The Austin Seven cast a long shadow on the motor industry, and Jaguar is one of several marques that arguably owes its existence in part to the miniature pre-war saloon car. Swallow Sidecars made a small luxury car based on the Seven chassis, demand for which proved so strong that company founder William Lyons had to relocate his operation from Blackpool to Coventry where he would find a large enough workforce with the relevant skills.
Cyril Holland was instrumental in the Austin Seven-Swallow’s inception. He was a coachbuilder, and it was his job to interpret Lyons’ sketches and bring them into reality, effectively tooling and productionising each model. Alongside the Seven, Swallow also rebodied chassis from Fiat, Morris and others.
But it was the Seven that proved most popular, and an order of twenty cars per week from Henlys was the catalyst for the move to Coventry. At that time, Swallow’s Seven was offered in tourer form, but Henlys also had a requirement for a saloon, which became the most popular model, accounting for around 1,700 of the 2,500 cars built between 1927 and 1932.
Much of Swallow’s workforce made the move to Coventry, but Holland wasn’t among the number having stayed behind in Lancashire and found employment elsewhere. Pretty soon, the company ran into production difficulties that Lyons was struggling to address. He tempted Holland to make the move with a three-fold salary increase and Holland soon got the production line moving. What’s more, he had increased production volume and saved costs in one fell swoop.
This success laid the foundations for Swallow to create its first ground-up design, the SS1. World War Two would intervene, but the organisation returned after the conflict. By then, the SS initials had somewhat negative connotations, so the Jaguar brand was introduced. Chances are that, without Cyril Holland and the Austin Seven, it wouldn’t have had the solid foundations on which to build.
Greg and Jackie Hopkins have owned this Swallow Tourer since 2007, and brought it to the Goodwood Revival to be part of our Austin Seven centenary celebrations. It has been in their family since the 1940s. “My father bought it from his uncle in the mid ’50s,” says Greg. “It was fairly derelict so he restored it bit by bit but he never put it on the road. Sadly he died in 2007 and I inherited the car, finished it off and put it on the road.”
Having been in storage for so long, its originality has been preserved. Mechanically, it’s a matching-numbers car and as much of the original bodywork as possible was retained. Where replacement panels were needed, Greg kept the period panels in storage. It’s easy to keep running, too. “You can get all the service parts and there’s a great club. If you need second-hand parts someone will find them for you,” says Greg.
So what’s it like to drive an Austin Seven among modern traffic? “There’s no sychromesh, so you have to double declutch,” says Greg. Braking requires more thought than it does in a modern car, too. “It’s one of the last uncoupled brakes, so the foot brake is for the rear and the handbrake is for the front. You have to be careful where and when you take it, and look a long way ahead to anticipate. Motorways or anything like that are best avoided. It cruises at about 40mph and most people respect it and give you some space because it’s so small.”
Photography by Peter Summers.