History of the Austin Seven
An Idea develops ..
In 1920 Sir Herbert Austin commenced working on the concept of a smaller car mainly to meet the needs of young families aspiring to own an affordable motor car. This idea was spurred on by the depression throughout Britain and the Horsepower Tax (£1 per RAC horsepower rating) introduced in 1921. This marked a departure from his company's conservative motoring past. Austin received great opposition from his board and creditors for this new project and decided to finance the project himself. In 1921 design work was underway in earnest and Austin hired an 18 year old draughtsman, Stanley Edge, from the Austin factory at Longbridge, Birmingham to aid in the drawing of detailed plans. This work was carried out in Austins billiard room at his Lickey Grange home.
Austins main talents were in his styling ability and determination. Stanley Edge complimented Austin and after time convinced him to use a small four-cylinder engine. The original side valve engine design featured a capacity of 696cc (55mm x 77mm) giving a RAC rating of 7.2 hp, the cast cylinder block featured a detachable head and was mounted on an aluminium crankcase. The crankshaft used two roller bearings and was splash lubricated. Edge also carried out the design of other mechanical components such as the three speed gearbox and clutch assembly. Austin was largely responsible for the balance to the seven design. The Peugeot Quadrilette and Bébé reportedly influenced his design. The "A" frame chassis design was believed to be borrowed from an American truck used in the Longbridge factory in the early 1920's. One major difference was the four wheel braking system (independent front and back) design by Austin.
The design was completed in 1922 and three prototypes were soon being constructed in a special area of the Longbridge factory. The Seven was finally announced to the public in July 1922, and was dubbed the 'Chummy', the term reportedly referring to the car as a Chummy friend (the term was also used to describe the disposition of passengers so close together !). The purchase price was a mere £165.
A slow start
Sales were slow in 1923 with 1936 Chummies being produced. In 1924 the engine capacity was increased to 747cc (now 56mm x 77mm) and production jumped to 4,700. Other refinements included an electrical starter motor, a cooling fan and a speedometer. The first Austin sports model was also introduced in 1923. By 1926, the project was considered a success when production passed the 14,000 figure. A saloon model was produced in this year with the Austin Motor Company offering a fabric covered body model in the following year. In 1928 another variation known as the Top Hat was produced. Other changes introduced were an ignition coil (replacing the previous magneto system), uncoupled brakes (until 1930 when the foot pedal operated both front and back) and nickel plating of the radiator shell. Employee commitment and loyalty was important to Herbert Austin. Several audio recording from this period are available on this site.
The Seven matures
The 1930s saw numerous small changes such as an increased wheelbase (to 6 feet 9 inches - from 6 feet 3 inches), the fitting of trafficators, larger brakes, wider tyres, the introduction of a four speed transmission and the moving of the petrol tank to the rear of the vehicle. With the relocating of the petrol tank a mechanical petrol pump was also added to the Sevens engine. Other interesting features such as the Moseley 'Float-in-Air' pneumatic seat cushion were offered on numerous models in the 1930's. Two new models the 'PD' (forerunner of the Opal) and the Sports 65 were added to the range in 1933. The 'PD' two seater model sold for the low cost of £100. The Sports 65 featured a lowered chassis and engine improvements providing almost twice the horsepower of the standard Austin of the day. The Sports 65 was renamed the Nippy in the following years. Two further models, the Ruby and the Pearl Cabriolet followed in 1934. The Ruby had great sales success, it featured styling changes including the radiator being relocated behind a cowl and bumper bars. Over 27,000 Austins were produced in 1935 making this year the best in history in terms of Austin Motor company sales. Sir Herbert Austin was reportedly paid a royalty of 2 guineas per car produced from 1926. The Seven over the years was available in a wide range of colours depending on the model. In 1936 major changes to the engine and brakes were introduced. The motor now featured three main bearing and a new head design (using 14mm spark plug), the horsepower developed was now 17 hp. The old style cable brakes were replaced with modern Girling brakes. The new Big Seven with its 900 cc engine was introduced in 1937 to replace the aging Seven. Sales figures were excellent for the Big Seven, doubling those of the original Seven in 1938. The final Seven was produced in January 1939, the engine however remained in production until the early 1960s being used in other small vehicles such as the Reliant, a tribute to a successful design. In all over 50 different body designs came out of the Longbridge factory between 1922 and 1939, many of these being of a commercial or military nature. Many Australian bodied Sevens were also produced from the mid 1920s to the late 1930s largely to support the local coachbuilding industry in Australia. The Austin was also produced under license by the Dixi company in Germany, later to become BMW and in France by the Rosengart company. The early design of the Japanese Datsun was also influenced by the Austin Seven. The less successful Bantam was produced by Austin America. Many British body designs were available from coachbuilders during this time. One of the more noted being the Swallow version of the Seven built by William Lyons, who later designed the first SS (pre Jaguar) cars. Another interesting variation of the Seven, in a left hand drive format, was produced by the Willys-Overland, Crossley company in England and Germany. The Seven has a long motor racing history starting with the humble Seven sports in the early 1920s trough to heavily modified Sevens becoming the foundation of Lotus in 1948. The Austin Seven, or at least parts of them, formed the basis of many other inventions over the years. One of the most interesting examples of this is the Austin Seven engine being applied to the field of aviation. Another application was the use of the Austin Seven engine in motorcycles. Austin built tractors at Longbridge between 1919 and 1926. A second factory was opened at Liancourt in France which continued making Austin tractors until the end of World War II.
The Austin Seven Motoring Pages