The Austin Seven set the foundations for small British cars to follow. Here's our view on the revolutionary little Austin that changed UK roads for the better.
After the Great War, it was soon realised that for financial reasons Austin was in need of a car that would sell in great numbers and appeal to a wider public than before. Working on the design project in private, at his own expense Austin then employed a junior draughtsman, Stanley Edge, to complete the detailed drawings. Austin provisionally patented his ideas, and while his plans were presented to the Board, it was rumoured that Austin was tendering for the Wolseley factory - for sale at the time - an ideal site for Austin to produce the Seven. Rather than lose the project, the Austin Board grudgingly agreed towards the end of 1921 to produce the prototype Austin Seven.
Announced at the annual dinner of the Birmingham Motor Cycle Club in January 1922, Austin stated that he 'couldn't imagine anyone riding a sidecar if he could afford a car'. And so the new model, weighing only 7cwt, with an overall length of 8'9'', an initial 696cc engine and a 7.2hp RAC rating, was born, being exhibited at the Motor Show in November. By March 1923 the original bore diameter was increased from 2.125'' to 2.2'', giving an engine capacity of 747cc, capable of 50mpg. Production began in earnest, with four-wheel brakes from the outset.
Driving an Austin Seven only makes sense if you’re prepared to adjust your mind to a different pace of life. Its diminutive size means that interior accommodation is cosy, but all of the controls – the few that there are – fall easily to hand. This is motoring at its most basic level, but the simplicity of the baby Austin’s design is admirable – if you don’t need it, it isn’t provided.
For such a low-powered machine, acceleration from rest is surprisingly lively, thanks to the low gearing and light weight. A sharp clutch, with short pedal travel, further enhances the impression of the car being willing to go. Working through the gears requires care, particularly with the synchro-free three-speed gearbox, but the Austin is soon bowling along happily at its own pace. Provided you don’t need to stray far beyond 40mph, life is a relaxing and enjoyable affair.
Direction adjustment is an unusual experience. Initially when the steering wheel is turned, the slack in the system has to be taken up before the front wheels respond. Once this play has been overcome, the steering’s directness doesn’t fail to impress.