When Herbert Austin founded his eponymous car company in 1905, having earlier been instrumental in getting later rivals Wolseley established, he concentrated initially on relatively powerful, large capacity machines. The lure of competition soon proved too strong with the fledgling company even entering vehicles in the embryonic Grand Prix series three years later though with negligible success. Having dabbled with a physically much smaller single-cylinder 7HP vehicle at the turn of the century this car ultimately showed the path forward that Mr Austin eventually took.
After the rapid production boom caused by the First War’s munitions and equipment requirements, followed by an even speedier bust on the cessation of hostilities, the by now Sir Herbert Austin is rumoured to have kept the Longbridge factory gates open on the toss of a coin and the goodwill of his workforce; the coin making the decision to try to soldier on and the workforce’s willingness to work unpaid for one month ensuring the Company’s financial viability long enough for a new range of smaller, more popular cars to be launched including the company’s long term saviour the Austin Seven in 1922. With its lightweight construction and efficient 696 (later 747) cc engine, the Seven proved to be just what the fledgling mass car market required and nearly 300,000 were produced over its 17 year lifespan.
Eminently tuneable and easily modified the Seven went on to provide the basis for numerous homebuilt ‘Specials’ while Austin were also quick to recognise its competition potential, producing firstly the Super Sport and then, in 1929, the definitive, delightful ‘Ulster’ in both Cozette-supercharged and un-blown forms. Named after the Northern Irish province in which the prestigious Tourist Trophy race was held, the 168 factory produced Ulsters featured a cocktail of tuned and strengthened engines, tweaked suspension with lowered modified chassis all blended in a mixologist’s shaker and served in sweet, lightweight aluminium bodies of an aerodynamically efficient, door-less, ‘boat-tail’ configuration.
Registration Number MFF 841
Chassis Number 201987
Engine Number M216645
Having left the Austin factory in October 1934 configured as a more prosaic saloon, this replica Ulster was totally rebuilt by an experienced Ulster and A7 specialist utilising the ‘best of the best’ components. As with all such renditions, the devil is very much in the detail and we at Berlinetta consider this to be one the nicest examples we have encountered. From its nickel plated radiator shell resplendent with similarly finished marque badges through to its delicately tapering bare aluminium boat tail and copper exhaust, this is a beautifully executed homage to the Factory competition cars. Built almost entirely to correct period specification with enormous attention to detail, this ‘Ulster’ merits your closest examination.
Completed in 2014, the rebuild is detailed in the comprehensive history file that accompanies the car. In summation, the October 1934 ‘low frame’ chassis’ 6’9” length was reduced to that of the Factory Ulsters (6’3”), strengthened appropriately and lowered by the use of ‘flat’ springs and associated shackles. The front axle was re-engineered to ‘Sports’ specification utilising correct radius arms with modified drop links while the D Type rear axle was fitted with modified drop links. Refurbished friction dampers were fitted front and rear along with a new ‘Safety’ steering arm and refurbished drag links. To ensure the correct driver’s ‘stance’ could be achieved, the steering column rake was altered with the appropriate new, raked steering box and the ensemble was topped off with a period steering wheel – with rare ‘delete option’ cord binding.
Refurbished and black stove enamelled 17” wire wheels (5 off) were selected for the best aesthetics, gearing and performance and these were fitted with a set of Armstrong tyres.
The braking system was wisely uprated from cables to hydraulics based on that of a Morris Minor for both performance and parts availability. Modified Minor back plates were fitted with the associated master and slave cylinders, shoes, springs etc. A modified brake pedal and bespoke handbrake system complete the ‘slowing down’ side of things.
Moving on to ‘speeding up’, the Seven’s engine was modified in time honoured fashion – for the most part as they have been for the past 90 odd years. The engine was fully rebuilt onto a coil type crankcase. A new Phoenix steel crank was fitted running in white metal bearings and coupled to a delightfully termed ‘spit and hope’ (i.e. non-pressure fed) lubrication system. A big bore pump makes sure there is sufficient oil circulation and a modified crank oil seal ensures most of it stays in the engine. Standard rods and +80 pistons compliment a high compression ‘Ruby’ head, big valves, double valve springs, re-profiled tappets and a fast road/trails specification high lift camshaft.
The standard starter motor and dynamo were rebuilt while one of the few sops to modern reliability were the car’s conversion to 12 volt electrics and a Bosch distributor (concealing a neat electronic ignition system) which does mean that should you need to, you can Beetle down to Halfords for a dizzy cap.
Fuel is introduced from the scuttle-mounted tank to the engine via an S.U. pump to a carburettor (with ram pipe) of the same make and semi downdraft inlet manifold. An Ulster exhaust manifold coupled to a ‘Brooklands’ silencer and curvaceous tail pipe dispose of the spent gasses.
The whole set up is thought to produce in the region of 30 HP; highly respectable in Seven circles.
The ‘4 speed/3 syncro’ gearbox was cleaned, inspected and found to be in great condition.
Generally accepted as being amongst the best available, a new Compound Curvatures aluminium Ulster body was fitted to the rolling chassis and on this issue we would not disagree with the VSCC who’s rules state “poor quality or ‘economy’ bodywork” is not acceptable...
Though not apparently legally required, cycle wings from the same source were also acquired but not fitted for a couple of years though they are currently. Having rebuilt the mechanical components to the best of specifications and standards and sourced arguably the best Ulster body available there was no attempt made to scrimp and save on the all-important detailing with period touches such as a honeycomb radiator matrix, Brooklands aero screens, twin leather bonnet straps (with 30 HP, one just might not be enough) and matching boot strap. Sparsely appointed though it is, the interior was also treated to the best components with an expensive set of replica Ulster Smiths instruments – a 100 MPH speedometer, rev. counter and oil pressure gauge – to compliment an original ammeter and appropriate authentic period switchgear. ‘Ulster’ road-friendly seating (as opposed to race bucket seats) was constructed and beautifully trimmed in dark tan leather.
The aforementioned file that accompanies the car contains not only the detailed build specification (and associated painful bills that comfortably exceed the owner’s most realistic of Reserves) but a current V5C and the appropriate club registrations and membership details.
Since its completion the Ulster has been used regularly including completing the Chipping Sodbury Classic Run in both 2014 and 2015, each of which represent a round trip of some 300 miles from the owner’s home, all without missing a beat.
Registered with The Pre-War Austin 7 Club, Austin Seven Clubs Association and as a Post Vintage Thoroughbred/Special with the VSCC, this Ulster is universally accepted as a faithful replica of Austin’s giant killing pre-war racer and consequently offers a vast array of touring and competition opportunities.
On the button and both Road Tax and MOT exempt the Seven is ready for further enthusiastic use.
The owner and car are well known to Berlinetta CCA and we were lucky enough to ride shotgun with them both in the Pre-War Austin Seven Club’s “Sevens To The Sea Run” through Lincolnshire in April 2016. We can, from that experience alone, confirm first hand that this is a beautifully built and maintained machine that provides huge amounts of fun on the road and induces broad smiles from those both inside and outside the car. We can only apologise to the gentleman in the pub carpark with the DB9 Volante which attracted somewhat less attention than he might have expected it to!