Driven by Edgar Wren as a promotional car to secure new orders of the 20hp model
The first prototype Austin Twenty began to take shape in the chassis-erecting shop at Longbridge during 1917 and an abridged specification was published in that September’s issue of The Austin Advocate magazine. Like the Hudson Super Six, the newcomer featured a substantial ladder frame chassis equipped with all-round semi-elliptic leaf-sprung suspension, rear wheel brakes, an engine of monobloc construction with in-unit, centre-change gearbox and a sheet metal radiator cowl. Displacing 3610cc, its unstressed sidevalve four-cylinder engine developed 40bhp @ 2,000rpm (an output sufficient for Austin to later warrant that the chassis could reach 70mph). Eminently tuneable, privateer Felix Scriven’s `Sergeant Murphy’ and the Works’ `Black Maria’ both proved that an Austin Twenty could beat a Bentley 3 Litre or Vauxhall 30/98 in competition (Scriven’s mount reaching 104mph at Brooklands).
Two prototype Austin Twenties were readied for 1918, a Landaulette and a Tourer. Road registered as `OB 6912′, the latter sported a commodious four-door, five-seater body with a prominent hood well and internal storage for two spare wheels. With dreams of producing 25,000 cars a year, Herbert Austin despatched Works test driver Edgar Wren on a nationwide trip aboard `OB 6912′ to drum-up interest. With a projected price of just £495 for the Tourer, and thanks also to the efforts of sales organiser Alfred Dupuis who travelled the Commonwealth and was reliant merely on photos and specification sheets, Austin had attracted some £6,000,000 worth of orders by July 1919. Unfortunately, the company could not fulfil them. The government tax on excess war profits meant that Herbert Austin could not afford to fully equip his expanded factories and the awful carnage of World War One had resulted in a severe shortage of skilled labour.
Without the hoped-for economies of scale, Austin found itself losing money on every Twenty sold and thus had to introduce a `temporary surcharge’ of £100 per car in October 1919. Things went from bad to worse with the global economic slump of 1920-1921 and by December that year Austin was in receivership. The company famously bounced back with the Twelve and Seven models and the Twenty remained in production until December 1929 by which time some 15,287 had been made.
This extraordinary car was treated to an extensive `ground up’ restoration during the 2000’s with replacement parts being sourced or made as necessary. Featured in The Autocar in November 1918 as well as The Automobile in August 2009, there can be few cars which can lay claim to such a time lapse between publications. Described by the vendor as being in excellent overall condition, this is a rare piece of British motoring heritage which is well worth the closest of inspections and indeed deserves to be seen.