Classics World’s Paul Bussey test drives and reviews the 1934 Austin Seven RK Saloon…
The Austin Seven, produced between 1922-1939, was a ground breaking design in its day, offering cheap motoring for the masses, in a fairly diminutive car, with accommodation for two adults and two children. Around 290,000 Austin Sevens were produced in total, with six body styles available, along with a number of commercial variants. The cars were built using an A-shape chassis which, during the long production run of 17 years, came in three variations, including short, long wheelbase low and long wheelbase high.
Early cars were capable of a top speed of approximately 40mph and returned 40mpg, thanks to the thrifty 747cc engine in a lightweight chassis and bodywork weighing in at less than 500kg. Much of the car’s design work can be credited to Stanley Edge, who had worked in the drawing office at Austin since he had left school at the age of 14. The RK saloon featured really wide-opening doors and had an aluminium shell fitted over an ash frame. It was to all intents and purposes a Chummy with a hard top!
Exterior & Interior
Our tried and tested RK saloon was fully restored back in 1997 and remains in extremely fine fettle all round. The car left the Austin factory painted all black, but the colour was later changed in 1958 and is currently French Blue with black wings. The bodywork is in excellent condition, as is the paint, the only blemish being a little cracking at the rear corner to the nearside, which will be rectified prior to sale. The Rexine roof panel is also in excellent condition. The wire wheels have been powder coated and are shod with Avon Sidecar Triple Duty Mk2 3.50 – 19 tubed tyres, with loads of tread remaining. A most sensible concession to modernity has been the fitment of auxiliary amber flashing indicators.
The interior is quite spartan, but very nicely retrimmed with blue Rexine seats, blue carpets and vinyl side trim. A new pale grey headlining has also been fitted. We love the rudimentary petrol gauge, which is merely a metal topped dipstick, with gallon measurements down the side! It’s all about simplicity with the Austin Seven, the door-opening mechanism is activated via a cord pull, the side windows slide open and the front windscreen opens for additional ventilation on very hot summer days.
On the road
The starting procedure involves turning the petrol tap on and pulling the choke lever fully out. Tickle the carburettor by lifting the central needle until the petrol just overflows. Once the advance and retard levers on the steering wheel have been suitably set, vendor James from St Andrews Autos, kindly obliges with the starting handle and after about the third swing the engine fires up. The hand throttle is then adjusted and once the engine has warmed up a little, we push the choke in and suitably adjust the ignition advance lever. This car is also fitted with an electric starter, which is deal when the engine is hot. We pull away and the first thing to note is that the pedal arrangement takes a little getting used to – they are all slightly staggered and slim fitting footwear is a pre-requisite.
There seems to be an absolute minimum amount of travel with each pedal, but all seem to work fine. There’s no syncromesh on any of the gears, so double declutching is required. The base of the gear shifter sits in a tiny little slotted metal H pattern. First gear is bottom right, second is top left and third is bottom left. This arrangement also takes a while to get accustomed to. Remembering where the gears are and double declutching makes for interesting progress, but it’s fair to say that the gearbox is very forgiving! We test the brakes and very little seems to happen, with a dead feel to the pedal. The cable operated foot brakes are to the rear wheels only and we establish they do actually work, though advance warning of slowing down and stopping is imperative!
We eventually reach the dizzy speed of 40mph – there’s a little play in the steering, but the knack is to apply very slight smooth adjustments. It may be one of the slowest vintage cars, but mastering that perfect double-declutch gear change technique and advance stopping all evolves into a rewarding experience. The seats prove to be very figure hugging and supportive for a 1929 vintage car!
This RK saloon is utterly charming and represents vintage motoring on a tight budget, with excellent marque specialist and club support. One of the buff logbooks has survived from the 1950s, when the car was residing in Somerset and there’s also photographic evidence of the restoration in progress. It’s a matching numbers car, that’s been very well restored, both bodily and mechanically, retaining its original body and chassis, on the button and ready to go. An ideal starter vintage car.
Top Speed: 50mph
Gearbox: Three-speed manual