Austin Twenties

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Sir, I was most interested to read the comments of John Oldham on the Austin Twenty and other vintage models; which brought back many nostalgic memories of my time at Longbridge.

I am sure the Ranelagh landaulette illustrated in the September issue has the 4-cylinder 95.25 mm. x 127 mm. engine originally fitted to the 1919 tourer and doctor’s coup::. Both cars had concealed hoods and enclosed spare Wheels, the coupt: having winding glass windows, two doors and five seats. A long-wheelbase landaulette and an open sports tourer were also made, the sports version achieving competition successes at Brooklands in the hands of Chief Tester, Lou Kings and Lord Austin’s son-in-law, Arthur Waite whose car was nick-named “Black Maria”. This car was capable of well over 100 m.p.h.

The standard engine also powered a two-ton truck and an agricultural tractor which ran on paraffin and was built both at the Longbridge works and at Liancourt, France. Two of the trucks ran daily to London carrying spare parts until 1938 when they were replaced by two experimental diesel trucks designed by Dr. Collet and Dr. Lehmann who returned to Germany a fortnight before World War II.

A luxury version of the Twenty with tourer and limousine bodies built at the firm’s Park Royal works had a polished aluminium bonnet and a radiator similar to the Rolls-Royce but with a slight “V”, Rudge-Whitworth wheels and was sold under the name “Sizaire-Berwick”. Later, a smaller version was built on the original short-stroke Twelve chassis. In 1926, we had two Twenty prototypes running around the Longbridge works with the new 6-cylinder 79.5 mm. x 114.5 mm. engine of 3,400 c.c. One car was in “Austin” guise and the other a “Sizaire-Berwick” but the latter never went into production as the margree was discontinued.

From 1928 the Twenty range included the Open Road tourer, Whitehall and Carlton saloons on the 10 ft. wheelbase chassis with 3.92 to 1 final drive, the Mayfair (10 ft. 10 in. w.h.b.) and Ranelagh (11 ft. 4 in. w.h.b.) both with the 4.67 to 1 final drive.

John Oldham refers to “that awful 12/6”. Cerainly the car was simple and woolly with its 1,496 c.c. 6–cylinder engine, 3-speed box and fabric body but in 1930 the cost was only £198. The later version with steel body, 4-speed synchromesh box and tiptional 1,711 c.c, engine was excellent value at £215 and £235. The larger-engined car was a delight to drive.

He does not refer to the successor to the Twenty—the 1939 Twenty-eight—which had a remarkably smooth and powerful engine, or the last short (10 ft. w.h.b.) Twenty Mayfair saloons built. The latter had an extra high final drive, and an attractive body styled by Ricardo Burzzi who came to Austin from Lancia in 1929 and was responsible for all subsequent Austins until his retirement in the 1960s. With such a small body it gave effortless cruising at 70-75 m.p.h.

As a young student apprentice I worked on the first Sixteen engine and, later, was closely involved with the Austin-Hayes Infinitely Variable Transmission. This was years ahead of its time and, in recent years, has been redeveloped under Government sponsorship.

In 1925 a prototype “Fifteen” engine was built and installed in a Twelve Open Tourer. The engine was an exact miniature of the Twenty, unlike the Twelve which had the carburetter on the off-side with the induction passing through the water-jacket to the near-side. “Pa” Austin used this car for his personal transport until tile middle 19.30s when he changed to a -Sixteen with AustinHayes transmission. When it was suggested that he should drive a more modern car, he replied typically : “There’s a lot more life in the car yet”. He was right, for the engine was so smooth and flexible. it never reached production; instead, the stroke of the Twelve engine was increased.

Those were the happy days when the men on the shop floor respected “Pa” for they knew that the designer of Britain’s First Car in 1895 could do any job in the factory.

West Lavington F. T. HENRY

Chairman, The Austin Ex-Apprentices Association (London Section)

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