The Thames Valley Classic Cars Club
The club originally started when a group of Austin A7 enthusiasts formed the Austin A7 Club. In late 2017, the Austin A7 club rebranded to The Thames Valley Classic Car Club and welcome all Classic Cars and their owners to join the club.
History of The Austin A7
Herbert Austin was born on 8th November 1866 in Little Missenden (in the Thames Valley Area), but soon after his birth, the family moved to the north of England. After working for Frederick Wolseley in Australia, Herbert returned to England to supervise Wolseley's manufacture of sheep shearing machinery in Birmingham.
During his time with Wolseley, Austin built his first three-wheel experimental car in 1895. The prototype of his second car was exhibited in 1896 at the Crystal Palace Exhibition. Under Austin's stewardship Wolseley Cars were taken to world renown. It was unsurprising therefore that in 1905 Austin left Wolseley and started his own business. This was on a derelict site seven miles from Birmingham at Longbridge - a name we all recognise now. Austin ultimately became part of British Leyland and, in more modern times, other significant cars were also manufactured at Longbridge including Rover and MG.
Little Missenden Church
By 1908 Austin employed more than 1,000 workers and the plant produced in excess of 1,000 cars per year. World War I saw the company manufacturing munitions, military vehicles and even aircraft. In 1917, 22,000 people were employed at the factory. At the end of the war, the factory returned to producing cars - concentrating on the large 20hp and 30hp models. This focus on producing large cars aimed at the upper and middle classes left the company in a poor financial state. Herbert Austin saw the solution to the financial problems; he wanted to bring motoring to the masses by producing a small, lower priced car - a direction which the board at Austin, now a public company, did not support.
Austin, working with a brilliant young draughtsman by the name of Stanley Edge, decided to go ahead with work on the design of a small new 7hp family car and financed the project himself. Famously, it is said that the design of the Austin 7 was developed in the Billard Room at Lickey Grange House, Bromsgrove - Austin's private house. Only by ultimately threatening to take the design to Wolseley did Austin get the support of the Austin Company's board to bring the Austin 7 into production. Austin's investment in the '7' was paid for by him receiving a royalty of two guineas (£2.10) for each car sold.
July 1922 saw the unveiling of the Austin 7 and it quickly became known as the 'Chummy'. The '7' was considerably smaller than the Ford Model T. It was also lighter - less than half the Ford's weight at 794lb (360kg). 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. 178 cars were produced in 1922, increasing to nearly 2,500 cars the following year - 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.
Subsequent famous Austin 7 models included the 'Top Hat' and the 'Ruby' plus a wide range of sports models, open tourers and vans.
The peak production year was 1935 when 27,255 were built. Production ceased in 1939 by which time 290,944 Austin 7s had been produced.
Our good old Austin 7s havesome interesting links to other notable cars of the 20th Century:
In 1927 Sir Willima Lyons, co-founder of the Swallow Sidecar Company, produced a distinctive re-bodied Austin 7 open tourer - the Austin Seven Swallow which was followed by a saloon version. Around 3,500 such cars were produced under the SS brand - this forming the basis of what became Jaguar.
Licensed production was undertaken overseas. Versions of the 7 were made under licence from 1930 by American Austin (Bantam), from 1927 as Dixi's in Germany (ultimately bought by BMW) and from 1928 in France by Rosengart.
In addition, chassis and running gear were exported to Japan and Australia to have locally made bodies attached. At Beaulieu there is a great example of a Datsun that many mistake for an Austin 7. Recently a friend of David Coulton's has had an Australian Hudson to restore and the only way you can spot that it's not a UK7 is that the metal is much heavier in that it has a steel body.
The original Reliant three-wheelers had Austin 7 engines and several kit cars and specials were produced based around the '7' with perhaps the most notable being Lotus.
Austin 7s have undertaken some great journeys too. in 1959 John Coleman drove his 1925 Chummy from Buenos Aries to New York - an incredible journey made against all the odds and to have done it says a lot for the 7. The car is still being driven about today, albeit we sadly lost John in 2010 at the age of 81.
Other great journeys have seen small groups of 7s driven from Beijing to Paris, twice traversing South America across the Andes and another run following Route 66 across the USA from coast to coast. The 'Joggle' from John O'Groats to Lands End takes place regularly and attracts great numbers.
In 2012 we had the London (starting near Epsom) to Brighton Run on 1st April with around 200 Austin 7s taking part. Thames Valley members will be amongst a large group of 7s embarking on the Euro Tour, ultimately ending up at Interlaken. There are many other Road Runs and Rallys taking place in 2012 to celebrate the 7's 90th anniversary and you will no doubt see many cars out and about. Several remain undiscovered or are undergoing restoration and we all look forward to seeing these on the road.