Bet you didn’t know the first Australian Grand Prix was won by an Austin 7?

That was at Phillip Island way back in 1928 and, like us, you probably have only a vague idea of what an Austin 7 actually is?

Think of it as Britain’s (and Australia’s) answer to the Ford Model T, a relatively cheap, British designed and built car that brought motoring to the masses.

Built from 1922 to 1939 the “Baby” Austin still has a strong following here and overseas and for many car enthusiasts represents the entry point to vintage car ownership.

One of the longest running support clubs is the Victorian-based, Austin 7 Club, which happens to be celebrating its 70th birthday this Sunday, January 19.

The Austin 7 Club was a real innovator in its day introducing observed section trials to Australia (mud trials) and the producer of Historic Winton (historic car, motorbike and sidecar racing) which will run for the 44th year in 2020 – the longest-running event of its kind in Australia.

Members of The Austin 7 Club were also part of the group that established the official motor racing body, CAMS (now named Motorsport Australia).

The Austin 7 was so successful it was licensed and copied by companies all over the world.

The very first BMW, the Dixi, was a licensed Austin 7, as were the original American Austins.

In France they were made and sold as Rosengarts, while, in Japan, Nissan also used the 7 design as the basis for its first cars — although not under licence.

This eventually led to a 1952 agreement for Nissan to build and sell Austins in Japan under the Austin name.

Many Austin 7s were rebuilt as “specials” after the Second World War, including the first race car built by Bruce McLaren, and the first Lotus, the Mark I.

Such was the power of the Austin 7 name that the company re-used it for early versions of the A30 in 1951 and Mini in 1959.

After World War I, the Australian Government imposed a tariff on imported vehicles, with tax concessions on rolling chassis, in an attempt to stimulate the development of our own motor vehicle industry.

The concession acted as a financial incentive for local coach-builders to import factory built rolling chassis, and fit uniquely Australian designed and built bodies, leading to the establishment of an Australian motor vehicle bodybuilding industry in the early 1920s.

The largest and best known of these Australian coach-builders was Holden’s Motor Body Builders.

Holden built Australian-bodied Austin Seven tourer and roadster models from the mid 1920s.

Several smaller coach-builders also built limited numbers of Australian-bodied Austin Seven sports models between 1924 and 1934.

Some examples of these Australian-bodied sports models are: the Standard Sports, built by Flood Motor Body Works, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne; the Wasp built by William Green, Parramatta Rd, Petersham, Sydney; the Moth by Geo Sykes, Gordon Rd, Chatswood, Sydney; the Comet by Bill Conoulty, Sydney; and the Meteor.

The Meteor was built by several coach-builders (Flood Motor Body Works, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne; Jack Lonzar, Kent Town, Adelaide; and A Robinson & Co., 181 Castlereagh St, Sydney), with individual variations to the common design.

In 2015 The Austin 7 Club commissioned well known motor sport author Bob Watson to write a complete history of the Club titled Going Strong.

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Baby Austin still going strong

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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