1950s

My First Car: 1929 Austin 7 Special

By Tim Sargeant

1929 Austin 7 Special

The photograph here shows my first car, a 1929 Austin 7 Special. I bought it from a chap in Rock Grove for the princely sum of £5/0/0. I did it up and sold it to the local Scoutmaster, for £25/0/0 in 1957, just before we left Brighton. The photograph was taken in St Mark's Street, where the Scouts had a yard for storing all their tents and other equipment. The VX registration number comes from Essex and it was originally a van before being converted to a two-seater after the WWII, when cars were in short supply. Hundreds of Austin 7s were converted like this in the early 1950s. There were no end of firms that you could buy all the parts from, including whole bodies. Later on into the 1960s you could get even streamlined fibreglass bodies to fit on Austin 7 and Ford 10 chassis'.

My best friend's antics

My best friend then, Laurie Blundell from Coldean, also had an A7 Special which he bought from someone in the RAF who had built it using old aluminium from aircraft, and that was very lightweight. Apparently after a boozy night out four of them picked it up and put it in the middle of the CO's rose garden. I expect they got put on a charge for that escapade. We did that car up at the garage too, and drove it back to Coldean over the downs; neither of us had a driving licence or anything else. Laurie later got nicked for racing it round the back roads of Coldean, and was disqualified from getting a licence for a year.

Photo:My first car: 1929 Austin 7 Special

My first car: 1929 Austin 7 Special

From the private collection of Tim Sargeant

This page was added on 09/08/2014.
Comments about this page

Hi Tim. Just what would that car be worth today? From what I have heard the value is frightening.

         

By John Wignall (10/08/2014)

Aah the urge to get at the spanners. Nice photo Tim. When I was about 16 I had a similar project with a Morris "Minor" I think it was called- Tim will know this better than I. The body shape of the Morris was almost exactly the same as an Austin 7, tiny little thing. I rebuilt the engine as it was a bit on the noisy side. I was a bit naïve at the time and just learning. If I remember rightly I got a set of big end shells from Cliffords in Brighton, a well known spares source for the local car nuts at the time. Anyway I reassembled the engine and all the ancillaries and got to starting the bugger. On the starting handle it would not turn the engine over. So my mate and I spent hours trying to bump start the little car. Firstly we tried to push and bump it in Bennett Road, but every time it just skidded on its tyres without the engine ever moving. So we pushed the thing right up to the top of Bristol Gardens by the stables that were there at the time and turned it round hoping to get some joy out of it before we got to Whitehawk Road at the bottom. Still nothing would turn the engine. We just thought that the engine with new parts was just tight. I went back to Cliffords and asked some advice. They were very helpful, and it turned out that in my naivety that I had ordered the wrong (oversized) shells and they were indeed too tight. I paid out for another set and rebuilt the engine (again) and it worked first time. I found out that the brakes needed some drastic work at this moment. I remember the accelerator pedal was in the middle on this car. I probably would have trouble getting into the thing now, not so slim as I was then. As Tim, I had no licence and no insurance and would drive for miles, even to London at one time. It was a steep learning curve for me which I thoroughly enjoyed, and have loved fiddling with cars and lorries most of my life ever since.

 

By Mick Peirson (10/08/2014)

Hi Tim,  a great shot of you and your little car!  To complete the atmospheric scene you should have been wearing a Biggles style helmet and scarf.  

By Chris Wrapson (10/08/2014)

John and  Mick: When we used to do a lot of sports and racing cars the question was always, 'How fast will it go Mister?' and 'What's it worth?' I'm afraid that my little car must have 'died' - as did so many when the MoT Test came in about 1960 for cars over ten years old. The '10 o/clock test' we called it then after the logo on a well-known make of tinned foods. Trouble was the back and front brakes weren't interconnected on A7s until later if I remember correctly - the footbrake worked on the rear and handbrake on the front wheels. If you needed to stop even moderately quickly you had to use both. The brakes had to be in pretty good order to get the 50%, (was it?) on the old Tapley brake test meter to pass. I suppose if it was in that condition today it would be in the region of 5 or 6 thousand pounds. The purists might have noticed the 'cranked' front axle and flattened spring to get the A7 chassis 3 or 4 inches lower. I expect the rears were 'flattened' as well. I fitted a Ford ten carburettor to make it go better, a period 'mod' in those days. The scoutmaster, Eric, was quite a big bloke so he removed the little bucket seats and fitted an old bus seat to accomodate his size. In 1956 it was a toss-up between a c1929 Triumph Super Seven with fabric saloon bodywork, a 1928 Morris 8 with ohc engine (and accellerator in the middle)  which was out at Burgess Hill, or the A7 which turned up just down the road at Rock Grove. They were all around the £5 to £7 price range.  Was yours the overhead camshaft one Mick, the same engine that was tuned up and fitted in the early MG Midgets? At least the Morris and Triumph did have hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. Clifford's Motor Factors were in business in the mews known as Kemp Town Place in those days. You mention the stables in Bristol Gardens, - East Brighton Riding Stables. (Got a photo of that, all gone now!) After the horses left there the premises were occupied by 'Steve's Garage'. He used to specialise in Lancias. Re your bearing problem; I had a customer with a V12 Ferrari which hadn't been run for years and the engine had seized. We tried all those tricks to free it off without dismantling it, even a tyre lever through the starter motor hole onto the ring gear but with no success. I think he sold it 'as was'. Had a similar problem with a crank once too Mick but the other way; Sent it to be re-ground ten thou undersize but the idiot took ten thou off making it minus twenty thou. (Work it out for yourself!) Took ages to get the correct undersize shells for that one. I didn't knowingly break the law on many occasions Mick; Maybe no tax disc or a bit out of date, a few mph over the limit once, or a couple of cwts over the weight on the truck, but always had valid licence and insurance. Just on that occasion to get the car back to Coldean by a diverse route over the Downs. We knew all the back doubles from our cycling days. Tragically my friend Laurie died in 1964 as a result of falling downstairs onto a tiled floor. When we came to Goudhurst the next car I bought in October 1957 was in an auction at Maidstone, a 1933 SS1 sports, (AJJ741) for £12/10/0, and the previous owner had lived up at Manor Farm. One of those recently sold for £70,000. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

By Tim Sargeant (10/08/2014)

Tim, the Morris Minor which I had was a side valve model. When you are young (too young to have a licence) you take chances, but the urge to drive was very strong with me. I passed my test at 17 years old in a almost new Austin A40, and have always had insurance (never claimed) and also have had a clean licence to this day. I accumulated many classes of driving licences over the years including PSV and a track vehicle licence from the military. Never had a licence for a milk float though. When I reached 70 years old I handed most of them in and just kept the basic licence. If I win the lottery then I probably will have to sit some more tests because I would definitely want to buy a lorry or coach or something. When I lived in Bennett Road my neighbour (Ian Dare) moved and left me his old car which was in a bit of a state, I never saw it move all the time he had it. I used to use it for canoodling outside the house. It was a 1936 Morris 8, I loved the smell of the inside of that car, The whole process started again with the shoving it around the street to get it going. I did get it going in the end but by this time I was getting to be motorbike mad, what adventurous days they were.

By Mick Peirson (12/08/2014)

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