Another good turn out with more than 50 members and friends braving the wintery conditions to enjoy some social discourse, a feed and a chance to catch up with latest news and events. Glenn Campbell was our very able Master of Ceremonies for the evening, covering for Ray who was otherwise engaged in celebrating his wife Alice’s birthday with the family.
After another lovely meal, that was served much more efficiently and promptly than last month, Glenn handed over to Mark McKibbin who had brought along his work-in-progress Austin Seven Special. Mark was able to give us an insight into the history of Herbert Austin and the dilemmas encountered on such a unique, personalised restoration.
It was a surprise to learn that Herbert Austin (born 1866 in England) came to Australia to complete his engineering apprenticeship at a foundry. He then worked with the Wolesley Sheep Shearing company taking out patents on improvements he designed to their equipment. He also married an Aussie girl and started a family before moving back to England where he designed bicycles and tricycles for Wolesley. He failed to convince the company to branch out into motorcars, so in 1905/6 he decided to start his own vehicle manufacturing business. World War One disrupted his plans somewhat, as the factory turned to making munitions, but he returned to making cars in the boom period after the war. The boom times were short-lived and in 1921 the company went into receivership. Austin believed that he could trade out of this predicament by building a small car. The Austin Seven was designed by Austin at home and a prototype built in a closed off section of the factory – all without board approval, but it was an outstanding success and continued to be manufactured right up until the 1930s.
Mark’s particular Austin Seven (called a ‘Special’ because of the hand-made bodywork) was purchased on Ebay from Darwin about 12 months ago. There weren’t many Sevens on the market at that stage and Mark admits that he probably paid twice what it was worth! After having it freighted from one end of the country to the other it arrived in a box and was full of surprises. Mark couldn’t fit into it, the engine wouldn’t start, it had no brakes, the steering was stuffed and everything pulled off the car was totally knackered. It was obvious that the little car had been driven into the ground. The restoration journey began by lowering and lengthening the body so that Mark could fit within it, the cable-operated brakes were then rebuilt and the 750cc engine and 4-speed gearbox now work as they should. The bodywork is currently being fabricated by Mark from aluminium sheet over a metal frame and it was interesting to see it coming together rather than as a finished product which is generally the case with the cars we have on display at our monthly meetings. There’s still a long way to go, but Mark’s passion for the idiosyncratic is obvious and I have no doubts we’ll be seeing this baby Austin on the road before next winter.