Austin Lucky 7 - Blackbourn 398

By: Rob Blackbourn

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austin 7 austin 7

The much younger Rob was hoping an Austin 7 would help him fly under the radar of the authorities. Some hope...

Who doesn’t enjoy a little surprise now and then? My latest came from reading the ‘Club Tales’ report about the Austin 7 Club.

It wasn’t the ‘such a big prosperous club for such an itty bitty car’ angle. It was discovering that the author of the new book about the club’s history, Going Strong – the history of the Austin 7 Club, is Bob Watson. No, not a previously unknown Austin 7 enthusiast sharing his name with the celebrated Australian motorsport champ and engineer, but the man himself.

Who’d a thought the man best known for wrestling the mighty HK GTS 327 Monaro to victory at Sandown and third at Bathurst in 1968 with Tony Roberts, or taking out the 1970 Australian Rally Championship with Jim McAuliffe in the flying R8 Gordini had ‘Baby’ Austin links? Realistically I shouldn’t have been too surprised given that we’ve long known that Peter Brock also had a tiny Austin 7 skeleton in his closet. Watson’s writing reveals that his own earliest competition experience was gained as a teenager in the 1950s behind the wheel of an Austin 7 in Austin 7 Club events. Who better then to sit down to write the club’s history?

Watson writes of reacquainting himself recently with the 7’s idiosyncrasies after a 50-year break: "… the sudden death clutch, the lightning fast steering and the heart stopping lack of brakes."

Yes, all of the above. Especially the pitiful anchors. Tiny cable-actuated drums, and next to useless. Even adjusted to perfection they offered little retardation. Really leaning on the pedal seemed only to stretch the cables. That’s when the ‘lightning fast steering’ came into play. When you couldn’t stop you dodged. I mounted footpaths more than once, even committed the cardinal sin in Melbourne of passing to the right of a stationary tram. As a struggling student I didn’t have the resources to carry out the popular upgrade of adapting Morris Minor hydraulics to fit.

Austin -7-engine

The ‘sudden death clutch’ of my 1929 Meteor roadster had about 6mm pedal travel between fully depressed and fully engaged on a good day. After that faded to nothingness on the way to a mate’s place his mother was less than effusive in permitting my ‘7’ to rest in her front yard for a day or two while I pondered the mysteries of its clutch mechanism. Pedal motion was being lost because slots in the throw-out collar had become too deep through wear. Finally a pair of three-inch nails, bent into rough semi-circles, and jammed down in the bore of the collar, effectively shortened the slots and restored clutch function. Mate’s mum’s parting words went something like: "You’re always welcome here, Rob. But don’t bring any of your decrepit cars or motor bikes in future." I had some history with Mrs Barlow on that front.

The poor braking also overtaxed the driveline when you needed to double-declutch with a big rev to grab second in the three-speed crash box, in an effort to slow down. The fabric universal let go one night, throwing the front driveshaft section up through the floorboards, in the process jettisoning the two Cardan trunnion blocks into the darkness.

Answers to the ‘Why would you?’ question about an Austin 7 are complex and obviously vary between individuals. Undoubtedly it’s partly the ‘cuteness’ factor  that can also make a Citroen 2CV, or a Goggo Dart or a Suzuki Mighty Boy desirable In my case it was also about the fact that the alternatives in my ‘fleet’, a hot-rodded Ford V8 and a Matchless motor bike were cop magnets. The Meteor – bless its little two bearing crankshaft and quarter-elliptics – was ignored by the police as a benign novelty. This was particularly important as you anxiously awaited your 18th birthday and a driving licence.

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