Do you fancy an Austin Seven?
advice on buying a 'Seven'


The most common things said to Austin Seven owners when they are using, or displaying, their cars are:

"My father had one of these."

or

"I'd like to own an Austin Seven"

This section is written for potential owners, both men and ladies, and is intended to provide some background information about the Austin Seven and owning, maintaining and driving one.

At best it can only be an introduction and will either leave you wanting more information or help you to realise that ownership is, perhaps, not appropriate for you.

First of all, answer the question ‘Why do want an Austin Seven?
Have you previously owned an historic car, have some knowledge of them, and wish to relive the life with one?  If you haven’t previously owned one then why do you wish to have one now?  Is it because you just like the look of them or think it would be nice to own one?   Do you know someone who owns one and wish to do the same?   What are you going to do with it?  Are you just wanting to own one and put it in the garage, to look at now and again, or do you intend to drive it regularly?

Whatever your reason may be, read on before you making a decision.

Brief history of the Austin Seven
When the ‘Seven’ was introduced in 1922 it was intended for, and succeeded in, providing four wheeled transport that the average working family could afford.  It was built by the Austin Motor Co. at Longbridge, Birmingham from 1922 to 1939 and during that time a number of different body styles were fitted to the basic chassis and running gear.

Austin produced tourers, 2-seater sports cars, saloons and light van versions of the ‘Seven’.  The chassis and running gear was used as the basis of models built by many specialist coachbuilders.  The ‘Seven’ was exported across the world and also produced under licence in America, Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

PG Car 2pPG Car 3p

Early cars were open tourers, with just enough room for Mum, Dad and two small children, and these became known as the ‘Chummy’.  Then came the saloon models from 1929 to 1934 which are referred to as 'Box Saloons'.

The styling was modernised in 1934 with the production of the ‘Ruby’, and the exposed radiator with the familiar radiator surround was replaced by an enveloping cowl. 

The ‘Big Seven’ appeared in 1937 as a development of the ‘Seven’, with a different chassis and a larger engine, having a more spacious body in 4-door and then 2-door versions.

Throughout production ‘Sevens’ were available with a choice of body colours – blue, green, grey, maroon, primrose with black top and black wings; with the ‘Ruby’ and ‘Big Seven’ also in black.  All cars had a choice of a complementary trim colour. 

When manufacturing ceased in March 1939 almost 300,000 ‘Sevens’ had been produced of which about 12,000 are known to survive worldwide.


Which do you choose?
Ultimately the particular body style you like is going to be a personal choice; however the format of the chassis and running gear changed significantly over the years and this does have an important bearing on the ease of maintenance and driveability, and so should also influence your choice of model. 


A7 ChassisAll Austin Sevens are based on the 'A' shaped chassis which came in three basic designs over the 17 years of production: 

-  the short chassis from 1922 to 1931
The short chassis suffered with limited space in the rear of saloons and the first vans had a small load capacity of 2½ cwt (125kg).

-  the long wheelbase high chassis from 1932 to 1934
The chassis length was extended by 6” (150mm) in 1932 to provide more room for the rear seat passengers and the load capacity of vans was increased to 5 cwt (250kg).

-  the long wheelbase low chassis from 1934 to 1939
The low chassis, with flatter rear springs, was introduced with the 'Ruby' in 1934.

For some more technical details see 'The Differences in our Sevens'


The engine 
Chummy engineThe first engine in 1922 was 696cc but was soon increased to the 747cc engine which appeared in 1923 and remained until 1937.  The engines are side-valve with a bore of 57mm and stroke of 78mm.  During 1929 a larger diameter, stronger, crankshaft was fitted.  The crankshaft was two-bearing until the three-bearing crankshaft was introduced in July 1936 but these are prone to breaking and hence a two-bearing crankshaft is preferable.  These, and other, modifications gradually increased the brake horse power.




Big 7 engineMagneto ignition was used until 1929 when coil ignition was fitted as standard.

The engine was bolted directly to the chassis until late 1933 when the engine was then rubber mounted onto the chassis (smoother).
 
All engines made post 1932 are readily interchangeable.

A re-designed 900cc engine appeared with the 'Big Seven' in 1937 (left).
 


The gearbox
The early Austin Sevens were fitted with a three-speed gearbox with a gate change, an 'H' shaped slot through which the gear lever is moved.  This was changed around 1930 to the more familiar 'ball' attachment of the gear lever, as used in modern cars, but it is still a three-speed 'crash' (non-synchromesh) gearbox.

A four-speed crash box was fitted in late 1932 through to late 1933.  In late 1933 synchromesh was fitted to 3rd and 4th gears only, and from mid-1934 synchromesh was fitted on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears.

All of the four-speed gearboxes are interchangeable.


The brakes
Before 1930 the handbrake applied the front brakes only and the footbrake applied the rear brakes.  From 1930 onwards the brakes were linked and so the footbrake operated the front and rear brakes together, as did the handbrake.
 
Until the last of the 'Ruby' models the brakes were operated through cables.  The 'Big Seven' has a cable to the front brakes and rods to the rear brakes.


Wheels and Tyres
Spoked wheelAll 'Sevens' up to and including the 'Ruby' models have spoked wheels; the 'Big Seven' has Easyclean pressed steel wheels. 

Up until 1934 the tyre sizes of the tourers and basic saloons were 3.50 x 19", Avon Sidecar tyres are now fitted for these cars. 

The tyres were changed to 4.00 x 17" when the low-chassis was introduced in 1934.  The 'Big Seven' tyres are 4.75 x 16".

New cross-ply tyres are available from specialist suppliers.  See our 'Guide to Parts and Services' > Tyres



 
So which model?
Generally speaking the later the car the easier it is to drive and maintain.   For information on the performance of the most popular 'Sevens see Road Tests.

Later cars are cheaper than the earlier cars and saloons are cheaper than the open cars.  As a rough guide for on-the-road cars in reasonable condition with current MoT, consider the 'Big Seven' and 'Ruby' Saloons to be about £5000 - £6000; 'Box Saloons' about £7000 - £9000 and earlier 'Tourers' etc about £9000 - £10000, with the late 1920s 'Chummy' models around £12000 and upwards, in each case give or take a few hundred pounds.  Prices do vary depending upon the condition of the bodywork and upholstery.  Beware of inflated prices on internet auction sites and at specialist dealers, restorers and auction houses.

When choosing your 'Seven' it is important that you let your 'head rule your heart', at least for the first one you purchase.  It is all too easy to fall in love with a rough looking, non-running project that appears to be cheap, which with a little tender loving care you can turn into your treasured 'Seven'.  UNLESS you have previously restored a pre-war car and you know what is involved this is definitely NOT what we would recommend!   Even the skilled mechanic can lose interest in a restoration project that never seems to have an end in sight due to the time and money involved.

Hence, our best advice is to buy a later car with the benefits of linked brakes, four speed gearbox and synchromesh, and probably saloon type bodywork.  The car should be running, preferably with a voluntary MoT, and the bodywork and trim at least presentable. 

If you follow this advice you will have a 'Seven' that is immediately usable.  You can drive it and take part in Club activities and gain experience as and when mechanical repairs are necessary.  Many of the Sevens that are most used are far from immaculate but none the less give their owners, and the general public, much pleasure. 


Do I need to be a mechanical wizard?
As with all things mechanical it helps if you have a basic understanding of how things work.  An Austin Seven has very simple mechanics, unlike modern cars, and providing that you are willing to learn you will soon pick up the basics.  Hopefully you will soon be able to carry out the routine maintenance as set out in the manufacturer's handbook and essential pre-run checks.  However, for insurance purposes you are required to maintain your car in a roadworthy condition and so some mechanical knowledge is needed.  You should be prepared for a breakdown, ether a fuel or electrical problem, and be able to make a roadside repair, see Help at the roadside.

When major problems arise then help and advice is always available from other Club members; they have met the problem before, they may have the special tools and equipment, and can help to put things right.


Spare parts
New and second-hand spares are plentiful and relatively cheap.  There are a number of businesses which provide replacement parts for Austin Sevens and normally will provide excellent service by ensuring next day delivery following a telephone or on-line order; in fact a lot better than modern car dealers!
 
If you intend to try a Club run you should carry some spares and basic tools in your car.  For guidance on sources of all parts, imperial tools, nuts, bolts etc. see our 'Guide to Parts and Services'.


Running Costs are low
The road tax, or Vehicle Excise Duty, is zero rated ie free, for vehicles more than 40 years old on a rolling basis, and these are classed by DVLA as 'Historic'; and you are not required to display a current tax disc on the windscreen.

Our cars are no longer subject to the annual MoT (UK), but owners are advised to take them for a voluntary test at a garage that understands the testing of historic cars. 

Fully comprehensive insurance, arranged through the Austin Seven Club's Association official insurance scheme, is about £50 per year, and includes UK and European Recovery.  See Guide to Parts and Services > Insurance.

A new tyre costs £75 or so for the earlier sidecar tyres, increasing to around £100 for the Big Seven tyres.  Then add the cost of the inner tube and valve, sometimes plus carriage, but with care and regular use they will last up to 20,000 miles.

Fuel consumption is around 40 mpg and all 'Sevens' run well on normal unleaded 95 octane petrol.  However, they can have a problem with bio-fuels.  The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, has endorsed several additives for protection against corrosion in metals and rubber components in the fuel system.  Alternatively use 97 Octane Premium unleaded fuel.  See http://fbhvc.co.uk/legislation-and-fuels/fuel-information/ 
 
Engine oil costs depends upon your choice of a multigrade Classic 20W-50 or the traditional SAE 30 or 40 monograde; and how much your engine burns and leaks!


Using your 'Seven'
Once you own a 'Seven' you really should drive it to preserve it; otherwise it will soon deteriorate, both internally and externally if it is just left in the garage and looked at; and it will certainly not appreciate in value. 

Austin Seven Clubs encourage member's to drive their 'Sevens', not only on Club events and to the summer rallies in the locality, but whenever you wish, even for shopping, an afternoon run out to the coast or a pub-lunch with a few fellow club members.


Still interested?
If Austin Seven ownership is something you have now decided that you would like to do then you would be well advised to contact your local Austin Seven Club, see http://a7ca.org/member-clubs/  and seek advice BEFORE you purchase a car.  There are often cars for sale in most Clubs and their recent history is known.  If you live in Cornwall, contact our Membership Secretary; you are welcome to come along and see the range of 'Sevens' which our members own.  

By doing so you will be able to benefit from the collective experiences of members gained over many years.  They can offer help and guidance before you make your purchase by showing you the different models and explain the pros and cons connected with them and arrange for you to try different models for size and, when appropriate, be taken out for a short road run.  The models they own will be the same as our members cars.

You will also have met some members before buying the car and then you will not be afraid to go out with it in case it might break down or you don't know anyone.  You will also have the back up of people who can offer technical support.

If possible, try and drive one as you will find that a 'Seven' does not have the performance, and handling characteristics, of a post-war, or later, car.  Before continuing and deciding to buy one do be sure of why you wish to own an Austin Seven and have an idea of what you intend to do with it.

Do not feel that you would be taking unfair advantage of the members who already have cars, we would all much prefer you to take advice before you purchase your first 'Seven'.  Buying the wrong car could be very costly and you may be landed with a 'bitzer', one not really true to type which has been made up from spare parts.

Advice is free, the wrong car could be very costly.

If you live in Cornwall, and once you are a happy owner, we would hope that you would soon be joining us on the Club events of your choice, and experience The joys of being a 7'er.

Are you keen, do you want to proceed, or do you have a few more questions before making your decision?  If so do contact our Membership Secretary.

If you do not live in Cornwall our friends in other Austin Seven Clubs will be able to offer advice, and  have similar activities. 

Warning:  Please do involve your spouse/partner in the decision to purchase a Seven.  Not everyone is comfortable as a front seat passenger in an old car, without seat belts, with all sorts of strange noises and smells, draughts and probable ingress of rain around ill-fitting doors and windows, whilst reading a map or route sheet on a club event. 

 
This article, written by Andrew Jarmin and Malcolm Watts in 2001, was originally produced in booklet format by CA7C and given to people who were genuinely interested in become Austin Seven owners.   The article has been updated regularly.

 

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