It can be said that the Austin 7 was Britain’s equivalent of the Ford Model T. Of course, the little 7 came along a bit later than the Ford, in 1922 to be exact, but nonetheless it put Britain on wheels like no other motorcar before it. In essence, the 7 replaced virtually all other competitors offering compacts and cyclecars. The 7 was tiny at just 6 foot, 3 inch in wheelbase, 40 inches wide and weighing in at a paltry 794 pounds. Comparatively, it was about half the size of a model T but it was perfectly suited for navigating the city streets and narrow country lanes of the British Isles. Sir Herbert Austin performed much of the design work himself, and patented many of the designs he used in the car. The engine was a 696 cc side-valve unit with detachable head, cast cylinder block and alloy crankcase. The plucky little unit was rated at 7.2 horsepower, giving the Austin plenty of power considering the light weight. Much like the Model T in America, the Austin 7 inspired a great number of aftermarket parts suppliers – from tuning parts to coachbuilders and racers. The 7 can even be credited with seeding other manufacturers. Bruce McLaren of McLaren Cars and Colin Chapman of Lotus both got their starts tinkering with the Austin 7.
Our subject car is one of those special Austin 7s that formed the foundation of a great future marque. The Swallow Sidecar Company was founded in the early 1920s by William Walmsley. As the name suggests, the firm built side cars for motorbikes. Swallow side cars were always very pretty and very well built. Walmsley took partnership with a young William Lyons who suggested they offer coachbuilt car bodies alongside their sidecars. Their first car body was built on a Talbot chassis and was quite well received. They went on to build bodies on other cars however it was their work with the cheeky Austin 7 that really put the company on the map. Their first body on the 7 was a “saloon coupe” that was quite attractive and gave the 7 a more grown-up and sophisticated appearance. One marvel of Walmsley and Lyon’s designs was their ability to make such a tiny car appear so elegant and upmarket. On the success of their coupe, they soon added a beautiful little roadster to the mix. Not only were Swallow bodies attractive and well built, but they were remarkably affordable. With Swallow selling well, they began to build their own cars based on Standard chassis. The company morphed into S.S. Cars, and with their sensational SS1 debuting in 1931. As hostilities in Europe ramped up later in the decade, it was wisely decided that S.S. was no longer a viable brand, and the company was renamed “Jaguar”.
This delightful 1930 Austin 7 wears a handsome Swallow saloon body and is presented in remarkably original condition. The two tone paintwork is a signature of Swallow bodies, and the black and Old English White scheme on this example certainly looks sharp. The paint quality is fair, showing quite a bit of age since receiving an average quality respray, but the elegant design shines through and it remains a handsome little motorcar regardless. The car is very complete, down to the proper Swallow radiator ornament atop the signature Austin radiator shell. The rear mounted spare wheel and bumperless body make for a slightly sporty appearance, hiding the humble roots very well.
Black upholstery is in fair condition, again appearing to be original but complete and intact. Likewise, the engine and chassis appear in good original order, but needing some attention to bring up to a more usable state. While this cheeky and cheerful little Austin 7 does show a bit rough around the edges, it is no less an important car and one that could be enjoyed as-is or restored to best show off its original style. The joy of the Austin 7 is that it delivers outsized fun in a tiny package. The Swallow 2 door saloon body adds not only style, but tremendous value from this fascinating, history rich marque.
Dec 1, 2017