The Baby Austin: A British Interpretation of Motoring for the Masses

Trade catalog for the Austin Seven, better known as the "Baby Austin," ca. 1930

In 1920, the Austin Motor Company found itself in receivership, a misfortune largely brought on by a depression that hit Britain immediately following World War I. In response to these economic difficulties, company founder Herbert Austin proposed the development of a small economy car that would be affordable for Britain’s middle class families. When the company’s board of directors opposed the idea on economic grounds, Mr. Austin developed the car using his own personal resources. The end result was a much-beloved car that turned Austin Motor Company around and in the process helped put Britain on wheels: the Austin 7, which was popularly known as the Baby Austin.

The Baby Austin was designed by Herbert Austin and eighteen year old draftsman Stanley Edge. In terms of overall design, it was a remarkably advanced car for its time and place in the market. As its nickname suggests, the Baby Austin was indeed tiny. Designed around an A-frame chassis, it initially featured a 75-inch wheelbase and a 40-inch track. Mechanically, the Baby Austin was equipped with a number of innovative features. Instead of a two cylinder engine initially planned by Mr. Austin, the Baby Austin was by powered by a water-cooled, inline-four power plant (initially 696 cc, but soon enlarged to 747 cc) at Stanley Edge’s suggestion. It also was also fitted with uncoupled four-wheel brakes, a transverse-leaf front suspension, and quarter-elliptic rear suspension.

Dutch trade catalog for the Austin Seven, better known as the Baby Austin, 1935.

In addition to being an innovative design, the Baby Austin was blessed with a number of attributes that made it a very desirable economy car for its time. It was initially offered at a sticker price of £ 165, which made it affordable to British middle class families. Because it was powered by a small engine rated at 7.2-7.5 horsepower, it was taxed at a lower rate than most other British cars of the day. In a nod towards the needs of growing families, the first Baby Austins were four-seat touring cars designed to accommodate two adults and two children.

The Baby Austin was introduced to the British motor public in July 1922. Over the course of its long production life (1922-1939), it became an enormously successful and influential car. The Baby Austin succeeded admirably in fulfilling Herbert Austin’s goals of returning his firm to solvency and providing affordable cars to the British middle class. As for the Baby Austin itself, it proved itself to be the right car for its time. Due to its affordability and innovative design, it became enormously popular with the British motoring public. As the car’s popularity grew, a number of models were developed, and it eventually became available in five body different styles (Tourer, Saloon, Cabriolet, Sport, and Van). The Baby Austin also became well known outside of Britain and was exported to a number of countries. It was also built under license outside of Britain in France (Rosengart), Germany (Dixi), and the United States (American Austin).

Trade catalog for the Austin Seven, 1930s. Note the Baby Austin's accommodations for two adults and two children.

The last Austin 7, aka Baby Austin, rolled off the assembly line in March 1939. Approximately 290,000 of these cars were built.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 101-104.

The Austin Seven, Britain’s dependable Car, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Austin Seven, Proved by Time, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Austin Seven, The Little Friend of All the World, Austin: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Seven, 1930s, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American: Successful Revival of a Compact

Trade catalog for the 1958 Rambler American

During the late 1950s, American Motors Corporation, the creation of a 1954 merger between Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company, was struggling to compete against the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) in the American automobile market. The firm’s problems were further exacerbated by a sharp recession that hit the United States in 1957, which caused a market shift towards smaller and more economical cars, particularly imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle. Faced with these economic realities, AMC’s president George Romney (the father of 2012 U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) implemented a novel corporate strategy. Rather than compete directly with the Big Three, AMC focused its efforts on compact cars, which it marketed under a nameplate inherited from Nash-Kelvinator: Rambler.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Rambler American

As part of this strategy, Romney saw the need for a small economy car at the lower end of the Rambler range, but AMC lacked the resources to develop a brand new model. However, AMC did possess the design and tooling for a small car that it had discontinued just a couple years earlier. Under Romney’s direction, this car was dusted off, refreshed, and put back into production. The end result was the successful revival of a previously discontinued car in an essentially unchanged form: the 1958-1960 Rambler American.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was based on the 1955 Nash Rambler, which had been developed by Nash-Kelvinator and discontinued by AMC at the end of its model year. In terms of engineering, the American’s design was nearly identical to that of its forebear, featuring a 100-inch wheelbase and was powered by a 195.6 cubic inch inline-six engine. Appearance wise, the Rambler American differed only slightly from the Nash Rambler. It employed the same body, but was given a redesigned grille and open rear wheel wells.

Trade Catalog for the 1955 Nash Rambler. Note the strong similarity between this car and the Rambler American.

Because the Rambler American was clearly based on the Nash Rambler, AMC did not attempt to market it as a brand new design. Instead, AMC hyped the car’s economic attributes, touting its low sticker price, excellent fuel mileage, and low maintenance costs. AMC also emphasized the American’s practicality, describing it as roomy and easy to maneuver. AMC s also marketed the car as an import fighter, pointedly emphasizing that it was made in America and designed for American driving conditions.

Even though it was a warmed-over design, the 1958-1960 Rambler American was well received by the motoring public. It proved well suited for its time and acquired a reputation for being a practical and dependable economy car. Along with other Rambler stable mates, the American helped little AMC make money while the Big Three struggled. In the 1958 model year, AMC was the only major American automobile manufacturer to post a profit. In 1959 and 1960, with help from the American, AMC earned healthy profits in spite of competition from compacts introduced by the Big Three, such as the Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was replaced by a restyled version of the car for the 1961 model year. Over the course of its production run, over 240,000 examples were built. Surviving examples are highly collectable today.

Sources

American Motors Presents: The Newest Idea in Automobiles, The 1955 Rambler, America’s Smartest Car for Town and Travel, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Rambler Range, 1952-1959.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1294-1296.

Here by Popular Demand, Rambler American for 1958, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Here by Popular Demand, The New Rambler American for 1959, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 9-15, 559-560.

“Rambler American”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambler_American

Non-Automotive Materials the in Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Airline Companies Series

Timetable for Pan Am’s “Clipper” service to the Caribbean and Latin America, 1933

Since taking over this blog in July, I have mainly been writing about automotive materials found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. However, as many of you already know, the contents of the collection do not consist solely of automotive materials. As I mentioned in my blog installment on the Airplane Makes series of the collection (see Non-Automotive Materials the in Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Airplane Makes Series, August 31, 2012), Mr. Vinson was keenly interested in many different forms of transportation. In addition to that, he was also a frequent and avid traveler, and he made numerous trips, for both business and pleasure, throughout the United States and overseas. While pursuing his interests in both transportation and travel, he accumulated a remarkable collection of non-automotive materials. In recognition of Mr. Vinson’s interest in these areas, I decided to highlight another non-automotive series of the collection: Airline Companies.

Fleet catalog for Air France’s De Havilland Comet jet airliner, 1953

The Airline Companies series represents a very small portion of the collection, containing only 8.5 boxes of materials. However, much like the Airplane Makes series, the depth and significance of its contents more than make up for its small size. The materials found in this Airline Companies series cover most of the history of the airline industry, dating from 1921 to 2009. One hundred and forty commercial airlines of varying sizes are represented in this series, including present-day companies such as Air France and United Airlines, and defunct companies such as Pan Am and Swissair. Most of the airlines represented in this series focused on the passenger business, but a handful of them specialized in hauling airmail and freight. The series’ contents are international in scope and concern airlines from countries all over the world, including, but not limited to, the United States, France, Germany, Japan, and China.

The Airline Companies series consists mainly of materials published by the airlines themselves. Many of the airline publications, including, but not limited to, airliner fleet catalogs, menus, passenger information brochures, route maps, timetables, and cut-out model airplanes differ significantly from those published by automobile companies. This series also contains other types of airline publications that are strikingly similar to those produced by automobile companies, including, but not limited to, company overviews, company magazines, and media information. Also found in this series are numerous magazine and newspaper advertisements through which the airlines publicized themselves and their services. The series also contains a significant amount of materials not published by the airlines, including, but not limited to, newspaper articles, magazine articles, government documents, and research notes.

There are plenty of fascinating items to be found in the Airline Companies series. One such item is a 1933 Pan Am timetable for the airline’s famed “Clipper” service to the Caribbean and Latin America. Also of interest in this series is a 1953 Air France fleet catalog advertising the airline’s use of the De Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner.

Sources

Air France, De Havilland “Comet”, Airline Companies-Air France: Fleet Catalogs: Specific Planes, 1948-1993

Pan American Airways System, Time Tables – Tariffs, Airline Companies-Pan Am: Timetables, 1933-1964

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Information Day – Saturday, October 13

Trade catalog for the 1948 Nash model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

For more than a year, we have been using this blog to highlight individual items in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection and to report on the progress of our work on this unique and significant historical resource. Although this blog is an excellent publication relations tool, we felt that there was something lacking. Even though the Vinson Collection will not be open for researchers until 2014, we know that many of you are eager to see the collection in person. We also thought that many of you would be interested in seeing how we go about processing the collection for research use by the general public.

Trade catalog for the 1951 Volkswagen model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

With such considerations in mind, we have decided to give the public a sneak peak at the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! As part of our celebration of American Archives Month, we cordially invite you to visit Hagley Library for Information Day, which will be held on Saturday, October 13th, from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Attendance at this event is included with admission. Visitors will be given a sneak peak at some of the treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, including items concerning automobiles and other forms of transportation, including railroads, airplanes, and ships. Visitors will also be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the work involved in making this historical resource available to the general public.

Menu from the British mail steamer RMS Scythia, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

By all means stop by Hagley Library to help us celebrate American Archives Month and learn more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! We will look forward to seeing you on Saturday, October 13!

For further information, visit the Hagley Museum and Library’s website at www.hagley.org/events.html.

Sources
Trade catalog for the 1948 Nash model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

Trade catalog for the 1951 Volkswagen model lineup, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

Menu from the British mail steamer RMS Scythia, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection

The items above can be viewed in their entirety in the Vinson Digital Archive.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.