1939 Austin Ruby Van
Austin had, before World War I, built mainly large cars but in 1909 they sold a single cylinder 7 hp built by Swift of Coventry called the Austin Seven. After this they returned to bigger cars, but Sir Herbert Austin felt a smaller car would be more popular, in spite of protestations from the company's board of directors who were concerned about the financial status of the company. Austin won them over by threatening to take the idea to their competitor Wolseley, and got permission to start on the design which was by him (chassis, suspension etc) and Stanley Edge (engine) working together from 1921 into 1922 at Austin's home, Lickey Grange. Austin put a large amount of his own money into the design and patented many of its innovations in his own name. In return for the investment he was paid a royalty of two guineas (£2, 2s), (£2.10) on every car sold.
Two thousand cars were made in the first year of production, not as many as hoped, but within a few years the "big car in miniature" had wiped out the cyclecar industry and transformed the fortunes of Austin. By 1939 when production finally ended, 290,000 cars and vans had been made.
The Austin 7 was considerably smaller than the Ford Model T. The wheelbase was only 6 ft 3 inches (1.905 m), and the track only 40 inches (1.016 m). Equally it was lighter - less than half the Ford's weight at 794 pounds (360 kg). The engine required for adequate performance was therefore equally reduced and the 747 cc sidevalve was quite capable with a modest 10 hp output.
The chassis took the form of an "A" with the engine mounted between the channel sections at the narrow front end. The rear suspension was by quarter elliptic springs cantilevered from the rear of the chassis while at the front the beam axle had a centrally mounted half elliptic transverse spring. Early cars did not have any shock absorbers. Brakes were on all wheels but at first the front brakes were operated by the handbrake and the rear by the footbrake becoming fully coupled in 1930.
The four cylinder 747 cc, 56 mm bore by 76 mm stroke, side valve engine was composed of an aluminium crankcase, cast iron cylinder block and cast iron cylinder head. The pressure lubricated crankshaft at first ran in two bearings changing to three in 1936. An electric starter was fitted from November 1923 and although the early cars used magneto ignition, this changed to coil in 1928.
The 3 speed and reverse gearbox was built in-unit with the engine and had a variety of ratios depending on application. A four speed gearbox was introduced in 1932 and in 1933 synchromesh was added to third and top ratios extending to second gear in 1934.
The back axle was of spiral bevel type with ratios between 4.4:1 and 5.6:1. A short torque tube runs forward from the differential housing to a bearing and bracket on the rear axle cross member.
Versions of the Austin 7 were made under licence by American Austin from 1930, Dixi (later BMW) in Germany from 1927 and Rosengart in France from 1928. In addition, chassis and running gear were exported to Japan and Australia to have locally made bodies attached.