The Seven’s Beginnings
As this is by way of being something of a special Austin Seven issue, it is worth while looking back on the of the Seven as a racing as a car. The very first racing Austin Seven appeared almost as soon as the standard models — in 1928. Capt. Arthur Waite had a simple 2-seater racing body fitted to what was virtually a standard chassis, even to the absence of shock-absorbers, and took it to the Easter B.A.R.C. meeting. The little car won the Small Car Handicap by quarter-of-a-mile at an average of 59 m.p.h., crossing the line at some 65 m.p.h. Not only that, but the car was driven up to Brooklands from Banbury that morning, and on to Bromsgrove after the meeting, covering the 190 miles at an average of well over 30 m.p.h. At the Whitsun Brooklands Meeting, Waite again won the Small Car Handicap, this time at 67 3/4 m.p.h., and Austins also finished second and third in the short handicap races. Even before these Brooklands successes, however, the Austin Seven had won a race. Waite took a team of three cars to Monza for the Italian Cyclecar G.P., being determined that his cars should run in their first event as far away from home as possible in case anything untoward happened! In actual fact, Waite won the 750-c.c. class at over 56 m.p.h. for the 156 miles, covering one lap at better than 64 m.p.h. Later, third and fourth places were obtained in the G.P. des Voiturettes at Le Mans, after rather poor luck at Boulogne. These cars had very elementary bodywork and non-standard gear ratios, while two low-hung carburetters fed through the standard exhaust manifold.
At the end of 1923 Gordon England appeared at Brooklands with a rather barrel-shaped single-seater and attacked Class L records. He took records from five miles (79.6 m.p.h.) to one hour, the latter at 78.5 m.p.h. Then, in the 1923 200-Mile Race, England ran a 2-seater Austin Seven in the 1,100-c.c. class and, carrying a passenger, finished second, averaging the astonishing figure of 76.84 m.p.h. on a non-stop run, with one lap at 79.05 m.p.h. Records from 100 miles to 200 miles were taken during the race, including the hour at 78.9 m.p.h. We have had England’s word for it that he used a practically standard engine, even to 1 1/8-in. crankshaft and standard rods, but with special camshaft and two carburetters.
In 1924 a 750-c.c. class was introduced for the 200-Mile Race, and no fewer than nine Austin Sevens ran. At ordinary B.A.R.C. meetings, too, the Austin Seven in racing guise was so popular as to be almost commonplace. Hendy finished first in the “200” at 75.61 m.p.h., doing the last few laps with one con. rod and piston in the bottom of the crankcase. Even so, he beat the averages of all save one 1,100-c.c. car. During record attacks at Montlhèry in 1924 four hours’ running was done at 80 m.p.h., with a lap at 84.1 m.p.h. The year 1925 saw record attacks by a blown Austin Seven, and Waite took the class flying kilometre record at 85.97 m.p.h. for the two-way run, doing over 92 m.p.h. in one direction. In August, 1925, records up to 10 miles were taken, all at over 80 m.p.h., and the s.s. mile, at 65.73 m.p.h. In October the 50-mile class record fell, at 83.74 m.p.h.
These speeds give one furiously to think, and may even depress some present-day builders of Austin Seven “Specials.” Certainly one cannot but have the warmest admiration for this little car, and one rather envies Capt. Waite his 1923 experiences — making the Seven a fast car then must have been as absorbing as later attempts to make it exceed 100 m.p.h.
In 1923, too, the standard 10.5 b.h.p., magneto ignition “Chummy” was beginning to be a factor with which to reckon in trials. A bronze medal was gained by J. Falakee in the “Land’s End,” and in that trial B. Harcourt successfully climbed Porlock, Lynmouth, Beggar’s Roost and Greymare hills, only to collide near the finish with a dog, which caused his retirement. W. L. Crozier got through the Scarborough and District trial without loss of marks, a performance only equalled by a 1 1/2 litre car, and A. W. Byers gained a “gold” and A. Ditchon a “silver” in the Newcastle to Edinburgh and back night trial. In 1924 Austin Sevens gained a long list of trials victories. Thus did the immortal Austin Seven commence its competition career.
At least 1946 looks promising, if there is sufficient petrol about. Leslie Wilson has promised us a Shelsley Walsh meeting and both the Bugatti Owners’ Club and the Vintage S.C.C. Prescott hill-climbs. The Brighton speed trials seem likely to happen, and sand-racing is to be resumed at Southport. Then right at the beginning of the year the M.C.C. hope to stage the “Exeter,” and there is to be a Scottish rally. Also we can expect sprint events down Bristol way and perhaps in Oxfordshire. And that altogether excellent event, the veteran car run to Brighton is due to be held. The Motor has suggested to the a speed trial in their own country club grounds at Woodcote Park — an excellent idea! Douglas Tubbs pressed for it at the meeting of the clubs on September 28th, and we should have scooped it for Motor Sport had we thought of it first. Altogether, subject to officialdom not putting a spanner in the works, we can look forward very keenly to 1946. We can hardly wait to get through the winter.
Vive la France!
Not only has France staged a very excellent motor race in the Bois de Boulogne, but she has plans in hand for many more such events next year. A six-hour race at Nice is hoped for next year, for sports cars to Le Mans regulations. Easter Monday, 1946, is spoken of as the possible date of this event, which is said to have the backing of M. Jacques Cotta, Mayor of Nice. Then Mme. Anne Itier, the Bugatti driver, in conjunction with Jean Delorme, has started an organisation known as Auto-Réalisation Courses, which, for a fee, will undertake the complete organisation for a motor race for any municipality that wants one — what a brilliant idea! Sixteen drivers, mobile workshops, pit equipment and 16 unblown 2-litre racing cars are spoken of. We would have thought it better to have doled out starting money to independent drivers with their own cars, to obviate the “circus ” aspect, but this is a step to get more racing, which is the main thing. They also say the Pau G.P. may soon be revived. All this is very good news indeed, even if, considering our own position, it lends weight to those pessimists who query whether, having won the war, we intend to lose the peace.
It was with a great sense of shock that we learned of the death of Wing-Comdr. Frank Lachlan MacLean Harris. Harris joined Temple Press, Ltd., in 1924 after a varied journalistic career. For many years he was editor of The Light Car and Motor Cycling. His knowledge of early small cars was profound and he was a very capable driver – he once covered a Scottish six days trial, motoring up from London and following competitors round the course, in a 2-speed Morgan, and thought nothing of it. “F.L.M.,” as he was generally called, possessed a vigorous, breezy personality which acted like a tonic to those who were privileged to be counted amongst his friends. He was especially keen on the outdoor life and was an experienced caravan user. After leaving Temple Press, Ltd., he founded The Caravan and took over the Sports Car, the latter being the official organ of the M.G. Car Club, of which “F.L.M.” was a very able secretary. He did an immense amount for the caravan movement and served the M.G. Car Club and trials drivers generally to an extent the value of which cannot easily be estimated. Harris was a very skilled trials driver himself, being probably the only person to gain an M.C.C. premier award on a motor-cycle, in a 3-wheeler and in a car. In the 1914-18 war he was in the R.A.F. and in the recently concluded war was in the R.A.F.V.R., doing useful work in the Balloon Section. That Harris died at the early age of 48 is both a shock and a profound loss to the whole motoring world.