The Austin Seven at 100 – The Swallow

This year, 2022, marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Austin Seven and this post continues the story of the car and the variants that evolved from the basic 1922 design.

As we saw previously, by 1921 the Austin factory at Longbridge was in receivership. To try to achieve economies of scale, as Ford had with their successful Manchester-built Model ‘T’, the factory had cut their model range to just one car, the large and expensive, 3.6 litre Austin Twenty.

Austin Twenty Price list

Sir Herbert Austin wanted to produce a small car as an alternative to the motorbike and sidecar and, largely at his own initiative, embarked on the design of what became the Austin Seven.

With the first prototype of the Austin Seven emerging in July 1922, and the production version released at the London Motor Show in November 1922, it gave an opportunity for the ordinary family to purchase a simple, small, but perfectly practical vehicle in which they could travel in comparative comfort and safety, come rain or shine. The previous option of a motor bike and sidecar had meant being unable to hold a conversation, getting wet and cold, and coping with the inherent instability of a three-wheeled vehicle.

Also, in 1922, William Lyons and William Walmsley (we will come across these names in a future post) went into partnership to produce motorcycle sidecars. Their company name was Swallow Sidecars Ltd. They moved their business from Blackpool to Coventry in 1928. Just prior to the move, in 1927, the company started to produce both an open tourer and saloon coach-built body for the Austin Seven chassis with the resulting cars being known as the Austin Seven Swallow and Austin Seven Swallow Saloon.

Austin Seven Swallow Saloon in the Cotswold Motor Museum and Toy Collection

Their design was less box-like and more stylish than their main competitors. It included two-tone paint and a quality interior. All for just £175. (By 1932, even this price had only increased to £187).

The example in the museum, shown above, was built in 1929 but production continued until 1933 with a total of around 2,500 two-seaters and saloons being made.

Many further examples of Swallow cars exist. The Swallow company not only built on the Austin Seven chassis but examples can be found on Wolseley, Morris, Standard and Fiat chassis. Irrespective of which manufacturer provided the basis of the coach-built Swallow, the distinguishing features of the resulting car were the high build quality and the exceptionally good value for money: features that would stand Swallow in excellent stead for what was to follow.

The Austin Seven at 100 – The Nippy

This year, 2022, marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of the remarkable Austin Seven. Why it was remarkable and how widely it influenced the world of 20th century motoring is illustrated by the recent banners that have appeared in the museum. These hover over eight cars in the collection and highlight the obvious and, in some cases, not so obvious connections between the Austin Seven and manufacturers and models that became household names over the last 100 years. Throughout the remainder of this year, this blog will examine the background story to these cars.

So how did the Austin Seven come to be? Was it a product of market research and a vast development team assessing marketing needs? Well, not really – more the case of one man with a vision and a desire to get his company out of receivership, a brilliant young engineer and a billiard table!

In 1922, the brief post-WW1 boom had evaporated and the beginning of a depression was on the horizon. The huge Austin factory at Longbridge, south of Birmingham, was one of many in trouble. In fact, it went into receivership in April 1921, having gone from employing 22,000 people in 1919 to just 8,000 in 1922. So, it was not surprising, therefore, that the board initially refused the Managing Director Sir Herbert Austin (later Lord Austin: 1866-1941) any funds for the development of a new small car, as they feared that the additional expenditure could result in the demise of the Austin factory.

Having been refused the necessary finances by the directors, Sir Herbert Austin decided to do it anyway, and enlisted the services of a talented designer, Stanley Edge (1903-1989), who was at the time only 18 years old, and a draughtsman at the factory. Sir Herbert drew up the initial concept on the billiard table at his home in Lickey Grange, near the factory, and he and Stanley Edge worked there to complete the design.

As we will see in the next few posts, there were many variants of the Austin Seven. Between 1922 and 1939, it is estimated that 290,904 Austin Sevens were manufactured. If you include those made overseas and chassis provided to other manufacturers, the figure goes up to about 416,000.

The Austin Seven Nippy from the Museum Collection

One of the popular variants was the Austin Seven Nippy. The one in the museum collection (shown above) is a 1935 model. Although it was not an out-and-out racer, it was an attractive, low-cost entry into the sports car market. Its 21bhp engine, it was claimed, would propel the car to speeds of 65mph and return around 40 to 45mpg (although probably not simultaneously).

Whilst not aimed at the serious racer, its big attraction to anyone wishing to enter the sports car market was the price tag of just £142.

What to look out for in 2022

Anyone visiting the museum during the last 3 years will undoubtedly have met and heard the blacksmith and the wheelwright chatting about “… these new -fangled motor cars …. “. Well, if you have visited recently, you will know that they have been joined in the blacksmith’s shop by three chatty newcomers who are moving the discussion on to the merits of the internal combustion engine, the ease of refuelling from a pump (albeit a hand-operated pump) and the exciting prospect of a trip in a motorcycle sidecar.

Our three chatty newcomers

The other day, there was a group of visitors standing in between the three characters, swivelling around in unison to look at the one who was ‘speaking’ and watching them move. And, by the way, on the day that fuel duty in the UK was reduced by 5p per litre (around 23p per gallon) have you seen the price per gallon of BP in the blacksmith’s shop? Unbelievable at 7½p per gallon including tax – a bargain, even if you have to pump it yourself. As I heard one of the men in the flat cap say, “ … it is better than buying it in 2 gallon cans from the chemist”.

Changing topic, this year marks 100 years since the Austin Seven first went on sale in the UK. From Easter this year, each of the museum’s Austin Sevens – there are a couple shown here – will be highlighted to show how they are linked to that original Austin Seven.

Two of our resident Austin Sevens

Keep an eye on the blog for the latest news: better still please call in, we would be delighted to see you.

Museum open again on Saturday 12 February 2022

Yes, the museum re-opens for the 2022 season this coming Saturday and we are all looking forward to welcoming our first visitors of the year.

What is new, what has changed? Well, on entering the first and largest of our seven galleries there is so much to see. Eighteen cars, vintage caravans, motorcycles, numerous display cases with all sorts of motoring and social memorabilia and of course, Brum, our ever-popular star of children’s TV. It is unlikely therefore that many visitor’s eyes will focus on the floor!

The floor, however, has been our major project during the closed period. The entire gallery was cleared for the old, cracked and lifting tiles to be removed and a new floor laid. Cars were trailered to off-site storage, cabinets were emptied and safely moved away from the gallery. Now everything is back in place and gleaming ready to greet our visitors. It has been a major project which has been made possible through the help of our volunteers – for which we are ever grateful – and our good fortune that neither Covid nor winter weather caused disruption to the very tight timescale.

New to Paved Paradise, our 1970s gallery, is a rare ice cream vendor’s vehicle, powered, not by pedal power but by a motorcycle engine. Complete with its own umbrella it evokes images of those summer days, basking in the warmth of the sun and licking an ice cream cornet.

In Jack Lake’s Garage, we have an immaculate 1930s New Imperial motorcycle. Even if motorcycles are not your thing, it is impossible not to be impressed by the perfect condition of this ninety-year-old machine.

Windrush Alley has its focus on the social history of Bourton, as well as the 1911 Alldays and Onions example of Edwardian motoring at its finest. In the Forge, watch out for the blacksmith and wheelwright, they still like to chat with each other about the ‘new fangled motor cars’ and, of course, the two toy galleries provide endless fascination for children and grown-ups of any age.

Do come and say hello, maybe during this half term, and keep an eye open for events throughout 2022 (Oh, and please at least glance at the floor – it’s really good!). We look forward to seeing you.

It’s Today

Yes folks, Brum here again and today is my birthday. It was exactly 30 years ago today, 26th September 1991, that I first appeared on the TV in the UK. The programme was called “Brum to the Rescue” and was narrated by Toyah Willcox with Mike Cavanagh, who owned the museum at the time, and a lot of West Midlands Firemen. I starred in over 60 programmes over 10 years and you can see most of them on BBC iPlayer. I watch them all the time – but don’t tell Graham – I don’t think he has noticed.

Anyhow, about my birthday. I have been so excited since Graham first told me that this was a special year and to be fair to him, he has treated me like a proper celebrity. I have a red carpet, lots and lots of lights, a cake and loads of cards – well, quite a few – well, at least some. I’m going to let the pictures tell the story while I work out how to get to that cake – I dipped my starting handle in it the other day and it was delicious.

Just look at those cards!

Well, I was told that I could share this blog to celebrate my birthday, once it’s over I’m not sure when I will be back. I do, however, have a bit of a scoop (I think that’s what it’s called) because I happen to know that there is more than one Brum! Ssh, keep it to yourself! Yes, I saw a really old photo the other day of my ancestor. Here it is.

One of my ancestors?

I also would like to reveal a few things about me that not many people know … not only can I steer myself, forward and reverse, I can flash my headlights and move them to see what was going on, I can jiggle on my suspension, twirl my starting handle, flap my doors and my bonnet (although not all at the same time – that would be showing off).

I’m keeping my ears open for more news about my ancestor so, maybe, one day I can tell you another story. Bye for now.

Toot, Toot!

… and its a Silver for Brum

Hello again – Brum here – I’m so excited that I just had to blog again – I think that is what you say! No, no it’s not Tokyo or the Olympics, but I have some fantastic news. You remember those awards that I told you about just the other day, well, coming right up to date, a website called money.co.uk has just published the results of a survey of the best value tourist attractions in the whole of the UK and this is what it said:

The second-best value attraction in the UK is the Cotswold Motoring and Toy Museum; located in the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water, visitors are promised a nostalgic experience thanks to the great collection of vintage cars for the reasonable price of £6.75. Visitors who remember him will be delighted to see Brum, the little yellow car from the classic children’s TV show”. 

Wow, what a brilliant early 30th birthday present – it really is just like winning a silver medal! With that stunning news, I’m almost lost for words. I need to rest. Keep safe, toot, toot.

Brum dreaming of a Silver medal

Brum – nearly 30

Hello everyone, Brum here again – I quite like using this blog to speak with my many admirers.

Did I mention that I have a very special birthday in September this year? I think I must have done because Graham told me that since the news leaked out, his inbox has been flooded with an email from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales. Well, she said that in 1991 she would watch me on TV every week. Each week I would escape from the museum when my owner Mike wasn’t looking (which seemed to be every programme) and off I would go to the seaside, the supermarket, the airport, even the scrapyard – I didn’t like that one much – oh, and more than once, I caught a couple of thieves.  Mrs Trellis said that the programme that she most enjoyed was one where I was being given a good rub down by a bunch of fire-fighters from the Big Town – I quite enjoyed that one too.

Graham tells me that many of my programmes are still on something called You Tube and BBC iPlayer. A lovely lady called Toyah Willcox told my story when I first started to become famous: I wonder if she would have been so famous if it wasn’t for me?

Speaking of fame, in 2014 I was voted the third most popular children’s programme out of 50 for the 1990s, only Bob the Builder and Teletubbies were ahead of me. I was the only car to make the top 3 in any of the six decades and my theme music was popular too. You can hear it still if you visit me in the museum. Please come along, I love visitors. Toot toot!

Everyone likes a Birthday

Hello everyone, Brum here.

First, the good news – the museum is open again and I’m surrounded by bright lights and ribbons, you can’t miss me!

Now the even better news. This year is my 30th birthday!

It’s been a while since I last put my tales of life in the museum on a line (I think that’s the word) for everyone to enjoy. Anyone who knows the museum will know Graham, he’s the youngish one, well he sort of looks after me – when he remembers; I think he’s called a Collections Mangler – well, he said that since 2021 is a very special year for me, I could share my wisdom on his B-log (he doesn’t usually swear but I’m sure that is what he said).

So, here goes!

As you all know, I’m very famous, I heard someone call me a celebrity the other day. But there may just possibly be one or two very young children who do not know me, so I had better explain. I live in the museum next to a gorgeous XK140 Jaguar. I am a world-famous, but small car. I have been on TV around the world, I’m fast, lively, always looking for adventures, witty, good-looking and modest. I don’t need a driver; a lady visiting the museum on Monday told the little girl beside her that I was autonomous. I think that’s a compliment. When I was starring on TV, I used to ride around the streets of Bourton on the Water all on my own. (I have been told that may not have been entirely legal, so I had better not say any more about that). Here’s my picture.

You can’t miss me!

Oh! ……. Graham has just told me that I’m not 30 until September, so I’d better not get too excited just yet. Ah well, please come and see me anytime soon, it’s great to have people back in the museum, you can’t miss me, I’m under thousands of bright lights and ribbons – or did I say that already? I will definitely have more to say before September! Toot toot and keep safe.

COVID-19 and the effect on traffic

For anyone still on the road during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the lack of traffic made it seem as if we had experienced a time shift, back to a bygone age of motoring. The roads were so quiet.

Data from the Office of National Statistics confirms that, at the start of lockdown, 23 March 2020, the use of cars in GB fell to just 22% of the level during the equivalent day in the first week of February 2020. (ie comparing Monday with Monday, Tuesday with Tuesday etc).

To understand what the usual traffic volumes are in the first quarter of the year, in the absence of a global pandemic, Department for Transport (DfT) figures tell us that, in GB in Q1 2019, the provisional traffic volume arising from car travel was 60.8 billion car miles over the quarter.

Traffic volumes are calculated from the number of cars on the road multiplied by the mileage of those cars. Since, at the end of June 2018 there were 31.8 million private cars on the roads of GB, the 60.8 billion figure corresponds to an average annual mileage of just over 7600 miles. Exactly in line with current estimates. (Annual mileage has fallen over recent years as the number of cars on the road has increased, the mileage per car has fallen).

Given traffic volume at the outset of the COVID-19 lockdown were just 22% of the equivalent week in February 2020 and assuming the traffic volume to be similar to the average week during Q1 2019, then the figure for the number of cars on the roads during the quietest period of lockdown is 22% of (60,800,000,000/1900) or 7million cars.[1900 being the average mileage during the quarter].

How far back do we have to go to find traffic at this level?

Again, DfT figures provide the answer and, amazingly, you would have to time travel back to 1963 to find roads as quiet as we found them at the end of March and early April 2020.

It is already clear that traffic volumes are now averaging around 90% of pre-COVID-19 levels. As children return to school and many parents return to their workplace, will the changes in our motoring habits prove to be just a blip?

As we have seen, car usage dropped sharply during the early months of lockdown so it might be expected that accidents, serious injury and fatalities on the roads of GB would also have decreased. In the immediate aftermath of lockdown, headlines spoke of “Huge drop in car crashes as drivers stay at home …”. Following the first easing of lockdown, the headline “Car accident rates climb sharply …. “, became typical of early July.

In many parts of the country, the number of motorists exceeding the speed limit increased in the quiet period on our roads. During the first month of lockdown,  Greater Manchester Police reported 6,200 motorists exceeding the speed limit; an increase of 57%. What effect did this have on accident statistics?

Cycling and walking were encouraged and these pedestrians and cyclists, some new and inexperienced, shared road space with motorists. In the first month of lockdown, tragically, 14 cyclists were killed on the roads of GB (plus one in Northern Ireland) compared with a 3-year average of under 7 for the corresponding month since 2016.

In truth, it is too early to forecast how the current year will turn out. In 1963, with 7 million cars on the roads, there were 6,922 fatalities in GB. Since 2012, the number of fatalities has remained stubbornly between 1,700 and 1,800, after falling steadily over the years preceding 2012. It seems possible that 2020 could see a departure from that flat line: but which way? We will have to wait and hope.

Finally, research at the University of York has found that air pollution also fell during lockdown. There are many reasons for this; they range from industrial inactivity to less airline and maritime transport. Specifically associated with motor transport, however, nitrogen dioxide levels in major cities have seen falls ranging from 30% to 48% giving us a glimpse of what we may expect as the ban on new petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles comes into force from 2035.

My new car is ‘Green’, or is it? – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the environmental trade-offs of retaining or replacing a petrol or diesel car based on the lifetime CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions incurred during manufacture, use and scrappage of that car. Now it’s time to consider how a battery electric car fares when subjected to the same scrutiny.

What is indisputable is that, for the electric vehicle (EV), there is no equivalent to the CO2 tailpipe emissions produced by an internal combustion engine (ICE). Just as importantly, from a health point of view, there are no other gaseous emissions such as oxides of nitrogen or unburnt hydrocarbons. The particulate emissions from combustion are also absent; although particulates from brakes, tyres and the road surface will exceed those from an equivalent ICE vehicle due to the greater weight of the EV. Given that around 40,000 deaths per year in the UK are deemed by the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to be a consequence of atmospheric pollution arising from road transport, the electric car, at the point of use, is an unequivocal winner from both an environmental and health perspective.

During manufacture, there is overwhelming evidence to show that, today, building an EV generates more CO2 and other greenhouse gases than the equivalent ICE vehicle. Battery production, currently heavily centred on China and other Asian countries, is the major, fossil fuel-intensive processes that tips the balance against the EV. With newer, renewable energy-powered ‘giga factories’, producing batteries in the same region of the world as the car assembly plant, the balance will swing towards the EV within the next few years.

Once the electric car reaches its destination, the battery needs to be recharged. Unless recharged from a wholly renewable source of electricity, this is also not a CO2-free process. In practice it will depend upon the energy mix of the grid at the time of re-charging. In those regions of the globe with a heavy dependence on coal-fired power generation, there is an argument that the electric car simply shifts the point of greenhouse gas emission from the urban high street to the point of generation.

With a decreasing UK dependence on coal in the generation of electricity, driving and recharging a small hatchback with a 30-45kWh battery, results in emissions of CO2 equivalent to around 35grammes per driven kilometre (g/km). A luxury EV with a battery capacity of 90kWh, would result in around 50g/km when in use. Both emission figures are well below those of even the smallest, most efficient ICE car: for example, the 2020 Mk8 VW Golf with a petrol engine produces 122g/km and few ‘City cars’ achieve much below 95g/km. So, the key question is: how long before the lower emissions of the EV, when on the road, offset the higher emissions during production?

As with the ‘Retain or Replace’ discussion for an ICE car in Part 1 of this post, there is no single answer to the question. It will depend greatly on where the vehicle (and particularly the battery) was produced, the size of the vehicle and how the EV is used (eg a life of urban commuting or long-haul motorway journeys).

A recent statement from Volkswagen, who have a vested interest in both EVs and ICE models, claimed that, on average, a new battery electric vehicle would need to travel 77,000 miles before it would have ‘saved’ the CO2 associated with its production. Imperial College, London, state that the luxury EV with its 90kWh battery is responsible for more CO2 emissions during production than over a 15-year lifetime. Both statements seem reasonable when looking at the chart below. This shows the EV lifetime CO2 emissions superimposed, in red, on the same chart as the ICE ‘Retain or Replace’.Lifetime CO2 plot inc EVs

What is clear is that even with the higher emissions associated with its production, within less than 2½ years the medium sized EV (eg VW ID3) will have generated less CO2 than the modern, fuel efficient ICE car (eg Citroen C1). The luxury EV (eg Jaguar I-PACE) will take just over 7 years to achieve the same result when compared with the medium sized 2019 ICE car (eg Ford Mondeo).

So, your EV may not be a zero-emission mode of transport but, over a lifetime of use, it should be greener than most ICE cars and, as our global power generation becomes cleaner, that margin will increase.

Factors such as the deployment of a charging infrastructure, which carries an associated CO2 ‘footprint’, the availability of scarce elements required in lithium battery production and in the components of efficient electric motors, carry their own implications for the future of EVs. Recycling these scarce materials is also not trivial nor energy-free.

Finally, as noted in the post on this blog in December 2014, hydrogen fuel cell EVs are becoming increasingly available (albeit with their own fuelling infrastructure requirements). Crystal ball-gazing by those who try to predict the future of personal transport, is an interesting pastime.