AUSTIN 7 SPECIAL ART CAR – Creating a mechanical sculpture

We bought this 1934 Austin 7 special despite it being a horrible confused mess.

I think the worst bit was a rear registration plate hand painted in  “Ye ol’ English Sweet Shop” lettering and affixed to the rear axle with four exhaust clamps.

The nasty ’60s style bullet mirror ( made in China) and inappropriate modern headlamps did it no favours nor the radiator and wheels which appeared to have been painted with a wallpaper brush.

And why do people have to stick silly stickers on their classic cars? But a personal favourite (not) was the raw-ended shower hose used to encase some of the wiring.

But looking beyond the ugly ill-advised accoutrements and some crude engineering was something special. A special special if you like. And it drove very well, and more sprightly than you would think.

After a thorough inspection the workshop confirmed that the engine and chassis has been rebuilt to a very high standard and that the aluminium bodywork had been professionally and beautifully formed by a master craftsman.

We all felt the car deserved better so stripped off all the junk to re-assess the car.

Pushed out into the sunlight we all went “Wow!”

It was beautiful and charming in equal measure.

But the car needed a new focus rather than the previous “just throw a mishmash of twee and cheap and nasty kit-car bits at it” approach.

We decided to create an art car with a polished aluminium and brass theme, a piece of mechanical sculpture.

As the car had been built recently, there was no concern over retaining any “patina” ( and I do love oily-rag cars) but I am not a fan of ageing cars by fakery, so I am happy if it looks like it was built yesterday because it was!

The wonderful thing about an Austin 7 special is that you don’t have to worry about originality so you have, to some extent,  somewhat free reign, which is refreshing in the classic car world.

But its clearly better to acknowledge and celebrate its vintage origins and the many inspired specials built in sheds over the years.

Back in the workshop the car was taken to pieces and all the bodywork aluminium polished. Just the polishing took 3 1/2 weeks.

Then started the laborious process of sourcing period parts and refurbishing when needed.

The dashboard has been a matter of much discussion.  The dash fitted was passable but dull and not in anyway mechanically interesting, a speedo and oil gauge and that was it.

I was talking to a man who restores and sells vintage gauges for a living,  he mentioned that although, on his own car, it would have been easy for him to fit a perfect set of matching gauges on the dash, he chose not to, but selected a mix of period parts.

As someone who loves the old dials and the aesthetic of vintage Bentley dashes we felt this is the look we wanted, as do many Austin specials owners, but the cost of nice stuff has been an eye-opener!

To illustrate some of the trouble we went to the passenger grab handle was a piece of bent aluminium, ugly and uncomfortable to hold.  We bought numerous lovely old door handles in solid brass to try and get one that could be bent to fit but even the engineering shop struggled.

Eventually we had a new one cast to shape to make a perfect fit.

The rubber surround on the rear reflectors just did not suit the car so a retired Geography teacher who engineers model steam engines from scratch, made us some in solid brass.

Finishing the car to a high standard has really been time consuming and difficult and we still have work to do , but already it is looking stunning.

1934 Austin 7 special