We chose this week’s Snapshot because we think it’s such a beautiful illustration of an Austin, from the days when engravings could show far more precise detail than the photographs of the time. The original is captioned “Suggestion for Motor Catalogue” and was printed “By kind permission of Messrs. The Austin Motor Co.”
We cannot be sure of the model, but we think it’s an 18-24 HP. The size of the car and the position of the starting handle in the radiator started us off – and then we saw a picture in Grace’s Guide of a 1910 18-24 that has a host of features that match our Snapshot. We’d be very grateful to hear from anyone who can give us a definite identification – or who can perhaps tell us that it is the smaller 15 HP or the larger 40 HP. [We now don’t think it is an 18/24: see the Comment below.]
The Austin Motor Co. was during this period a manufacturer of luxury cars, with a list of customers that included Russian Grand Dukes, Princesses, Bishops, high officials of the Spanish government and Britain’s nobility. Apart from a 7 HP that was built for it by Swift, its own cars were 10 HP, 15 HP, 18-24 HP, 40 HP and 50 HP models. The 18-24 HP was a 4-cylinder car with a 4.9-litre engine, and clearly a luxury model, as this delectable landaulette body shows. We can imagine prospective customers being especially seduced by the removable chairs, ideal for taking a picnic while spectating at some suitably aristocratic event.
Austin became a public listed company in 1914 when the capital was increased to £650,000. At that time it probably ranked in production numbers fifth among British manufacturers, after Wolseley, Humber, Sunbeam and Rover.
The company grew enormously during the First World War, expanding its workforce from 2,500 to 22,000 and making aircraft, shells, heavy guns and generating sets and trucks.
After the war Herbert Austin decided on a one-model policy, introducing the 3.6-litre 20 HP model. After receivership in 1921, side-lining of Herbert Austin to the position of Chairman and re-financing, a new management moved into higher-volume manufacture of smaller cars, with the Twelve and the Seven both being introduced in 1922. This change of policy helped to ensure the survival of Austin through the years of depression.
Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive