Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

| 22 May 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

It is said that youth is wasted on the young.

You could argue that the same sentiment applies to the classic car world, where antiquated components, skills such as double-declutching and environmental concerns often deter the next generation rather than inspire them.

It’s not always for a lack of trying, though: this expensive hobby has its barriers, and most even relatively modern cars require a trip to the garage for a job that would have been a simple fix on a 1960s Mini – the decline of the home mechanic means that little engineering know-how is being passed on.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

StarterMotor is introducing a new generation of enthusiasts to the joys of classic cars

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and Bicester Heritage-based charity StarterMotor is putting the world to rights by providing an accessible entry point for younger people to experience the joys of old-school motoring.

The charity has an 11-strong fleet of vehicles, including two Austin Sevens, a Citroën Traction Avant and a Riley One-Point-Five.

“These sorts of cars are pretty invisible to young people,” says David Withers, chief executive of StarterMotor.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

The Austin Ten Clifton takes some getting used to

Its volunteers attend lots of events throughout the year, while occasional ‘Spanner Saturdays’ give them the opportunity to maintain the vehicles.

Standing outside the Heritage Skills Academy workshop, David reels off a list of jobs that need to be completed before the upcoming Bicester Scramble gathering, including an adjustment to the carburettor on the ’34 Austin Ten Clifton tourer that’s going to be mine for a week.

“About half of our ambassadors are Heritage Skills Academy apprentices,” explains David.

“We want them to have fun, not just by learning about the cars, but by driving them, too.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Young classic car enthusiasts share their knowledge at StarterMotor’s periodic ‘Spanner Saturdays’

You need to be 19 to get behind the wheel, but younger people are encouraged to join; the volunteers take on a variety of roles, from social-media managers to event planners.

With the cars’ bonnets up, the more experienced apprentices take the time to explain what’s what to those with less knowledge.

There is a 1952 Morgan Plus 4 on loan from the Morgan Sports Car Club, while other cars are borrowed from generous owners who want to support the charity.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

StarterMotor’s fleet of classic cars is an eclectic bunch

“Mostly, the cars come to us through loans, but this year we have had two classics left to us in wills,” explains David, pointing towards an MGB and a Jaguar S-type.

“We go through a fairly stringent process to make sure each car is sound and reliable – we won’t take on a project.

“The cars that we have on the road go to specialists for safety checks and MoTs.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Chief executive David Withers has seen Bicester Heritage-based StarterMotor flourish in recent years

You’d be hard pressed to find a youngster with a natural affinity for a 1930s Austin Seven, but David says many of the volunteers steer towards older and older machinery as they become more involved.

“When the 1967 Jaguar S-type arrived, they all wanted to have a go in it,” he says.

“It’s got a 3.4-litre engine, a manual gearbox with overdrive and power-assisted steering, and it’s super-comfy.

“But they all gravitate to the older cars because the challenge gets more novel.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

The Austin Ten Clifton is surprisingly comfortable on long journeys

The 1934 Alvis 12/60 – which has back-to-front pedals, no synchromesh and a gearlever on the ‘wrong’ side – is a popular choice.

“Young people are really good at learning quickly,” he says.

After some training and practice laps around the Bicester site, volunteers are allowed out in the trickiest vehicles, which has resulted in some sleepless nights for David.

“They always return beaming,” he smiles. “The RAC gets a call from time to time, but that’s all part of the adventure.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

This Austin Ten, MJ 5371, has been owned by the same family for almost 80 years

The charity has grown quickly since 2019, when it was known as the Historic Car Learning Company.

“Not a very snappy title,” confesses David, “but it quickly became StarterMotor.

“This time three years ago we had just one car, an Austin Ten. Now, we’ve got 11 of them.”

‘Our’ car is another Austin Ten, MJ 5371, a Clifton tourer donated to the charity by Rob Lorch, whose parents, Walter and Diana, bought it in 1945.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Diana and Walter Lorch with ‘William’, as bought in 1945. Son Rob donated the Austin Ten to StarterMotor

Walter, then fresh out of the British Army, shared the car with Diana, a student doctor in London.

The Austin, nicknamed William, was their everyday car, used for shopping trips and school runs, and by Diana to visit patients at home – plus for some European adventures.

In 1992 they gave it to their grandson, David, and it’s been on the road ever since.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

The Austin Ten wears a British Medical Association badge; Diana was a doctor who used the car to visit patients at home

Once Oxfordshire Sevens apprentice James Manley has fiddled with the Zenith carb and topped up the tank with Sustain Classic’s synthetic fuel, Andrew Evans – whose day job is as an engineer at the Aston Martin F1 Team – provides a crash course in double-declutching.

Having got to grips with my new role as a big, fleshy synchromesh, I leave the safety of Bicester Heritage’s private roads and head into the heavy throng of traffic leaving Bicester Village shopping outlet.

“I bet the bloke in that Ferrari is annoyed,” shouts a driver at a red light. “You’re getting all the attention!”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Away from motorways – and hills – the Austin Ten Clifton is entertaining

Although not well-versed in modern sports cars (it’s actually a Toyota Supra), he’s got a point: it’s not flashy, but the little Ten draws lots of curious looks.

I travel home to Portsmouth with my friend, Marc, who helps navigate – namely, avoiding motorways and dual carriageways – and assists me with hand signals.

After escaping the congestion, we drive through Thame and into the Chiltern Hills.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

The Austin Ten’s dickey seat is the perfect size for a couple of friends – or a weekly shop

It’s fair to say that any place with ‘hill’ in its name is not the ideal stomping ground for the 21bhp Austin, but neither is the A34 or M40.

Back at Bicester Heritage, Andrew told us that, with gravity on your side, the plucky Ten is good for 50mph (yippee!); he didn’t mention that it tops out at 20mph uphill.

Like a motoring Pied Piper, we leave rural Oxfordshire with a string of modern cars in tow before we peel off on to quieter roads.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Laudable mid-20th-century mass-market personal transport solution meets contemptible modern-day nutrition-substitute outlet

You soon adjust to driving a car of this era by selecting the right gear before tackling a hill (for a newbie, the time it takes to double-declutch, shift down and put your foot back on the throttle is far too long, and you simply come to a stop) and better anticipating braking points – although the Ten’s four-wheel drums scrub off speed surprisingly well.

The 1125cc ‘four’ is quite flexible, and you can bumble along happily at 30mph in top.

You can ignore first once you’re on the move, and you soon stop feeling like a Dance Dance Revolution rookie every time you change gear.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

The Austin Ten Clifton feels almost as out of place in a fast-food drive-through as it does on the M40 motorway

Close to Reading we pull into a pub for lunch.

“Look, that car is nearly as old as you, Dad,” a passer-by quips while their (surely not 89-year-old) father looks unamused.

Nonetheless, it leads to another charming chat with more people who are interested in the Austin.

Refuelled, we’re let out of the pub car park by a motorist who must regret their generosity when, having taken 15 seconds to find first gear, I navigate another uphill climb at 15mph.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Driving the Austin Ten Clifton is a challenge for a newbie

The Austin Ten was introduced in 1932, and designed to be a comfortable everyday car.

Unsurprisingly, its combination of beam axles, worm-and-roller steering and separate chassis feels dated by today’s standards, but it’s an unexpectedly easy thing to drive.

You have to be on the lookout for uneven surfaces, though, because it does have a tendency to tramline.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Volunteers help to maintain StarterMotor’s classic cars, which are mostly donated to the charity

We’re on the final stretch between Alton and Portsmouth when the car catches a hidden bump and, as if it’s fitted with a wicked inversion of a modern lane-keeping assist system, lurches across the white lines before leaping back to the correct side of the road.

Marc almost falls out, and I grip the steering wheel a bit tighter for the rest of the journey.

Thankfully, we are almost home when the sun starts to set, so the Austin’s candlelight headlamps are only needed for the final miles.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Lots of Heritage Skills Academy apprentices join StarterMotor

Having feared I’d be sick of the Clifton after the four-hour trip from Bicester to Portsmouth, I actually jump into it every day for the week it’s in my care, using it for a visit to the supermarket (a weekly shop fits neatly on the dickey seat) and some lovely evening drives.

A neighbour I’d never previously spoken to even stops for a chat about the blue-and-black Ten.

The cruise back to Bicester the following weekend is made even better by the glorious October sunshine.

Having the roof folded – and not needing to trouble the minimal windscreen wiper – surely makes the experience a great deal better.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

StarterMotor chief executive David Withers: “We want them to have fun”

Marc and I arrive back to lots of smiling faces as the StarterMotor volunteers are back in action at the October Scramble.

My week with the Austin Ten has been the most fun I’ve had with a classic car, and it had me grinning from ear to ear.

It helps that everything is in the ‘right’ place, so it’s not too daunting for somebody used to more modern machinery.

Having spoken to others who have shared the experience (below), it’s clear that this hobby is in safe hands.

Thanks to StarterMotor, there’s a swathe of young enthusiasts who are excited to make sure classic cars have a future, and know there’s no time to waste.

Images: Jack Harrison

Thanks to: StarterMotor; Bicester Heritage

StarterMotor: meet the volunteers

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Simon Ponseele has built a Ford Model T speedster

Simon Ponseele (23)

Favourite StarterMotor car: 1934 Alvis 12/60

Simon studied motorcycle mechanics in Belgium before he moved to the UK and got a job with Bentley specialist Kingsbury Racing.

He’s a long-time fan of vintage cars from the 1910s and ’20s, but StarterMotor has given him the opportunity to try out other classics.

“The first car I borrowed was the little Riley Elf,” he says. “That was brilliant – I did 1300 miles in three weeks.

“I’ve been lucky to grow up with a Ford Model T, but for other people that have never had that, StarterMotor presents them with the opportunity.

“My dad got a 1915 Model T when I was 11, and that was the car in which I learned to drive.”

The charity has helped to broaden his horizons, but the oldest cars remain his pick: “They’re oh-so simple to work on and very straightforward.

“I love being able to see something work and all of the components moving.

“I built my own Model T speedster and, because I’m a member of StarterMotor, I could actually use it on the track at the Flywheel event.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Izzie Holman got hooked on rallying after a passenger ride in a Škoda Fabia at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Izzie Holman (24)

Favourite StarterMotor car: 1967 Jaguar S-type

“I came to a Scramble and I saw these young people driving kids around in old cars,” remembers Izzie.

“I thought, ‘What’s going on here? Can I do this?’”

A quick Google search revealed how Izzie could get involved – and that David was in charge of the charity’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“At the time I was doing social media for Formula E; I know it inside out, so I got in touch and said, ‘Do you want me to come and do your social media at events?’”

Izzie is now the sales and marketing manager at Silverstone Rally School, where she also helps to coach young drivers, and this year she’s co-driving in the Formula 1000 Junior Rally Championship.

She caught the rally bug after a passenger ride in a Škoda Fabia around the Forest Rally Stage at Goodwood Festival of Speed, where she also hopped in an ex-Carlos Sainz, Martini-liveried Ford Focus and Bron Burrell’s Austin Maxi from the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally.

She’s now a regular at StarterMotor events and has also bought a Mazda MX-5 (NB).

“I’ve made a lot of friends that will be friends for life,” she says, “and everyone’s always happy to teach me stuff.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Oxfordshire Sevens apprentice James Manley is hoping to get a motorsport licence to race StarterMotor’s Austin Seven Ulster

James Manley (19)

Favourite StarterMotor car: 1932 Austin Seven Ulster

James has been involved with StarterMotor for about 18 months and works for Oxfordshire Sevens in Launton.

“I was originally interested in classic cars,” he says, “but after I started working on Austin Sevens, I became really interested in vintage vehicles.

“They’re nicer to work with and they’re more interesting to drive. It gets my brain working a bit more.”

The most rewarding thing he’s learnt at StarterMotor? “How to drive lots of different cars,” he says.

“The Alvis, with a centre throttle, takes some getting used to.”

Last year, James got to take people out in the charity’s cars during the RADwood event at Bicester Heritage: “I was the only one allowed to drive the pre-war stuff, so I was going from car to car, and you had to adapt quickly to get used to them.”

He’s now using StarterMotor’s 1932 Austin Seven Ulster to complete his ARDS test and go racing with the Vintage Sports-Car Club.

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Formula One engineer Andrew Evans enjoys the old-school challenges that classic cars pose

Andrew Evans (25)

Favourite StarterMotor car: 1934 Austin Ten Clifton

“I wasn’t really that aware of old cars before I joined, so I guess StarterMotor is doing its job,” says Andrew, an engineer with the Aston Martin Formula One team.

“I saw people driving around in these cars at the 2022 April Scramble and thought, ‘How do I get involved?’”

Andrew contacted David, who invited him to the next meeting.

“I thought it sounded too good to be true. A year later, I still haven’t found out what the catch is.

“When I went to university I got involved in Formula Student and then became obsessed with motorsport.

“That was all I wanted to do; I didn’t care about road cars any more.

“Now, F1 keeps me busy every day and it’s a very fun job, but you just don’t see stuff like this.”

Andrew has a soft spot for the 1934 Alvis 12/60 Beetleback, but says ‘our’ 1934 Austin Ten Clifton is his pick of StarterMotor’s fleet: “If I drove the Alvis a bit more, potentially that would be my favourite.

“It’s like learning to drive all over again.”

He jumped in the 1953 Citroën Traction Avant as co-driver on last year’s Rally for the Ages.

“It was good fun,” he recalls. “But even though I’m an engineer, my mental maths wasn’t good enough.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Thomas Lee is a StarterMotor veteran

Thomas Lee (26)

Favourite StarterMotor car: 1934 Alvis 12/60

Thomas was one of the first volunteers to sign up for StarterMotor.

“The first car I borrowed was the Austin Seven, ‘Radish’, as it’s affectionately known,” he says.

“That was my first drive in a pre-war car, and I can understand why people love Austin Sevens. It’s just fantastic.

“The beautiful thing about StarterMotor is that you actually do get the opportunity to drive various vehicles, whether it’s the Riley Elf, the Riley One-Point-Five or an older model such as the Alvis 12/60.

“It’s great to look at them, but the whole point is to get out to experience the wind in your hair and the whirr of the engine.”

Thomas points out that there are plenty of roles at StarterMotor that don’t involve spanners and wrenches.

“It’s not just about fixing the cars,” he says. “There are events, product launches and all kinds of different things.”

Thomas is also a Vintage Sports-Car Club member and has noticed a shift as more young people take part in the club’s events: “Some of them are building their own cars. It’s great that the sporting side has a future.”

When he’s not at StarterMotor, Thomas works at Ashton Keynes Vintage Restorations, near Cirencester.

“We do all the big names,” he says, “but also Amilcars and Salmsons, and other interesting things that pop in every now and then.”

Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Newcomers Morgan Churchouse-Cook and Matthew Hartin are hoping to experience some more classic cars

Morgan Churchouse-Cook (26) & Matthew Hartin (25)

Favourite StarterMotor cars: 1967 Jaguar S-type & 1952 Morgan Plus 4

It’s Morgan (on right) and Matthew’s first time at a Spanner Saturday, but the pair are keen to get stuck in.

“It’s good to get young people into the scene,” says Morgan, who owns a 1967 Ford Mustang.

“Someone has to keep them going. If you lose that knowledge, you won’t see them on the road any more.”

“I’ve mainly been around newer, more modern cars,” explains Matthew, who grew up in Belgium.

“I’m a simulation engineer and lots of the people I work with have interesting cars, but most of those are post-2000. It’s a completely different world to this.

“I’ve only started working on old cars since I moved to the UK; I could never afford it before.”

They haven’t had the chance to drive any of the cars on StarterMotor’s fleet yet.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to learn more about them, especially the vintage stuff,” says Morgan.


Classic & Sports Car – Austin Ten adventure: kick-starting the passion

Austin Ten Clifton

  • Sold/number built 1932-’47/c290,000 (all)
  • Construction steel chassis, steel, aluminium and fabric body
  • Engine all-iron (alloy head from 1938), sidevalve 1125cc ‘four’, Zenith carburettor
  • Max power 21bhp @ 3400rpm (later 32bhp @ 4000rpm)
  • Max torque n/a
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD (later cars with syncro on 2nd/3rd/4th)
  • Suspension beam axles, semi-elliptic springs, Andre Silentbloc friction dampers f/r (later Luvax-Girling or Armstrong lever-arm dampers)
  • Steering worm and roller (later worm and sector, then variable-ratio cam)
  • Brakes mechanical drums
  • Length 11ft 6½in-13ft 2in (3518-4013mm)
  • Width 4ft 6½in-4ft 10½in (1384-1486mm)
  • Height 5ft 2in-5ft 5in (1575-1651mm)
  • Wheelbase 7ft 9in-7ft 9¾in (2362-2381mm)
  • Weight 1736-2072lb (787-940kg)
  • Mpg 30-40
  • 0-50mph 30-24 secs
  • Top speed 55-65mph
  • Price new £158 (saloon, 1935)
  • Price now £5-12,000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication

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