Classic Sports Car
SIMPLE SEVEN IS THE FAMILY WAY
Although I’d never seriously gone looking for one, I’d always had a hankering for an Austin Seven. In summer 2019, Dad noticed that a 1926 example was coming up at auction the following day, and for a moment it was all systems go as we tried to work out the logistics and finances. In the end we ran out of time, which was probably just as well because, although the car went for well within our budget and below what we’d expected it to, we later heard that it wouldn’t have been a very wise purchase.
What it did do was inspire us to start looking properly, with an agreement that we’d go halves on the price. As it turned out, the search was a short one. Within a couple of days I’d found a 1931 saloon being sold by Robin Lawton, and not long after that we were heading down to Hampshire to have a look.
It was obvious as soon as we laid eyes on the car that it was going to fit the bill, but we went through the motions of checking everything and taking it for a short test drive before shaking hands. We didn’t even bother with the rigmarole of haggling: the car was ideal, the price was fair and that was it. The deal was done.
The Seven had been shipped out to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in 1943 and spent more than 50 years there before returning to the UK in the mid-1990s. It had since been restored and remains incredibly tidy – but not so pristine that you would be afraid to use it. A late short-wheelbase model, it has the three-speed gearbox rather than the later four-speeder.
Dad’s first car had been an Austin Seven, which arrived as an early present a couple of months ahead of his 14th birthday in 1960. His father had done a deal with a family friend, who agreed to swap the Austin for a small gas blowtorch – the value of which Dad recalls as being about £3 10s. Dad duly used the car for a while after he passed his driving test, before selling it for £10 and putting that money towards his Riley Nine Kestrel.
Even after 60 years, he remembers his way around an Austin Seven – not that there’s a great deal to know, the engineering being beautifully simple. We fettled the car here and there over the course of our first few months with it, but for the most part all it really needed was a bit of use. Initially it felt slightly hair-raising even at 30mph, but it soon began to feel composed and secure at 40mph. Among the early additions was a new pair of 350-19 Avon Triple Duty tyres for the front, sourced from Ben Field at Vintage Tyres, and Dad wired in some indicators, complete with buzzer. Better mirrors were also fitted.
Another local enthusiast provided a reassuring second opinion. Ron Hayhurst lives round the corner and owns a brace of Sevens, one of which he’s driven all the way down to the Stelvio Pass. He took ours around the block one day and declared it sound, and since then he has happily dispensed advice and guidance.
One slightly disconcerting habit was the blowing of headlamp bulbs, until Dad discovered that it had 21W tail-light bulbs fitted. It now has the correct items, and we’ve also added an alternator that retains the look of the original dynamo and was a straight swap for it.
There weren’t too many opportunities to use the Seven during 2020, for obvious reasons, but when we did manage to potter around the lanes or pop down to the pub, it never failed to raise a smile. The plan for now is simply to put more miles on it as restrictions ease during the spring and summer.