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.
Affordable and popular they may have been, but the middle and larger sizes of the Austin range were hardly high-performance cars. Perhaps the word performance should not be used when describing the A.70, however it is fair to say that the Hereford took on an entirely different character from that associated with this famous make up to 1939.
The A.70 Hereford was the logical successor of the Sixteen with which Austin's first showed, as soon as production was resumed after the World War 2, that they were going to make cars that offered a degree of performance as well as possessing other qualities long associated with the marque.
The A.70 used basically the same overhead valve four-cylinder engine that was used for the Sixteen in 1946, the engine also being used for the modernized A.70 Hampshire model that preceded the Hereford. The Hampshire was used as the basis for the Hereford, being restyled and given a longer wheelbase. Austin first showed the Hereford at the 1950 London Motor Show.
While it may have been the same engine, it developed more power than the original, and was in a car appreciably lighter in total weight than the 'Sixteen'. The Hereford's higher gearing also helped achieve better cruising and gave a higher maximum speed.
In fact, compared with many of its comtempories, and particularly earlier Austin's, the A.70 Hereford was indeed, a "goer," a car capable of high average speeds and one in which a big day's mileage could be made, if required. It was reasonably quick up to the 60 m.p.h. range, could obtain a genuine 70, whilst a full 80 m.p.h. could be obtained on level ground, with a tail wind and an up-to-date life insurance policy.
The gears could be used to good effect, but also the engine was quite pleasantly flexible in top gear and car reviewers of the time claimed that it only "felt like a four-cylinder" when picking up from the lowest speeds when there was a reminder of the engines quite high torque. A cruising speed of 65-70 mph was comfortable, and the engine pulled very strongly in top gear, taking average gradients in its stride. Fortunately the torque enabled the driver to forgo the monotonous gear changing required of earlier models. Third gear was adequate for a hill of 1 in 6, and second gear would cope with any but the most severe kind of gradient, leaving first as an emergency climbing ratio, though it was noticeable that starting from rest was best effected in first, second being a shade high for this purpose.
The three upper ratios were fairly close, the A.70's commendable power-to-weight ratio permitting rather unusual gearing for what was essentially a family type of saloon. Unfortunately it could hardly be described as quiet, any attempts to achieve the so-called "performance" creating vibration at pretty much any speeds above 40 mph. Generally, however, the engine smoothed out very well as the speed rose above a crawl. The engine was designed not to pink on low-octane petrol, and was not prone to running on, two very common ailments of cars manufactured at the time. More importantly, the engine gave the impression of being a rugged unit capable of doing plenty of hard work without distress. It held a generous quantity of oil (13t pints / 7.80 liters), circulated at quite high pressure through a lubrication system which included a full-flow filter with renewable element.
The car handled well and could be cornered quite fast without any marked roll. The suspension (independent in front, by coil springs) took shock well, did not transmit much vertical motion and gave a comfortable ride to all occupants. It traveled well over surfaces corresponding to pave as found in northern Europe, but over such surfaces it rode noisily through reverberations set up within the pressed steel structure.
A Trifle On The Heavy Side For Manoeuvring
The steering was refreshingly high geared for quick, positive control that helped enormously to make the car feel safe at all times; it had good castor action and did not transmit shocks from the road wheels. Owners were soon complaining though that the steering was "a trifle on the heavy side for manoeuvring", although we would argue that the majority of road testers complimented the steering on the A.70 for its directional accuracy and finnness at speed. Those remain the qualities which most people who drive fast would prefer over extreme lightness.
The A.70 was fitted with
Girling fully hydraulically operated brakes with twin leading shoes in front being fitted. While they would compare dismally with the brake systems found on modern cars, for their time Austin should have been paid a high compliment as the two-shoe setup was not specially noticed. In other words, the driver could obtain the retardation that was wanted in given circumstances without having doubts whether the braking would be adequate, and there was plenty of reserve for an emergency.
The driving position was very satisfactory, with a large wheel set at an angle that made for confidence. Good support was given by the back rest. The front seats were divided and separately adjustable over a considerable range, but they meet centrally, thus making it possible for three people to ride in front on occasion, the pistol grip hand-brake being wider than the facia and the gear lever on the steering column not forming obstructions.
But while the gear lever itself may have permitted three-up travelling in the front, the gearbox it was connected to was not to be praised, particularly as regards first and reverse gears. Appreciable effort was required to bring the lever out of first, which was also not easily engaged at the first time of asking with the car at rest, whilst the movement into reverse, after pulling on the end of the knob to free the stop, was sometimes uncertain at first attempt. Quite quick changes could be made, however, ,if required, without beating the synchromesh provided on second, third and top gears, and the leisurely changes of everyday driving were made with general satisfaction.
For the A.70's manufactured for right-hand drive markets, the left-hand wing lamp was within the driver's view and the wing itself could be seen by leaning over. The windscreen was adequately wide and deep from the point of view of outward vision, but its main pillars were rather wide and formed a noticeable degree of obstruction at times, especially under conditions of rain at night. A good but not fully comprehensive view was given by the driving mirror. There was no rear window blind, something few cars today have (the main exception we know of being some models of the Lexus IS250), however most pre-war cars did come with such a device, and many bemoaned the "casualty" on post-war cars.
The A.70 was fitted with twin horns which gave a powerful note and were conveniently operated by a full ring on the steering wheel, in the centre of which was embodied a decorative crest enclosed within transparent plastic, a new "touch" for post 1950 Austins, and which was repeated also on the front of the car. The instruments were grouped centrally and included an ammeter as well as an oil pressure gauge. The head lamps were of the then latest Lucas double-dip pattern and gave a good beam, these being a decided improvement over the first type of post-war built-in headlights.
The upholstery was in good leather over Dunlopillo foam rubber foundations and the .depth of cushions and back rests was generous. The rear seats - in which there was appreciably more leg room than in the earlier A70 Hampshire, owing to the addition of three inches to the wheelbase
- had a very wide folding central arm rest of service to both passsengers. Press-button door handles were adopted, and a good-sized locker was located on either side of the facia, one of which accommodated the radio when fitted as optional equipment, the speaker being mounted in the roof above the windsereen.
A Sliding Roof Was Extra, But The Heater Was Standard
A sliding roof was available, at extra cost, and the A.70. was also available in drophead form, with either a manual or power-operated head. Austin's gave a lead after the war in providing a heating system as standard kit on a car of popular price. For the Hereford, this consisted of the then latest Smiths fresh-air type, which gave good results as regards both interior warmth and windscreen demisting, although owners were to report that it was very noisy in operation, as were apparently the windscreen wipers. Additional cold air for ventilation could be introduced by means of a separate control.
Owner reviews claim the A.70 possessed good cold weather starting, quickly settling to steady pulling with little use of the choke. The patented no-loss radiator filler cap was an excellent feature of Austins; the water level did not go down even by a quarter-inch in days, with the result that precious anti-freeze solution was not lost.
In general the A.70 was an outstanding example of a good value, all-purpose motor car with comfortable seating for four or five, compact in overall dimensions, reasonably "spirited" and exuding a feeling of being built to last. Best of all, it was inexpensive to run.