Giving History….. A Future
G E Cup No. 512 – Ch. 40699
Some chaps have all the luck. I have always had to apply myself and dig in to make it happen. And that’s a good thing. . . it keeps me going.
Being involved in the automotive industry for 40+ years and keeping classic car projects after hours, led me down the path of my own restoration shop in the U.S.
Calls for help and advice come with the territory of course and sometimes leads to referrals and work. A welcome trade off. One needs a large network of resources and associates to provide quality work and correct bits.
A simple request, one call, can change everything.
“We are cleaning grandfather’s barn” the caller claimed. “What a packrat he was”. We made it halfway inside and uncovered a car, or something….I think.
Can you come over and advise us of what it is and how to best get rid of it? So off I went…..right up my alley, barn finds !
First glance was shocking, as to be expected at 70 years old and held captive in a barn for 50 years. Dirt, surface rust, and rotted rubber was mostly visible. You have an Austin Seven, I advised. The coachwork, I’m not sure. Very unusual to see an Austin in the U.S. I will do some research and advise you soon. So I started to dig in for a better look. Barn wood walls and dirt floor didn’t help with the light required for a good view of details. The longer I looked, the dirt seamed to fade away and more clues came into view. Gordon England Ltd, Putney, London was visible on the door sill; The Austin winged badge on the radiator shell; and 1940 U.S. farm registration plate still in place on the boot. A wood and canvas body, solid and dry. Aluminum bonnet and boot cover. Property of The Austin Motor Co. Ltd, Longbridge, Birmingham on the chassis tag. I finished my notes and stopped to take a last look as I left the barn. Dust still airborne in the low light could not hide the wonderful lines of the coachwork and the simplistic mechanical nature still fresh in my mind.
I searched all available print and internet subject matter possible to advise him. Not being a car chap it went in one ear and out the other. “ Well taken, thank you, good bye “ were his words through the phone, but the image of the beautiful little car would not leave my mind. Focus on your work, focus on your work, I told myself. You have too much work at hand already. So the thoughts faded …somewhat.
Several weeks passed before any response, then it came, “ The property is sold and the car must go”. Can you arrange the sale or just give us a fair price and take it away (?) the words of gold for barn finds.
Anxious to own the Austin and study the rework, I arranged transport. A little stubborn to leave its home attached to the barn floor, a trail of bits dotted the floor behind as we pulled it to the light of day. A scary looking sight outside as the dents and tears in the wings were more visible, the leather seats mouse eaten and the canvas glowing a grey/brown with baked on dirt. The only real thing apparent as I did a walk around, was the coachwork design more striking than ever.
Restoration is what I do, so keeping my hands off until proper research is done was difficult. I contacted Derek Tew at the Heritage Motor Center for more information, to find all records were lost for Austin prior to 1939. He passed me off to the best possible contact, Damian Gardner-Thorpe, and now I am the one with all the luck! Damian, an Austin collector, has a wealth of knowledge, and maintains the Austin registry. He kept me on the straight and narrow with the restoration and provided bits that could never be found in the U.S. Many thanks to Damian for the accuracy this project demands, and the friendship I have shared learning that preserving the original is as important as making it new again.
“Hands on” Begins
Disassembly is not anything to write home about. You know the drill, but a few details found may be of interest. The windscreen and headlamps were missing, and were never recovered on site. Damian advised they were sometimes removed for racing in the day, and sure enough the number 12 was visible, painted full scale and visible only on the bottom of the radiator fins where they were protected from weather and light. Only seen when the radiator was washed and placed flat on the bench. We may never know if this was factory sponsored, but the GE body number is 512 !
The frame and suspension was very solid and needed a good pressure wash and soda blast to evaluate. As I did the follow up inspection I realized luck was still with me as the bushings and pins were new. The brakes and drums were new and covered with Cosmoline as if done by an Austin expert in the UK and pickled for sea shipping. All frame, suspension and hardware blasted and painted with chassis epoxy for future protection. The center steering wheel hub was broken and required welding, reconstruction, and machine work; but was soon in place for a new life of driving.
The original seat leather back rest was intact but stiff. A good cleaning revealed a rich antique brown leather, but too brittle to reuse. The base cover was mouse eaten with holes, so a re-make of the original was done from the old as patterns. Heavy cowhide was sourced to match the euro grain and stitched as original.
I mixed and experimented with several old leather dyes to match the original color and antiqued over that base to bring back a bit of the patina. Sealed with Fieblings Saddle Lac to lock it in and bring the sheen to original, ready to install with tacks as done by the factory craftsmen.
The windscreen frame and headlamps were my biggest concern and foremost in my mind throughout the project. No spares in the U.S.!! No examples of other cars to view! This might stop progress in its tracks! And what fits atop the front wings? Time for an e-mail to the experts for advice. Knowing how things go when searching rare bits, I could only envision the worst. Hard to express joy over the internet when advised quite the opposite. “We have the castings and extrusions for the cup ready for you”, Damian wrote. I will keep looking for the headlamps. Every package that arrived gave me a boost of energy to complete the next task. . .and when a pair of correct Lucas Lamps arrived, I was “over the moon”.
Wonderful castings and instructions were provided for the windscreen reproduction by Damian Gardner-Thorpe, Mark Lance, and Tom Ebernethy. It took shape with their support drawings and pictures. After all, I had never seen a cup model, making the accuracy difficult.
Removing the inside scuttle covering revealed another mystery. Placed inside was a Brooklands 500 mile-race advert handbill from 1936. Organized by the British Racing Driver’s Club with admission 3s 6d and noted cheap combined rail and admission tickets available from Southern Railway Stations.
The Rexene body covering looked so poor, I felt a recover was necessary. Again Damian set me straight. Wait, this may be original! A sliver and black mottled finish with 50 years of barn dirt hides anything. The boot lid was crushed inward and required rework. A perfect opportunity to remove and inspect the Rexene and paint. A trip to the local art restoration and gallery for advice was a good choice. Several cleaning solution tests revealed the best approach suited to return the silver dust and lamp black paint to its original glory. Multiple gentle cleanings proved successful to expose the raw paint, followed by several coats of tongue oil for protection. The original ash ply body was excellent as found. Only a few loose glue joints here and there and the rear wing mounting holes torn open. Easy work for a wood working hobbyist. And so the original covering remains today, starting the motion of reusing every tack, bolt, screw, and hardware, original to the car when built. It was fortunate enough to be out of the weather and moisture. Even in a barn for 50 plus years, I think the other old barn wood wicked the moisture away as seasons changed and allowed the space to breathe.
The Rexene covering in place with thousands of square cut nails of 8mm long. Each one slightly different, attesting to their handmade status. An irregular spacing to reveal the painstaking tack hammer work to install each one at a time. The Gordon England crew built the coach with care and pride, as it still shows today for us to enjoy.
The engine was very sound, but rusty. Complete disassembly, de-rust, cleaning, and rebuild was necessary. Thanks to the chaps at Seven Workshop for accurate bits and gaskets, and the Austin Seven Manual from Mercury Vintage Services for specs and procedures.
As the final assembly progressed, I noticed more and more visitors to the shop. I think they were more anxious to start the engine up than I was.” I don’t know” I would say, it looks really frail inside. As the weather improved, I rolled it out to start it up when no one was around. To my surprise it ran quite well for 10 HP and revved rather crisp after a few adjustments with the magneto disc. So out the drive we went. Down across the creek and back to see if any leaks or problems arose. Success was apparent when it made it back, idled like a kitten and the brake held fast on the slight grade into the shop. I stood aside with hands on hips trying to decide who was smiling most, me or the Austin Cup. I think it’s a draw! Some details remain as I am researching the wiring harness and lenses for the wing lamps at this time.
Several calls to the seller for more info reveled his grandfather was the groundskeeper for the Williams’ estate for many years. Later, in disrepair and not running, the car was given to the groundskeeper in trade for services. The Williams, a prominent Cincinnati family and heirs to the Western Southern life Insurance Co. saw the car on display during a holiday at Brooklands, had the car prepared and shipped to the U.S. around the 1930’s. Used for travel and farm use until 1940 when stored and later found.
The first time out was an invitation to the local Kenwood Country Club for a members car show. The Cup car got great reviews. I put on my period oiled coat, leather head gear and goggles and drove onto the designated fairway to park next to the Ferrari’s, Jaguar’s, Porsche’s and alike. All seamed to stop and stare as I rolled slow in respect to the location and traffic. I knew they didn’t have a clue as to what it was. The crowd grew larger around the Austin with more questions than I could handle. A layout of the build record and photos kept some happy while I started to educate the others of Austin history and what I know to this point of the Gordon England Cup Special. My job of “ Giving history…A Future” to this very special car has been the most rewarding so far, and telling America about it will be even better thanks to GE 40699.
Chase Creek Restorations LLC
7394 Dawson Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45243