Austin 7s at Beaulieu

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Last month it was Sunbeams at Silverstone. This time it’s A7s at Beaulieu. If I were on one of the weekly motor papers I might report something like this: “The 750 MC’s 31st National A7 Rally, it co-incided with the 20,000,000th visitor to the National Motor Museum. Tempted me to get out my 1930 Gould Replica, Reproduction or Fake Ulster and drive there from Wales. Bought the baby, unseen, seven years ago. It has been woefully neglected since Seymour Price, well into the hobby of Ulster-building, kindly changed its sump-oil, topped up the back-axle and greased its chassis after I had got it home.

Built by Peter Bradley using a Mk II body mould it has a sports steering box, a 1932 crankcase, a post-1936 head with centrally-located 14mm plugs, Alan Rayburn manifolds with a semi-downdraught SU carb, and four-branch exhaust system. (If it were original there would be a metallic shell, 18mm plugs, a three-branch exhaust and an updraught Solex carburettor, etc.) Baby has been terribly badly weaned, after all the wrong nursing: anti-freeze in vintage engine, modern-grade Castrol in the sump (undrained since 1987 — it now looks like tar), leaded 4-star (mixed with 2-star if I remember) in the tank. A bonny baby, however, because it has never faltered or stopped on a journey, since we gave it a new SU electric petrol-pump, supplied by a Welsh Motor Museum for £16 and a new battery a few years later. So off to Hampshire, at 7am on July 4.

After inflating the Avons, from the 10 lb or so to which they had fallen. Must say the run in the sun was fun, even with congestion in Salisbury and the stop-go-stop on the New Forest roads, where a notice announced “Queues Ahead”! This caused the oil-pressure gauge to show zero, unless I blipped like a boy-racer when stationary. But no boiling, no anxiety. Who wants an expensive Bentley, I thought, when in that traffic an A7 is just as fast. But when cruising? — a dubious 50, but with a fine rasp from the outside exhaust. I arrived late, hot, but triumphant . . .”

There, in those fine big rally fields provided by Lord Montagu, every conceivable kind of A7, out of an entry of 258, seemed to be represented. The programme showed 24 classes, covering almost every variety of the loveable Seven, Chummies, Swallows, GE Cup Models, Top Hat saloons, coupes, Box saloons, early and late tourers and Rubys, Ulsters, Nippys and 65s, etc, restored and unrestored. Even monoposto racers. The modified “Rubber Duck” from S Africa and two Grasshoppers were there. A7s bodied by Mulliner, AEW, and Gordon England stood with Opal and Open Road tourers and Pearl cabrios, Super Sports with Cambridge Specials. A class for Replicas had been added in my honour (!), with 15 listed. Chummies stole 27 of the total entries, Box saloons 46, Rubys 42. There were vans, an A7 minitractor, an A7 caravan, and in the non-A7 class a Lea-Francis “woodie” won, from some big Austins. Big Sevens, of course, had a place with the “proper” cars. It would have been rather overwhelming, without the strawberry teas to revive one! There was a truly great collection of trophies which I was asked to present, as the winners drove up in their cars.

A great occasion, for the most popular of British pre-war baby cars: all credit to Barry Martin, Alan and Loma Martin, Ken Cooke, Mike Peck and so many other officials. They are already planning the 1994 “National”. Old 750 MC members who were present included Bill Butler, Jack French, Norman Perren, Gordon England’s daughter etc. I must say they “spoiled me rotten”; I left with a nice President’s tankard, a bouquet for Mrs WB, and another 80th birthday cake. Although I could have driven home, this gave me an excuse for putting my Grotty Gould on the trailer towed by David Filsell’s diesel Peugeot 405. We were in bed by midnight. W B