The year must not pass without a memorial to the once-proud name of Austin, to which the Rover Group has given the chop. The Austin from Birmingham was, for so many years, such a dependable, respected and investment-worthy British make, the personification of middle-class motoring in this country. Along the years car-owners innumerable, the proprietor and the editor of this magazine included, have used Austins.
Now, presumably due to the influence of market research, that pernicious disease which tells manufacturers what to make, publishers what to publish, you and I what to eat, drink and wear, this once great name has been pronounced “down-market”, ready to be dropped!
You may dismiss sentiment over this bereavement as just sloppy nostalgia, if you are one of those people who do not care that all Rovers, fine though they may be, are really Rovondas . . . but isn’t it odd that Rover Group saw fit to stage “Eighty Years of Austin” last year, yet has now arrived at no-name Montegos, soon to be followed by no-name Maestros?
Market research may sneeringly affirm that pedigrees are for horses, not cars. Yet make-loyalty has sold many cars and will sell many more — and Austin customers were as loyal as any.
Why should this concern MOTOR SPORT? Well, Austin, along with Napier, was the first British company to build cars for the pre-WW1 French Grand Prix; in 1908, a team of three was entered for Dario Resta, Warwick-Wright and Moore-Brabazon, with a spare car, and Resta’s Austin ran the 477-mile distance. Austin did well in pre-WW1 Austrian and Russian trials, and at Brooklands “Pobble” and the well-streamlined “Pearley III” won races.
After Sir Herbert Austin’s now-immortal 7hp baby was born in 1922 it was immediately raced, in Italy and France as well as in Britain. So was the Austin Twenty (even the staid 12/4, if you delve deep into Brooklands’ history) which appeared in sports form. This was sound publicity for Austin, which ensured good sales for all the Longbridge models from Seven to Twenty — long-lived cars which as 20/4,20/6 and 18/6 faithfully ended their days, thirty or more years later, as taxis in country towns and villages.
Sir Herbert never flinched from entering his side-valve cars against the new ohc MGs, and it was his enthusiasm for motor racing which produced those magnificent miniature Grand Prix Austins, in the form of Murray Jamieson’s single-seaters with highly-supercharged 744cc twin-cam engines. Designed to run safely to 12,000 rpm, and produce some 116 bhp at 8500 rpm, one of these (symbolically!) won the 1938 British Empire Trophy Race at Donington Park, driven by Charlie Dodson.
Austin even built works trials A7s, and after the war the A40 and A90 took many records at Indianapolis.
When Sir Alec Issigonis came out with his brilliant Mini Minor in 1959, some of us liked it better as the new Austin 7 than as the Morris Mini-Minor — though both were virtually identical. Names matter, and the Rover Group may live to regret the day it dropped such an illustrious one as Austin.