1928 AUSTIN 'Heavy' 12/4 LandauletteView vehicle description
Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley – all famous names that ended their life as part of a homogenised British motor industry. The Austin marque survived until 1987, a little shy of 100 years after Herbert Austin built his first car in 1901.
Before founding Austin in 1905, Herbert had already started making cars under the Wolseley name, but following a disagreement over engine design left to start his own company with the backing of steel magnate Frank Kayser and Dunlop patent holder Harvey du Cross.
In November 1905 Austin bought a disused printing works around seven miles south-west of Birmingham in the small village of Longbridge, which back then was in Worcestershire. The following month The Austin Motor Company Limited was incorporated.
In April the following year potential customers flocked to the Longbridge factory to take a look at Herbert’s new car – available with either a 15 or 20 horsepower engine, and chain drive. Austins were luxury cars retailing at up to £650 (that’s about £93,000 in today’s money), and customers included Russian Grand Dukes, princesses, bishops, high officials of the Spanish government and a long list of Britain's highest nobility.
The Austin 12 debuted in 1921. It was the second of the firm’s post World War I models and was in many ways a scaled-down version of the Austin 20, introduced in 1919. The 12 refers to the car’s horsepower rating for tax purposes rather than its brake horsepower which was 20 and later 27bhp. The long-stroke engines encouraged by the tax regime had much greater low-speed torque than the bhp rating suggests.
Initially available as a tourer, by 1922 three body styles were offered: the four-seat tourer, the two/four-seater and the coupé at £675. The car enjoyed great success with annual sales peaking at 14,000 in 1927.
While the mechanical specification changed little (the engine increased from 1661cc to 1861cc in 1926), many body styles were offered, with saloons becoming more popular as the 1920s drew to a close. The car continued in the Austin catalogue and as a taxi option until 1939. The last cars were produced for the War Department in 1940.
After the early 1930s the car was referred to by the public as the Heavy Twelve to distinguish it from the other, newer, 12 horsepower cars in the Austin range. The car had garnered a reputation as being virtually unburstable, and was a firm favourite with London taxi drivers as a result.
1928 Austin 'Heavy' 12/4 Landaulette
Coachwork by Mann Egerton
Registration no. VG 731
Chassis No 42483
‘What does a motorist demand of a moderately priced saloon car?" asked Austin's advertising for the 'Heavy' 12/4 in 1930. ‘First and foremost he demands dependability, not for months or seasons but for years. He wants a car that does not need looking after. He wants, after a gruelling day's run, to drive his car into his garage and forget about it until he wants to drive it out again. He wants it to keep up a high average speed – to take hills in its stride - to be economical with petrol and oil. In short, he wants dependability of an outstanding kind, dependability which costs practically nothing to maintain.’ Along with the Seven, the Twelve saved the ailing Austin concern, nearly 70,000 of the larger model being sold up to the end of 1930. Launched in late 1921, the Twelve owed its success to Austin's superior build quality and the soundness of the basic design. The model became a byword for indestructibility, a virtue that commended itself to the London taxi trade, which used the Heavy 12/4 extensively throughout the 1930s and beyond. The Twelve engine was a five-bearing, magneto ignition-equipped, sidevalve four displacing 1861cc, for which the factory claimed a maximum output of 27bhp at a lowly 2,000rpm, sufficient for 40-45mph cruising at which speed the Twelve returned around 26 miles per gallon. After the Light 12/4's arrival in 1933, the Heavy Twelve's days were numbered, the last example leaving the factory in 1935. Enduringly popular, the model remains a favourite with Austin enthusiasts.
This rare 1928 Austin 12/4 is believed to be one of only four such Landaulettes built on the Austin 12/4 chassis by Mann Egerton. The Norwich company’s bodies were always of the highest quality and certainly a match for those of the best London coachbuilders. VG 731 has only had three owners from new and still retains its original registration number, logbook and handbooks.
The Austin was restored some 10 years ago, and the restorer paid particular attention to retaining originality. These works included renovation of the body and mechanicals while the interior was re-trimmed throughout in leather.
On the Outside
If this Austin’s outline looks vaguely familiar it may well be as a result of seeing such a car in an old film featuring any scene with a London taxi in it. That said, the paintwork and fittings on this car are in much nicer condition than your average hard working taxi.
The marron paint is very nice, with only some very slight sinking on one of the bonnet panels, and the panels are all straight and true. The visible parts of the chassis look very well finished too, and its unlikely the car has covered many miles since its refurbishment.
Some of the varnish on the running boards and some areas of the woodwork around the windows could do with refinishing, as it hasn’t lasted as well as the paint on the steel bodywork, but this is a minor problem, and overall the car looks beautiful.
The cast spoked wheels are in excellent order with a matching set of period correct tyres.
On the Inside
Inside the spacious cabin the headlining is in superb condition, save for some of the string webbing on the roof mounted storage pocket, which has broken and needs redoing.
The sumptuous brown leather seats are in lovely condition, with just some small marks on the leather on the doors near the storage pockets.
The large steering wheel, with its centrally mounted ignition advance and retard control, is an imposing sight.
On the right of the dash an aperture there is what looks like a capillary feed to a temperature gauge of some sort.
Firing up an old beast like this Austin isn’t quite as pushbutton as a modern car, with the starting procedure listed as:
1. Do not change settings in middle of steering wheel.
2. On dashboard underneath amp meter there are two switches. Turn the left hand switch one click so the ignition is on.
3. At bottom of facia there is a new switch, this is the electric pump as the car has been converted from autovac to electric pump for the sake of ease. Put this on – it will light up green.
4. Open bonnet on driver’s side and tickle the carburettor by pulling the needle up and down, making the pump tick as it fills the chamber.
5. Pull out choke then push the starter button next to it, and the car will start.
With its effective four-wheel brakes, the 12/4 coped with sudden emergencies better than many of its contemporary rivals. And with the immensely strong mechanical layout the cars had an enviable reptation for being virtually unbreakable.
Looking underneath that strength is obvious, with a sturdy chassis and over-engineered suspension components in plain sight. And the engine bay couldn’t really be any simpler. As stated, when the car was previously sold in 2019, the car was "totally reliable and driven to the sale" at that time, so therefore the four-cylinder 1861cc sidevalve engine shouldn't break much of a sweat pulling the pretty Austin along.
Along with the original buff logbook, and all original handbooks, also on file are numerous bills and photographs detailing a painstaking restoration completed some 10 years ago, paying particular attention to retaining originality and patina.
These works included renovation of the body and mechanicals while the interior was re-trimmed throughout in leather. Meticulously maintained and serviced, used regularly and totally reliable, this beautiful Vintage-era Austin shouldn't take much to be driven away. Owing to the car not having run in just over a year, we have not tried to start the car, but the engine turns freely, and the instrumentation panel turns lights up.
The car is owned by the Inchcape company. Northern Market Area Director for Jaguar Land Rover, Kirk Gill says:
‘We bought the car as it was an original Mann Egerton, which would have been supplied by our company in Norwich (Inchcape purchased Mann Egerton in Sept 1973, and rebranded to Inchcape in 2001). The main hook for us was its original heritage from our own business. We had intended in using the car in the launch of the new Norwich Jaguar Land Rover site opening , but due to a few delays, it seems hard on the car for it to be sat around.’
What We Think
A rare opportunity to acquire an Austin from the period when the marque was a byword for top quality, reliable engineering. And with few miles covered since a thorough restoration, this is a car you could happily enjoy for years to come.
We estimate this vehicle to fetch between £10,000 - £15,000 in auction.
Viewing is always encouraged, and this particular car is located with us at The Market HQ near Abingdon; we are open weekdays 9am-5pm, to arrange an appointment please use the Contact Seller button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.
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