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» Home » Articles » Classic Car Reviews » Add - Classic Car Reviews » 1924 Austin 20/4 Tourer Review

1924 Austin 20/4 Tourer Review

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26/11/2009   By MURRAY HUBBARD  

Two car brands synonymous with the beginnings of the British motor industry – Wolseley and Austin – owe their existence to the harsh Australian outback. The outback is one of the cruelest environments on Earth. People still perish in its deserts.


Austin 12/4 Tourer, 1924
 

For Herbert Austin, the Australian outback provided him with the idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life: build cars that could tame the outback and make life more livable for its inhabitants.

 
1924 Austin 12/4 Tourer side view
 

Our featured car, a 1924 Austin 20/4 Tourer was the type of car Austin had in mind as he toiled in the outback in the early 1890s. So what brought this son of a battling Buckinghamshire farmer to the colony in 1884? The short answer is he was looking for his calling in life. He migrated with an uncle who worked in a general engineering firm called Mephan Ferguson in Melbourne.

 
1924 Austin 12/4 Tourer dashboard
 

Yet, as a youngster, Herbert Austin's passion was drawing. He worked with his uncle for two years and then with the Cowen Company, agents for printing equipment and Crossley engines, and later with Longlands Foundry Company, makers of locomotive boilers, wheels and gold mining equipment. At the same time was gaining an engineering background Austin also pursued his drawing career at Hotham Art School with a view to architecture. Both sets of knowledge would serve him well. He met Australian girl Helen Dron and the couple were married on Boxing Day, 1887 and bought a house in Melbourne.

 
1924 Austin 12/4 Tourer steering wheel and dash
 

Just prior to his marriage he left Longlands and joined an engineering workshop that was developing a sheep-shearing machine for Frederick York Wolseley, and after making improvements to the machine was asked to join the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company in Sydney. Soon after joining he was sent to Avoca to study shearers using the machines with a view to practical improvements. Avoca these days is hardly the outback, but 120 years ago no doubt it was a harsh environment.

 
1924 Austin 12/4 Tourer radiator top
 

Writing in 1929, Austin recalled:

It was during my work in the Australian bush that my life's greatest ambition found birth. It was then I discovered the urgency of the transport need, for I was able to observe the difficulties and dangers under which the outback settlers were compelled to live and labour ... it was (in) these same isolated places, and greatly afflicted by such circumstances, that I made a kind of compact with myself that I would one day, by some means or other, build motor cars that could be used by these lonely but lovable people of the bush, and by such means as I could provide, the Never-never would be robbed of much of its inhumanity, cruelty and terror.”


1924 Austin 12/4 grille and headlamps
 

Austin was clever and patented his improved designs for shearing machines and sold those patents to Wolseley in return for shares in the company. Frederick Wolseley closed down the Sydney factory and the pair returned to England along with Austin's young family, with Wolseley setting up a factory in Birmingham with Austin as manager. Significantly, the Wolseley company also started to manufacture bicycles – the starting point for many automobile manufacturers.

 

1924 Austin 12/4 front up close

It was about this time Austin started to work on his promise to himself. He built two cars of different styles in his own time and one was taken up by the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company (WSSMC) and put on sale in 1900. A year later Wolseley sold this side of its business to Vickers and this was called the Wolseley Tool and Motor Company, with Austin moving with the new company, but still working part time with the WSSMC, a company whose board he would chair from 1911-1933.

In 1905 Austin resigned from Wolseley Tool and Motor Company to start up his own company and by 1908 – the year the Model-T Ford was launched – he was producing 17 models of Austin cars. His company survived WW1 – just - with a receiver appointed in 1921. Austin's saviour was Baby Austin (Austin Seven) - below-  launched in 1922. This little vehicle `a car in miniature' had much as the same impact as the Morris Mini had years later – it dominated sales. Some 290,000 were built between 1922-39. On top of that the car was licensed and sold as the BMW Dixi – the Bavarian maker's first car – in France as the Rosengart, used by Nissan to develop their first car, and sold in the U.S. as the American Austin, and later as the Bantam.

 
Austin Seven Chummy
 

It was only Herbert Austin's belief and determination that saw the Austin Seven launched. The Board at Austin did not want the project, fearing it would ruin the company at a time it was already struggling in the aftermath of WW1. Austin insisted it be built or he would take the design to Wolseley. The rest is history. But, the Seven was a means to an end for Austin. It helped the company survive and enabled it to keep on building less profitable models such as the 20/4 Tourer – cars that could be used in remote places like the Australian bush.

 
Austin Seven Chummy
 

The Austin 20/4 (20 hp/4cylinders) was introduced in 1919 and had a production run until 1930. Sales were conservative and just 15,287 were sold during the life of the model. To start with the car was sold as a tourer, coupe and laundaulette. Commercial derivatives were also built. Originally, the car was known as an Austin 20, but that changed in 1927 when the six cylinder 20/6 was launched and the Twenty four-cylinder became known as the 20/4.


Austin 12/4 Tourer radiator badge
 

The 20/4 was powered by a 3610 cc straight four with the car sitting on a 130 inch wheelbase. For 1928 and 1929 the 20/4 and 20/6 were produced alongside each other, but from 1930 production of the 20/4 was scaled down as it's six cylinder successor took over. There's no doubt the 20/4 was the type of vehicle Herbert Austin envisaged in his time in the Australian outback that could make life easier for those prepared to take on the `never never.'

1. Vice President of the Vintage Austin Register (UK)
james stringer (19/10/2010)

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