The Origins of "Skinner's Folly"


I have read with interest your Austin 7 feature, “Skinner’s Folly”, in the December issue. As a one-time owner of CA6577, I can add some details of its earlier history.

Bitten by the Special-Building bug in 1955, I acquired the original chassis complete (but sans body, which was of open tourer type) from my cousin, Mr. J. A. Davidson. The whole car was checked over mechanically, and—despite well-meant warnings that the early crankshaft would “rebel”—the flywheel lightened.

The chassis was lowered, the original front axle beam given “Ulster” treatment (it not being exchangeable as, unlike late beams, it was not drilled to take a shock-absorber), and a Cambridge bodyshell and slab tank fitted. Aluminium mudguards were fitted front and rear, the former carrying torpedo sidelamps, and a spartan windshield of flat perspex (from a Mille Miglia contender of uncertain make) mounted above the scuttle. The manifold was turned to give an outside exhaust, which ran alongside the body and was swept-up over the n/s/r wing, and utilised a motorcycle silencer. The original gearbox was used, but fitted with a simple remote-change. 17-inch wheels were used at the rear, and 15-inch at the front; a 15-inch spare was mounted behind the slab tank, and luckily I never had to contend with a rear-wheel puncture!

The rigidity of the flattened front spring compensated for the lack of front damping, while the rear end was damped by elastic straps. Handling and performance. were surprisingly good, the second gear proving a real delight, while the spartan finish of the whole (untrimmed, and with crew-comforts limited to foam cushions beneath and behind) gave an extremely helpful power/weight ratio. On one occasion “Odsan” (for that was what it was built from) gave no ground to a Dodge pickup in a fast “blind” across Salisbury Plain, the Dodge driver reporting he couldn’t pull away from the Austin despite his superior power “and clipping 70 at one point”. The Austin did not sport a working speedometer at that time, although—due to its age—the circumstance was not illegal.

Eventually CA6577 passed to Dennis Wallis (Barry Clark’s “ballast” in a number of trials in a later Seven of stripped saloon type), and was much modified and improved —including i.f.s., later “boxed” chassis frame, new nose treatment, later-type engine and gearbox, etc. Of several Specials built up on the writer’s premises, however, “Odsan’s” original maligned power-unit stood the strain longer than most before protesting at demands Sir Herbert surely never allowed for.

Popley North P. C. Kippax