Vintage Postbag, February 1970

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“The Old Man”

Sir,
In 1933 there were a couple of World War I aero-engines in an alcove under the engine test bay at the North Works. Longbridge, of the then Austin Motor Company. My recollection is that they were six-cylinder engines with separate cylinders and push-rod-operated valves.

Perhaps they are still there. I can’t say that I ever heard one refer to Pa Austin as “The old man” . We sometimes referred to him as Sir Erbert because he used to run the two words “Sir” and “Herbert” together when saying who it was speaking over the ‘phone.

There are two tales about the Old Man, and I don’t know if they are true. It was said that he frequently made freehand sketches of a component or a design detail to illustrate what he wanted. Then if he had to discuss the same problem again at a later date, he would repeat the freehand drawing again, and if the second sketch was on tracing paper it could be laid over the original, and be seen to be an exact copy line for line.

The second story concerns the first model of the Austin to saloon. This car had a body with a dead straight back, no boot, no overhanging of the back axle, and a luggage grid which lowered down flat to stick out behind just a little way. The immediate reaction of everyone who saw that model for the first time was to ask amongst themselves why on earth the Company had decided to produce a car with that bolt-upright back end.

Well, up to that time, Austin cars had a tradition or conservatism It was all part of the image for the inside to be capable of housing passengers with long torsos or top hats, without hitting the roof. You either bought a car or invested in an Austin in those days. It was said that the design staff, rather daring, had produced a fairly pleasant body with a slightly upswept rear panel and were rather pleased with themselves for moving with the times—the first slowback! But then the Old Man walked in—perhaps he had been on holiday—took one look at the drawing, brooded like the figure of Doom for a period, then, producing a thick stub from one of his pockets, drew a straight line very heavily and very vertically down the back side, chopping off the sweep on the panel.
The car sold like hot cakes.
Lympsham.
L. W. Chapman.

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