When I asked several members about the joys they gain from owning and driving their 'Seven' I received an array of interesting answers. We all have a passion for old cars, and like being involved with part of motoring history, but are pleased to have a 'Seven' as it is a car of character, is very distinctive, has a magnetic personality and seems to crave ownership and tlc.
The ‘Seven’ certainly engenders a feeling of affection and when driving provides a sense of pride. We have a respect for a car that has many critics about its design but none can argue that it was, in its time, the best little car in the world. The simplicity of the design and the continuing effectiveness of the ‘Seven’, the majority of them now well over seventy years old, gives us a great deal of pleasure. There is an added sense that one is preserving a classic car, one that is almost an ancient monument of the English motoring scene, in a very appropriate way by using it, rather than leaving it standing idle in a garage or museum.
We may feel that some ‘top of the range’ modern cars are a flash 'status symbol' but we drive a ‘Seven’ which is 'different' and might also be seen as a status symbol! As one of us said ‘I have never been able to satisfy myself that Austin Sevens are not 'status symbols', on the other hand neither have I been able to convince myself that they are!’ Perhaps 7’ers enjoy being that little bit different without being seen as eccentric!
A few members have grown up amongst more exotic cars, surrounded by the classic magazines, due to a keen father, but being unable to afford a top of the range classic car have fallen for the ‘Seven’. Some came into ‘Sevens’ as students needing cheap, reliable and easy to maintain, transport and now can afford to relive that phase of their youth, no doubt to a better standard. At least one member has managed to keep a ‘Seven’ since it was one of his first cars after marrying and the romantic nostalgia remains with it, even boldly suggesting that having a relationship with a ‘Seven’ is like a marriage - some times are good and some bad. For a few of us it is the first car ever owned, one member has had the car in the family for over 60 years. For another, the life-long passion has come from building a ‘Seven’ special as a teenager, enhanced by several other ‘Sevens’ in the family over more than 30 years. Some continue to drive a ‘Seven’ “exclusively because of memories from the past, and so the feelings could, therefore, be described as sentimental nostalgia.”
Everyone was unanimous about enjoying the challenges of driving an old car. The apt word is ‘driving’ as those of us who learned to drive on the relatively improved cars of the 1950’s/60’s were instilled with the need to observe, anticipate and prepare well ahead for manoeuvres, braking and early selection of the right gear when going up and down hills whilst listening to the engine noise and caring for the car. Many members are sure that historic car drivers are much more careful, concentrating on the task and aware of the limitations of their vehicles, attributes seemingly lost on today’s drivers who are totally reliant on their ‘abs’ and the car’s handling qualities whilst sitting in a comfortable 'armchair' being propelled along the highway with little personal ability. Perhaps, if one carefully considered the ‘Sevens’ limitations in modern day traffic conditions, the potential dangers might well outweigh the pleasure without a skilled, alert and enthusiastic driver.
Someone mentioned the joy of the characteristic smells of the car, even in the garage, just as a gardener enjoys the scent of flowers. The oils and fuels of yesteryear had a distinct smell in use, be it in a car or motorcycle, ah good old Castrol R!
Those who have driven up country to another 'Seven' club's rally, or been on a holiday trip, and covered hundreds of miles, gain much satisfaction from having planned a suitable route and achieved something rather than taking for granted that a modern car will be there and back in no time at all on the motorways. As one member said “Life is full of surprises driving a ‘Seven’, and you see a lot more driving at a ‘Seven’s’ speed, enjoying the scenes around us as we drive by whilst still being, perhaps more, aware of other traffic and road conditions.” It was pointed out that we often benefit from a higher level of respect and courtesy from most other road users who will give us preference at roundabouts and busy road junctions, or do they just want to have a longer look at our car?
One member enjoys such courtesies from bus drivers in a major metropolis fully aware that they would pull straight out if he was in a modern car. Preferring to drive with the sun roof open whenever possible he can be talking to motorcyclists, bus and HGV drivers who he finds are particularly courteous, whilst remaining aware of the idiot minority. Whilst parking can be a problem with larger modern cars, he often finds a space just big enough for the ‘Seven’ between roadside bays and occasionally tucks it into the fenced off trolley bay in the supermarket for protection against being hit by car doors. The narrowness of a ‘Seven’ allows us to pass approaching moderns in narrow streets where cars are parked on both sides, whilst larger cars and vans have to slowly manoeuvre past each other, although we have to exercise more care with ‘road humps’.
Our ‘Sevens’ seem able to traverse many surfaces which create problems for moderns, due to weight, tyre width and gearing, and some of us can recall our ‘Sevens’ coping with the mud at the WESES Steam Fair in August 2004 when others were towed out. We certainly seem to enjoy club runs driving along the narrowest of country lanes with grass growing down the middle.
Several enjoy carrying out the regular maintenance tasks of greasing, checking oil and water levels etc because we are really caring for our 'Seven', not neglecting it and assuming that all will be well as we seem to do with our modern cars with their computerised systems overseeing our lack of attention. Almost everyone seems to gain a lot of satisfaction from tracing a fault, an unusual noise, and putting it right especially if one has the engineering skills to repair or remake a replacement part. We are proud of the fact that ‘Sevens’ are fairly reliable and when things go wrong then they can be usually repaired by the' roadside'. On the whole, they have few disadvantages for the practical sort of person, but to a non-mechanic they do present some challenges.
Some have gained much satisfaction from
restoring a 'wreck', and now they have the joy of using their ‘Seven’
regularly. Whilst undertaking a rebuild project one member benefited from the
relief it gave from a very stressful job at that time, and once finished enjoyed
the opportunities to get home from work, change and take the ‘Seven’ out for an
hour or so. “I long to get in it and just drive, drive and drive. It’s my
happy car. To get in my Austin 7 with my tent and go away is better than a two
week holiday in the sun, I totally chill out. Because it is slow and noisy, it
is different, it is restful and it clears the mind and you cannot drive a Seven
and use a mobile phone!”
Everyone mentioned the joy of having the public's reaction to our cars for whenever we are driving we see pedestrians, and other motorists, of all ages, suddenly notice our passing and look in awe so we toot and wave and then admiring smiles and waves are quickly, and enthusiastically, returned. Even when parked most of us enjoy people’s interest in coming over for a chat despite the oft heard tales recalling a 'Seven' in their family and very much regretting not having kept it, without fail being able to recite the registration mark. It is surprising how many people were taken to school, or on a long holiday trip, in an Austin. A ‘Seven’ does open doors when it comes to meeting strangers, particularly when there would normally be a language or cultural barrier, and taking them abroad is an absolute delight. However, such inquisitiveness is rather distracting, and unhelpful, when your head is under the bonnet trying to fix a problem.
Above all else it is the wonderment of young children that gives all of us so much joy and the delight for them to be able to sit in the driver's seat and sound the horn, as a parent takes a photograph, makes their visit to a local show more interesting and memorable. Yes, one of our members once called them ‘the smiley cars’ because that describes the majority of the reaction we get.
Everyone stressed the benefit of the camaraderie amongst 'Seven' owners when on our club runs, on holidays and at 'Seven' rallies meeting ‘7ers’ in other areas, and the opportunity is always there to compare notes on problems and solutions.
But what of the ‘cons’, which are few and even then not great problems for otherwise many of us would have shed our liking for the ‘Seven’ sometime ago. Yes, these probably apply to everyone, the inadequacy of the standard braking system, and the need for constant attention.
It is, perhaps, a pity that we cannot get a lot more young people interested, but perhaps ‘Austineering’ is something you come to when the pace of your life slows down. But then ‘Sevens’ need time, and money, spent on them which are two things lacking during most people’s ‘career and family’ years. One lingering downside though is the concern about increasing legislation against old cars, and that if the use of our ‘Seven’ becomes more restricted then we might end up with valueless asset.
We are proud of our little cars and our involvement with motoring history, but there is no hiding in a 'Seven', it is noticed. Perhaps the joys of being a 7’er can best be summarised in the quote offered from a magazine of many years ago “It has long been a feature of people’s enthusiasm for ‘Sevens’ that love of driving has outweighed enthusiasm for spit, polish or even mechanical maintenance and certainly the cheeky lines of these loveable prams, bursting with more personality than you could possibly believe, seem to evoke a veritable storm of hand waving, neck craning and broad smiles from other motorists. The ease with which new friendships are made, when out with a ‘Seven’, lend to every journey some special delight above that enjoyed on other older cars, no matter how rare or exotic they may be.”
Could motoring perfection be described as driving an open historic vehicle on a sunny day with an appreciative passenger, oil and amps normal, and the engine pulling up hill with gusto in a narrow country lane? Above all else, ‘joy’ is our membership of a friendly club where help is at hand, and freely given, because we own and drive an Austin Seven.
(Many thanks to all the CA7C members who
replied with their thoughts which I have cited here; I hope that I have done you
This article, written by Doug Castle, originally appeared in CA7C Seven Focus in Aug 2007.
Have a look at some of the stories from our members and friends about their first Austin Seven or the restoration of one: