The Austin Seven was Britain's best loved inter war car, with nearly 300,000 being produced between 1922 and 1939. It was designed to win sales from the lightweight cycle-cars which had proliferated in the period before and just after the First World War. An immediate hit, it created a niche in the market that was slow to be filled by its competitors. Unlike the cycle cars, many of which were single or two seaters, the saloon version of the Seven could carry two small passengers as well as the driver. As the (roaring!) twenties progressed, many different versions were produced both by the Austin factory and by coachbuilders such as Swallow and Gordon England. In Britain it became an icon of the decade, much like its direct descendant the Mini nearly forty years later.
The Morris Minor was belatedly introduced to capture some of this lucrative new market. Based on sales figures alone, the Minor did extremely well, with just under 90,000 units produced during its six year production run, an average of 15,000 vehicles per annum as compared to the Seven's average of 17,000 units per annum. However these figures only tell part of the story as profit margins on the Minor were low, due in some part to it's complex and costly to manufacture overhead camshaft engine, this being fitted fitted to all early models. Another significant factor was its untimely launch, just prior to the onset of a world economic depression!
The Jowett Seven was produced from 1921 until 1936 in the company's Bradford factory. It pre-dated the Austin Seven by a year but was not produced in anything like the volumn of the Austin manufactured vehicle. Powered by a pre-WWI designed flat twin engine that was enlarged from 831cc to 907cc during its early production life, the car's reputation was built around the excellent 'pulling power' of this torquey power plant. Whilst the author does not have production figures for the years 1921 - 1929, 11,444 were built in the following 7 years; a figure that both the Minor and Austin Seven would have surpassed in just a matter of months.
Triumph Super Seven
The Super Seven from Triumph was a genuine contender when matched against the the Austin Seven and the Minor. It was launched in 1927 and remained in production for 5 years. During this period about 17,000 cars were produced powered by either a 747cc s/v engine or the enlarged 831cc unit. Similarites with the Minor included the transmission hand brake, but the Super Seven had a three inch longer wheelbase at 81". The Super Seven in standard form could not match the sprightly Minor's top speed, struggling to reach 50mph. (The Gallery image is from the family archive and shows the webmaster's older sister posing against the wheel of a summer holiday hired Super Seven in 1934)
Standard Little Nine
This car was only produced for the two years of 1932 and 1933. It was a very belated attempt by Standard to establish themselves in the growing small to medium car sector after a successful second decade of the twentieth century in which they produced much larger cars. The 1004cc s/v engined car with a two bearing crank, mated to a three speed gearbox and 6 volt electrics was already pretty 'old hat' by the time of its launch. The spec. was updated for 1933, with 12 volt electrics and a four speed gearbox. Its 55mph top speed just about matched the much smaller engined Minor and although better equiped with luxury items such as a cigar lighter, it sold in much smaller numbers perhaps due to its £10 price disadvantage.
In the late twenties and early thirties Singer were Britain's third largest car manufacturer, lying just behind Austin and Morris in the sales race. They also had a car to compete against the Austin Seven, a year before Morris Motors launched the Minor. The Singer Junior was produced in either 8 or 9 H.P. versions for a period of 8 years and it's success was due in no small part to the delightful OHC engine of originally 848cc, being enlarged in 1932 to 972cc. The 1927-1932 version of the car sold well apparently (although no actual figures are available), but had a 'vintage' appearance when the two class leaders were the epitomy of modernity. The later 9 H.P. Junior caught up in the styling stakes, but felt the impact of the launch of the Ford 8, as of course did the Minor and to a lesser extent the Austin Seven.
As latecomers go, there can be few later than Swift! The Swift Cadet was launched in the late summer of 1930 against a background of financial crisis for the company. They had always produced very worthy but expensive cars and the Cadet was no exception. Similar in appearence to the market leading Austin Seven and Morris Minor, it possessed many of their virtues, including a comparitively simple (Coventry Climax) s/v engine; in this case of 847cc, and smart, contemporary, two door sliding head bodywork. The significant difference between the three cars mentioned was that of price - the Cadet was a full £40 more than the Minor and its other serious competitor, the Seven. Needless to say, Swift went the way of many low volume car companies of the period - straight (Swiftly!) into receivership long before the new year (1931) was out.
Ford 8 'Y' Type
When Ford launched their 8 H.P. Y Type Saloon in February 1932 it caused a sensation. This was not due to any significant advancement or engineering innovation (nothing too revolutionary here), but to its pricing in the market place and perceived value for money. The car was significantly larger than both the Austin Seven and the Morris Minor. It could just reach 60 mph (and so was a full 5 mph faster than the Minor), but it was priced at £120, dramatically less than both the basic Minor and Seven saloons. Within two years, Ford had captured 40% of the 8 H.P. car market and it was evident, very quickly, that Morris needed a radical response. The introduction of the long wheel base Minor Family Eight Saloon was only ever going to be a stop-gap measure. That radical response was to drop the Minor range in its entirety in July 1934 and to launch the all new Morris Eight. If imitation is the sincerest form form of flattery, then Morris significantly flattered the first Dagenham built car. They were very similar in appearance, specification and most importantly - price! As a result the Morris Eight went on to become the best selling car of the decade, and the Ford Y Type became the first Saloon car in the UK to retail at £100. Ford sold nearly 158,000 of these cars in the model's 5 year production run.
Morris Eight Pre-Series
The Minor's ultimate competitor was of course the car that replaced it in the Morris model line up. This was the highly successful Morris Eight which was launched in early September 1934. The new range featured a three bearing crank in an engine that bore more than a passing resemblance to that built by Ford and installed in their Y Type models. Surprisingly Morris reverted to a three-speed gearbox for the Eight after using four-speed types across the range for the Minor's final season. This didn't seem to deter buyers.
A July 1931 Autocar article in which 24 'Under £200' cars are examined & compared.
A January 1931 Motor magazine article comparing cars of 8 HP and under.
An October 1931 Autocar article in which seven cars under £150 cars are reviewed.
A May 1934 Practical Motorist article in which 9 small cars are compared.
Just some of the many Austin Seven variants built at Longbridge and elsewhere throughout the twenties and thirties.
A February 1931 Light Car article where all the popular models of the day are described.
An August 1928 Light Car image compendium of available light cars of 1100cc and under.
Page last updated 27th November 2015
A Feb 34 Motor article comparing prices of eight 7 to 9HP cars
A Feb 1929 Motor seven car comparison for "housewives, members of the family & household staff"