The Mini has long been considered Britain’s favourite classic car, but it wasn’t the original mini vehicle. In the 1920s, the Austin 7 was created to be a ‘big car in miniature’ as a way of replacing motorbike and sidecar combinations. It was designed to meet the need for young families who wanted an affordable car. The model was a big success, and as an influential British car, we’re looking into the Austin 7’s history.
A change of pace
Until WW1, Austin built large cars, with the exception of a single-cylinder vehicle called the Austin 7 hp created by 1909. Then, in 1920, Sir Herbert Austin started work on a smaller car. The idea came about because of the 1921 Horsepower Tax. Austin’s concept opposed the company’s traditional design ethos, which led to a lot of resistance from his board of directors and creditors.
Austin decided to carry out the project by himself and hired an 18-year-old draughtsman from a Birmingham factory called Stanley Edge. He drew up the plans and convinced Austin to use a small four-cylinder engine. Edge oversaw the design of other components like the three speed gearbox and clutch assembly. Austin retained a lot of control, reportedly basing the Austin 7 off the Peugeot Quadrilette.
The design was completed in 1922 and three prototypes were constructed. Austin had put a lot of money into the car and patented many of its innovations in his own name. As a result, he earned two guineas, the equivalent of £2.10 on every car sold.
Around 2,500 cars were produced in 1923 and after a few years, the Austin 7 had wiped out the cyclecar industry. Much of the success can be attributed to it being used for racing. Austin’s son-in-law, Arthur Waite, raced in an Austin 7 at Brooklands in 1923. Another driver called EC Gordon England convinced Austin to provide him with a car.
Inspired by his victories at Brooklands, England built a special lightweight two-seater body and entered the Junior Car Club 200 mile race in 1923. He came in second place, but broke records.
The Austin 7 defied all expectations, transforming the fortunes of the Austin Motor Company. It was copied throughout the world, with brands including BMW, Jaguar and Lotus making derivatives.