Whitney, 1928 Austin 7 and life long car with CACMC
Helen, our illustrious Editor, to whom we should all be very grateful, happened to mention that she was out of My Car stories and was going to switch over to flowers on the cover so she could pursue her big love. I thought, 'this is not good enough, could I do a story on my old Morris Commercial truck that helped build Commonwealth bridge, or maybe the Dodge panel van that was the Narrabundah milk truck’?'
At the inaugural meeting of this club in 1968 there was an over-riding determination to have a non-exclusive club that catered to whatever vehicle you loved. Hence, my 10 quid pile of bits bought in 1964 that had been a much used Austin 7, was welcome and is now the subject of this story.
I think it might have graced the cover back in 1992 when my son and I finally got it on the road but many things have changed since then. Not that anyone looks any older to me but the cars the club stalwarts drive at events have definitely changed. A lot of the vintage tin has been replaced by cars built after the formation of the CACMC - they are much less disruptive to the increased pace of this millennium’s traffic. Chris Berry’s Chrysler, Charlie Adam’s Nash that was on the iconic 88 Rock Rally and Graham Moore’s wonderful Fraser Nash all are remembered from the 90s when I first started going on runs. I then remembered Geoff Tyrell’s A7 special and so there is definitely something about the staying power of Austins. I know there are many cars in the club that have been with their owners for 40 odd years but they are rarely seen treats. One such for me was riding with Rod Smart in the 1928 Moon that has been in his family since new. Alec McKernan’s Bean was with him 45 yrs till just recently and Brian McKay’s Chev that, like the A7 often goes topless, is still seen after 40 years. I am informed on good authority that the Bean and Chris’s Husky have an unbroken attendance record at Wheels (1982 on).
So, that little cutie in the photo among the vines at the Little Bridge Winery is a 1928 Austin 7 that has been attending several events a year for exactly 20 years. Most of these Austin 7s were 4 seat family cars but this is a 2 seater originally made for tradesman use (because tools etc could be locked behind a folding bench seat into its cute little tail). However, the factory and others made very fast 2 seat sports models including one that won the first Australian grand prix at Phillip Island. A few prior owners, all young lads like me, had this sort of picture in mind as they modified and campaigned this little car. The chassis ended up going to the tip!
My guiding aim in restoring Whitney was ‘a car that maximised my pleasure and that of others. Hence its red and yellow colour scheme that was quite controversial amongst the purists in 1992. However, colours have brightened up considerably over the last 20 years as all cars, old and modern, become more an expression or extension of an individual's tastes and character.
When I was putting it on the road I had huge attention on being able to stop the little Austin. Even in the 30s their brakes were noted for poor performance and when I drove one as my first car as a student in the 60s we had some memorable incidents that old friends still remember! I can still put cars through gaps that seem impossible!
In the 50s many of these cars were modified into specials and many people came up with many schemes to improve the anchors. The only successful one seemed to be a full blown engineering job of grafting on hydraulics from a Morris Minor to replace the cable set up. I did not have the time or resources for this.
One night I was reading a book on the development of the motor car and it pointed out that up to the late 20s there was no servo action allowed in the brake shoe pivoting systems inside the drum. I had a eureka moment when I realised that a little modification to the Austin's leading brake shoe would allow it to float and thus allow the revolving drum to drag the shoe a bit and thus jam it on harder. After an hour with a hack saw I had self-servo action in the back brakes (not to be confused with the very visible external-servo vacuum on master cylinders). This did the trick very nicely and allowed spirited driving without worry.
However, the gearbox was jumping out of second and I gave a chap in Melbourne a couple of the boxes I had from my extensive collection of bits stashed under my parent's house. He rang me back to say 'did you know one of those boxes has close ratio gears from an Ulster (a factory racer) in it?'
This led to the car getting a close ratio box that gave it better acceleration and much better hill climbing ability. We also put on a more modern SU carby.
The Austin 7s are well made little cars that saved the fortunes of Austin. Many car firms trace their history back to making them under license or building special versions including BMW and Jaguar. And out here in Australia we have probably the world’s best specialist 7 club in the Victorian outfit. I have belonged to them for 40 years.
They organise re-manufacture of lots of bits, run Historic racing at Winton and have a big mud trial component in the club. A couple of years ago I purchased an extractor system from them designed and made by Rick Perry (Perry Exhausts). Replacing the crude vintage era manifold with this tuned system gave the car what felt like a 20% power increase and boy oh boy, could we fly! However, the 80 year old inch and a quarter crankshaft objected eventually and so it was on the phone to the Vic club for a new bigger crankshaft, 30 thou over pistons, etc etc. I have just about got this rebuilt motor bedded down but already it has taken the top speed over 100kmph (previously 88) and severely shown up the road behaviour.
I built up the front axle as an impecunious ANU student in the 60s using the least worn of all the bits I had been able to acquire (very easy back then as these cars ceased being used as everyday runabouts at the end of the 50s). Since then I have not looked at that axle !
So another call to the Vic Club for kingpins, wheel bearings, brake springs etc and this is the current work in progress. Talking to a few club members recently with pre-war cars has revealed the huge improvement that radial tyres can make to the road manners of a car. Unfortunately I don't think that I have that option on my 400 x 19 inch sidecar tyres and so I am hoping that new steering bits and wheel bearings will handle it.
One of the advantages of these small Austins is that they fit between the bollards designed to keep cars out of Canberra parks. This small size is also why these cars rather than T models were first to Cape York, up Table Mountain in South Africa and first into Tibet. Mind you their performance is also a cut above the Ts designed in the veteran era.
And so earlier this year when a gentleman politely praised the car at the club run to Little Bridge winery, I offered him a ride and we sneaked between the rows and picked grapes. So that’s the Argentinian ambassador and myself in the photo (courtesy of Roger Phillips).
I hope these words and the garden flavour of the photo save the magazine cover for us car nuts for maybe another 20 years.