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Prized Austin 7 Ruby redeemed itself with double win

Roger Coleman proudly displays the trophies he won with his Austin 7 Ruby. Picture: Roger Coleman

Roger Coleman proudly displays the trophies he won with his Austin 7 Ruby. Picture: Roger Coleman

Roger Coleman

Roger Coleman rebuilt and restored his brother’s cast-off Austin 7 Ruby which went on to be a winner – after a few mechanical issues.

My first car was a 1938 Austin 7 Ruby, given to me by my brother who had bought it for £15 in 1963. He used it regularly until mid 1964 when the engine seized.

With the help of my father, we rebuilt the engine and had it running again. Entered for an MOT in 1964, it was condemned with worn king pins and steering and headlamps not dipping correctly. The body was in poor condition but it had a substantial chassis in excellent condition.

While still at school, aged 15, I set about stripping it down to restore it and make it my first car. An identical 1937 car was sourced, with an excellent body but a broken engine crankshaft, for £5. That was also stripped, with the garden looking like a scrapyard, and a complete running car created from the two within two years on a very meagre budget. The original 1938 chassis was used, as it had superior later Girling rod brakes, with the 1937 car’s body. It took to the road in 1967. The car was painted with leftover Valspar magnolia from another project and royal blue Valentines coach paint and turned out surprisingly well.

It had extra driving lamps, given as birthday and Christmas presents, a Blaupunkt radio and larger headlamps from a Triumph Renown – the six-volt electrical system struggled!

The car proved very reliable and an ambition was to attend the National Austin 7 Rally at Beaulieu in July 1968. I set off with fellow Austin Ruby owners Steve and Duncan early on the Sunday morning. By the time we got to Watford from Cambridge, the clutch had started to slip, which I could not fathom as it had been relined. After letting it cool, we were off again with repeated problems until the clutch had finally had enough. An AA patrolman in a Minivan looked baffled and could not help so, from a call box, I rang home in desperation.

My brother, who owned – and still does – a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I he had bought at 19 for £190, was with us within two hours along with anxious parents. There followed the most terrifying 81-mile journey on the end of a short tow-rope. Travelling at up to 40mph, all I could see was the luggage trunk on the back of the Rolls and smell overheating brakes.

The clutch problem was soon resolved – it was one of the three operating levers jamming.

In May 1969, when the picture was taken, the car redeemed itself.

At an event for vintage cars, lorries and motorbikes – The Uxbridge to Rayleigh Road Safety Run – we set off in torrential rain with route plans and had to note details about places along the way. Despite rain coming in around the screen and through the floor, we arrived generally unscathed on a recreation ground in Rayleigh. Every participant had to sit a written exam on road safety and The Highway Code. An hour or so later, tired, cold and dejected, when we decided to leave for home, a rally official told us we had won first prize in class and the overall road safety prize.

On the way home, the car seemed to be losing power on some inclines – I think it was also tired after the eventful day of more than 300 miles.

I sold the car for £190 later that year and understand it went to Australia.

Tell us about your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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