SOLD for £11,550
Somewhere along the way the little side-valve 747 c.c. sports Austin acquired the model name “Ulster”, from the successes gained in the Tourist Trophy races on the Ards circuit in Ulster, though it was always referred to in advertising in 1930 as the Austin Seven Sports Model. In supercharged form it cost £225 and in un-supercharged form it cost £185, and was a very competitive little car for the amateur clubman. All the components originated from the Austin Seven Production line, with modifications, and naturally there were numerous special bits for special customers, but nothing deviated very far from the standard Austin Seven. Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport, November 1980
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 without much 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 tune-able 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.
Having left the Austin factory in the autumn of 1936 as a more prosaic saloon, likely a ‘New Ruby’, CCV 864 was registered on 2nd November of that year in Cornwall, where the car now resides. Little is know of the Seven’s early history until it was acquired by the vendor some thirty years ago. He and his engineer brother were inspired to build a “vintage special” of some sort having seen a similarly presented Peugeot when in France which they felt they could improve upon. While many of us have that “I could do better than that” thought, in reality we never even try but once back in England the brothers set to and purchased the remains of CCV 864.
In our opinion, the making or breaking of an ‘Ulster’ replica is its body and though good results can be achieved with the standard post 1931 6’9” wheelbase chassis, ideally a short (6’3”) chassis is required to ensure it is correctly proportioned and looks somehow just right. For the body itself, going down the home made route can be a cost effective solution, especially if one just wants to produce some sort of ‘special’ that previously only existed in ones own fertile imagination, though we wholeheartedly agree with the VSCC who’s rules state “poor quality or ‘economy’ bodywork” is not acceptable, doubly so when replicating a specific model such as an Ulster. Consequently we applaud the decision taken to not only shorten the chassis appropriately but mate it to an aluminium body hand made by one of the most respected specialists in the business, R.J. and R.G. Pettet (now Compound Curvatures) - please see the photo gallery.
Looking for a usable, road oriented machine, full swept wings were specified and the Austin was treated to a proper windscreen, tonneau cover and folding hood complete with neat cover; more like the Works Ards TT cars than a stripped Brooklands racer if you like. Continuing with the (relative) luxury theme, the seats were trimmed in a lovely mid-green leather and the cockpit was treated to smart trim panels to compliment the green coachwork.
On the mechanical side, 17” wheels were utilised to not only improve acceleration but also the Austin’s stance. The angle of the steering column was altered by means of the appropriate spacer to drop the wheel slightly and make it less horizontal - all tried and trusted Ulster modifications - and to improve on a plain steering wheel nut, a nice chromed hand throttle was fitted.
The engine may not be original to the chassis but it was rebuilt with a Phoenix two bearing crank kept lubricated by the effective (despite its name) ‘spit and hope’ oil system and Renault connecting rods topped with pistons apparently sourced in Australia. A re-profiled camshaft, modern distributor, single S.U. carburettor mounted on a semi down-draft manifold and free flowing exhaust manifold leading to a “Brooklands” silencer with high line tail pipe (heat wrapped for the passenger protection) that terminates in a de rigueur fishtail complete the engine specification.
Again with the emphasis on usability, the gearbox sports a full four forward gears, three of which benefit from that newfangled synchromesh (it’ll never catch on). The owner did point out that the Ulster can occasionally jump out of first gear but so closely stacked are the ratios that once selected, second is required almost immediately so unless you really feel the need to exercise your left arm, it is easier to keep your hand on the lever ready to engage the next ratio.
The electrical system has been upgraded to twelve volts though the starter is still running on six; we didn’t really know Watt was going on in physics but apparently for the short periods of time it is operating this is not a problem and we quite fancy having a swing on the manual handle poking through the radiator cowl anyway.
The Austin has a number of nice period touches such as a hand cranked claxon which generates a generous noise for such a small car but is handy for when the mist rolls in off the moors… A leather bonnet strap, period correct headlamps and wing mirror all add to this well finished example of the sports Austin while the external handbrake lever must surely add cool points and a frisson of drama to Tesco’s car park.
Yes it is wise to pick your battles in the ‘Ulster’ and we wouldn’t necessarily choose to fight modern Motorway traffic but for some non-licence threatening fun on minor roads, touring or even competition, you would go a long way to beat this delightful machine. On the button and both Road Tax and MOT exempt, the Seven is ready for further enthusiastic use.
Only for sale after thirty years of ownership as a more ‘freestyle’ Austin Seven Special is now taking priority, we feel this is an exceptionally well reserved machine that deserves your closest attention.