's Great British Cars – Austin Seven

Fri 21st Dec 2018

Great Britain, great cars. The UK motor industry is respected the world over, and though many of the vehicles are actually owned by foreign manufacturers, there can be no doubting of the fantastic heritage of the British motor.

To celebrate Britain’s famous history is launching a series looking back on some of the most famous vehicles the UK has ever seen.

Austin Seven
The design and build of smaller cars was no alien concept to the Austin motor company, there had already been an ‘Austin 7 hp’ produced between 1909 and 1911, but it wasn’t until nine years later in 1920 that the more famous version of the Austin 7 was conceived.

Known as the ‘Baby Austin’ the Austin 7 was one of the most popular cars of its era and enjoyed a production life of 17 years from 1922 to 1939.

It was Sir Herbert Austin who came up with the idea for the Austin 7, he wanted to build a car that would meet the needs of young families, a car that would be attractive to those looking for affordable rather than luxury options and a realistic challenge to the Ford Model T.

The introduction of the Horsepower Tax in 1921 made for perfect conditions for the Austin 7 to dominate. Cars would be taxed based on the size of their engines, and everything about the Austin 7 was small.

Austin appointed an 18-year-old draughtsman, Stanley Edge, to assist with the drawing of the plans for the ‘Baby Austin’. From the billiard room of Austin’s country estate, Edge came up with a four-cylinder engine design, whilst Austin himself used the Peugeot Quadrilette as inspiration to come up with the cab design.

The car was revealed to the public in 1922, much to the personal cost of Austin who had invested much of his fortune in the project. Austin was a shrewd operator though and by patenting much of the engine design and innovation he was paid a royalty on every car sold.

Whilst there was 2,500 Austin 7s produced in the first year of production, the car was a huge success and the ‘big car in miniature’ helped wipeout the cyclear industry which had been the alternative affordable transport method.

By the end of the ‘Baby Austin’s’ 17 year production run, there had been 290,000 cars and vans sold, with the vehicle also licensed across the globe to companies such as BMW and Nissan. The car is largely credited for saving the Austin Motor Company.

Years of manufacture: 1922-1939 
Price when new: £135
Price now: £5,000-£25,000
Engine: 747cc 4cyl petrol, 10.5bhp
Top speed: 53mph