Austin Asides

Author

Bill Boddy

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Freddie Henry, ex-Austin apprentice, which was appropriate, because he used to be taken to school in 1920 in a blue Austin 20 coupe, wrote a booklet about “The Old Man”, the First Baron Austin of Longbridge (1866-1941), for the 50th anniversary last year of the Austin Ex-Apprentices Association. The book contains much interesting material, which Freddie hopes will be read in 2033, at the 100th anniversary! In 1918 the Austin Engineering College was opened at Nazareth House, run like a public school but closed in 1925, the house and Lickey Grange, where Sir Herbert lived and the A7 was designed, being illustrated. It is suggested that in 1919 Austin followed Henry Ford, whose autographed portrait hung in his office, in adopting an intended one-model policy, with the Twenty, which the hp tax destroyed. Henry says the triangulated frame and transverse front springing of the A7 was copied from a Grey light truck used at the factory, but with ¼-elliptic rear springs substituted for the half-elliptics, which contradicts the popular theory that the Peugeot Quad chassis was cribbed. Henry tells of seeing, in 1928, four 3-litre 16-cylinder engines for propelling torpedos, formed of A7 power-units on a common crankcase, and of driving to Longbridge “quite recently” in a 1926 A7 with LAP ohv conversion. Ernest Schippert, son of a high-ranking Daimler-Benz Director, was an Austin apprentice who probably felt more at home when he saw the 1924 24/100 Mercedes they then had in the Longbridge works. Schippert bought, for £5 an old Humber two-seater and his father sent from Germany a magnificent jack and new Bosch battery for it, so that trips from his hotel, the “Black Horse” at Northfield, could be taken with Henry, and with Ralph Secretan, whose family had close links with Daimler-Benz. Secretan was able to persuade Caracciola to give Henry a ride in the TT-winning Mercedes after the 1929 race. Schippert went on to Renault and GM, before returning to Stuttgart.

Henry includes some affectionate stories about Lord Austin and Col Waite. Austin, like Royce, knew all about factory methods, would stop to show an apprentice how to use a file properly, and he was an expert on machine-tools. One story is of how a fitter, eating a big sandwich, stuffed it into his mouth when he saw “the Old Man” approaching, Austin then saying to him, “That’s right, choke your b. . . .y self’. . . . — W.B.

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