Austin Swallow

Very few Austin Swallows survive today. According to the Austin Swallow Register in the UK, of the estimated 2,583 made (records no longer exist and this figure has been compiled from known body numbers) only 147 are known to exist today. 

That’s made up of 87 saloons, like our feature car, and 60 two-seater tourers.

The story of the Swallow-bodied Austin 7 is the story of the birth of Jaguar cars.

Born in 1901, William Lyons was a young motorcycle enthusiast when he met his new neighbour William Walmsley in 1921. Walmsley was building a small number of his unique motorcycle sidecars for himself and some friends. Lyons bought one and was so impressed he suggested a partnership with Walmsley to produce them commercially.

Walmsley eventually relented and the Swallow Sidecar Company was established on 4 September 1922, Lyons’ 21st birthday, renting premises in Bloomfield Rd, Blackpool. The business was very successful, and by 1926 had outgrown Bloomfield Rd. Walmsley’s father bought a property in Cocker St that had been erected specifically for coach building, and rented it to the two Williams, with the business moving there in September and being renamed the Swallow Sidecar & Coach Building Co.

Lyons had been keen on moving into the potentially more lucrative business of motor car coach building after seeing a Gordon England-bodied Austin 7 two-seater. 

By this time, Swallow was one of the largest sidecar manufacturers in Britain, with the most popular model, the Model 4, selling in the hundreds every month. The profit from this model alone was reportedly enough to underpin the development of the Swallow-bodied Austin 7.

Lyons employed Cyril Holland, a coach builder who had done his apprenticeship with Lanchester, one of Britain’s oldest and most respected car firms, and had worked at other car companies, including Morris, and at coach builders Mead & Deakin.

Holland brought a few other coach builders with him from Mead & Deakin and by the end of 1926 they had constructed a body on a Talbot-Daraque.

According to Porter & Skilleter in Sir William Lyons – The Official Biography; “Lyons had persuaded Parkers, the Austin dealer that already sold the Swallow sidecar range from its Bolton and Manchester premises, to supply him with an Austin Seven running chassis. This was against Austin policy but the ‘carrot’ for Stanley Parker was the promise of a northern distributorship for Swallow-bodied cars...”

The chassis was delivered in January 1927 and in May the first announcement appeared in The Autocar, with the Austin Swallow selling for a mere £175 – at a time when a factory-bodied Austin 7 was £145.

Initially, Swallow was only turning out about one car a day, with two distributors – Parker’s and Brown & Mallalieu in Blackpool. However, an order for 50 cars was secured from P. J. Evans in Birmingham, gaining them the distributorship for a large portion of the Midlands.

Lyons’ greatest deal at the time, though, came when he showed the prototype Austin Swallow to H. G. Henly & Co Ltd in Great Portland St, London and came away with an order for 500 cars to be bodied on Austin chassis supplied by Henly’s. In return, Henly’s received a 25% discount on the bodies, instead of the usual 17½%, and the distribution rights for everywhere “south of a line drawn across the map from Bristol to The Wash.”

However, the 1927 cars were built with cycle guards, which steered with the front wheels but the rear edge had a tendency to catch on the bodywork. The solution was to use conventional fixed guards, with running boards, which appeared for all 1928 models onwards.

The first delivery of a two-seater Austin Swallow to Henly’s was in January 1928.

From later in 1928 a stylish enclosed four-seater saloon car was also available, which quickly became the mainstay of Swallow’s output. This body, as with the two-seater, had been modeled by Cyril Holland from design sketches and ideas from Lyons. The aluminium panels on both cars were made by Musgrove & Green in Birmingham.

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The BMC Experience Issue 14. Jul-Sep 2015 Magazine


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