Some Notes about a Small Sports Car which is now as dead as the Dodo but which was extremely Popular and Successful during the period 1924 to 1927
If you ask the present-day Austin 7 fraternity if they remember the first two sports models of this immortal make they usually tell you about Ulsters and Nippys. There is some excuse for this, if they have not read copiously of Austin history or have poor memories, because the two sports Models which preceded the famous Ulster in its blown and unblown, “works” and catalogue, versions have for some time been as extinct as the dinosaur, as dead as the proverbial dodo. I refer to that car introduced in 1924 by the Austin Motor Company which is best described as a Chummy with a pointed tail and Gordon England’s more worthy “Brooklands” model. It is with the latter fast and beautifully-proportioned little motor car that these notes are concerned.
The story is fairly well known about how E. C. Gordon England, having entered aviation after brushing aside family intervention by telling his paternal Grandmother, when she said that if he was intended to fly God would have given him little wings, that if God had intended her to travel by train He would have given her little wheels, became a pioneer test pilot, glider builder and drove a fiat-twin air-cooled A.B.C. with various racing bodies with some success at Brooklands.
It was after he had broken a leg in a gliding contretemps that Gordon England decided the newly-introduced Austin 7 baby car would form the basis of a very effective small racing car, which would prove excellent publicity value for the Chummy model. He went to see Sir Herbert Austin while still hobbling about on crutches, which so amused the great Industrialist that he promised to have a racing-bodied Austin 7 in England’s hands before his leg was out of plaster. This Promise Austin kept, a Seven chassis endowed with a rather old racing body being sent by rail to Euston for collection. After tuning the car, Gordon England took a considerable number of 750-c.c. class records with it. This was gratifying to Sir Herbert Austin, so England received encouragement when he rang up to say he thought he should enter the car for the J.C.C. 200-Mile Race. All this took place in 1923, when there were just two classes in this long-distance race, 1,100 c.c. and 1,500 c.c.
Undaunted, England put a two-seater racing body on his record-breaking Seven and entered it for the 1,100-c.c. class. He had as chief opposition the French Salmsons with twin-overhead-camshaft engines of some 350-c.c. capacity more than his own. But the little Austin, which had already proved capable of 80 m.p.h. in single-seater form, lapped at from 74 to 79 m.p.h., as the race progressed and finished second to Bueno’s Salmson, after a non-stop run at 76.84 m.p.h. Down the Railway Straight the tiny Austin, carrying a mechanic in addition to the burly driver, had held 85 m.p.h., the engine running at 4,500 to 4,700 r.p.m. The Salmsons suffered front overheating and had the race been any longer England might have won, for Bueno admitted he feared the very fast little car.
As a result of this outstanding success, Gordon England decided to sell replicas of the 200-Mile Race car, which were known as “Brooklands Super Sports” Models. These turned out to be some of the best-proportioned cars of all time, true miniature pointed-tail racing cars. The body of the actual 200-Mile car weighed a mere 20 lb. or so. The production version had a doorless body of polished aluminium over a white-wood and three-ply wooden framework, with full-length undershield and a fairing over the front axle. Pneumatic upholstery was used. The spare wheel was carried upright in the tail under a protruding fairing and there was an outside exhaust pipe. Sliding panels gave access to shock-absorbers and brake adjusters, and a bulge on the o/s gave space for the driver’s right foot. These bodies were built at first by Weymann in Addlestone to England’s requirements, before his Putney factory got into its stride, with S. R. Gilbey as Foreman-in-charge. I asked England recently if any contemporary car influenced the splendid lines of the Brooklands-model Austin 7. He said that the 200-Mile Race regulations, which called for seats staggered nine inches, dictated the layout, so there was really no other shape it could be and that the spare wheel, if it was to be enclosed, had to go in the tail.
The chassis were sent from Birmingham to England’s premises at Hersham and later in Felsham Road, Putney, and the engines were quite highly tuned. They were given special more durable timing gears, a high-lift camshaft, Celerity lightweight valves, double valve springs, modified tappets, a h.c. cylinder head, polished ports, and twin Zenith 30HK carburetters feeding into a special inlet manifold. A bulbous 4-branch exhaust manifold was used and valve clearances were set by the laborious business of grinding the tappet heads. A vital modification was forced-feed lubrication of the big-ends. Whether this lubrication system was England’s idea or whether he had copied that which Austin introduced rather hastily for their own racing Sevens alter bearing failure in the Boulogne races September 1923, although previously they had substituted drilled crankshafts for jet-feed, I am not prepared to say. That these 747-c.c. engines ran at 5,000 r.p.m. is remarkable, particularly for 1924.
At all events, Gordon England intended his Super Sports model to be used for competition work rather than on the road, and Dunlop racing tyres were specified. It had a fabric front transmission universal joint, and a 4.1-to-1 axle ratio, with later an optional 4.09-to-1 axle. Hartford shock-absorbers were fitted front and back and equipment included a Boyce radiator thermometer and an A.T. tachometer calibrated as a speedometer. The price was £265, excluding mudguards, hood and screen. This compared to £175 for Austin’s own sports model, fully equipped and finished in stove-enamelled King-fisher blue. But whereas the “sports Chummy” (actually it was a two-seater, of course) was able to do perhaps 55 m.p.h., Gordon England gave a certificate with every one of his Super Sports models to prove that it had been timed at a genuine 75 m.p.h. on Brooklands Track. This was no mean speed for a 750-c.c. production car, 44 years ago. I asked him the other day who did the timed runs and he said in nearly every instance he drove the cars himself. This speed was in stripped condition. The fitting of the long Amilcar-like angle-section combined wings and running-boards, aero-screens and hood could knock it down to some 65 m.p.h*. In the lower gears, 30 m.p.h. in 1st and 55 m.p.h. in 2nd equalled 5,000 r.p.m. Incidentally, I think the hood must not only have obscured the driver’s view when erect but it must also have been infernally difficult to remove, judging by the number of these cars which ran in speed events sans all road equipment save for the hood resting on the tail.
* In this connection, it is interesting that during May and June 1924, Bassett took five different Brooklands Super Sports Austin 7s to Brooklands and had them officially timed over the f.s. ½-mile, running them in stripped form. They did, respectively, 79.01, 77.82, 75.49, 77.25 and 75.09 m.p.h., and B.A.R.C. Certification wets issued in respect of these speeds, further proof that Gordon England’s guarantee of 75 m.p.h. was justified.
These Gordon England special Austin 7s were a great success, and he joined Bugatti and anticipated Amilcar in providing cars ready for racing. The marketing of them was handled by the Austin Motor Company through their usual agents, the model specification being 433a. Production went on until about the end of 1926 and England thinks some 150 to 200 must have been built. In R. J. Wyatt’s book “The Motor for the Million” he quotes the figure as 350 to 400, but I think this May have included England’s later Cup-model sports two-seaters, of which the output was higher than for the Super Sports. Although Wyatt remarks on three or four Brooklands models being made a week. The only modifications mode as time went on were varnishing of the aluminium body panelling, the substitution of a single 30-mm. Solex carburetter instead of the twin Zeniths, and, if some reports are to be believed, use of a special 4.4 axle ratio.
The Super Sports Austins were soon in considerable demand by sporting clients, to whom England gave every possible encouragement. Sir Francis Samuelson ordered one, Major “Goldie” Gardner had one with hand-controls, and a very smart version was supplied to H.R.H. the Crown Prince of Roumania. A keen private-owner, Dudley Beck, who bought his Super Sports model in March 1924, spoke of 30-32, 58-62 and 80-83 m.p.h. in the gears, stripped (these may have been speedometer readings), and a top speed, fully equipped, of 70 m.p.h.. He used his car for speed events and touring, and after about eight months it had cost him 3d. on repairs, for a valve pad!
The 1924 200-Mile Race included a 750-c.c. class, dominated by Austin 7’s. Outwardly the six private entrants, as distinct from the three Waite (or Austin)-entered ears, were Brooklands models. In fact, England and his chief mechanic R. E. O. Hall, had somewhat special versions. England’s specially streamlined, with inclined radiator block and special fuel feed, etc., and the car they prepared for Selbie-Bigge was also somewhat non-standard, although these cars looked like Super Sports models, with cowled radiators.
England won the “200”, at 75.61 m.p.h., this being the classic occasion when he finished the race with only three pistons and con.-rods intact! Gordon Hendy’s normal Brooklands Austin was second at 68.55 m.p.h. Both used B.L.I.C. magnetos and Zenith carburetters. At the opening of Montlhéry track earlier in 1924 England, Hall and Waite took out an official team of Sevens, supported by Dingle’s Brooklands model, with which they put on an impromptu race to appease the bored spectators and obviate a possible riot before the meeting, and then proceeded to dominate the 750-c.c. race, Gordon England winning this 108½-mile event at 73.25 m.p.h.
By 1925 these Brooklands Super Sports models were a notable feature of most race meetings and speed trials, and the Brooklands authorities put on a special scratch race for them, at the 1925 Whit-Monday Meeting. Five were entered, Samuelson in his yellow car, Boulding in an aluminium one with red radiator and wheels, Spencer’s green version, Gordon Hendy’s orange and black Austin, and Lt. Grey, R.N., in an aluminium model. Samuelson won at 72 m.p.h. from Spencer and it is significant, in view of England’s speed claims, that no-one lapped at under 72 m.p.h., the fastest lap, by Grey, being at 76.97 m.p.h., after which he slowed, the winner lapping at 76.27 m.p.h., Boulding at 75.69 m.p.h. and Spencer at 75.34 m.p.h. Naturally the Austins were in racing trim, but they had Brooklands exhaust systems instead of the Standard straight-through pipe and small fish-tail. This race was not exactly an original idea, because early in 1924 the J.C.C. had put on a 750-c.c. Handicap at one of their Brooklands meetings, which was contested by five Super Sports models (with open exhausts), Samuelson winning that one too, at 71.25 m.p.h.. from Waite and Dingle.
The 1925 J.C.C. 200-Mile Race incorporated artificial corners and on the eve of it England crashed badly approaching the first corner, when his brakes turned the front axle through 45º, leaving him with no steering. But the car was repaired in time for it to win the 750-c.c. class. England issued his team drivers with 11 typed foolscap sheets of instructions prior to the race, provided them with 12 pit attendants and two lap-scorers per car, and insisted that they each took out a £1,500 third-party insurance and painted their cars correctly all over, with Parson’s sapling green No. 222/14 as required by the J.C.C. Signals and pit equipment were specified in great detail, pit-staff had to obey the Pit Manager S. J. Bassett implicitly, many spares and supplies were listed for each pit, and if mechanics elected to wear extra clothing they had to do so under their overalls.
By now Waite’s and England’s cars had departed considerably from Super Sports specification, but those of Depper, Hendy and Grey were outwardly standard, and single Solex carburetters were in evidence, although Depper’s engine was supercharged. England, with Tussaud in the passenger’s seat, won, at 61.61 m.p.h., Hendy, passengered by Mellish, was second and non-stop, at 61.15 m.p.h., and Depper was third, at 60.29 m.p.h., the blown engine probably causing him the clutch trouble which had held him back. It was in this race that Grey’s Brooklands Austin burst a tyre, the passenger, J. Pares, being badly hurt, although he recovered eventually and retains a keen interest in Brooklands affairs to this day. That England’s winning car was quite special was seen in 1926, when he offered it for sale as a used car at £350, or £85 more than the price of a new Super Sports. In spite of this he did run in the 1926 “200”, winning at 58.28 m.p.h., his third successive victory, with Hendy’s Brooklands model second, at 58.25 m.p.h.
To list all the achievements of these Brooklands Super Sports-model Austin 7s is not possible but they were still performing well at the Track in 1927, with the Ulster on its way and all manner of proprietary-bodied sports Austins to challenge them. A notable 1927 victory was that achieved by Dingle (who lived at “The Ingle”, in Weybridge) when he won the Surbiton M.G. Limited Fuel Race, averaging 52.11 m.p.h. and 37½ m.p.g. for 150 miles of a “road” course at Brooklands. He drove a fully-equipped aluminium Brooklands-model (PD 4930). At about the same time Forestier-Walker was wiping up the 750-c.c. and 1,100-c.c. classes at the Madresfield Speed Trials in a stripped Brooklands Austin (XU 1591), even its exhaust tail-pipe having been removed. The previous year Samuelson had raced his 1924 car (BP 9520) at Boulogne and Zubiaga had been placed third in the 1,100-c.c. class in the Targa Florio and had won the 750-c.c. division of the G.P. des Voiturettes. Late in 1926 D. Wadia won the Mehta Championship Cup, and covered a s.s. ½-mile in 40 sec., and a i.s. ½-mile in 34 sec. in the Bombay Speed Trials. At the 1927 Selangor hill-climb in Malay one of these cars collected nine 1st, six 2nd and three 3rd places, and another, assuming this car to have been a Brooklands-model, 1st place in the A.D.A.C. race in Bavaria. Such success comes but seldom to one model of one make of motor car. . . .
Road-test reports on the Brooklands Austin were few and far between but this journal managed to drive one early in 1925, taking it up some very slippery trials hills. It was fitted with C.A.V. lighting equipment and the gear ratios are quoted as 14.5, 8.17 and 4.09 to 1. The following year we spent a week-end with a later model, having the 4.4-to-1 axle ratio. The test report consisted of the words: “Hitherto we have been able to find some points for comments of a critical nature in every make of car handled during our tests, but must frankly admit that the ‘Brooklands’ Austin stumped us altogether, which, after all, is perhaps the best testimony that we can offer.” (I wish I could have my fun and get away with as brief a report, in 1968!)
However, even if the little car was not quite as 100% perfect as the 1926 Motor Sport road-tester implied, these Gordon England Austins were certainly quite outstanding in their day. The pity of it is that they seem to be completely defunct. The last one I recall, and it was really a hybrid, was apparently an ex-van chassis, fitted in 1938 with a “Brooklands” body and used for a time in the early part of the war by the late Rodney Seys, before he bought his 4½-litre T.T. Bentley. It was last seen, I think, in Lewes. And the last time I saw one of the Chummy-base sports model Austin 7s, with that tiny pointed tail and flared back mudguards, was in Kent just before the war, although they were still fairly prominent in trials when the Brooklands models were doing so well in Speed events. If examples of either exist anywhere in the World, I hope we shall now hear about them.—W. B.