History of the Austin Seven
The Austin 7 was produced from 1922 through to 1939 in by the Austin Motor Company. Nicknamed the "Baby Austin", it was one of the most popular cars ever produced there, its effect on the British market was very similar to that of the Ford Model T in the USA.
It was also made under license by companies all over the world. The first BMW models, the BMW Dixi, were licensed Austin 7's. In France they were made and sold as Rosengarts. In Japan Nissan also used the 7 design as the basis for their original cars, though not under licence!
After World War II, many Austin 7s were rebuilt as "specials", including the first Lotus, the Lotus Mk1.
Austin had, before World War 1, built mainly large cars but in 1909 they sold a 1 cylinder 7hp built by Swift of Coventry called the Austin Seven. After this they returned to bigger cars, but the seeds of an idea had been born. Sir Herbert Austin felt a smaller car would be more popular, in spite of protestations from the company's board of directors who were concerned about the financial status of the company. Austin won them over by threatening to take the idea to their competitor Wolseley and got permission to start on his design, in which he was assisted by a young draughtsman called Stanley Edge who worked from 1921 into 1922 at Austin's home, Lickey Grange. Austin put a large amount of his own money into the design and patented many of its innovations in his own name. In return for the investment he was paid a royalty of two guineas on every car sold.
Nearly 2,500 cars were made in the first year of production (1923), not as many as hoped, but within a few years the "big car in miniature" had wiped out the cyclecar industry and transformed the fortunes of the Austin Motor Co. By 1939 when production finally ended, 290,000 cars and vans had been made.
The Austin 7 was considerably smaller than the Ford Model T. The wheelbase was only 6 ft 3 inches, and the track only 40 inches. Also it was lighter - less than half the Ford's weight at 794 pounds. The engine required for adequate performance was therefore equally reduced and the 747 cc sidevalve was quite capable with a modest 10 hp output.
The chassis took the form of an "A" with the engine mounted between the channel sections at the narrow front end. The rear suspension was by quarter elliptic springs cantilevered from the rear of the chassis while at the front the beam axle had a centrally mounted half elliptic transverse spring. Early cars did not have any shock absorbers. Brakes were on all wheels but at first the front brakes were operated by the handbrake and the rear by the footbrake, becoming fully coupled in 1930.
A multitude of different body styles were available, the box saloon, nippy, Ulster, Gordon England, Chummy, the list goes on. One of the most attractive bodies fitted to an Austin Seven chassis was the Swallow.
In 1927, William Lyons, co-founder of the Swallow Sidecar Company, saw the commercial potential of producing a rebodied Austin 7. Lyons commissioned the talented coachbuilder Cyril Holland to produce a distinctive open tourer: the Austin Seven Swallow.
With its bright two-tone colour schemes and a style befitting more expensive cars of the time, together with its low cost (£175), the Swallow proved popular and was followed in 1928 by a saloon version: the Austin Seven Swallow Saloon.
Approximately 3,500 bodies of various styles were produced up until 1932, when Lyons started making complete cars under the SS brand.
Such was the demand for the Austin Seven Swallows that Lyons was forced to move in 1928 from Blackpool to new premises in Coventry. It was, in part, the success of the Swallows that laid the foundations of what was to become, by 1945, Jaguar Cars.