I have been recapturing my Austin-Seven youth, by driving a car which might well be called “Skinner’s Folly”, although Sandy Skinner, Editor of the VSCC Bulletin, will not thank me for so describing it, or for mentioning it at all, come to that, in these pages. He built it with a definite purpose in mind, namely, to give pleasure in the vintage-car idiom to as many people as possible, without having to worry if they stuffed it — through a hedge or by letting a rod come out — and without having to answer endless futile queries as to what it will fetch at the next Christie’s auction. Skinner tells me that in the first six weeks after it was completed 42 people drove it, including his Bank Manager, his Barman, and others who were unaccustomed to the ways of little old motor cars. This, he thinks, does more good in spreading the gospel that vintage-type cars are still usable and even enjoyable, than any amount of simply looking at fabulously-irreplaceable, carefully-nursed pieces of prewar machinery driven by others.
So what is this innocent Austin ? It carries a 1924 registration, issued in Denbigh. The engine has a magneto-ignition crankcase, with the magneto replaced by a horizontally-mounted distributor, so that coil-induced h.t. current is fed to the NGT Type-A-7 plugs. Two 45 deg. SUs are used, fed electrically, and there is a four-branch exhaust manifold. The front axle is of the dropped variety, with flattened spring, Ulster-style, and the wide-ratio 3-speed gearbox is controlled, and quite precisely too, by a second gear lever coupled to the cut-down original one to give remote control. The body and prop.-shaft tunnel are of polished marine-three-ply, the pointed tail being metal-lined, while the wooden bulkhead is metal-faced to provide the necessary fire-wall.
The top panels of the tail can be opened by using an outsize carriage-key. This done, a two-gallon Pratts petrol tin is found on the n/s, serving as the fuel tank, its original cap retained as the filler, but now with a curly vent tube, and a small Lucas battery is secured with bungee-rubber on the o/s. Between them there is a shelf, presumably for a screw-jack. The tankage is adequate, under the theory that no one will wish to travel non-stop in the thing for more than 70 to 80 miles, anyway.
The brakes have been converted to hydraulic operation and really stand the Seven on its nose. The tyre problem was solved by buying five 3.50 x 19 Avon Sidecar Heavy Duty Mk. II covers with those prominent knobbly treads. The back mudguards withstand leaning-on, as when “bouncing” up a trials’ section or just climbing out. Two aero-screens comprise the weather protection, when this Skinner-wagon is cruising at its customary 55 m.p.h. It starts promptly after long disuse in chilly climates, it feels pleasantly rigid, it rides comfortably over the rough stuff and it corners well, the light steering geared 1 turns, lock-to-lock. The exhaust-pipe emerges rather cheekily just ahead of the n/s back wheel but this is made up for by a big RAC badge on the radiator filler-cap. The wood facia has a brass Lucas switch panel incorporating an ammeter to show that the transverse dynamo is really charging, a Smiths 60-m.p.h. speedometer, the switches and choke-knob, and a Morris Motors’ Eureka oil-gauge “guaranteed to withstand an overload of 200 lb. Sq. in.”—and it shows a healthy eight pounds, when the oil is cold. Oil is one thing the engine consumes greedily, in spite of the long wooden bung in the sump-filler doing its best not to let any escape. There is also a large horn-push and a badge saying “made under Gordon England patents”, which must be more or a sop to the shape of the mudguards and step, which resemble those of a GE Cup-model, than to GE fabric, or any other, body Construction. A hidden button on the floor, guaranteed to pierce the thumb, sets the machinery going.
Skinner says he had an expendable Austin 7 twenty years ago and that it’s nice to own one again! I agree. The car gave me much fun, on the road and round my land, where it rocketed up the grass-covered gradient which defeated quite a number of competitors in the VSCC Light Car Section Rally. And on those narrow-section Avon tyres, with a tired engine and driven by one who had never previously driven in a VSCC Welsh Trial, the “Folly” came near to gaining an award in that recent Presteigne-based event. Perhaps to counter the unrealistic values placed on most vintage vehicles nowadays, we need more specials on the lines of this Austin and Ashley Cleave’s Morris.