To an extent almost unparalleled by cars of anywhere near the the price, the Austin Seven has gained a wonderful name for dependability. This dependability it has carried remarkably successfully into the field of racing - a point of particular interest in regard to the production unsupercharged sports model, since it is directly from this type that the racing machine has been developed.
It is indeed a remarkable thing that so good a miniature sports car is obtainable for the money. The owner of one of these little cars has a machine with a very fine performance, the sporting style of bodywork beloved of the enthusiast; and, most important in a way, there is behind the car a background, as it were, of extraordianry reliability and durability.
Apart from the body, which complies with international racing rules as to dimensions, the detail work is in keeping with the character of the car. For instance, the bonnet, which is longer than that of the normal type, has a regulation strap to secure it in place of ordinary clips; the single-panel screen folds forward flat, which is a big point for the owner of a car such as this; and the instrument board carries a rev counter which, besides being exceptionally interesting in its readings, is also of real practical value.
The whole feel of the car is very different from what is associated with the standard touring types. To begin with, the frame and front axle are appreciably lower, the springs bound with cord to stiffen them, which combined factors give the car a genuine feeling of stability even when corners are taken fast. Further, the stiffening of the suspension, apart from its practical aspect, helps it increase the sports car effect.
It was possible to test this car under conditions rather removed from the ordinary, conditions, in fact, which would have been severe for a car of twice the engine capacity, and it speaks extraordinarily well for the sports Austin that on one day a mileage exceeding 300 was covered and on the next a distance slightly below 400 miles, all at an excellent average, and without necessity for starting unduly early in the morning in order to achieve the distance comfortably.
Without any suggestion that the car is being overstressed, it is possible to cruise at a steady 50 m.p.h., equivalent to 3,500 r.p.m., and this apparently can be kept up as long as the driver wishes, without the engine becoming at all overheated. The engine can be felt, which is not unexpected in view of the power that is being got out of it, but on analysing one's impressions after a really long run ones realises that this is a feature which is not irritating; in fact, in a way it is rather pleasant to be able to sense the power that is being developed, and mechanically the engine is quiet.
This model differs in that the exhaust system incorporates pipes leading horizontally direct from the cylinder block and connecting to an outside pipe which runs along externally on the near side of the body and terminates in a fish tail. The exhaust note has a pronounced bark which is pleasing to the enthusiast an which, with due care, does not seem to disturb the authorities. Unquestionably in this system lies a good deal of the efficiency. A further point is that the oil pressure is high, a normal reading at speed being between 30 and 40 lb. per sq. in. The car tested was using racing oil, which certainly seems to be worth while in view of the high speeds at which the power unit is turning over. The gear ratios are higher than normal, and in consequence the indirects are extremely useful. It is possible to run up to considerably above 5,000 r.p.m., which gives 30 m.p.h. comfortably on first and 50 on second. The acceleration figure for first gear, it will be noticed, is exceptionally good. The engine does not pull smoothly below 10 m.p.h. on top gear, and it is scarcely to be expected that it should, but usually the last thing the owner of a car of this sort wants to do is to potter at low speed on top. Second is so useful that it is worth while changing down for running in traffic, and in the same way excellent acceleration can be secured on a winding road.
Hill-climbing is most remarkable , for main-road gradients can be taken fast, and even accelerating, on top gear, while anything steeper is surmounted very fast in second. The clutch pedal has a longer travel than with most Sevens, and obviously is extremely efficient from the viewpoint of transmitting the power, since it grips at once after being engaged, and in starting away, particularly on a gradient, it is best to accelerate the engine a good deal and let the pedal up carefully.
The steering is light, yet firm, as befits the higher speed; no road shock is transmitted, and there is still no caster action. The chief point is that the driver is not concious of any definite effort in steering the car, which is as much as can be said of any steering gear. The gear change, with a long lever which comes nicely to hand, is normal except that, by reason of the ratios being closer, the engine has to be accelerated less in changing down that with the ordinary model, while the change up is correspondingly quicker, particularly so from second to top.
The brake action, again, is light, and there is never a tendency for the car to deviate from its course, although it is now arranged that either the pedal or the hand lever applies the shoes on all four wheels, in an emergency stop the effect can be increased y employing both pedal and lever.
As has already been indicated, the body is essentially a sports type. There are no doors, but getting in and out is quite reasonably convenient for this kind of car, and the driving position is comfortable, though it seems at first as though the wheel could be closer. The point which really counts in this direction is that after a very long run the driver is not at all tired or cramped. The windscreen has safety glass, but no wiper is provided. In addition to the rev counter, which is immediately in front of the driver, there is a trip-type speedometer, but it would be an improvement if the dials were illuminated for night work.
The hood is neat, and can be raised from inside the car, and clips neatly and securely to the top of the screen. No side curtains are fitted, which again, is in keeping with the character of the machine. In the tail is considerable space for suit-cases and general baggage, and access to this compartment is gained ny removing a lid held in position by a strap and normally concealed by the hood. Also in the recess is the spare wheel.
The engine is typically neat and accessible; special plugs are employed, each of which is easy to get at; the fuel tank has an increased capacity; and the oil filler is convenient. The engine starts easily at all times. It is an interesting indicative of racing experience that flexible fuel and oil pipes are used.
The main brake adjustment is operated easily by hand, while the battery is very accessible under the passenger's seat.
This is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating little cars in existence. It has all the performance capable of satisfying an enthusiastic driver acquainted with bigger and far more expensive sports machines, yet is remarkably economical to run and easy to handle, with outstanding advantages on modern crowded roads.