A7 Chat

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I harnessed the Ford Sierra 4×4 (a little more rattly now but 100% troublefree over 32,750 miles) recently and set off for the English Midlands and the pleasant town of Henley-in-Arden, to chat with George Coldicutt about his Austin racing days.

Before the First World War he was apprenticed to Wolseley’s, with a break for Army Service, but after he had completed his time he joined the Rover Company in 1920. Starting in the Service Department, George was instrumental in helping to improve the flat-twin Rover Eight. Its engine was air-cooled, using scoops in the bonnet sides, and was devoid of a fan. George Coldicutt found that by splitting up the finning on the cylinders, cooling was improved, his first experiment involving saw-blades, but later he devised an emery wheel for the task. He also persuaded the design office to abandon clamped down buss-bars for securing the cylinder heads, in favour of studs. Incidentally the makers advised removing the heads for decarbonising every 800 to 1000 miles . . .

George drove these effective little Rover 8s in trials and became superintendent of the road test department. The test drivers would tow one car behind another on a bar from the factory to the test route and present the tested cars to George, for his approval or rejection. A worm final-drive was used, the worm wheel and worm both made by Rover’s; this was usually quiet enough on open cars but could be noisy if the later coupe body was fitted, as it magnified the sounds. While driving these cars in trials, George was told that they would soon give best to the new A7.

So he transferred to the Austin Motor Company at a time when three prototype Sevens had been built, then of 696 cc, the start of a 43 year run there doing all sorts of jobs before becoming inspector of production and then inspector in the Service Department. While at Austin’s George became friendly with John Pares and drove his racing A7. This was the lowslung ex-Col. Waite car with the wheelbase lengthened by a foot to 7’3″, which improved the road-holding. Blown and non-blown engines were available for it and after the streamlining had been elaborated it was called “Slippery Ann”. With it Coldicutt won the 750 cc racing car class at Shelsley Walsh in 1928 on a single run, clocking 57.4 secs, compared to 62.4 secs by Donald Barnes’ G E Brooklands-model sports A7 and 63.6 secs by Syd Holbrook in a prototype Ulster. “Slippery Ann” was in unsupercharged form. It had been a close run thing, because on the way to Shelsley a woman driver of a Morris had collided with the racing car and damaged its back axle. However Charles Goodacre, who was with Coldicutt, rushed back to the factory and brought out a replacement . . .

Sir Herbert Austin heard of this fine performance and sent for George, congratulating him and asking him to drive in the works team. This was run on a low budget, only one day’s pre-race practice sometimes being authorised and the racing cars then being driven to all fixtures. When competing at Brooklands the drivers were comfortably accommodated at the “Duke’s Head” in Addlestone, where the Company had an account. The cars were kept in one of the garages just outside the track, up in the woods on the right of the Entrance road. In the days of the Ulsters, Austin’s reckoned that their racing programme was worth £73,000 in terms of advertising.

In the 1929 BRDC 500 mile race, Coldicutt’s A7 was holding 4700 rpm until the gasket failed. This race was won in 1930 by S C H Davis and the Earl of March with a stripped, bright orange supercharged Ulster at 83.41 mph, including two scheduled slowish pit-stops, a remarkable achievement for a 747 cc car. It was a TT-type Ulster, new for the race, and very carefully prepared. A raised compression ratio, a special camshaft and standard diameter tulip valves were used and the gear ratio was raised slightly by fitting 27.2″ tyres. A full dress rehearsal was run prior to the race, Poppe doing some of the driving, so that the tyre wear, fuel and oil consumption etc, could be calculated. Col. Arthur Waite, Sir Herbert’s son-inlaw, stood down as No.1 driver after his crash in the TT. Davis replacing him. Waite became the team manager. He imposed a lap time of 120 secs or 83 mph on his A7s to cope on handicap with the Bentley opposition.

It was a splendid performance for the winning A7 to have averaged 0.4 secs above Waite’s target for the six hours of the race, especially as it was run mostly on a wet track. The engine ran at over 5000 rpm and never missed a beat. Davis drove for the opening 200 miles, the Earl for the next 200, Sammy Davis doing the final 100 miles. The big tank on the mechanic’s seat was filled with Pratt’s fuel, and Mobil oil and KLG plugs, a Solex carburettor and an ML magneto were used.

That this highly creditable race result was no fluke was emphasised when Davis, aided by Goodacre, then a young apprentice, with a similar car prepared by Len Brockas, then a young mechanic, later set Class H records at Brooklands of up to 12 hours, the one hour at 84.83 mph, the full distance average 81.71 mph, ending in the dark. I mention this to encourage those who run Ulster Austin’s today! By 1931 a better streamlined A7 had improved on Class H records at Brooklands, including 90.12 mph for six hours.

Back to Coldicutt, we chatted about some of the Austin racing drivers. Syd Holbrook started very young, his father being the Sales Director, Gunner Poppe was also on the sales staff, Col. Waite won the first Australian GP in 1927 with a car sent out to him, and Pares left to open an Austin agency in Surrey, taking Frank Wood and other workers with him; he married the daughter of Col. Watson, equarry to HM the King. Goodacre of course, became a noted A7 racing driver along with Driscoll, Dodson and Bert Hadley, and Brockas became head of the racing department. Pares came from a wealthy family in Carshalton, went as riding mechanic in Grey’s A7 in the 1925 200 mile race and was at Austin’s, probably as an apprentice, testing Chummy 7s, etc. Coldicutt’s first car, bought for £65, was a flared mudguards A7 sports, used in trials such as the Colmore Cup, etc. He then asked Sir Herbert about a car and was provided with a series of new Sevens and then a Big Seven (“a good car”) and three or four 10/4s. Now, aged 92, he still drives an Austin — his seven year old Allegro. WB