The Austin 7 was a vintage car produced from 1922 through to 1939 in the United Kingdom. It was one of the most popular cars ever produced there and wiped out most other British small cars and cycle-cars of the early 1920's, its effect on the British market was similar to that of the Model T in the USA. It was also licensed and copied by companies all over the world. The first BMW models were licensed Austin 7's, as were the original American Austin's. In France they were made and sold as Rosengarts while in Japan Nissan also used the 7 design as the basis for their original cars, though not under license.
After World War II, many Austin 7's were rebuilt as "specials" including the first Lotus, the Lotus Mk1 which was based on an Austin 7.
The Seven was powered (if that's the right word to use) by a puny 42ci 696cc side-valve engine, although this would be later “enlarged” to a whopping 46ci (747cc). The fact that it was relatively underpowered did not deter the buyers, the car soon accounting for nearly 40% of all new car sales in the UK.
The Seven sat on a very small wheelbase, only 6ft 3”, with a track of 40”. The chassis was in the form of an “A”, with the engine mounted between the channel sections at the narrow front end. While the earliest iterations were not fitted with shock absorbers, the rear suspension system did use quarter elliptic springs cantilevered from the rear of the chassis, the front beam axle having a centrally mounted half elliptic transverse spring.
Surprisingly for such a cheap and cheerful car, the Seven boasted all-round brakes, although early models required the driver to be rather dexterous, having to apply the front brakes via the handbrake control and the rear via the footbrake. Thankfully after 1930 the brakes became fully coupled. Naturally the Seven having such a long production run, and at a time when automobile innovation was arguably at its peak, there were other significant improvements made along the way.
An electric starter motor was introduced in 1923, the magneto ignition system was replaced by a coil type in 1928, a four speed gearbox replaced the original 3 speed unit in 1932, then synchromesh was added to 3rd and 4th gears in 1933, and finally added to second gear in 1934.
The Seven became so popular that German concern Dixi (one of the manufacturers to later make up BMW) built the ubiquitous little car as the “Rosengart”. Even the Americans got in on the act, building under license the “American Austin”. And Japan’s Nissan concern used the 7 design as the basis for their original cars – although no license was ever granted.