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Austin 20hp Tourer 1912
Dependable As Ever

"The steering is irreversible and thoroughly reliable."
Thus read the description of that particular control of the 1912 20 h.p. Austin chassis in the catalogue of the day, and they must have been comforting words to a prospective purchaser.

Recent personal experience of one of these cars shows that the designer had every right to be proud of his layout; and if, after many thousands of miles spent controlling more modern conveyances, the 43-year-old system felt a little direct, it was only by comparison with some present-day designs which feel as if directional stability relies on a system of rubber bands. The idea of taking one of the earlier model Austin on the road germinated some little time ago when several of these cars were seen at the Longbridge works, tucked away in a dark corner; the ambition was realized with the help of John Bowman and Ivor Greening, of the Austin Motor Company.

The latter, in addition to his normal duties, has taken on the task of renovating as many of the Company's early products as is practicable, and the 20 h.p. tourer is one of them. In 1912, of course, body styles had left the "dog cart" stage, although there is still a faint trace of the car's ancestry in the lines of the front seat back-rest. The occupants sat in the car rather than on it, and weather protection, provided by the large hood and by windscreens front and rear, was very good. The general layout and lines of both chassis and body would be difficult to date, unless by some-one of more than average knowledge of the subject.

The engine is a four-cylinder side valve unit and it was designed to develop 23 b.h.p. at 1,000 r.p.m., for low speed torque was the target of the early craftsmen. The bore and stroke are 89mm x 127mm, the capacity of each cylinder being 785 c.c. This is worth comparing with the size of the present Austin A.30 engine 58mm bore, 76mm stroke, and the power output of that particular unit-28 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. Inlet and exhaust valves are operated by separate gear-driven camshafts housed on each side of the crankcase. The top half of the crankcase, which is particularly robust, carries the crankshaft in five bearings. Lubrication of the crank and camshaft bearings is by pump, feeding large quantities of oil at low pressure, for when the engine was turning over the oil pressure gauge needle did not rise above 7 or 81b per sq in. Dual ignition is fitted and a common distributor is used for the magneto and coil systems.

Originally petrol was fed from the rear-mounted tank by air pressure provided by an engine-driven pump on the left side of the crankcase, with an auxiliary hand-pump for starting. On AP.4563 an Autovac has been fitted, and this is possibly the only non-standard feature of this car.

There is no knowledge of the veteran's total mileage since it first left the works; now, after extensive renovations to chassis and coachwork, there is no deceit in describing the car as being virtually new. The paint finish of the body puts many a modern to shame. The brass work of the radiator and lamps sparkles in the sun, and the windscreen fittings have the satin, purposeful sheen of nickel plating. The big seats—and they are big by present-day standards—are covered in soft leather dimpled by buttons in the fashion of the times. Armed with the necessary knowledge, starting this 43-year-old Austin provided no terrors, and Greening, once we were ready to leave the factory, flooded the Claude! Hobson carburettor and turned the engine over a few times with the starting handle to suck in the mixture. The hand throttle was set, the ignition switched on to coil, and by rotating the advance and retard lever round its ratchet above the steering column a spark was produced and the engine fired. This method did not always result in a first-time start as the piston had to be set on the correct stroke. But it invariably worked after one or two turns of the starting handle and was far less exhausting than trying to swing the engine.

Onlookers watching this procedure were suitably impressed and it was thought—this is open to correction—that this method of starting was effective on only one other make of British car, and that equally famous. The engine with its big separate cylinders ticked over slowly with little vibration, and one could well believe the stories told by the old-time craftsmen who, after they had assembled an engine of this type, were not satisfied if they could not balance a penny edgewise on the radiator cap while the engine was running. There is a cone clutch, and it is very definitely " in " or " out " with little movement of the pedal. An interesting feature of the clutch is that the lining is made in six separate sections riveted to a metal plate; these are located on the inside of the flywheel by bolts screwed in the rim. The lining sections can, therefore, be removed for cleaning or replacement without dismantling the whole clutch.

The car was taken from Longbridge and headed towards the Lickey Hills. On first acquaintance it was found easier to change down than to change up. This is what synchromesh does to a driver who was taught to double de-clutch in his early years. However, Greening's advice to pull the lever straight through the gate without a pause helped to achieve a reason-ably quiet change and progress was made without getting too hot under the collar. Up Rose Hill in third for the lower reaches, then second, and finally down to first gear for the final two hundred yards. The car passed Holy Trinity Church, where the founder of the great firm lies which bears his name, and we felt that he would have liked to have seen this day and what care had been taken of one of his early models. Passed the church and then past the grounds of Lickey Grange, where the first 7 h.p. car was designed, to stop briefly for the photographer to do his part: Previously ensconced on the back seat, he had a majestic view of the passing scene and commented favourably on the comfort and extraordinary amount of space.

The big Auster windscreen with its folding frame had been designed to give the occupants of the back seat the maximum of protection, and although with the hood up and screen erected there was a shut-in feeling, at least one was protected from the elements. Down the hill the grand old car went, and in spite of the unfamiliar very high-geared steering which had little, if any, lost movement, control was accurate. The transmission footbrake seemed to have very little retarding power, but the push-forward lever, which operates shoes in the rear wheel drums, gave great power and was fully up to its job. The suspension gave an impression of great comfort,

The carburettor is dwarfed by the very big cast alloy induction pipe. The fan belt is tensioned by coil springs which fit below the fan mounting bracket, and further cooling is aided by the water pump on the far side of the engine. The pulley for driving the dynamo can be seen behind the throttle pedal lever at the back of the engine although it is as well to bear in mind that modern road surfaces help a great deal. There are long half-elliptic springs at the front and full elliptics for the rear axle, which is located by an immense torque arm, stretching from the axle casing to just behind the separate gear box.

Bowling along a sunlit country road with the hood down and the high top gear engaged made one feel that this was the right method of leisure motoring. There was little draught behind the vertical windscreen and it was possible to see much more of the surrounding countryside than one can in a modern saloon.

In its day the 20 h.p. Austin tourer cost £507 10s and the prospective purchaser had an impressive list of alternative equipment to choose from. He had a choice of three different wheelbases and a dynamo belt-driven from the back of the engine was an optional fitting. There was a sprag, for those who lived in hilly counties, at a cost of £1 10s. Amongst the tools and accessories which went with the car was a valve lifter—this was before there were service stations in every big town, and the owner had to be prepared to do most of his own repairs.