British Baby

Road Test Report on the 800-c.c. 9-h.p. Austin Seven A30

The post World War II Austin Seven was announced by its sponsors as “The Greatest Achievement in Post-War Motoring,” and last month we realised a long-awaited opportunity to try the little car for ourselves. We followed our usual practice of driving this A30 under a variety of conditions, hard almost all the time, light and fully-loaded, along main roads, secondary roads, by-ways and unmade ways. The total mileage amounted to 594, during which no oil or water was required, no trouble was experienced, and all that came adrift was a knob off the radio.

Our outstanding impressions of the current Austin Seven are of an excellent road-performance from its very game 800-c.c. o.h.v. engine, accomplished with a high degree of smoothness and lack of fuss, outstandingly good brakes, and very pleasant steering. Disappointment is felt that so willing and generally excellent a car falls into a rather pointless category. It is not strictly the economy car we all require, even if only as a second string to a high-performance vehicle, for if the useful performance is fully utilised, but coasting resorted to as expedient, fuel consumption does not better 42 m.p.g. Whether premium or cheap fuel is used this figure does not vary, but really hard driving can reduce this to 36 m.p.g. An economy car should give at least 45 m.p.g. On the other hand, although the A30 is a four-door, four-seater saloon, very tall people find it difficult to accommodate themselves in the driving seat, or are cramped for leg and head-room, so that this is neither an economy car nor is it an inexpensive small car for four—it falls somewhere between the two.

Where it does score is as a 40-m.p.g.-plus car which is priced competitively and which possesses acceleration and speed which make even main-road journeys anything but tedious. Starting on the level in second gear, it is usual to go into third at 20 m.p.h. and from third to top at 30 m.p.h. Thereafter the A30 cruises silently and smoothly at 45 m.p.h. and, with no more indication or fuss than a slight intrusion of engine noise, will hold a speedometer 60 m.p.h., or slightly more, as a matter of course. Not only this, but there is a real surge of acceleration available from 20 to 50 m.p.h. in top, and the Austin will tackle very steep hills without calling for a change of gear. For example, Beacon Hill near Farnham is an easy top-gear ascent, and the back route to Goodwood, over the horse-race course from the Midhurst-Chichester road, likewise. This latter hill, where we expected to be down to second gear, was commenced at 30 m.p.h., speed built rapidly to 45, fell to 28 m.p.h. at the steepest part, then climbed to over 45 before the sharp left-hand corner near the top, although a game bird in the road called for sharp braking during the climb. Later, with three persons in the car, third was needed for a short distance, but again this long, steep gradient was finished at 45 m.p.h. The 1 in 8 hill between Watlington and Henley called only momentarily for third gear. On a give-and-take cross-country run, 40 miles can be disposed of in the hour and far larger cars made to look small.

Naturally, to achieve such performance, the A30 is geared low. Were it higher geared, or a smaller engine used, fuel consumption would no doubt be lower, but then this very refreshing performance would be diminished  —  you cannot have it both ways, unless weight could be drastically reduced, which isn’t possible with the form of construction adopted and the lavish nature of the interior finish and equipment. But there is a gap between third gear and top of 8.64 to 1 and 5.14 to 1 which rather spoils frequent employment of the third ratio.

The engine gains full marks as a very smooth and exceedingly lively one, which revs up like a sports unit in response to accelerator depressions. It does not run-on, pinks only moderately on cheap petrol and not at all on National Benzole, but takes a little coaxing to start from cold. It goes from idling speed to the maxima shown in the table without vibration or flat-spots, its speed limited only by sudden valve bounce. Speed can be as low as 10 m.p.h. in top, and good pick-up comes in from about 20 m.p.h. The clutch is light and positive; the gear-change reminiscent of that of the old Austin Seven, the long lever even more willowy, and positioned slightly further back, the two lower gears irritatingly difficult to engage from rest, and the lever lifting to engage reverse. Bottom gear is rather noisy, the others less so.

The steering wheel is well placed and forward visibility could not be better, although sideways the sloping pillars intrude. The bucket front seats are very comfortable, the pedals of adequate size and well placed, and the minor controls convenient.

In a car which goes along so very willingly, handling qualities are of considerable importance. It must be said at once that the Austin Seven does not possess such good controllability as its near-relation, the Morris Minor. It has a narrower track and is higher, so that steering it on a wet road in a strong cross-wind, or at its terminal velocity downhill, is rather like we imagine tightrope walking to be  —  all right if you keep going straight. The suspension is soft, giving a comfortable, pitch-free if somewhat lively ride, but this induces considerable roll-oversteer which spoils the cornering properties. In extreme conditions the roll is sufficiently excessive to lift an inside back wheel.  Very pleasant, high-geared steering largely offsets this, and perhaps the fairest way to express the matter is to say that the A30 is controllable but not enjoyably so.

The steering asks just over two turns front one to t’other of a good but not generous lock. It is free from kick-back save to an almost imperceptible degree over certain surfaces, immune from column judder, and is light and smooth. Although not possessing strong castor action, it is taut, but “dead” in the modern manner. The two-spoke wheel is pleasant to handle and altogether this is one of the nicest features of the A30. The Lockheed 2LS brakes, too, are well-nigh perfect, calling only for light pressure in normal usage, yet being extremely powerful, and pulling the car up silently in a dead straight line in emergency with no fade tendencies. The right-hand hand-brake holds well on hills and is convenient to use.

The A30 is priced competitively  —  it is the least expensive car but one on the British market  — but there is little indication that it has been built down to a price. The seats are leathercloth upholstered, there is a pleasing cord piping to the edges of the body, and most of the “big-car” items of equipment and fittings are to be found. There are, it is true, no door pockets or parcels-shelf, but there is a large open cubby-hole. The body is generally free from rattles and well sound-proofed; the small tyres do not scream under fast cornering although they fall with rather a “clonk” into pot-holes. The ride is very well damped. A big rear window, sliding windows in the front doors backed by front and back ventilator windows, door handles and locks as rubber-sheathed levers in the door sills, anti-dazzle mirror, driver’s visor, carpet, leather door-pulls, ashtray in the facia sill and dual electric wipers (whose arc could be bigger for taller customers) are good points. There is an extension on the right of the steering column for the lamp controls and horn, Citroën-style, which is very convenient. The direction indicators are worked by a switch convenient to the right hand. They have to be manually cancelled but there is a reminder lamp in the switch centre. The facia carries merely a big 70-m.p.h. speedometer  —  and speed can be set to its limit with the help of a downgrade!   —  incorporating fuel gauge and mileometer (no trip), switches for wipers and panel lights, separate ignition key and warning lamps for no-charge, low oil pressure and full headlamps beam. The choke and starter controls are pull-out knobs. The lamps throw a very good light. There is no interior lamp. The back of the rear seat could form a useful shelf for torch, folded maps, etc., but unfortunately slopes forward.

The bonnet is released from the “Flying A” motif and renders engine and battery very accessible. The luggage boot is opened with a carriage key. It is lined, but insertion of the rear lamps during assembly pokes this lining out of place and, as a rubber cover over the fuel gauge mechanism breaks the floor, and luggage has to keep company with the spare wheel and a carton of tools, this lining seems rather pointless. There is a stop-lamp and twin rear reflectors. The doors offer easy entry and egress.  As extras an H.M.V. radio and a good heater are available, the latter controlled conveniently by a simple knob on the floor. The doors close on rubber draught excluders and toughened glass is fitted in all windows. We were not particularly enamoured by the A30’s appearance. A good instruction book is issued with it, in layout like that which came with the old Austin Seven.

To sum up, we consider this 800-c.c. A30 to be the best model in the existing Austin range, offering as it does particularly good performance with a high degree of refinement at a fuel consumption of better than 40 m.p.g. To all except tall or outsize persons it represents very good transport at a moderate purchase price. Although its easy 60 m.p.h.may sound hard on such a small engine, it is comforting to know that this road speed represents 50 r.p.m. below peak engine speed. One front tyre on the car submitted for test showed considerable wear but whether or not this indicates that this can be expected from the i.f.s. after 7,200 miles   —  the distance on the mileometer  —  we do not know. It would be interesting to have readers’ experiences of the wearing qualities of this modern baby Austin.  —  W. B.


The A30 Austin Saloon

Engine:   Four cylinders, 58 by 76 mm (800 c.c.).    Pushrod o.h.v.    7.2 to 1 compression ratio.    28-30 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: 1st,  21.03 to 1;  2nd,  13.32 to 1;  3rd,  8.64 to 1;  top,  5.14 to 1.

Tyres:  5.20 – 13 Dunlop on bolt-on disc wheels

Weight:  13-1/4 cwt., unladen

Steering ratio:  2-1/5 turns lock to lock

Fuel capacity:  5-3/4 gallons.  Range approx. 242 miles.

Wheelbase:  6 ft. 7-1/2 in

Track:  Front,  3 ft. 9-1/4 in.;  rear,  3 ft  8-3/4 in.

Overall dimensions:  11 ft. 4 in. by  4 ft. 10-1/2 in. (high)  by  4 ft. 7 in. (wide).

Price:  £355 (£504 0s 10d. with p.t.)

PERFORMANCE DATA:  Indicated speeds on gears (m.p.h.):   1st,  16;  2nd,  28;  3rd,  45;  Top,  70.

Makers:  The Austin Motor Co., Ltd., Longbridge, Birmingham