It could be argued that the Austin 7 transformed
motoring for residents of the UK as Henry Ford’s
did for the Americans.
The Seven would be built
for 17 years between 1922 and 1939, filling a market
segment between the cycle-cars and the more established
larger cars of the day.
The Seven was powered (if that's the right word to
use) by a puny 42ci 696cc side-valve engine, although
this would be later “enlarged” to a whopping
46ci (747cc). The fact that it was relatively underpowered
did not deter the buyers, the car soon accounting for
nearly 40% of all new car sales in the UK.
The Seven sat on a very small wheelbase, only 6ft
3”, with a track of 40”. The chassis was
in the form of an “A”, with the engine
mounted between the channel sections at the narrow
While the earliest iterations were not fitted
with shock absorbers, the rear suspension system did
use quarter elliptic springs cantilevered from the
rear of the chassis, the front beam axle having a centrally
mounted half elliptic transverse spring.
Surprisingly for such a cheap and cheerful car,
the Seven boasted all-round brakes, although early
models required the driver to be rather dexterous,
having to apply the front brakes via the handbrake
control and the rear via the footbrake.
after 1930 the brakes became fully coupled. Naturally
the Seven having such a long production run, and at
a time when automobile innovation was arguably at its
peak, there were other significant improvements made
along the way.
An electric starter motor was introduced in 1923,
the magneto ignition system was replaced by a coil
type in 1928, a four speed gearbox replaced the original
3 speed unit in 1932, then synchromesh was added
to 3rd and 4th gears in 1933, and finally added to
second gear in 1934.
The Seven became so popular that German concern Dixi
(one of the manufacturers to later make up BMW) built
the ubiquitous little car as the “Rosengart”. Even the Americans got in on the act, building under
license the “American Austin”. And Japan’s
Nissan concern used the 7 design as the basis for their
original cars – although no license was ever
There is an Australian connection too. Austin backed his cars in motor sport, and while he had very few successes that would change in 1928 when his son-in-law, Captain Arthur Waite, took out the 1928 Australian Grand Prix in a supercharged Austin 7 known as "Slippery Anne". Other nick-names were bestowed upon the Seven, some referring to it as the "...finest Meccano set yet produced". Despite its lack of roadholding and hopeless brakes, it was well put togther and long lasting.