, which Goodacre won at 61.66 m.p.h., and the Crystal Palace Cup, which became Hadley’s, at 49.83 m.p.h. Hadley also won the 1,100-c.c. class at Brighton speed trials, in 25.7 sec. Mrs. Petre drove consistently well in one of the s.v. cars, and took the Ladies’ Record at Shelsley Walsh, in 43.8 sec. The Class H s.s.-kilometre, 50-kilometre, 100-kilometre, 50-mile, 100-mile and one-hour records were also taken at Brooklands by Dodson, at speeds of from 83.6 m.p.h. to 118.15 m.p.h., with the “Hour” at 113.99 m.p.h. British class records included a s.s. mile at 93.1 m.p.h., and f.s. records at up to 121.2 m.p.h.
In 1938 Dodson secured a most convincing victory with one of the twin-cam Austins, winning the Empire Trophy race at 69.92 m.p.h., a far higher average, over a greater distance, than that of the winning E.R.A. in 1937. Numerous shorter races and sprint events were also won, including Goodacre’s Shelsley Walsh ascent in 40.7 sec., and to this day, Hadley’s 81.4 sec. course record at Craigantlet, and the 750-c.c. Brooklands’ Mountain lap record by Dodson at 77.02 m.p.h. and Campbell Circuit lap record by Hadley at 69.87 m.p.h., still stand.
When war came, fearful tales were circulated, first that the racing Austins had been left out in the open at the works, then that they had been hurled into the furnaces. Consequently, we were overjoyed to make the re-acquaintance of one of them on a lorry in last year’s Cavalcades. We earnestly beseech the Austin Motor Co. Ltd., to run them in this season’s races and sprints, that British prestige may receive the uplift it so badly needs. – W.B.
[Addendum: Some further information about the car with which Chase, Parker and Bland took the Class-H 24-hour record in 1928 at 64.75 m.p.h., as recorded in Part I of this article, has come to hand. The engine was rebuilt and tuned by Thomson and Taylor, and had a Solex carburettor, and the boat-shaped body was build by Hoyal. The last four laps of Monthlèry were covered at over 80 m.p.h. Some technical data on other racing Austin Sevens which is has not been possible to include in this article will be found in W. Boddy’s forthcoming book on the J.C.C. 200-Mile Races.]