My First Austin Seven

A few weeks ago I found on my bookcase a notebook which I had long thought to be lost. It was a record of the running expenses etc. of the first Austin Seven that I owned.

Back in 1956 my father in law was taking my wife and I for a Sunday drive when he spotted an Austin Seven for sale outside the owners house. He took a fancy to it and went back later and bought it for £35. It was agreed that I and my brother in law would share it with father in law.

A third son in law already had his own car, a great big pre-war Wolesley that sounded like a Wellington Bomber. On Friday nights the four of us would meet and go in the Austin to a pub in deepest Essex. The car quickly became known as the Beer Wagon.

The note book was set up by my late father in law, being astute as well as thrifty, to ensure that whoever used the car would not only pay his whack but do his share of maintenance. It shows purchases of Petrol, Oil and upper cylinder lubricant (Red X), any minor work such as tyres inflated, back axle topped up, greasing here there and everywhere.

I am reminded by the notebook that in September 1956 I was scheduled to borrow a workmates Morris 8 for two weeks holiday in the West Country, we lived in Essex.  After being let down by my mate, my father in law very reluctantly agreed to let me use our Austin 7 for the holiday. He gave me strict instructions that I was not to exceed 30 m.p.h. on the journey. The record shows that we left Romford at 4.a.m. on the 9th September 1956 and arrived Sidmouth at 3.15 p.m. having done 184 miles. I suppose because I was not used to long drives when I turned off the ignition upon arrival I could still hear the tick tick tick of the engine in my head. There were of course no motorways and we used to travel by more direct routes. On this particular occasion we went into the east end of London, through the Strand, to Charing Cross station, to Knightsbridge via Piccadilly and Hyde Park corner, and then out of London all the way to Devon on the A.30.

We spent a week in and around Sidmouth and moved on down to Cornwall for a few days before returning home. The record shows that we covered some 915 miles and incurred the following expenses during the trip:-

Brakes checked and adjusted 19.0
Electrical Fault 2.6
Tin of Radweld 3.6
Leak in water system 12.6
Dynamo re-wound 5.15.6
Total 7.13.0

which is £7.65

On the 1st May 1957 the vehicle became my property when my Father in law purchased another Austin Seven for my brother in law. On that day I put the car to good use by going to the local maternity hospital to collect my wife and my newly born son – an auspicious start. The first improvement (?) we made to our cars was to fit the recently introduced flashing indicators. They were half moon shape and were fitted midway along the roof, one either side of the car. My brother in law's car quickly became known as “Big Ears” and mine was obviously “Noddy”.

Further reading of my old note book reveals that in August 1957 my wife and I took our young baby in the Box Saloon to Bournemouth for a week. We did 572 trouble free miles and all that I remember about that particular week is that it was very wet and our landlady constantly “gooed and cooed” at our baby son. For the next few months I used the car regularly for my daily journey from Romford to Bermondsey, just over the Thames. In that time nothing much other than normal maintenance is recorded although I do recall on one occasion having to buy a fan belt en route to the office. The belt cost two shillings and sixpence and as I was dressed for the office I asked the garage to slip it on – they did and promptly charged me another two shillings and sixpence.

Over the Easter of 1958 my brother in law, Jimmy and I took our two box saloons from Romford to Torquay for the weekend. He, with his wife Jean and me, with my wife Pam and one year old son Christopher (who eventually grew up to be the Auditor of the BA7Club). We chose to travel through the night and it is recorded that we left home at 8.10 pm on Thursday 3rd April. We made a bed on the back seat of the car for the baby and I remember that it was a very cold night. Of course town and street lighting in those days was minimal. On the A30, once away from a town there was only the very inadequate lights from the car to show the way. Also at that time some towns that we passed through turned off their street lights at midnight.

All went well until we reached Yeovil – my offside rear tyre punctured. Jimmy was leading, and, after a while noticed that we were no longer in sight. He attempted to retrace his steps.  Unfortunately he was in a one way system and had to come round the long way to find us.  He left Jean at the roadside in case we came through, forgetting that she was travelling in carpet slippers for comfort.

Meanwhile back at the puncture – the jack having been retrieved from under Christopher's bed , was slowly lifting the rear end. A torchlight appeared from a shop doorway and an unfamiliar voice enquired “’ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what's going on ‘ere”. The man in blue, obviously doubted my explanation and began examining the car and shining his torch directly onto our sleeping child.  I begged him not to wake the baby and at this point Jimmy arrived and confirmed our story. The Bobby seemed satisfied and left us to change wheels and be on our way.  I cannot help but wonder what would have happened had he discovered Jean before we did, standing on a dark and chilly Yeovil street at one o’clock in the morning, wearing carpet slippers..

We had an enjoyable weekend in Torquay with resident family members but the return trip was a nightmare.  My notebook shows that we left Torquay on Monday 7th April at 11.45a.m.and arrived home in Romford at 1 a.m. the following morning. We had completed about half of the journey home when Jimmy stopped and reported noises from his engine. We had been recommended to return from Torquay on the A303 (remember no motorways and very few dual-carriageways in 1958). We managed to coast down into Wylye, which I believe has now been by-passed, and pull in to the local garage. “Big ends” was diagnosed and that was obviously as far as that car was going that day. Since we were all going to work the following day it was equally obvious that we should all have to fit into one car.

The first problem was the fact that we had two suitcases between us and it was obvious that both could not be fitted into one car, along with four adults and a baby. Both cases were opened on the garage forecourt, essentials were swapped with non essentials so that one case could be left with the crippled car. To the passer by it must have resembled what later became known as a car boot sale.

We set off with the wanted suit case tied to the rear carrier and the baby blankets spread across the rear seat for the girls to sit on. This created two problems, the weight of the suitcase was pulling off both the carrier AND THE PETROL TANK. In addition, every time we hit a bump in the road the girls would hit their heads on the roof of the car because of the extra seat height caused by the baby blankets. We couldn’t do anything about this problem but it was obvious that the case had to be moved. We tried tying it on the roof by putting a rope over the case and through both windows. This did not work, the case kept slipping, sometimes appearing at one or other of the side windows. There was no alternative but to have the wretched case inside the car across the knees of the girls. To add to the mayhem we had one very wide awake and active one year old, climbing over everything and everybody. However we made it home, as I have said at 1a.m.

After that weekend nothing much happened to the car, I used it regularly for work until a year or two later when it became necessary to upgrade to a 1936 Austin 10 as we had another child on the way.  My poor PV 837 is now I fear in that great big scrap yard in the sky.

Unfortunately I have no photos of PV 837, just happy memories. I can tell you however of its demise.  My other brother-in-law, who owned a noisy Wolsley, borrowed the car to go from Romford to Dagenham.  Whilst there the half-shaft broke and the person my brother-in-law was meeting was an Austin Seven enthusiast himself.  He offered £4 for the car for use as spares and as I had an Austin 10 and an A35 I took up his offer as in any case I had no room for the car.  This was about 1958/9.

I have had my Box saloon since 1971 and my Ruby since 1995.
This article, written by Murray Park, originally appeared in Seven Focus August 2009 p19 and September 2009 p13.