Very racy and a young man’s dream

Edgar Wagstaff shares his memories of his first car, 1928 Austin 7 Special.

“With oversize wheels at the back and normal ones on the front, it dipped forward in a ‘get up and go style’ which belied its performance of a maximum speed of 40mph.

“It was the only one out of the 31 cars that I have owned that I managed to sell at a profit. I paid £29 10s (£29.50) for it. I refused to pay the £30 asked for it.

“The car was 22 years old, but as pretty as a picture to me – a 1928 model Austin 7 Special with a red sports body and a black canvas hood, a bee sting tail plus a wide ‘go faster’ leather strap across the bonnet to hold it in place, very racy and a young man’s dream.

“The spare wheel was a motorcycle wheel so when it had a puncture in one of the rear wheels, the car not only tipped forward but sideways as well!

“At 22 years of age it was well past its prime and spare hoods were just not available so soon after the war. However, I found a saddle-maker on the green of the tinyvillageofStowupland(near Stowmarket inSuffolk) to make me a new one.

“When I was out on my own with the hood stowed, wearing a flat cap and a large pair of yellow leather gauntlets, I was the cat’s whiskers. But with my young, hair-conscious wife aboard, it was hood up and keep my head down to avoid hitting the roof supports when we went over a bump and a yell to look out for a puddle ahead. “She had to lift her legs up to avoid a wetting through the hole in the floor. The seats were so bad when I bought it, that I replaced them with an old bus seat I bought from Ben Cooper’s scrapyard in Claydon.

“TheAustin7 had a choke lever on the left-hand side of the steering wheel and a hand accelerator on the right side.

“As many of you will recall, you had to adjust them both carefully before attempting to swing the starting handle, also remembering to keep your thumbs out of the way! When the battery was flat, which was often, I could put the gear lever into first gear, set the throttle on the steering wheel, push the car from outside until the engine fired and then jump in and away you would go.

“This remedy was much easier with a sports car with the hood stowed away and a door low enough to jump over and on to the driving seat.

“To avoid buying an expensive new battery, I unsealed the top of the battery with a soldering iron, tipped out the sediment, resealed and recharged the battery and Bob’s your uncle, at least for a short time.

“I remember lighting our way home to a flat at Bosmere Hall from a dance at Creeting St Peter despite  having a flat battery. My wife held a torch pointed through the split windscreen.

“The fuel tank on theAustin7 was fitted in a somewhat dangerous position above the engine. Once when I ran out of petrol onLloyds AvenueinIpswich, which used to run right to the Cornhill. I came to a stop right in front of a trolley bus queue.

“I got out, tipped the bus seat back and reached into the bee-sting boot and fetched out an orange bottle which was filled with petrol. I proceeded to top up the fuel tank when a noisy bus passenger wondered aloud ‘What the hell does that thing run on!’

“I had paid £29.10s for it but decided something better was needed. I could have sold it 10 times over had I known, but a farmer came along with his son and a wad of £1 notes, possibly taken out of a milk churn buried in the barn, and the Austin 7 Special went, only to be replaced by a Riley Monaco with perished inner tubes inside the leather seats that required blowing up every day!”

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