Britain's car for

the people

Austin 7 with Bertie Fowler

GERMANY may have lauded the VW Beetle as a car for the people but Britain was there first with the Austin 7.

This diminutive, boxy little car possessed almost apologetic looks but it had one of the most powerful marketing forces behind it - a drive to bring motoring to many people who could not previously have enjoyed such a privilege.

Nicknamed the ‘Baby Austin' it was a true economy car produced from 1922 until 1939 and was one of the first vehicles to feature what was to become the conventional control layout.

It became one of the most popular cars produced for the British market and sold well abroad.

The 7 became for Britain what the Ford Model T had become in the United States and gradually replaced many the light cars and cyclecars that had tried to gain a slice of the economy market.

Such was its popularity that it was licensed and copied by companies all over the world. Even the very first BMW was based on it.

Many Austin7s were rebuilt as sporting specials after the Second World War including the first racing car built by Bruce McLaren and the first Lotus.

It was powered by a small a small four-cylinder engine ofunder 700ccand when production finally ended, 290,000 cars and vans had been made.

The engine capacity later increased to 747cc giving the car improved performance.

The 54th National Austin 7 Rally takes place at Beaulieu on Sunday, July 3 and holds one of the longest unbroken runs for a one-marque club using the same venue for its annual event.

For one enthusiast the event will mark a particularly significant milestone. Bertie Fowler, who bought his first Austin 7 in 1966, will be attending his 50th rally.

He purchased the 1936 ‘Nippy', one of the relatively few production sports models that Austin made at the age of 19, negotiating the £90 deal in darkness by the Derby Grandstand at Epsom racecourse. It was, he says, ‘the best buy I ever made'.

Years of happy motoring followed, even in the face of what Bertie describes as ‘the usual Nippyisms' of the doors flying open when negotiating fast corners.

The car came off the road in 1976 and lay under sheets in his garden shed for several decades, but in recent times has been expertly restored.

Bertie will proudly display the end result at the rally and will join many other Austin 7 sports and racers which are the theme for this year's special display.

Several extremely rare and famous Austin 7s will also be attending, including Graham Beckett's ‘Simplicity', the Tony Hutchings built OK7095 works racer replica, and several of the Bert Hadley Championship cars being brought along by the Pre-War Austin 7 Club.


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