A day with the 750 Formula

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For those people who are not aware, the 750 Motor Club run races and speed trials throughout the season for cars built to a limited Formula which encourages the use end development of the Austin Seven, from any period from 1923 to 1938. In addition, they encourage other clubs to run races for the 750 Formula cars at the various club circuits, with the result that the builder of a 750 Austin Special can have a very full season of motor racing, and for a very reasonable financial outlay, though it does mean doing a lot of hard work in the home workshop, but that is what these enthuiasts enjoy. One tends to think of pre-war Austin Sevens as open four-seater Chummy models, or small square saloons that could not possibly have any performative value, so when the opportunity arose recently to drive a selection of sports 750 Specials at Brands Hatch I took it gratefully. Someone, in an unguarded moment, had said that 750-cc. Austin Specials did not go very impressively, and in no time Roy Lee, a committee member of the Club and a racer of a 750, had assembled six assorted cars ready for us to try.

The rules of the Formula insist that the Austin Seven chassis side-members must be used in the construction of the car and that the engine must have an Austin block and crankcase, unmodified, but after that there was a pretty free hand. The six cars ranged from a near-standard Ulster model as built by Lord Austin around 1930, to a beautifully-built “special” that looked like a Lotus Eleven owned by Mike  Featherstonehaugh.  The better 750 cars have hydraulic 2LS front brakes, independent front suspension either by splitting the Austin axle on the Bellamy principle, or doing likewise with a Ford Ten axle, or fitting a proprietary i.f.s.as marketed by firms specialising in making bits for “specials.”  Austin Seven four-speed gearboxes are transformed by having new sets of gears with very sporting close ratios., and Roy Lee’s car really had a delightful gearbox with a remote control, such as Lord Austin could never have imagined. Hydraulic shock-absorbers, coil-springs for suspension, light tubular frames to stiffen the basic Austin frame, all appear in the specification for a 750 Special, while bodywork varies from stark two-seaters with cycle-type mudguards to beautiful all-enveloping glass-fibre bodies like a Lotus.  Engines are worked on, with twin carburetters, free-flow exhaust manifolds, alloy cylinder heads and improved ignition systems, such as a distributor driven off the nose of the camshaft. In fact, the mechanical parts of the Austin Seven are reworked by these enthusiasts in a manner that would have done credit to Longbridge had they gone on developing the sports Austins such as the Speedy and Nippy. Naturally, each of the cars driven was built and tuned to the owner’s taste, for this is a very individualistic bunch of chaps, but some of them were excellent fun to drive round the tiny Brands Hatch circuit,  though I got the feeling the fun would turn to boredom on a fast circuit such as Goodwood. The 750 Club are more than aware of the limitations of their “specials” and seek only to promote and encourage events where suitable, and I should imagine that a good 750 Formula car would be really enjoyable round Oulton Park. Of the six cars tried round Brands Hatch in runs of three to ten laps a time, depending on the enjoyment factor, I experienced violent oversteer to pleasant understeer and a remarkable similarity in power output and acceleration, which indicated that 750 Formula racing must be decided mostly on cornering power and bravery.

Throughout the season members compete for the Goodacre Trophy, a memory of Charles Goodacre who used to race “works” Austin Sevens, and the trophy is a delightfully primitive Austin Seven crankshaft of the original bent-wire conception, but now chromium plated. Winner in 1958 was Bill Wilks, whose car I drove on the day out, and while not the prettiest of home-built cars it was undoubtedly one of the best from the handling point of view, having a surprisingly “flat” ride, soft suspension at the front and a nice degree of understeer, all of which Colin Chapman would approve, and as he is the President of the 750 Motor Club, Wilks may well be pleased with his car.  —  D.S.J.