The Development of the Racing Austin Seven
Right from its inception the Austin Motor Company, Ltd. raced their amazing "Seven" and by the outbreak of war it had been so far developed that, in "twin-cam'' form, it was one of the most advanced British racing cars, second, in many people's opinion, only to the E.R.A. This article outlines the development of the racing Austin Seven from 1923 to 1930, and the concluding instalment will deal with the period when 100 m.p.h., then 120 m.p.h., was realised and the side-valve car successfully raced in its final form, leading to the advent of Murray Jamieson's famous "twin-cam" racing Austin. — Ed.]
No car has achieved greater fame or popularity than the Austin Seven; no car has so frequently formed the basis of "Specials" built by enthusiastic amateurs with a will to motor faster than the next man.
And, for some years prior to the war, this little car added to its prestige, and that of Britain, by very successfully taking its place in the field of out-and-out racing car. Some time ago, bearing these attribute's in mind, we referred briefly to the Seven's beginnings as a racing car. In this present article, aided by some painstaking research on the part of Mr. S. Yeal, of the Austin Motor Co., Ltd., we propose to follow the development of the Austin Seven as a racing and record-breaking car in rather more detail.
The Austin Seven was first announced in 1922 and sprung upon a receptive public as a £165 2/3 seater car, in 1923. Although in standard form the little 56 by 76 min. (just think of it, 2.2 in. by 3 in.!) engine gave only 10 1/2 h.p. at 2,400 r.p.m., right away Austins, who had done a bit of Brooklands' work with their "Twenty," decided to race the new prodigy.
A chassis was prepared at Longbridge and fitted with a simple 2-seater fabric racing body. It made a few test runs in the Birmingham area and then Captain Waite, on Easter Monday, 1923, drove it to Brooklands. Here it started from the limit mark in the Small Car Handicap, did its standing lap at 56.64 m.p.h., its flying lap at 62.40 m.p.h. and won easily at 59.03 m.p.h. from the cyclecar fraternity. Capt. Waite then drove the little black Austin with its white radiator shell back to his home in Bromsgrove, 116 miles away. In all, he had driven 190 miles that day at an average of about 32 m.p.h. with no trouble of any sort. The car was mainly standard, we are told, except for body and gear-ratios.
Thus encouraged (and fortunate in racing are those who are, on their initial venture!) Waite took the little car out to Monza at the end of Apri, for the Italian Cyclecar Grand Prix. Although so far from home (he said he preferred it that way, in case the race proved an Austin fiasco!) Waite did one lap at over 64 m.p.h. and eventually won the 750-c.c. class, at an average of over 56 m.p.h. for 250 kilometres. The car then returned for the B.A.R.C. Whitsun Meeting, where it was joined by Gordan England's aluminium-bodied car. England got away in the Small Car Handicap to the tune of a standing lap at 59.58 M.p.h. and doing 70.05 m.p.h. for his next lap, won nicely from the two-cylinder brigade at 67 3/4 m.p.h. Waite did not finish, but in the 75 m.p.h. Short Handicap his car found its form, with a s.s. lap at over 63 1/2 m.p.h. and a flying lap at nearly 70, to finish 2nd, with England (who had done his s.s. lap at 69.36, and flying lap at 71.15 m.p.h., but who had been re-handicapped) in 3rd place. At the B.A.R.C. Summer Meeting, England's car was gaily painted in red and saxe-blue stripes running horizontally, while Waite ran two "Sevens." Neither driver was placed, but both got round at approximately 70 m.p.h. At the August Meeting Cutler drove yet another of Captain Waite's cars, painted azure blue and called "Dingo," and added a "3rd" to the score, lapping at nearly 75 1/2 m.p.h.
Then, over to Boulogne, with a team of three cars, based on the original car. Twin Cox-Atmos carburetters were used, feeding through long riser-pipes to enable 3-branch outside exhaust pipes to be fitted. The engines had high-lift camshaft but were otherwise virtually standard, although the dynamo was omitted. Eleven-gallon fuel tanks were carried in the scuttle and the spare wheels lived, Alvis fashion. beneath the tails of ihe bodies. Scintilla magnetos, K.L.G. F12 plugs, and Palmer tyres were used and 5,000 r.p.m. attained. In the race Kings crashed and Waite and Cutler experienced mysterious big-end failures.
In September, Gordon England decided to establish records in the newly-introduced Class L. Lack of competition did not restrain his throttle foot! He covered 5 miles at 79.62 m.p.h. and 10 miles at 78.57 flying start, 10 laps from a standing start at 75.95, and went on to do 50 miles at 76.51, and 100 miles at 64.79 m.p.h. He also got the "Hour," at no less than 73.59 m.p.h. He used a high single-seater, barrel-shaped body with a well-cowled radiator and the Austin turned the scales at a shade over 7 1/2 cwt.
Six days later, using a 2-seater body on the Hour Record chassis and carrying a passenger, England had the audacity to start in the 1,100-c.c. class of the J.C.C. 200-mile Race. He had special head, camshaft and valve springs, twin carburetters and force-feed to the big-ends, and pulled a 4.5-to-1 top gear. Rods and crank were standard. The engine held 4,500-4,700 r.p.m. His little car ran impeccably and without a single stop, finishing 2nd to the class-winning Salmson , at an average of 76.84 m.p.h. and doing its best lap at 79.05 m.p.h. During the race England put the Hour record to 73.90 m.p.h. and established the 2 Hours at 76.48, the 100 Miles at 75.65, the 150 Miles at 76.44, and the 200 miles at 76.84 m.p.h. Finally, to round off its first racing season, an Austin Seven,said to be built from parts from all three of the Boulogne team cars, won its class at the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb.
From his racing experiences Gordon England evolved his production "Brooklands" 2-seater, with special engine internals, twin carburetters and 4.4 to 1 axle ratio, for which 75 m.p.h. was guaranteed in racing trim. The Austin Motor Co., Ltd., on the other hand, for the time being contented itself with a sports 2-seater, which was virtually a "Chummy" with a tiny pointed tail replacing the rear, or kiddies, compartment.
In June, 1924, R. E. O. Hall took a car belonging to England, and which weighed 27 lb. less than the 1923 record-breaker, to Brooklands and took various records, including a s.s. mile at 61.81 m.p.h., and a flying half-mile at 83.64 m.p.h. In racing during 1924, Waite continued to run "Dingo" at Brooklands, and was joined by Captain Samuelson, Major Gardner, Dingle with his own car, and, of course, England. Many successes were scored and the best lap in B.A.R.C. events was 83.7 m.p.h. by England's blue car. Speeds were going up by leaps and bounds, and must have embarrassed owners of "heavy metal." At Le Mans Waite and Roddis finished 3rd and 4th in the 750-c.c. class of the G.P. des Voiturettes. The 200-Mile Race of that year had a 750 c.c. class and no fewer than nine Austin Sevens contested it, England winning in the end, at an average of 75.61 m.p.h., the reduction in speed as against the 1923 average being easily explained by the presence of a con. rod and piston in the bottom of the crankcase for the last few laps. Even so, only one 1,100-c.c. car beat this speed, and the 100-mile Class L record fell at 75.99 m.p.h., the Hour at 75.77 m.p.h., and one lap was done at 80.33 m.p.h.
Montlhèry Track was now open and England took over one of his "Brooklands"-type Austins. He ran away with the 750-c.c. class, winning at 73.25 m.p.h., followed home by Waite. Hall and Dingle. England tried his luck against the 1,100-c.c. cars and finished 4th, beaten only by the Salmson team.
In October, England attacked records at Montlhèry, in the new Class H. He captured 21 standing-start records, from 50 miles to 300 miles and one to four hours, at speeds from 72.15 m.p.h. upwards, including a lap at 84.1 m.p.h. Thus, since its appearance as a racing car in 1923, to the close of the 1924 season, the Austin Seven had increased its speed from 62 1/2 to over 84 m.p.h. In an ordinary Brooklands race, England had lapped at 83.7 m.p.h.
In April, 1925, Waite brought out the 1924 single-seater, now supercharged and reduced in weight to just under 7 cwt. It covered a two-way f.s. mile at 84.29 and a two-way f.s. kilometre at 85.97 m.p.h., at Brooklands, reaching 92 m.p.h. in one direction. A Roots supercharger was mounted in a cradle attached to the front of the timing case and driven from the timing gears and an extractor-type exhaust manifold was used. Later in the year the weight now increased to exactly 7 1/2 cwt., Waite did a s.s. kilometre at 60.26 m.p.h., a s.s. mile at 66.33, and took f.s. records from 5 kilo. to 10 miles, at 81-82 m.p.h. Finally, at the end of the year, the 50 kilo. record was taken at 83.45 m.p.h., the 50-mile record at 83.74 m.p.h., with the same engine in a new chassis, the weight now 20 lb. less.
Another venture was to bore-out the low, streamlined supercharged car to 57 mm., to put it in the 1,100-c.c. class, although its capacity was still a mere 775 c.c. In this form the car ran in the 200-Mile Race, but retired with a broken universal-joint. However, George Duller drove the car at the Essex M.C. Meeting at Brooklands the following Saturday and won the 50-mile Handicap at 89.9 m.p.h., lapping at over 92 m.p.h.
In the 750-c.c. class of the 200-Mile Race five Austin Sevens had started, and Gordon England won at 61.16 m.p.h. for the "road" circuit, with Hendy second, only .01 m.p.h. slower. England used a single carburetter this time, otherwise his engine was as in 1924. The rear springs were mounted parallel, on special cross-members, to enable the seats to be slung below the torque tube, and were attached to the axle by special linkages. The body was in three sections, of 3-ply on a wooden framework, and enveloped all save the wheels. It weighed, with its undershield, a mere 45 lb. In B.A.R.C. short races, Waite got his 749. c.c. car, driven by Depper, to lap at 85.43 m.p.h., and a feature of the Summer Meeting was an 8 1/2-mile scratch race for Gordon England "Brooklands" super-sports cars, stripped, but standard save for Brooklands silencers. Of five runners, only one failed to lap at over 75 m.p.h. on at least one lap and Lieut. Grey, R.N. did 76.97 m.p.h.
In the field of road-racing, too, the little Seven, now inevitably expected to take its place as a conventional car, was becoming conspicuous. England ran at Le Mans, partnered by Samuelson, using a car with a fabric 2-seater body, having a spare wheel in its tail and flowing wings — the type which went into production as the Gordon England "Cup" model. A stone through the radiator put the car out of the race, but two similar Austins ran in the Georges Boillot Cup, England finishing 9th after Waite had retired. England carried his wife as passenger and used a "Cup" model, whereas Waite had what looked like a "Chummy" with light wings. At San Sebastian, Zuliaga won the 750-c.c. race by nearly threequarters of an hour, in his Austin Seven.
In 1926 Waite was at Brooklands again with a new car and took the Class H hour record at 83.66 m.p.h., the 100-kilos. at 82.49 m.p.h., and the 100-miles record at 83.61 m.p.h. The number of racing successes of this remarkable "Seven " are now becoming too numerous to detail and we must content ourselves with singling out the more important., and using each season's increasingly-fast record-breaking runs as a yardstick. In 1926 the 750-c.c. class of the "200" was again an Austin benefit, England winning at 58.26 m.p.h. over a modified course. Abroad, Zuliaga was 3rd in the 1,100-c.c. class of the Targa Florio, and Samuelson finished 4th in the voiturette class (up to 1,100 c.c.) at Boulogne: Then, at Brooklands, Walther won the 750-c.c. class of the J.C.C. Production Car Race, in a "Brooklands" model, at 51.2 m.p.h. over the previous year's "200" course, and in short handicaps the best lap was by Waite, at 90.88 m.p.h., in 749-c.c. form.
1927 saw Austin successes continuing, not only in this country, but the world over. At Brooklands, Boyd-Carpenter and Chase established long-distance and duration records of from 3 to 12 hours, and 500 kilo. to 500 miles at averages of 62 1/2 to 63 1/2 m.p.h., their Austin turning the scales at 7 cwt. 48 lbs., and in the J.C.C. Sporting Car Race, contested on a fuel consumption and handicap basis, Dingle's "Brooklands" Austin won at 52.1 m.p.h., averaging 32 m.p.g. for the 150 miles. Then, in the "200," Chase won his class at 58.14 m.p.h., while the fastest lap in B.A.R.C. racing by an Austin Seven was 86.62 m.p.h. by Gordon Hendy's blown car.
In 1928 Chase, Parker and Bland took an Austin Seven of their conception, consisting of a racing chassis with body work of their own design, to Montlhèry and, in spite of depot stops totalling 35 m. 40 s., set the Class H 24-Hour record at 65.98 m.p.h., taking the 12hours, 1,000-kilo., 1,000-mile and 2,000, kilo. records en route. At Brooklands, Spero and Bell, in a Boyd-Carpenter Austin, well streamlined by reason of a very low, shoe-shape single-seater body, and known as "Mrs. Jo Jo," captured the Class H 200-kilo., 200-mile and 6-hour records, at neatly 69 m.p.h. The best B.A.R.C. race lap was 85.13 m.p.h., again by Hendy's blown car, and in the "200" Spero won his class, at 59.95 m.p.h.
By this time the Austin Company had introduced a proper sports model of their own, perhaps spurred on by the many specialised sports versions of the famous "Seven" on the market, which included the Boyd-Carpenter car with o.h.v. conversion. This official sports car, usually called the "Ulster," but catalogued simply as the "Sports Model," cost £185, or £225 with Cozette compressor. It differed from the standard car in respect of a special front axle to give low build, closer gear ratios, special valve gear, camshaft, cylinder head and manifolds, and pressure lubrication (which England had adopted for the "Brooklands" model) in place of jet. 24 b.h.p. was claimed, or 33 with No. 4 Cozette, and the weight was approx. 8 1/2 cwt. From this car a slightly more specialised car was built by the works for sports-car races, and a few replicas of these T.T. cars, with their big fuel tanks and external fillers, are believed to have been built. It was this type of car which, in 1929, finished 1st in the 750-c.c. class in the B.A.R.C. Six-Hours Sports-Car Race, averaging 50.72 m.p.h., came 1st in Class H at Phoenix Park, ran 3rd and 4th in the T.T. at nearly 60 m.p.h. average, and covered 1,141.9 miles in the "Double Twelve." It will be recalled that these excellent little cars were painted orange, so as to be easily distinguishable by the pit-staff. Apart from sports-car racing, 1929 saw Poppe and Holbrook finish 6th in the 500-Miles Race, at 80.25 m.p.h. and "Mrs. Jo Jo," still unblown, lap at 84.7 m.p.h. in a short race.
So to 1930, when the orange T.T. cars had their best season, Waite and the Earl of March won the 750 c.c. class of the "Double Twelve" race at all but 65 m.p.h., Archie Frazer-Nash was 3rd at Phoenix Park, and Poppe 5th in the T.T. Then, driving a car stripped of road equipment S. C. H. Davis, partnered by the Earl of March, won outright the B.R.D.C. 500-Miles Race at 83.42 m.p.h., lapping at over 87. "Sammy " then had a big fuel tank installed in the passenger's seat, took apprentice Goodacre to Brooklands with him, and proceeded to attack International Class H records good and proper. He took 13 records, from 50 kilo. to 12 hours, at speeds varying between 81.73 and 85.08 m.p.h., and then, alone, three days later, came out and broke the s.s. kilometre record at 62.62 m.p.h., the s.s. mile at 68.43 m.p.h., the f.s. kilo. at 89.08 m.p.h., and the f.s. mile at 87.76 m.p.h. The long-distance records were concluded in the dark, headlamps alight; the short-distance records were captured with a 4-speed single-seater of fairly normal streamline. Thus the Austin Seven, in eight seasons, had not only increased its speed until it had exceeded 90 m.p.h. (Waite's remarkable lap in 1926), but had proved itself able to maintain a speed not much lower for very long distances, and in 2-seater form. Better performances were to follow, and the concluding instalment of this article will deal with Austin's battle with M.G. for the honour of first exceeding 100 m.p.h. with a 750 c.c. car and the ultimate development of the twin-cam Austin which is one ot the most advanced and successful of British racing cars — 1 1/2 litres included.