Above Grasshoppers at Gaydon 1997

1 2 3 4 5

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Comments from Kevin Barnes (Nephew of J.D.Barnes), who my thanks go to for kindly supplying the latter 5 photos:

1. The Paris-Nice Trial, Kay Petre Grasshopper Austin, with H.R.G behind on the ramp at Montlhery. I've seen one with the reg no. and I'm sure it was COA 119. Anyway, story: "Mrs. Petre and Mme. Itier with the little Austin (one of the trials cars but unblown) were also in trouble. On being weighed they found to be less than the regulation 600 kilogrammes each. Ballast had to be obtained to make up the difference. The body of the Austin was then found to be too small but however the difficulties were eventually overcome after some little discussion".

2. 1936 M.C.C Torquay Trial and Rally, C.D.Buckley 747 Austin S. slews sideways when pulling up in the braking area at the end of the second special test in Ilsham Road.

3. Ex. K.Petre COA119, J.Wilson 787 Austin was among those who completed the ascent of Fish 1 on the end of the tow rope.

4. H.L.Hadley, the Austin works driver skids off Widlakes slippery rock on to the bank with BOA 60.

5. J.Orford with one of the special Austins getting away from the Barton Steep restart.

 

 

The following contribution is by Adli Halabi (ASCA Registrar), thanks to him for this fascinating information:-

THE AUSTIN GRASSHOPPER

by Stuart Bennett (I believe this originally appeared in the 750 MC newsletter)

Reproduced by Adli Halabi

 

The Grasshopper is not just another Austin Seven but on a par with the 32 stud single-seaters, albeit not so mechanically advanced. While I had the great pleasure of COA 118's company, I was forever having it called anything from a Gordon England to a nice special. Well! Then Mr. Hattrell's letter appeared in the last Bulletin, and I got my pen refuelled with methanol quickly, before I was taken by the white-coated men for sitting in the middle of the road claiming I was driving the Le Mans Grasshopper.

There were actually 11 Grasshoppers built; 7 high-chassis trialing cars, and 4 low-chassis road-racing cars. The high-chassis cars were AOX 3, AOX 4, AOV 343, BOA 57, 58, 59 and 61, and the low-chassis cars COA 118, 119, 120 and 121. The Grasshoppers were first built in 1935, based on the Speedy chassis with special bodies. These were two-bearing engines although it was found later that the three-bearing engine was capable of taking more hard work, but had an annoying habit of running big-ends. The con-rods on the three-bearing engines were offset and had a deeper H section than "Nippy" rods. They were supplied with very long, large valves, with non-adjustable tappets similar to an Ulster. The ports had extra water cooling around them and were of a different shape to any other Seven. The aluminium cylinder head, which had a full length water take-off, was designed by the brilliant Murray Jamieson, as was the very special cam-shaft. All Grasshoppers were blown with a Centric 125, driven by a V-belt from the fan pulley. The inlet-manifold was also unusual, being in cast aluminium and having the blow-off valve at the front. It was normally blown at 61/2 lb., although Hadley blew his unreliably at 13 lb. p.s.i. A metal plate clutch was also used, along with a special close-ratio gearbox. The blown two-bearing engine would rev at 7,000 r.p.m. although most torque was developed low down. The cars had a top speed of around 80 m.p.h., achieving 60 in third. According to J. H. Blyth in the Autocar of the 9th May, 1941, the blown cars had better initial acceleration than Ford V-8 engined cars, partially due to lack of wheelspin and also to their light weight. Fuel consumption of the cars when driven hard was around 23 m.p.g.; but with a fully baffled 12 gallon tank,- who would worry?

The original 1935 cars were AOX 3 and 4 and AOV 343. These were soon supplemented by the BOA series, all seven being originally low-chassis cars. Due to bad under-body damage they were all converted to high-chassis specification and then blown in 1936 for the Colmore trial. The original drivers were Messrs. Orford, Richardson and Milton. The drivers for 1936 were C. D. Buckley, H. L. Hadley and W. H. Scriven. Successes of the trials cars are too numerous to mention in full, being described in C. A. N. May's book "Wheelspin". Here is a small selection. In the 1937 English Riviera trial they took the premier award, runner-up,visitor and team awards. In 1938 they had four team awards, including the Land's End, as well as other achievements. In 1939, in the Highland two-day trial, J. H. Blyth driving for the Scottish "Tartan Grasshopper" team took the premier award for under 1,500 c.c.

The low-chassis cars also have an interesting history. Three of them, namely COA 118, 119 and 120, were entered for the 1937 Le Mans. They had special doorless bodies and for some obscure reason, were unblown. They obviously went into a sulk about this as they all retired with minor maladies, e.g. a split fuel tank.The cars were then rebuilt with modified Grasshopper bodywork and blown engines. They were then entered for the 1937 T.T. at Donnington Park, where they came 2nd, 3rd and 5th in their class; the drivers being Dodson/Hadley, Goodacre/Buckley, Kay Petre/Steven-son. According to "Austin Racing History" by Harrison they covered 1,824 miles in 12 hours, but since this works out at 152 m.p.h. I don't think it is very accurate! COA 118 was bought by Bill Scriven when he left Austins and was subsequently used in short speed events. COA 119 was converted to high-chassis standard, as it still is, and COA 120 was written off by an apprentice, silly fellow, about six months after the T.T. COA 121, believed to be the beautiful low-chassis car built for Kay Petre for the 1937 Paris-Nice is thought to be in Belfast in a somewhat chopped state. BOA 59 was last seen by me about 21 years ago in the paddock at Silverstone. The others I do not know of at all, but would dearly love to find out.

I found the Grasshopper to be an absolutely delightful motor car to drive, and entirely different to other Austin Sevens. (!-Ed.) Its road holding was impeccable and most exhilarating. It had unfortunately only two S.U.'s to breathe by, the blower being separated by the garage (?) that sold it, and this rather limited its performance. It was a trifle temperamental in reverse as it would sometimes accelerate furiously, with me, more often than not, not in full control. Very hairy! This was born out in the reversing test at Beaulieu in May. I have had to sell the car since then, due to a certain hole in my pocket. However, Mike Eyre has now got it in his collection and it will eventually be rebuilt to the same standard as the "blood-orange" Ulster, which is at least some consolation to me. I would dearly like another Grass-hopper but I really must apply my needle and cotton to that pocket first.

 

Austin Seven Grasshopper Model

 by Mike Eyre

Reproduced by Adli Halabi

The first outward sign of the appearance of this version of the Austin Seven was an announcement in the Motoring Press, just before Easter, 1935, that for the MCC Lands End Trial, which is traditionally held over the Easter holiday week-end, there would be a team of "Special Austin Sevens" competing in the hands of Messrs. Orford, Milton and Richardson. The cars were described as Austin Seven "Speedy" sports cars with entirely new bodies. The bodies, which were rather similar to the Singer sports car of the period, had a slab type petrol tank, of approx. 6 gallons capacity, and fitted with a nice quick action filler, mounted fairly close to the rear of the seats, and behind that was a mounting for two spare wheels.

In those days competitors were allowed to use really desperate tyre tread patterns for getting to grips with the greasy surfaces encountered during Reliability Trials and these were not always practical for road use. In spite of having a small stowage area behind the scats, a petrol tank and two spare wheels, the rear of the car scarcely protruded beyond the rear wings and the whole car was beautifully compact. The wings were typical of the period, being rather more substantial than the usual Austin Seven 3.50 x 19 tyres appeared to warrant. The front wings were fully valanced to the body and although a quick glance at a photograph gives the impression of running-boards, the wings remained individual and were neatly faired into the body sides. The radiator cowling was unlike any other Austin Seven, out was similar in shape to the 10 and 12 h.p. Austin Sports cars. I believe that this was the only Austin Seven Sports model produced by the factory as opposed to coach-built versions that did not have the normal shape cowling. The windscreen was of the fold-flat variety and was rather shallow. Perhaps it was necessary to have a fold-flat arrangement as it must have been pure chance if a driver happened to be the right length in leg and body to be able to both operate the pedals and see through the screen simultaneously! The hood support was the most simple I have encountered; the support was a single hoop of tubular steel which fitted into receiving tubes on either side of the body just behind the seats, and which split into two halves for easy stowage. The instruments were well laid out, the main feature being a matched pair of 5 inch diameter "clocks" mounted immediately either side of the steering column. The rev. counter read up to 8,000 r.p.m. and the speedo up to 120 m.p.h. Other instruments included an ammeter, oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge and an ordinary time clock. Although the first publicity photographs showed the car as having an ordinary gear lever, by the time the cars were prepared for competition they had been fitted with a very nice remote control gear change arrangement. The short lever worked in an alloy casting which was rigidly mounted to the prop-shaft tunnel, and the link operated inside a piece of tube to another special casting fitted in place of the standard gearbox top. To avoid undue strains on the linkage (as the chassis flexed in true Austin style!) the tube was joined to the casting at either end by short lengths of radiator hose and jubilee clips. The casting which held the gear lever also contained the baulk for reverse gear. The doors on the first cars were full depth and front hinged.

Mechanically the cars differed very little from the Speedy. They had two-bearing pressure lubricated engines and as the com-petition dept. extracted more and more power out of them they experienced a great deal of crankshaft trouble. Eventually Laystalls made special 1 1/2inch cranks which helped, but did not cure, the troubles. The inlet manifold and carburretor was "Speedy" as was the exhaust arrangement which ran under the chassis and appeared at the rear of the car. The rev. counter drive was unusual in that it was taken from the distributor drive gear, with the outer cable anchored to the underside of the dis-tributor casing. The front axle was "dropped", as the "Speedy", but the radius arms were very much more substantially anchored to the axle, being attached via special mountings. Brakes were Austin Girling. The chassis was standard van frames and the back axle was an ordinary "D" type fitted with a 5.5 : 1 final drive unit.

The first three cars were registered AOV 343 (25.3.35), AOX 3 and AOX 4 (4.4.35). As soon as the first three cars were built Austins pressed on with building a further four cars for the purpose of competing in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. The bodywork of the Le Mans cars was very similar to the original three, but cycle type wings were fitted front and rear which must have saved an enormous amount of weight. Quick action fillers were used on the radiators. At this point I must pause to admit that I have not been able to ascertain precisely at which stage the cars were fitted with three-bearing engines. It could have been for Le Mans 1935, but I am inclined to believe that this improvement(?) did not take place until the next year. They did, however, have the benefit of a Murray Jamieson designed aluminium cylinder head with a long water offtake running almost the full length of the head, and fitted with 14 mm. plugs. These cars were all registered on 24th May, 1935, with the numbers BOA 57, BOA 58, BOA 59 and BOA 60. In various letters, etc., that have appeared from time to time on the subject of these cars it has always been stated that the numbers included BOA 61 and omitted BOA 60. I have photographic evidence that BOA 60 was a "Grasshopper" and information from the Tax Authorities that BOA 61 was in fact an 11.9 h.p. Austin Saloon, long since scrapped! There must have been some confusion at Le Mans over numbers, as the competition numbers allocated to the team were 59, 60, 61 and 62! I do not know which car received which number-perhaps 59 and 60 were BOA 59 and BOA 60. The driver pairings were as follows:-No. 59: Driscoll/Parish; No. 60: Dodson/Richardson; No. 61: Goodacre/Turner; and No. 62: Carr/Barbour. Nos. 60, 61 and 62 were entered as 749 c.c. and No. 59 as 748 c.c.! The team had mixed fortunes, with two retirements and two finishers in 27th and 28th places, or to be a little less than kind, in second to last and last places! No. 59 (Driscoll/Parish) retired on its 106th lap, lying in 39th place after covering 1,430.152 kms., and No. 61 (Goodacre/Tumer) retired on its 89th lap, lying in 45th place, having covered 1,200.788 kms. Reason for retirement not known. No. 62 (Carr/Barbour) finished 27th, covering 1,91..695 kms. at average of 79.737 k.p.h. (49.546 m.p.h.), and No. 60 (Dodson/Richardson) 28th, 1,863.068 kms. at average of 77.727 k.p.h. (48.297 m.p.h.). The outright winner of the race was the Faulkner/Clarke 1494 c.c. Aston Martin at a speed of 70.875 m.p.h. The Austins qualified for the Biennial Cup part of the 1936 Le Mans Race.

After Le Mans the four BOA cars returned to Longbridge and were fitted out for Reliability Trials. The "low" chassis with "dropped" front axle and flat rear springs were retained and the bodies were given the same style of wings as the original three cars had. These Reliability Trials were not quite the same as the present day Sporting Trial, now dominated by almost identical vehicles which although looking crude, are very highly developed pieces of equipment capable of going over ground that a tractor would yield to. The prewar Trials courses relied a great deal on a combination of rough territory and steep gradient and it was very often the latter that sorted out the winners. The events were much more like the current Production Car Trials and they became a valuable means of publicising one's products-provided one had sufficient confidence in the product's rugged-ness! Thus many manufacturers took the better known Reliability Trials very seriously and paid a great deal of attention to the pre-paration of their cars.

The Austins, then as now, frequently had the grip but failed hills through sheer lack of power, and the factory decided that supercharging was the best way of improving the output. For the 1936 Colmore Trial one of the cars was fitted with a "Blower" and the modification was a great success, so the remainder of the team was fitted with Type 125 Centric superchargers (the fore-runner of today's Shorrock product). A special dynamo housing was cast which at a quick glance did not look different from standard. However, in the near-side of the housing the drive to the blower was effected by way of a pulley shaft supported on two ball-races and driven by a gear, between the races, which meshed with the camshaft gearwheel. A single Vee belt drove the blower via the normal swinging type of fan blade mounting which provided the tension adjustment, and the strain on the shaft was relieved by anchoring the blower casing to the timing cover by means of a stiff strut. The blower itself sat on the forward end of a very neat aluminium manifold which replaced, and fitted in the same fashion as, the "Speedy" manifold previously used. On the rear of this manifold was a blow-off valve in a neat aluminium housing. Originally the blower pressure was 6 lbs./sq. in., but soon increased to 9. The carburettor was mounted directly on the blower port and was an enormous SU instrument used in downdraught form with the dashpot lying horizontal. The bore of the SU was not so large, being 1 3/8ins.The fitting of this SU caused the rather inelegant bulges that appeared on the bonnets of the Grass-hoppers when in Trials trim. Supercharging was never used when the cars were raced.

It was at about this time that the cars were given the nickname "Grasshopper" which stuck so firmly. It is believed that Bill Sewell, Lord Austin's personal aide, was the author of the name, inspired no doubt by the well known Austin Seven reaction to the initial transmission of power from engine to axle! In the hands of such drivers as Charles Goodacre, Dennis Buckley, Bert Hadley, Bill Sariven and others, the Grasshopper competed in most of the major Trials of the time. Rivalry between the individual drivers of the team was considerable and one of them was known to have quietly turned up a spare blower pulley which would increase the boost to 15 lbs./sq. in. Realising that the engine would not take this treatment for long periods he used to stop a mile or two from the next observed section, tap off the standard pulley and sub-stitute his own. For the ensuing road mileage to the next section he would refit the standard one' This ploy, which was within the Com-petition Rules even if not fully within Austins Competition Dept. Rules, was most successful and the driver concerned took much pleasure in leaving brief Anglo-Saxon instructions under the bonnet for the benefit of his team mates and others who crept out of the evening pub to find out what his modifications were! For a while BOA 59 was driven by Charles Goodacre with rather a special engine, being the very highly developed Blown Ulster with which he had had much success in Sprints and Hill Climbs a year or two earlier. He also used a 10-gallon petrol tank, which left room for only one spare wheel, and refitted the Le Mans cycle wings to the front in order to reduce the weight over the front axle. Back on the racing side, the Company decided to build a further four cars for the 1936 Le Mans, and there were not many alterations to the bodywork as compared with the 1935 Le Mans cars. In order to save weight the doors were omitted, the 10-gallon fuel tank was used and once again cycle type wings. The engine was now in three-bearing form and had a crankshaft with fully circular webs. The oil feed to the centre main bearing was via a copper pipe delivery direct from the main oil gallery. Shell bearings were used on the big-ends and the con-rods were fully machined all over. The cylinder block had larger water passages around the valves and ports, the connecting water passages between block and head were elongated slots, and the internal sweep of the inlet ports was different from other Austin Sevens. The block was attached to the crankcase by 10 x 3/8th studs. The block was also "taller" than standard in order to accommodate unusually long valves. Very powerful double valve springs were used to partner a fairly ferocious cam profile. Tappet blocks were short and adjustment of clearance was effected by grinding tappet "buttons" to the correct thickness. "Speedy" manifolds were used as the engine was run without the blower. The wheel and tyre size remained at 3.50 x 19.

The four cars were registered on 12th May and were seen down at Brooklands testing very shortly afterwards. Their numbers were COA 118, COA 119, COA 120 and COA 121. Unfortunately due to industrial unrest in France in 1936 the 24-hour race was cancelled, so the cars were tucked away to await the 1937 race. In 1937 only three cars were entered and I have not been able to establish which was the odd car out. Very little modification was made to them. The cars now had 17in. wheels shod with 4.00 section tyres, which in fact does not alter the overall diameter very much, but improves the general road-holding. In place of the windscreen glass was a sort of wire grille so that normally drivers kept the "screen" folded down and used aero-screens, but if they were getting peppered with stones from a car ahead of them, they were able to raise some sort of protection. For some reason the rear wings were mounted to cover a segment of the wheel identical to that covered by the front wings. Perhaps it was to prevent them chucking stones at each other as they ran in formation! The cars were given race numbers 55, 56 and 57, the driver pairings being Kay Petre/G. Mangan for car 55, Charles Goodacre/Dennis Buckley for car 56 and Charlie Dodson/Bert Hadley for car 57. The team's luck was right out for this event as all three retired pretty early on, their problem being breakage of the copper oil pipe delivering oil to the centre main bearing. The Goodacre/Buckley car retired very early, on its 32nd lap, in 27th place after covering 431.744 kms. The Kay Petre/Mangen car went out on its 72nd lap (971.424 kms.), in 24th place, and the Dodson/Hadley car a couple of laps later (998.408 kms.) in 23rd place.

After Le Mans the engines were rebuilt and three cars were entered for the 12-hour sports car race at Donnington. Reliability was restored and they finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th in their class, with Dodson/Hadley being only one minute behind the class winner, followed by Goodacre/Buckley and Kay Petre/Stevenson in 5th place. The distance covered was some 1,800 miles and team morale must have recovered well after the Le Mans set-back. One car was entered for the Paris-Nice Rally in September, 1937, driven by Kay Petre and Mme Itier. I have not yet been able to establish with any certainty which car was used, but it may well have been COA 119 as it is known that this car was painted in the dis-tinctive pale blue used by Kay Petre. I am trying to find out more about this entry, but so far only know that the Austin had trouble with the French scrutineers (has there ever been a British entry before or since in any French event which didn't have trouble with the scrutineers?) in connection with its weight, which presumably was too light.

We now return to the Trials scene as after Donnington the three cars were stripped down at Longbridge and rebuilt for use in Trials. Experience had shown that the earlier Grass-hoppers had suffered a great deal of underneath damage, particularly to the brake fulcrum, on account of the rocky hills tackled on these Trials. The cars were therefore rebuilt with straight front axles and used springs on front and rear which conformed to the Army Scout car specification. Like the earlier cars they were fitted with Centric 125 "blowers" and although the final result looked a bit odd, with a racy body perched high on a WD-like chassis, they became very effective Trials cars. Whilst the rebuilding was proceeding the company decided to sell three of the early Grasshoppers to well-known Scottish Trials personalities, Blyth, Carlaw and Valentine, the last named being Austin agents in Glasgow and Perth respectively. They formed a team known as the "Tartan Grasshoppers" and did exceptionally well in Trials north of the Border, on at least one occasion achieving outright victory. These cars were AOX 4, AOV 343 and BOA 59, the last named having been further modified by having its track rod running IN FRONT of the front axle. After being driven by Hadley in many English Trials, COA 119 was sold to the Austin agent in Dunoon, J. Wilson, thus increasing the strength of the Grasshopper assault on Scottish Trials hills.

One more Grasshopper was built in circurmstances that up to the time of writing have defied all my attempts at clarification. This car, which I feel might well have been assembled from spare parts, was never registered in England, but first saw the light of official day in Londonderry in December, 1937, registered as UI 3345, sold to a Mrs. Gladys Watts by an agent named J. Watson. The Irish licence authorities confirm that they have no record of the car being registered prior to their registering it. I have a photograph of the car taken in 1941 when it was in the hands of an R.A.F. man and apart from slight differences in instru-mentation layout it was exactly like the BOA registered cars in their trials rig. I have been unable to trace Mrs. Watts. Both the engine and chassis numbers of the car are well on from the COA batch of Grasshoppers. It is possible that this was the Paris-Nice Rally car, but feel it unlikely. Now I come to the good news that out of the twelve Grasshoppers made (including UI 3345) there are today seven survivors in more or less original form and an eighth which is still registered but so badly specialised that it cannot be counted as "alive". This, surely, is a surprisingly high survival rate for a model which was used throughout most of its life in the most arduous conditions of rough trials and long distance racing.

Taking the cars individually the situation is as follows: -

AOV 343: Owned by a Club member in Staffordshire. At present fitted with Ford engine, but original engine located in Hertfordshire. I hope that car and engine will be re-united. AOX 3: Exported on 5th September,1938, by an Austin apprentice from Portugal, who used the car in many competitions and retained it until 1952 when he swapped it for a shot-gun! It is now awaiting restoration by a member of the Technical Committee of the Club Portugues de Automoveis Antigos. Having had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman, I know the car is in very good hands.

AOX 4: Still registered but butchered into a special, with no visible signof its origin.

BOA 57: Presumably scrapped. Documents cancelled by Birmingham Tax Authorities.

BOA 58: Presumably scrapped. Documents cancelled by Birmingham Tax Authorities.

BOA 59: This car, in almost original condition, is in Bedfordshire and in good hands.

BOA 60: Presumed scrapped. Documents cancelled by the Birmingham Tax Authorities.

COA 118: Restored to Le Mans speci-fication by Adli Halabi in London. This is its second major rebuild as it was severely damaged during the war in an air raid.

COA 119: For a while this car was being rebuilt at Longbridge by senior executive of the Austin Motor Co., but has now been returned to its Scottish owner. Oddly enough the Tax Authorities have cancelled the documents, presuming it to be scrapped! As it has always been owned by the same gentleman to whom it was sold by the Austin Motor Co. before the war, this seems extraordinary!

COA 120: Presumed scrapped. Documents cancelled by Birmingham Tax Authorities.

COA 121: This car is being restored by a group of enthusiasts in Belfast. Fortunately it was not extensively mutilated prior to their getting to work on it.

UI 3345: The mystery car. It has been thoroughly rebuilt in Yorkshire, but somewhere along the line the log-book was turned in and it now sports the number 8046 WW. I have seen the car and although it does not have a real Grasshopper motor, the rest is most definitely Grasshopper and very nicely re-built.

In case anyone should come upon any parts originating from these cars, or any further information which they could send to me to help complete the picture, I list below the details of the twelve cars. The castings peculiar to the Grasshopper engine parts were numbered 9C-normally associated with Ulsters a few years earlier. So if you find some 9C parts that look a bit un-Ulster-like, you will know from whence they came! Well, that is as far as I have been able to trace the history of the Grasshopper Austin Seven and I am very grateful to Mike Ware of Montague Motor Museum, Charles Goodacre, Bert Hadley, Col. Rixon Bucknall and the present owners of Grasshoppers for their help in providing vital information.

 

AOV 343 25th March, 1935 XE 1018 M 217306

AOX 3 4th April, 1935* XE 1019 M 217442

AOX 4 4th April, 1935 XE 1020 M 217443*

BOA 57 24th May, 1935 XE 1024 XE 21

BOA 58 24th May, 1935 XE 1025 XE 22

BOA 59 24th May, 1935 XE 1026 XE 23

BOA 60 24th May, 1935 XE 1027 XE 24

COA 118 12th May, 1936 244518 XE 29

COA 119 12th May, 1936 244519 XE 30

COA 120 12th May, 1936 244520 XE 31

COA 121 12th May, 1936 244521 XE 32*

Ul 3345 December, 1937 XE 037 XE 40

 

N.B.: * numbers "presumed" at the time of writing, not checked.