The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : Meet The Owner - Garry Dickens and His Austin Super Seven The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : Meet The Owner - Garry Dickens and His Austin Super Seven
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Meet The Owner - Garry Dickens and His Austin Super Seven

At first glance, 272 NHY is a prime example of the early Mini, one that bears the “Seven” badging that adorned all pre-1962 Austin versions. But then you notice that the grille does not quite resemble that of a typical De Luxe model, the two-tone Grey and “Almond Green” paint finish and the elaborate interior. Garry Dickens is the proud owner of an “Austin Super Seven”, one of the most short-lived and fascinating aspects of the Mini story.

The Super was available as both an Austin and a Morris, with Garry pointing out that it actually pre-dated the Cooper – ‘the first production car was in June 1961’. In essence, it was a combination of the standard model’s 848cc engine, “magic wand” gearchange and drum brakes with Cooper trim. The  Morris Salesman’s Data book placed great emphasis on the features above and beyond the De Luxe – including additional brightwork, carpet on the boot floor ‘and all inner panels’. There was also additional sound deadening, ‘new-type’ ashtrays, improved seating and a roof-mounted courtesy lamp rather than illuminated rear companion boxes.

Frontal view of the Austin Super Seven

Garry further notes that the Super was the first Mini fitted with the combined ignition-starter, instead of the starter button on the floor, and the oval instrument panel with the water temperature and oil pressure gauges. The colour choices included ‘Tartan Red with black roof’ and  ‘Fiesta Yellow with Old English White roof’.  As for accessories, this was ‘one of the few cars which wear whitewall tyres with distinction’, which may or may not have been a dig at the Cresta and the Zodiac.

BMC‘s posters declared ‘Now – The “Super” and the “Cooper” Twins’ and by any standards, the Mini with ‘new comfort, new glamour’ was a very attractive package for a mere £513 13s 11d. Nor did it have any apparent British-built rivals; the Hillman Imp De Luxe would not make its bow until 1963, the Triumph Herald and the Ford Anglia 105E appealed to a different type of motorists. In terms of compact front-wheel-drive saloons, there was always the Slough-built Citroën Bijou, but that was a car with a very niche appeal.

Rear view of the Austin Super Seven with boot open

However, it soon transpired that the major competition was in-house. Garry points the Cooper was billed as ‘the sporting Super’ and the aforementioned dealer guide bills the latter over the former on the front cover. But while BMC initially expected to sell a limited number of their high-performance Mini, its appeal soon became apparent. The debuts of the  Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf in October of that year would further encroach on the Super’s marketing territory.

The figures tell the story; ‘production total of  Austin was 1,096 by the end of 1961. In all, 8,073 Austin Supers declared before the end of production in October 1962. It is believed a further seven cars were built in November for export’ .Garry is still researching Morris production, but it is unlikely to be much more, if any, than Austin sales.

Over the ensuing years, numbers of the Super inevitably declined, a process that was not helped by ‘people who were restoring Coopers raiding them for parts’. Mr. Dickens came by his Austin in 1986 – ‘When I bought it, the condition was very original and sound. I’d known about the car for the years and noticed that over time its lustre had disappeared. The Super then vanished but re-surfaced a short while later in a re-polished condition, and so I assumed it had been sold’. But he was to receive a ‘telephone call - totally at random - from a friend, asking me if I would like to buy a Mini that “looks a bit like a Mini Cooper”’.

Engine bay of the Austin Super Seven

Restoration work commenced in 1996 in readiness for the Mini’s 40th Birthday Celebrations at Silverstone. ‘The process took a couple of years, and my objective was that the Super should look “as new” rather than Concours’. Garry was determined that the paint finish should have that ‘1961 “Orange Peel” patina, which was achieved for him by Classic Connections.  The cabin presented another set of challenges for although ‘I managed to salvage the interior, the top and bottom rails on the dashboard were in matt black plastic. This changed to vinyl for 1962 but, typically for BMC, some cars had a mixture of the two!’  The carpets were also painstakingly brushed to achieve that immaculate dealership look.

Today the Austin naturally causes heads to turn wherever it goes although some passers-by and visitors to classic car events are confused by the “Seven” badging and few recognise it as a “Super”. Garry, who runs the model register, notes their survival rate is ‘at the moment 84 cars, but only 30 are in working order and some were exported to Commonwealth countries’. He regards his example as being ‘great fun, and it is still on its cross-ply tyres’.

Interior of the Austin Super Seven

And the reason why the Super continues to fascinate is because it embodies a particular chapter in the history of the Mini. By 1961 sales were on the increase – they would reach the 500,000 mark by the following year – and the Issigonis design was becoming accepted as a “Town Car” for the “Smart Set”. If you aspired to the lifestyle promoted in Queen  magazine, the Mini-motoring in maximum luxury represented the ideal car, with the choice of Austin or Morris probably dictated by which grille had the greater aesthetic appeal. You can envisage Julie Christie driving a Super Mini rather than a Cooper in The Fast Lady – just as such car would have been the envy of a young Margo Leadbetter or  Mildred Roper…

WITH THANKS TO: GARRY DICKENS

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