From the Past - 4

This is a series in five parts of articles recalling the years
when our 'Sevens' were on the roads.

Classified Advertisements; 
The Thirties Era - Cars in Context;    A Matter of Worth
Notes about motoring in 1947


Classified Advertisements
Apart from the full, half or quarter page trade advertisements smaller traders and private individuals were given the opportunity to place short advertisements, particularly for second-hand cars, in the classified columns.  The December 2, 1932 issue of 'The Light Car & Cyclecar' had three full pages with Austin Sevens for sale!  note the telephone numbers with area names.

light car adv

Prices for us to drool over!  But the average man's weekly wage in those days, during the great depression, were of the order £2 to £3 so cars were perhaps the luxury item of the day for many families.  See 'A Matter of Worth' below.


The Thirties Era - Cars in Context
Many of us have a sheet with a few notes about the car, ie. when and where registered, when acquired, some history on renovation or recent trips, which we show at rallies and events. This is ideal for fellow enthusiasts, but for Joe Public it can be a bit dry.  I’ve tried to put some notes together about the car in context with the times when it was first registered, to try to give a little bit of social history.  

These are what I have so far, for my ’34 Box Saloon.

It cost £120, or 2½ times as much as a motorbike.

Petrol was 1s 5d (7p) a gallon. 

The driving test was first introduced. 

You could fly London to Brisbane on Quantas, but it took 12½ days and cost £195 single. London to Paris £8-11-0 return. 

A new semi-detached house on an estate in Kent cost £395. 

The average wage was 55s (£2.75) per week – the cost of a made-to-measure suit. 

Boris Karloff was making “Bride of Frankenstein” whilst Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were “Flying Down to Rio”.  

Johnny Weissmuller swung through the jungle as “Tarzan of the Apes” and “King Kong” terrorised New York. 

Bettie Boop starred in Minnie the Moocher, outraged censors, and was forced to wear longer skirts! 

The first Flash Gordon comic strip appeared. 

Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” hit Broadway, with “I get a Kick out of You” and “You’re the Top”. 

Harold Larwood and Donald Bradman clashed over “bodyline” bowling. 

Fred Perry won the first of four consecutive Wimbledon titles. 

Italy won the World Cup, beating Czechoslovakia 2:1 after extra time. Stanley Matthews debuts for England, beginning a 21 year career. 

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot by the police at Black Lake, Louisiana. 

Kodak launched 35mm camera film in cassettes. 

Dinky toys introduced at 6d to 9d (2½ p to 4p). 

Lifebuoy soap launched at 3d (2p) a bar. 

The Radio Times cost 2d (1p). 

Design classics, the Red Telephone Kiosk and the London Underground Map first appeared.

Famous births: Mary Quant, Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage).

This article, written by Geoff Hardman, appeared in CA7C Seven Focus, Nov 2006, p26.

A Matter of Worth
A few years ago at a summer show a young lad looked at the display details about my 'Big Seven', which would have cost £138 new in 1938, and remarked that that was cheap as his father had just paid £24,000 for a new car.  His mother was unable to tell him about the change in the value of money over time and it was not my remit to do so. 

We all feel that money today is not worth what it used to be; so when looking at the advertisements in the 1930s motoring magazines I wondered how the prices compare with those of today.  Nowadays a typical medium sized family saloon costs around £14,000, so what were the prices our 'Sevens' when they were first marketed and what would they be in today's values?  Using the launch price of 'Sevens' in the 1920s/30s, as given in the 'Source Book', it was possible to calculate the relative worth over time, based on the RPI, using an online website calculator at to find out the value of that sum of money in 2008 (the last available year).

A Sept 1925 Chummy, or Tourer Type AC, was £149, would now be £6,333.07; a Sept 1928 RK Saloon at £135 now £6,061.29; an Oct 1931 RN Saloon at £128 now £6,481.25; a 1934 Ruby ARQ at £120 now £6,347.97; a 1934 5cwt van at £108 in primer now £5,713.18; the Aug 1934 Pearl AC at £128 now £6,771.17; the July 1936 Ruby ARR at £118 now £5,974.90; a July 1937 Big Seven 4-door at £155 now £7,452.11 and the Mar 1938 Big Seven 2-door at £138 now £6,565.89. 

These days it is possible to purchase a basic 3-door hatch, the equivalent to a 2-door 'Seven', within the £6,500 to £7,500 bracket.  A modern car has a better construction with basic safety features, comfortable adjustable seats, a heater and radio/CD player, better performance, braking etc.  So we could suggest that the modern equivalent to our 'Sevens' is better value for money given that new technological innovations have a high initial cost decreasing with increased production.

Interestingly, for several years the original costs of the 'Seven' models seemed to have a strong link with the prices that models had been changing hands for, so we could consider that the 'Seven' had held it's value with the passage of time.  A reasonable rule of thumb was that a Chummy might fetch £8,000, a Box Saloon at £6,000 and a Ruby/Big Seven around £5,000 with +/- say £500 according to condition for a runner with current MoT, but in recent months there have been some higher prices on e-bay and some traders have been asking prices well in excess of £10,000 for the early models and selling them.  If this new level of prices is sustained then some 'Sevens' are at last showing some appreciation in value.

Second-hand 'Sevens' were advertised in a July 1938 Practical Motorist.  A 1932 Deluxe Saloon with sunroof at 29 guineas (£30 9s or £30.45) now would be £1,448.78; a 1935 Ruby deluxe with sunroof at 57 guineas (£59 17s or £59.85p) now £2,847.60; a 1936 Pearl with low mileage at 69 guineas (£72 9s or £72.45) equivalent to £3,447.09 in 2008. 

Summer Sale image 002

Other motoring costs are also worthy of comparative study.  Insurance was required by all motorists and advertisements for the Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd indicate an annual premium of £9 16s 3d (£9.81), now £466.87, for a Baby Seven with a value not exceeding £128.  The Big Seven models had a premium of £9 17s 6d (£9.87), now £469.84, if the value did not exceed £155.

So if the annual insurance for a modest car was more than 3 weeks wages, we are probably considering a similar figure for many experienced, accident free, drivers today with a similar type of family car.
tyres image 4


In July 1938 brand new Goodyear, Firestone and India tyres 3.50 x 19 were available at 16/- (80p) now £38.06 with inner tubes at 4/9 (24p) now £11.30; a 6v battery for the Austin Seven came at 18/- (90p) now £45.20  with a heavy duty one at 19/6 (97½p) now £46.39.  Current prices are much higher reflecting the speciality low-volume demand.





Petrol prices varied and for example in Aug 1927 it was 1/1½ (5.5p) per gallon, with no duty, and now £2.50; and in Apr 1938 it cost 1/7+ 9d duty (46.87%) (8p + 3.75p) would now be £3.77.  That currently (Mar 10) 95 Octane unleaded is priced at 112.9p per litre, equivalent to £5.13 per gallon, mainly allows for the extra fuel tax and VAT now imposed which now is 71%. 

These prices in 1938 should be considered against an average weekly wage of £3, now worth £142.74.

This article, written by Doug Castle, originally appeared in CA7C Seven Focus April 2010, pp18-20.

Notes about motoring in 1947
The annual motor vehicle licence was £10, or £3 13s 0d (£3.65) for four months.

Comprehensive insurance for 'Private and Professional Use' was £11 16s 6d (£11.82) for the year, for the Big Seven.
The driving licence cost 5/- (25p) and was renewed annually.  Many drivers had not taken a driving test having held a driving licence before 1 April 1934.  Under the Road Traffic Act 1934 anyone who required a licence after that date had to take a driving test, then costing 7/6 (37.5p), but voluntary tests were not introduced until 13 March 1935, becoming compulsory on 1 June 1935.

Petrol cost 2s 1½d (10.62p) per gallon (2.28p/litre), with duty at 9d (3.75p) per gallon (0.82p/litre).  There was only one grade, known as "Pool" petrol, equivalent to 74 Octane.  Castrol XL30 engine oil, used in winter, and XL40, used in summer, cost 1s 3½d (6.45p) per pint (11.36p/litre).

All garages provided a 'front of garage' service.  The car was parked at the roadside whilst the delivery hose was swung out over the pavement.  The attendant operating the wind-up pump took several minutes to "fill her up" with a few gallons; and with no cut-out on the nozzle petrol would often splash out!  He would also offer to check the engine oil and water.  Inevitably the engine required oil and so a full pint was poured into a jug, but not all was used although charged for!  The attendant would also clean the windscreen and so was often given a tip, usually 1/- (5p), by the driver who had not had to get out of the car.

A free roadside Breakdown Service was offered by the AA and the RAC to their members for an annual fee of £2 2s 0d (£2.10).  If the breakdown was the result of an accident, or trouble occurred at the member's home, free service was not available.  The Patrolmen, with their motorcycle and sidecar, parked in a lay-by would salute their members as they drove past; the absence of a salute was a warning of a police speed check ahead.

Approximately 4.5 million vehicles were on the roads.  Drivers were mindful of road conditions and far more courteous; hand signals were used to supplement the hard to see semaphore signals.  They showed respect for other road-users, especially cyclists and horse-drawn transport which would be on the roads until the mid-1950's.  Many drivers, especially lorry drivers, would stop to offer help if they saw another vehicle in trouble on the open road.  Punctures were a frequent problem.  The only telephones were in the distinctive black/yellow and blue roadside boxes of the AA and RAC, placed many miles apart, or the telephone kiosks in villages.  Motorists would usually offer to take a message to the next telephone and summon assistance for the stranded motorist

Aggressive driving was limited with low bhp vehicles, but hard cornering could roll a cross-ply tyre off the front wheel rim, and cause rear-axle tramp; whilst hard acceleration could cause suspension bounce, a spin, or occasionally even roll a car.

There were no motorways and few dual-carriageways; the main roads (A class) were narrow, hilly and twisty routes; the average speed for most long journeys was approx 25 mph.  It was, for most people, a very gentle, and enjoyable, pace of life.

This is from the display notes for the 1938 Austin Big Seven owned by Doug Castle.


Continued in Part 5
WW11 Petrol Rationing;  War Emergency Regulations.