SOLD for £19,635
“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” 16th Century English proverb (from the Latin obviously)
Just as Necessity doubtless receives a nice card from Invention in mid-March every year, impecunious chaps, pre and post-war, wanting to undertake a bit of competition work had to look to uprating what they had, assuming they were not in a position to acquire an ex-works Auto Union, Alfa Romeo or Mercedes Benz bespoke racer of course. Given a common goal, a series of remarkably similar Austin 7 based machines such as the Maclachlan Special and the fabulously named ‘Rubber Duck’ appeared. Differing really only in fine detail, these single seater lightweight competition cars were not dissimilar to the Works machines that were taking on the more exotically specified Twin Cam MGs during the 1930s.
Late in that same decade Bill Boddy, the editor of ‘Motorsport’, proposed the foundation of the 750 Motor Club to foster competition amongst small capacity cars for the impecunious. Initially focus was on trials and road events for cars that were otherwise used for daily transport so the Formula Regulations were written for un-supercharged, road equipped sports cars which had to be driven to meetings, not towed there. To equalise opportunity and keep cost down, supercharging and special fuels were banned. As time passed track based events were embraced and machinery became more highly developed though the Club never lost the connection to its roots. Post war it became a veritable hothouse for engineers such as John Bolster, Colin Chapman, Eric Broadley and the brothers Costin to name but a few, all honing their various skills under its umbrella and giving birth to companies such as Lotus, Lola, Marcos, Mallock, Chevron and Reynard. Even the lateral thinking behind the Brabham fan car and McLaren F1 was first nurtured by the 750 Motor Club.
Way, way back in history (2005 to be precise), this superbly executed example of the single seater Austin 7 race car was, according to the Austin Seven Chassis Register, sold in its original 1930s saloon car configuration in ‘very poor condition’ though it did make it through its MOT test in 2007. Sometime after this it was extensively reconfigured into something very close to its current, aluminium bodied, single seater specification. Originally intended to utilize a horizontally opposed air cooled Petter Universal engine, the body was built to suit, though before the Special was completed, perhaps sensibly, the decision was taken to revert to Austin 7 power. The engine bay side panels were reworked with the cut-outs designed to clear the Petter’s cylinders handily placed to clear the Austin engine’s carburettor and dynamo though these were now enclosed in aluminium giving the physical evidence of a previous configuration that all good Specials seem to have.
In time honoured fashion, BJH 288’s chassis has been shortened while the cord bound ¼ elliptic rear leaf springs are relocated above as opposed to inside the side chassis members and a ‘bent’ front axle lowers it considerably – all proven practice since the 1930s. At the rear, Hartford 502 adjustable friction dampers (currently set to road-use friendly 2 of 8 on the stiffness scale) actuated via neat adjustable nickel plated drop links and drilled trailing links keep the 17” wheels shod with Avon H.M. Tourist cross-ply tyres on the road at least some of the time. A transverse leaf spring (very AC Cobra) again damped by Hartfords does the same job at the front end while a custom made nickel plated steering link keeps the large Bluemels style wheel in communication with the front wheels. Morris Minor derived hydraulic brakes are the modification of choice for many Austin 7s in current road use today and in this instance these are called to arms via a Girling ¾” master cylinder and aside from their efficacy, there is the bonus of an excellent supply of parts.
The circa 1934 classic side valve Austin 7 engine sourced specifically for the Special is sited low in the chassis and it drives the D-type rear axle via a period Austin 7 four speed gearbox and torque tube. The engine sports a dynamo with distributor conversion, period yellow and black high tension leads and a Zenith carburettor that works splendidly well - twin carb conversions never seem to deliver the expected improvements according to A7 aficionados due no doubt to the engines’ siamesed inlet ports as one Chapman, C. identified - and it is cooled by a lightweight and compact, recently replaced radiator. The ‘Eltos’ remote gear-change has an open 5 finger inverted gate with 1st and 3rd gears towards you, 2nd, 4th and reverse away. There is a well-engineered and effective handbrake operated via a floor mounted lever though a new owner may wish to relocate this outside the body in more period style.
As is so often the case with Specials, the devil is very much in the detail and this delightful example is chock full of lovely touches from nickel plated suspension arms to a bespoke chromed radiator grill and chromed headlights with flexi-tube wiring conduits, Lucas ‘King of the Road’ rear running and brake light units and a generous, brass levered over centre fuel filler cap. The construction of the lovely hand-made body is documented in an extensive photographic file that accompanies the Special and the result is reminiscent of Mercedes-Benz W163 that has been put on an ill-advised boil wash. In fairness it very closely resembles the 1930s Works racers and Specials mentioned above and again, it has been executed with great attention to detail. A frame of lightweight drilled aluminium supports the hand formed panels, neatly finished with rolled edges while the folded edge wings are attached to their supports with domed nuts. A period correct aero screen keeps airborne detritus out of the driver’s doubtless grinning mouth but also looks spot on mounted atop the shapely scuttle. An aluminium under-tray ensures a tidy underside to the car and four over centre clips allow removal of the bonnet in a few seconds while for even better access, the engine bay side panels’ retaining ‘T’ bars can be removed in less than a minute.
In the cockpit the driver is confronted by a machine turned dash on which are scattered a smattering of instruments; a 0-5 psi air pressure gauge for the fuel tank, Smiths 0-70 MPH speedometer (perhaps ambitious and if you ever reached the upper end of its scale, you probably wouldn’t be able to read it, if only due to your life flashing before your eyes) and a Harcourt 0-10 psi oil pressure gauge. A single rear view mirror is mounted on the scuttle which though cracked, does consequently give a greater field of view… An aluminium vintage style bucket seat trimmed in deep red leather - if the Austin was a Maserati it would be termed ‘oxblood’- holds the driver in place (along with their own sense of self-preservation) and a full sized, 6 volt battery is installed underneath it.
So, what can the new owner of the “Gadfly” expect on the road? Well firstly a certain amount of incredulity that the Austin can actually venture out there with the full blessing of the motoring authorities and the Police Force – not something that can be said of many single seat, competition oriented machines. Jump into the cosy seat and everything falls comfortably to hand and foot though there is likely to be a little fine tuning required for the next owner to get totally comfortable at the wheel. Within the confines of such a short wheelbase and despite the loss of three of its original seats, longer legs are always going to take some stowing and ‘knees up’ is very much the required stance. Other than that, your correspondent’s wide-ish feet were keen to press more than one pedal at a time; not so much an issue with their spacing as the accelerator’s proximity to the bodywork, a problem that on many other cars has been resolved with the letting in of a small blister in the aluminium.
Ignition ‘on’ via a conventional key, a pull on the choke cable followed by the same on the starter’s and the willing four springs into life with an idle that needs to be maintained with a little cajoling of the accelerator for a few minutes until said choke can be dispensed with. The willing engine sounds sweet in a vintage, side valve way and shows a more than healthy (in A7 terms) six psi on the dial when warm and on the move. The drilled clutch pedal works directly on the clutch arm so there is neither play nor long pedal travel to contend with and despite its slightly ‘on or off’ nature even this ham footed driver had no problem modulating its action and in the absence of any witness’ we can claim we didn’t stall once. With the opportunity to conduct the Gadfly on the road we can confirm that once familiar with its inverted gate, the gearbox has a delightfully positive and user friendly action, almost ‘modern sports car-like’. Manoeuvring using reverse did reveal a slight tendency for it to pop out of gear, possibly due to a maladjusted linkage, though it was no great hardship to simply hold it in place when backing up. The steering is light and positive for its era helped by its suitably sized wheel but the brakes are much more up to date in feel and operation and had no problem hauling the featherweight down from the sort of speeds we attained - perhaps as high as twenty-five mph. A hand operated pump to pressurise the fuel tank is mounted in traditional fashion outside the cockpit on the left hand side of the scuttle though a slightly vocal electric pump takes care of fuel feed if the pilot becomes distracted or too busy to pump. Overall, despite the less than optimised driving position, the Gadfly proved an absolute hoot to conduct and judging by the expressions on the faces of passers-by, to observe too.
Turning from the road to potential competition use, BJH 288 would be eligible for the “Bert Hadley Championship” run by the Pre-War Austin 7 Club which holds sprints and hill climbs at such auspicious venues as Goodwood, Prescott and Shelsley Walsh. Alternatively one could take advantage of its road legal status and return to its spiritual home, the 750 Motor Club who run the “Austin Seven Championship” which offers owners and drivers (riders?) a wider variety of events in which to participate including Trials, Hill Climbs, Road Runs and Rallies. If more extended track time is a requirement, the 750 Motor Club also run the “Historic 750 Formula Championship” offering the opportunity to race at the cream of British circuits including Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Donnington Park and Cadwell Park. Looking further afield eligibility for VSCC competition events in the class of “Post Vintage Thoroughbred Special” may also be possible subject to the owner confirming compliance of the chassis with the VSCC. It is also perhaps worth noting that similar machinery was seen on the grid for the Bolster Cup for Pre-War Specials at the recent Goodwood Members’ Meeting and we would certainly tip a cloth cap to any 7 owner prepared to go toe to toe with 27 litres of Hispano power.
Please note that the V5C has a standard worded note that at some point in its long history, BJH 288 was salvaged because the cost of commercial repair was more than the value of the vehicle at that time, however the history file contains no further detail regarding the date or the circumstances.
The Gadfly has recently been subjected to an £1,100 recommissioning and general health check (invoice on file) and it represents a very well executed, period authentic Austin 7 Special with ‘all the hard work done’ as they say, but offers room for further fettling to the lucky new owners exact requirements (and dimensions). Registered with the DVLA and the Austin Seven Clubs Association Chassis Register, BJH 288 is eminently suitable for race work, sprints, hill climbs and even robust road use and has much to recommend it.
Registration number: BJH 288
Chassis Number: 240608
Engine Number: M192293