Just A Thought...

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It is very apparent how many of the original Austin Sevens have survived, so that they are prominent in VSCC trials and well represented in the speed events and races of that Club, as they continue to be in many other events; after all, there are some 23 organisations devoted to the famous Baby Austin, led by the 750 MC which started the whole thing back in 1939.

One rather delightful facet of the earlier Austin 7s was how in minor details they copied those found on their big brother the Austin 20 and its companion, the durable Austin 12/4. I am thinking of insignificant but noticeable items like the quadrant and controls above the steering-wheel on all these cars being of the same pattern, and labelled, not “Rich-Weak” and “Advance-Retard” but “Gas” and “Ignition”, and the likeness of the open gear-gate on all three Austin models, although that on the Seven was for a three-speed, not a four-speed gearbox, naturally. All these Austins had central gear-levers, when a r h one might have been expected on the biggest car. The shape of the radiator-shells was much the same, which was to be expected, even to badge and scripted name, and all three models, 20, 12 and 7, had circular brake and clutch pedal-plates instead of square or rectangular ones; but this may have been to facilitate mass manufacture.

What I am curious to know is, did Sir Herbert Austin, in introducing his controversial Baby Austin in 1922, deliberately incorporate in it the aforesaid items featured on the bigger Austins to convince potential customers that they were truly looking at a big-car-in-miniature? I know there is a theory that the Austin Motor Company was in a bad way after the war, saved only by the introduction of the famous Seven after a liquidator had been called in. But surely a more realistic view must be that when the 1914/18 war broke out the Longbridge factory was very extensive, with a view to increased car output, and that with the Armistice and subsequent slump it was found difficult to establish the new Austin Twenty, a car intended for big-scale production on American lines, the price of which had to be increased by some £200 soon after its announcement.

The newspapers got hold of the idea that the works were to close down in the autumn of 1921 until the following Spring. This was denied and apparently 6500 20s were on the road at that time. It is, however, rather a shock to find that Austin had no stand at the 1921 London Motor Show, when the price of the 20 tourer had gone up from £495 to £695. However, it would be absurd to believe that this was an unsuccessful car. A bit pedestrian and solid for its class, perhaps, — the original 1919 version gave only 45bhp at 2000rpm from 3.6 litres, for an 18-cwt chassis weight — but it had an almost record production-run, along with the 12 and 7hp Austins. So would it not seem logical to woo potential buyers of the unexpected new Baby with a few connotations found on the bigger Austins? Sir Herbert knew he had to promote his infant against the lovably-cheeky flat-twin Rover 8 and more sporting GN, as well as to the motorcycling fraternity, whom he first addressed. It took 16 years and motor racing publicity for the A7 to achieve its eventual output of 300,000, but in 1923 only 2409 were sold, the ‘new motorists’ liked its water-cooled four-cylinder engine, car-type transmission, four-wheel brakes and electric lighting and starting, the transverse front spring less so, but found it amusingly tiny in both seat space and engine size, as the more erudite debated, whether Austin and Edge had copied Ettore Bugatti for the jet big-end lubrication and the Peugeot Quad or the Longbridge works hack Gray truck for the chassis. At such a critical time, were these few likenesses with the Austin 20 deliberately “inherited” by the A7, or were they simply design expedients? Maybe a 750 MC historian would care to apply himself to this little puzzle. W B