If there’s one quintessential British pre-war car it must surely be the Austin 7, one of the most popular small cars ever produced.
After a slow start in 1922 with barely two thousand ‘Sevens’ sold, progress was spectacular. Before the outbreak of World War II abruptly ended production in 1939, over 290,000 had rolled off the line in Britain. Overseas manufacture was licensed in France, Germany and the USA, whilst Japan’s reputation for copying others’ technology was partially established when Nissan used the Austin 7 as the template for its first cars.
This iconic ‘people’s car’ owed its inception to Sir Herbert Austin, who bulldozed his board of directors into sanctioning a ‘big saloon in miniature’ and personally designed it in conjunction with Stanley Edge, who was responsible, for the engine. The first production model was the AB Tourer. With a wheelbase of just 6 ft 3 in (1.9 m) and weighing in at a mere 794 lb (360 kg) it used a small, economical engine mounted on an A-frame chassis. This may be one of the easiest ‘must-drive’ cars to find, but double-declutching should be mastered before taking to the road.
There were six types produced over time – tourers, saloons, cabriolets, sports, coupes and vans – most with many variants as technical advances were regularly introduced.
In addition, the distinctive two-tone Austin 7 Swallow was coach built by William Lyons of the Swallow Sidecar Company. A Swallow open tourer was introduced in 1927 with a saloon following in 1928. Some 3500 Swallows were produced in various body styles before Lyons started making his own SS (later Jaguar) cars in 1932. He backed a good pony.
By the end of the 1920s the runaway success of the Austin 7 had effectively wiped out most other small British cars and cyclecars.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1922 (until 1939)
747 cc Straight Four
Most models had a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Austin 7 name had such resonance that the company recycled it twice after world War ll – firstly on A30 models of the early 1950s and then on the mould-breaking Mini in 1959.