Sunday, 03 December 2006 19:43

McWhannell, Richard

Written by 
Text and photos - Richard McWhannell The full history of the Austin Seven CMC Dieppe Sports Model is still being written. But for the purpose of getting the record straight, here are some facts (where lines are blurred and truth tampered with just occasionally).   
 A sentimental Journey.   It was April 1967 shortly after my 15th birthday I bought my first Austin 7, a 1931 saloon for NZ£15.0.0. Shortly after this I befriended two fabulous Austin 7 men, Ross Haynes and Burt Williamson, who fostered my new enthusiasm. I tinkered with and drove that car as often as possible. Banks Peninsula’s port hills were the best drives as were the remote outer bays and Akaroa. By 1969 I was bent on a restoration because I wanted a period piece and some of the ‘mods’ on the car were alarming. I bought a ’34 Saloon for parts and answered ads in the newspaper, and collected most requisite parts. I began with enough to make a fair job of it. I joined the Vintage Austin Register in 1969 and wrote letters full of boyish enthusiasm to Peter Fry.
I was subscribed to ‘Beaded Wheels’ and had acquired an enviable library on the marque. The restoration was begun; the chassis was exquisite but at the same time I decided to attend the Canterbury School of Fine Arts. I knew I could not be both a student and an Austin 7 boffin, so I sold the project for NZ$75.00 thereafter buying a ‘37 Opal as a practical runner  (for NZ$50.00).                                                                                                                    
I drove the Opal for the next eight years, selling it (reluctantly) to migrate to Auckland in December’77 vowing that one day I’d find another Seven and it would probably be a ‘Chummy’. In October 2003 I bought a 1929 A7 special from local enthusiast, Mike Courtney. Subsequently vinned (Vehicle Identification Number) after some time in the hands of Ryan McDonald and was on the road by late February 2004. It was no coincidence that I met Joss Campbell a few weeks later and our friendship was cemented when Joss suggested we take the ‘Courtney’ out to John Hearne’s at Silverdale.
We got there, but clearly getting back the same way was not an option. Briefly, the fabric Universal had committed suicide crossing the top of the Harbour Waitemata), the crown-wheel and pinion were about to have a very bad relationship and the nearside rear brake shoes had imploded into the drum. At that point it was clear the body off general look over was a very sensible option. After that it also became clear that here too was a starting point for a real vintage sports, since there was so much else to do. Most worryingly the chassis rails were nearly cracked through at the rear engine mounts and a sideways twist explained why the car was keen to turn right but was a struggle going left. After trying to remedy the chassis it was decided to look for a replacement.                                                                                                                                                                    
Gordon Routledge, from Nelson (an old friend of John Sutton’s from his 750 Motor Club days in U.K.) had a spare AD chassis which has been substituted for the offending C 70348. Now I drive a vintage Sports that might have been made by two former Argyll Motor Company coach builders working in Dumbarton, Scotland. These two had a fondness for the Austin 7 and a penchant for French Automobile design (think B.N.C. and Amilcar)  (See above photo - 'A 'B.N.C.'  inspiration.) They were CMC Motor Bodies. The Austin 7 ‘Dieppe’ Sports Model, was offered as a small sports racer for the impecunious enthusiast or perhaps as a curiosity for the ‘haves’ who might enjoy a miniature as adjunct to their stable of motorcars. As it happened orders were not forth coming save for the sale of one car to a distiller of single malt whiskeys as a gift for his ne’er do well 18 year old son. The lad scarcely drove the thing and the car ended up in the hands of a New Zealand aerated waters manufacturer and amateur sports car racer, Mr. Wright from Christchurch. Wright had visited the whiskey man in ’31 and made a very reasonable purchase, thence shipped the car back to N.Z. The car is not mentioned in any known racing documents. Wright later sold his company to Ballins Industries and upon his death the car ended up in the hands of his rather eccentric son, who stored it at his property in South Brighton in a large yard containing remnants of every kind.
This man became my landlord in 1972, renting me a shanty by that yard. With my interest in sevens I was keen to relieve him of the seriously deteriorating vehicle. He was not persuaded, saying that he was going to restore it in time and that it would be worth a fortune. I moved on and assumed the car had probably ended up as landfill. So you can imagine the thrill it was to discover the ‘Special’ I bought 31 years later was built on the very chassis of that car! What was more, I had a photograph of the car with its dilapidated original body and so had every advantage in rebuilding it in close to original form. That’s the fiction around which the ‘Dieppe’ is formed.
So the Dieppe was a co-pro. Between Richard McWhannell and  Joss Campbell.  Designed and built by us and returned to road legal status by February 2005. It had taken from early April to December 18, 2004 to be fired up and making forays round the block.
                                                                                                                                                                                       A Constant Meaning                                                                                                                             For Papa  I’ve little knowledge of the technicalities Though the uncovered front
Reveals a comfortingly simple Arrangement, pared back
In not being dressed up. The enjoyment of a wind-up
Tool can hardly be exaggerated: The Seven polished
To the nines and ready for The day’s perusal
Of gentrified locality. Fasten goggles against the stream
And any thing that it may carry. Wrap up tight, ’cause you’re
Out there, bro’, exposed, And there’s little could be
Sharper than this morning. Eyes on the road, with
Every face a jolly one. Some with yesterday there,
Others freshly impressed: All recognising the Special
Runner on the tar. Though it fits every
Definition, for the moment, Of the car. Poem written by my son, Francis McWhannell, 2006          

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