Austin Big Seven - over 75 years in the family 

Why would anyone spend a lot of money to restore something which has a market value less than the restoration cost when completed?  For me the reason was a lot of sentiment and nostalgia, so I have a 2-door Austin Big Seven 'Forlite', first registered at Croydon BC on 31 May 1938, on the road. 

Towards the end of September 1947 my maternal grandfather, Albert Harrison, took me with him when he went to look at a car.  We walked from Bedonwell Road, Bexleyheath, down Belvedere Road and then Church Road crossed the Broadway to a display of second-hand cars and went to the last one on the left; could I forget the distinctive registration mark, DRK 5?  A man came out of the garden shed type office and spoke with Grandfather.  I don’t recall him taking the car for a test-drive but looking back he may have already seen the car and this visit was to finalise the purchase. 

C DunkEvidently it was private purchase as the original handwritten receipt shows that Grandfather purchased the car on 27 September 1947 for £280, the car had cost £137 new in 1938, (see note 1 below) from Charles Dunk, a Director of McDowell's Ltd, George and King Streets, Sydney, NSW, Australia, who was working in London. 

Grandfather had owned cars since the1920’s, many Wolseys, Singers and a few Austins, including at 10/4 in about 1934 (photo below), as he was one of the few men at the time who required a car for work.  He used his pre-war cars and the Big Seven daily for his work as a Buildings Inspector with the Ministry of Works, visiting many post-war housing developments around Surrey and South London until he retired, aged 70 years, in September 1952.  Whilst several family photographs exist of him with some of his previous cars none show him with the Big Seven. 

HarrisonDuring school holidays he took me for days out with him when going about his work, making me sit on a cushion in the front passenger seat and reach forward to hold the glove compartment with my left hand so that he could see that I was not touching the door chain and might inadvertently open the door.  As the n/s semaphore arm was always sticking I was often asked to thump the door pillar to activate it, resulting in a tiny sore fist by the end of the day, but he could reach across and do it himself.  It still sticks to this day despite several attempts to make it work properly.  I also used to remove the seats about every six months, lay them on a WD blanket, and top-up the ‘float-on-air’ seat cushions using the tyre pump.


My grandmother, Beatrice, was from Helston, Cornwall but had lived at Clapham Common, SW London from the age of sixteen and married in 1911.  After moving around the UK with Albert’s work in the building trade they moved from Clapham Common to Bexleyheath, Kent amongst the North-west fruit farms in 1930.

In those days men were allowed two weeks paid holiday each year and so for many years they travelled from Clapham Common, and later Bexleyheath, to Helston and Ruan Minor to visit Grandmother's family for a week.

Always leaving home about 4.00 am the journey was across south London to stop near Guildford for breakfast.  Then going via Basingstoke and the A30 to stop at Shaftesbury for lunch, on to Okehampton to stop for tea, arriving at The Angel Hotel, Helston about 10.00 pm.  A journey of about 335 miles taking 18 hours, the first 50 miles in 2½ hours, then three 90 to 95 mile stints each of 3½ to 4 hours.  Stops, at hotels with a garage business alongside, for up to 1½ hours were necessary, not only for driver and passenger meals and general comfort, but to allow the engine to cool and an attendant would check the engine oil and water, and refuel, no doubt given a 1/- (5p) tip.

They also travelled each year to Rugeley, Staffordshire along the A5 from London to visit Albert's family, a journey of about 160 miles with a stop at Towcester.
old upholstery


After Albert's death in 1954 his daughter, my mother, Beatrice Castle, used the car for weekly shopping trips with her Mother until 1971 when it required a de-coke and the pistons and rings had to be replaced.  By this time the bodywork was showing signs of deterioration, the upholstery was in very poor condition and with Grandmother becoming infirm the car was no longer required for the shopping trips. 



I was not in a position to restore the car, not having the skills, and with a young family neither the money nor the time with my professional life so the car was stored in the garage amongst all the other things that are stored in garages.  During that time I turned the engine by hand each month and kept the tyres inflated but that did not prevent ageing of the tyre walls.

under enginebootengine

Thirty years passed. With several trips each year to Helston, after my Mother had moved there in 1975, we often saw the historic vehicles gathering on August Bank Holiday Sunday for the GWR Anniversary Run from Helston to the Lizard (see note 2 below).  In August 2001 I realised that the Centennial Run would be held in 2003 and that our grandson, Dominic, would then be a month or so short of his 5th birthday; we could re-enact the first trip that I had made with my Grandfather before I was 5 years old, so that event became the deadline for restoration.


I contacted a local Austin Seven enthusiast and was introduced to a garage owner in Breage, near Helston, who had restored several cars to a good standard, and so the work was placed with him with July 2003 as the final deadline.

Restoration work
The bodywork, chassis, engine, transmission, steering and suspension are original except for parts replaced during normal wear and tear.   The bodywork required repair to the front floor-pan, the sills, the rear edges of the front wings and the front edges of the rear wings, the rear offside corner and the box forming the rear boot.

Restored 3

The paint work was stripped and re-sprayed and the coachline repainted by hand; with wing piping, body rubbers and bonnet tape renewed.

The chassis required cleaning and, with the body underside, was given new anti-corrosion protection. 

Restored 2

The engine was completely stripped, cleaned and rebuilt with 10 thou. regrind of the crankshaft, a new water manifold and stainless steel exhaust system.

restored 1

The new leather upholstery and interior panels are as near to the original green colour as possible, with foam replacing the Moseley 'Float-on-Air' seat interiors.  A new head lining was fitted and the original rubber matting replaced by wool carpeting. 



restored 4Bumpers and small items, including the door handles, were re-chromed.  New Firestone cross-ply tyres and inner tubes were fitted.

The original 6v system has been retained but the original cloth-covered wiring loom was replaced.  The headlamps were converted, replacing the moving solenoid system, and re-wired to make the offside lamp remain lit with a dipped beam.  The additional stop/tail lights had been fitted on the rear wings in 1960 so that the car complied with the UK MoT requirements.

I fitted flashing indicators so that modern motorists can see, and understand, a signal for change of direction; also a rear fog warning lamp and retro-reflectors.  The headlamps were rebuilt in 2011.

Present use

Despite some delays the majority of the restoration was completed and the car passed the MoT test; it was on the road again on Wednesday 20 August 2003 with the GWR Anniversary Run on the Sunday, 24 August.  A bit too close to the deadline and barely time to get used to driving it; but the car was back on the road with a genuine 53252 miles on the 'clock' since new. 

That week we had made contact with the Cornwall Austin Seven Club, recognising the benefits of a special interest club; the intention was now to use the car in order to preserve it, and our first Club event was the 'End of Year Run' on 31 December.

It was April 2004 when we were able to move to Helston and the car was used regularly on monthly Club runs, and supporting a few summer shows, throughout Cornwall for about 12 years, averaging 1200 miles per year. 

DRK Run_1
We were able to take our grandchildren with us to a few events each year; they greatly enjoyed it so we hope that one of them may wish to keep the car on the road at some time in the future.  How many children can say that they had many outings in what was once their great-great-grandfather's car!

Due to declining health we can no longer manage club runs but support a few local summer shows each year.



Maintenance and repairs
I can manage the pre-run checks and regular servicing at 3 monthly intervals, about 300 miles as stated in the handbook.  However, having no real mechanical skills, a lack of tools and facilities I confess to relying heavily on some great friends in CA7C for repairs, without whom the car would no longer be on the road.

Provenance DRK Provenance

The original road fund licence holder, and early insurance documents, show that the new car was supplied by Tankard & Smith Ltd of Peckham Road, Herne Hill but I do not have any documentation nor the details of the owner(s) before Charles Dunk.  When I contacted DVLA to see if it was possible to find out who the owners were before 1947 I was told they only hold records from when the Agency was established in 1972 and succeeded the County and County Borough Licensing Departments.  A few of them have surviving archives (see note 3 below).  Unfortunately both Croydon Borough Council, where the car was first registered, and Kent County Council, which retained the original buff Registration Book in 1951, are amongst the many Licensing Departments which destroyed all records after DVLA was established.

As well as the original receipt for the deposit of £20 and the balance of £260, I have Albert’s first cover note; the full years Comprehensive Insurance Certificate from May 1948 issued by the original dealership as insurance agent; the 1947 tax disc and the second buff registration book as the first one issued was retained by Kent County Council Licensing Department in 1951.  I also have the original 'Big Seven' Handbook, Publication 1523D, and AA Members Handbook for 1947.


Tool Kit
The original tool kit was with the car when Grandfather purchased it and has survived.  This comprises:-

Double end open spanners with ‘Austin’ logo: 3/16 x 1/4; 5/16 x 3/8; 7/16 x 1/2
Box spanners 3/16 x 1/4; 5/16 x 3/8; 5/8 x 3/4 with tommy bar
4" adjustable spanner
Spanner for tappet screw

‘Hooked’ spanner for the steering column nut
Hub cap spanner
DRK Tools_1Combination pliers

‘Lucas’ Ignition gauge and screwdriver
Sparking plug and tappet clearance gauge

‘Vantage’ screwdriver

‘Shelley’ jack with shaft and handle
Two ‘Dunlop’ tyre levers

‘Rapide’ tyre pump, with new connector fitted, which was also used to inflate the ‘Moseley Float-on-Air’ seat interiors

Wheel brace
‘Enots’ grease gun
Valve Spring Lifter


Also the original radiator muff, probably an after-market item, for cold weather motoring, starting handle stored under the bonnet, and ignition key.

The original tool roll is badly worn and no longer used.  My wife was able to reproduce the original design in a more durable material see Austin Seven Tool Roll aka Tool Wrap


DRK Tool kit 2



Left: Remains of 'Romac' Tyre & Tube Repair Kit 1/6 (7½p)






DRK Tool kit 3


Right: 'Lucas' Ignition gauge and screwdriver with
Sparking plug and tappet clearance gauge.







Motoring in 1947
It is interesting to look at the costs associated with motoring when my Grandfather bought the car.

The annual motor vehicle licence was £10, or £3 13s 0d (£3-65) for four months.  His comprehensive insurance, including professional use, was £11 16s 6d (£11-82) for the year.

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, often with the last fuel erupting from the filler tube to spill onto the ground!  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 he was often given a reasonable tip by the driver who had not had to get out of the car.

The driving licence cost 5/- (25p) and was renewed annually.  Grandfather was one of the 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 bought a licence after that date had to take a driving test but these did not commence until 13 March 1934 when they were voluntary, and then becoming compulsory on 1 June 1934.

Annual Membership of the Automobile Association was £2 2s 0d (£2-10) for free roadside breakdown service.  If the breakdown was the result of an accident, or trouble occurred at the member's home, free service was not available.

Under test conditions the Big Seven 'Forlite' had an overall fuel consumption of 40 mpg.  Top speed was nearly 55 mph with acceleration from 0 - 30 mph in 10.7 secs and 0 - 50 in 37.9 secs through the gears. (Practical Motorist 'Road Tests of New Cars' - July 16th 1938 pp 424-427).

In current use the performance is much the same, although top speed is kept to about 45 - 48mph, fuel consumption is about 40 mpg, no doubt nearer 35 mpg on Club runs with much use of low gears on the steep hills and narrow, twisty, lanes.

Austin Big Seven 'Forlite' Saloon;  Registration mark: DRK 5; Manufactured: May 1938 at Longbridge;  First registered: 31 May 1938 at Croydon Borough Council, Surrey.

Car No:  CRW 10979;    Chassis No: 10979;  Engine No: 1A 10956;    Engine capacity: 900cc;  RAC Engine rating: 7.99 hp;    Develops: 25 bhp at 4,000 rpm.  

About 8000 'Forlite' saloons were built between March 1938 and January 1939 and 128 are known to exist worldwide (see A7CA Surviving Chassis Register).



Note 1: New car production was very limited during World War II as the manufacturers mainly supplied military vehicles.  Many cars were destroyed by enemy action, and a lot of badly damaged cars brought out from the rubble of bombed buildings were turned into Specials.  Car production did not restart until 1947 at the earliest and as the UK Government controlled the steel industry, car manufacturers were only supplied with steel provided that 75% of output was exported, an effort to recoup funds after the costs of the war.  Therefore, with new cars very scarce until the early 1950s, pre-owned cars in good condition were at a premium, hence the high price paid by Grandfather in 1947, even two years after the war had ended. 

The Big Seven Forlite, when new in March 1938, cost £137, equivalent to £8409.32 in 2015.  Grandfather paid £280 in 1947 which is equivalent £10570.47 in 2015.  The average annual income in 1947 was £414 8s (£414.40) equivalent to £15719.80 in 2015. (using )

Note 2: The GWR Run, which has been held annually on August Bank Holiday Sunday for over 25 years, commemorates the first bus service, run by the Western National Omnibus Co., from Helston Great Western Railway Station to The Lizard on 17 August 1903.

Note 3: More up-to-date information on surviving archives can be found at


Other versions of this article, by Doug Castle, have appeared in Focus, October 2003 pp7-9; Magazine of the Austin Seven Clubs' Association 2005D pp29-31; North-Cornwall Advertiser & Mid-Cornwall Advertiser February 2006.


Reminiscing . . . . . .

The Covid 19 lockdown in 2020/21 provided an opportunity for hours of reminiscing and reflections on life over nearly eight decades.  Foremost, after a few months of a major repair, was our outings with, what was once, my Grandfather’s 1938 ‘Forlite’ which he bought in September 1947.

It had been off the road for thirty years before it was restored in 2002/03 with work on the engine, bodywork and interior so that it was roadworthy, with some parts, eg optional flashers, headlights, grill etc, to be sorted in future years.  The aim was to use it as we had seen several historic car events start from Helston Cattle Market in previous years and had envied their enthusiasm for their cars and the opportunity to drive them.  I was already a member of the Big Seven Register but, in anticipation of moving to Helston, we wanted to belong to a local Club hoping to have technical support as well as meeting with like-minded friends.  An internet search had revealed the existence of Cornwall Austin Seven Club so we made contact and joined in August 2003.

Janet and I relocated in April 2004 and began supporting the monthly Club runs.  We found ourselves amongst long-time enthusiasts with a wealth of experience gained over many years having driven their Sevens on many runs, on holidays in Europe and the UK, completing the JOGLE, the East to West and London to Brighton runs as well as attending the annual rallies of the Dorset, Bristol and Scottish Clubs driving all the way there and back.  It all sounded very appealing – would we be doing the same? 

Goonhavern RunHowever, I soon found that driving the Big7 was harder, and more painful, than I had anticipated as in the years since I had last driven it I had become used to power-steering, ABS, independent suspension and more powerful engines with smoother gearboxes.  Now, being in the non-optional arthritic age-group, I needed prescription painkillers to get through each run and suffered for a few days afterwards – no, we would not be joining the forays to distant events.  Also, Janet did not want to drive it fearing that she would damage ‘my precious car’, however, she was an excellent navigator although prone to feeling queasy.



The usual format for the runs was to meet at the appointed start location, exchange greetings, hugs and chat whilst the ‘senior’ members decided where to go and where we would have lunch.  The runs were very much ad-hoc and the 10 or so cars ran to ‘convoy rules’ – we soon learned what to do.  Breakdowns were calmly dealt with on the roadside by the ‘black-hand gang’ members present, and our Big7 had a few minor problems with fuel and electrics.


The runs soon became more popular with 15 or more cars turning up.  The increased number had become too big for a convoy and caused problems for lunch stops as it was now difficult for 30 plus people to descend unannounced on a pub and expect reasonably quick service.  The event format had to be changed and so route sheets were introduced with the organiser having to make arrangements with a suitable pub for a large group to take lunch.  It was not long before the runs were attracting 25, or more, cars which were sent off in groups of 4 or 5 so as not to cause too much hassle for other motorists.  The choice of lunch venue became a problem in some areas as 50 plus customers arriving at one time required extra staff and sufficient tables etc. 

Bodmin RunHere, in Cornwall, we are lucky to have so many quiet lanes taking us away from the main routes where we can drive to our hearts content, wary, of course, of horse riders and the occasional ‘Chelsea Tractor’ racing along and expecting everyone else to get out of the way.  The runs, covering from 60 to 160 miles home to home, throughout the year, took us out of our local area to all parts of Cornwall which we would not have otherwise gone to, driving along the narrowest of ‘Austin Seven width’ lanes never driven along before nor since, through flowing fords, visiting places of interest and seeing much of the wonderful inland and coastal scenery our county offers.  We dined on good, and poor, value pub lunches and enjoyed picnics in delightful places on sunny days.

On every event our group attracted the inevitable interest; we saw the delight of so many people who were enthralled by our variety of Sevens as we passed by, or stopped somewhere, and those who chatted to us had often had, in the family, or themselves, owned, ‘one just like this, it . . . ’ !   We were soon taking our turn to organise runs to put something into the Club and I took on the role of Publicity Officer for 10 years and, later, the Club website.

By participating in so many events we were covering up to 1400 miles per year which meant that an annual service, oil change etc, had to be undertaken before the, then compulsory, MoT.  As soon as I had the car out of the garage and up on the ramps my neighbour would appear ‘What’s up with it now’ or ‘Something wrong with it?’  If I explained that I was looking after it and trying to prevent something going badly amiss he was always of the opinion that I should leave well alone until it did go wrong.  As an ex-farmer his idea of machinery maintenance was probably to leave it ‘care of the docks and nettles patch’ in the corner of a field.

Whenever the garage door was open, or the car out on the driveway, tradesmen, couriers and posties calling would find time to look at it and hear of its history.  The well-dressed couple on their monthly visit to our area had the idea that the existence and condition of ‘your lovely little car’ was down to divine providence but as I was bearing the workload, frustrations and costs I tended towards an alternative belief.

DRK ShowAfter fourteen years of enjoyable motoring around the twisty lanes and steep hills the increasingly painful joints finally triumphed.  Many members with whom we had enjoyed those years had sold their Sevens or passed away – we have fond memories of them all.  Of necessity we became less active and, for the past few years, have resorted to supporting some of the local village summer shows, within an easy drive of home.  With a short run every few weeks to keep the car going the annual mileage is seldom more than 400 and the servicing intervals are not so frequent, the work now being for less than an hour at a time spread over at least three mornings in two weeks.

I have always managed the routine checks and adjustment of plugs, points and brakes, greasing etc but with my almost total lack of mechanical aptitude, and facilities, for fixing the engine and gearbox maladies our greatest thanks are for Andrew Jarmin, a founder member of CA7C.  He has a phenomenal knowledge of Austin Sevens and many skills, and has kept our Big7 on the road, with some major work replacing main bearings and recently the pistons, over all those years since the fifth day of our CA7C membership; our gratitude is, and will be, forever unceasing.  Also, many thanks to Robin Taylor who has always come up with the spare parts, which are unobtainable elsewhere, and plenty of technical support as well.

'Reminiscing' was published in the Austin Big Seven Register Members Newsletter, June 2021, 4-6.

Dear Reader - Thank you for your interest in 'The Story of DRK 5'.  I am pleased to have kept it on the road knowing that my Grandparents would be delighted to see it still being driven, especally along the highways around Helston.  To have kept it in the same family for over 75 years is very satisfying, but it is not a record as one family up country has owned a 'Chummy' since it was purcheased new in 1928.  I hope that I can keep going for a few more years and continue to drive DRK 5 to local shows and enjoy chatting to interested members of the public.

Doug. Castle, Helston, Cwll.


See also:

Memories - a few of many.  A few of the events enjoyed with a Big 7. 

Austin Big Seven Handbooks (Published by The Austin Motor Co.)