The Auster Autocar – a postwar British classic

I must freely confess that I love Austers – yes, bring on the welded steel tubes and fine Irish linen! For a number of years, my professional life was bound up with the study of the history and preservation of the breed, as I worked for Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service, and we held a fine Taylorcraft/Auster collection, including the then-flying Autocrat, G-AGOH (since retired, and a museum exhibit). Leicestershire is the ancestral home of the Auster, with the British Taylorcraft Company Ltd having been formed there, and the very first Plus ‘C’ model being built locally in a disused osier shed.

The various Marks of Auster gave great service to the Allied cause during WW2, and with the coming of peace, the company changed its name to the Auster Aircraft Company Ltd. to reflect the Service name of its best product. The firm was looking to capitalize on returning Servicemen, some of whom wanted to continue flying for pleasure, as well as those who wanted to start an aviation-based business.

The three-seat Auster J/1 Autocrat had been launched in the immediate aftermath of WW2, but the company quickly realized that their aircraft needed more range, more internal room and more power. By 1949, the company had devised a new four-seat tourer, the Auster J/5B Autocar. They had used the Autocrat’s wing, but added wing root tanks (for a total of 32 gallons), heel brakes, and a bulged fuselage roof, which neatly met the perspex behind the trailing edge of the wing and gave headroom for the two passengers in the rear. To counteract the increased fuselage area aft of the wing, a much larger fin with a horn-balanced rudder was fitted. There was – of course – the traditional Auster welded steel tube construction, covered by doped Irish linen. Power came from the ever-reliable de Havilland Gipsy Major 1 of 130 hp, driving a Fairey metal propeller. Construction was rushed, so that certification could be completed by 3rd August, 1949, just in time for the company Chief Test Pilot, the famous Ranald Porteous, to display the prototype at that year’s SBAC Show at Farnborough.

‘Flight’ magazine like the new aircraft, particularly its economy – they reported 6 1/2 gallons per hour at 110 mph cruise, giving a range of 485 miles. Top speed was 127 mph, and the magazine’s reviewer liked the fact that the engine was equipped with an effective silencer. The list price (1949 Sterling) was given as £1,500.

Although the Gipsy Major’s power was adequate for temperate conditions, it was decided to offer more power for export customers, particularly those in ‘hot and high’ situations, and those companies who wished to use the Autocar as a crop-spraying aircraft (with a tank in the rear passenger space), such as Pest Control Ltd, who ordered a batch of five for crop-dusting and pest control for use with their operation in the Sudan. Hence the arrival of the J/5G (Cirrus Major 3 – 155 hp) and the J/5V (Lycoming O-320 – 160 hp). Some UK operators – Southend Flying School, Southend-on-Sea and Bee’s Flight Ltd, Sandown, Isle of Wight – used the Autocar to give 1’000s of holidaymakers short pleasure flights. Production finally ceased in 1958, after a total of 180 Autocars had been built.

Here we see a lovely Autocar, a J/5V 160, G-AOIY, construction number 3199, fitted with a Lycoming O-320-BC of 160 hp. Originally built in 1956 as a J/5G with a Cirrus Major 3 (one of 92 of that sub-type), it has been converted to the O-320, not just for the little bit of extra power, but because of the much easier engine spares situation. At the time this photograph was taken, India Yankee was picketed securely against an oncoming storm front. Mr Roger Benson was the then owner, but who was to say that Austers lead staid lives, for he soon after sold India Yankee abroad (in October, 2010) to a group of Finnish pilots! Not only that, but when OH-AUM (as she became) flew into her new home in the Mediaeval city of Porvoo – about 30 miles east of the capital of Helsinki – a radical change took place. She was fitted with floats, to become a seaplane! The new owners, Seppo Kuhvuori, Arto Wiikari, and Matti Sorsa have kept the aircraft’s former white/red colour scheme, as it matches a float-equipped Piper Cub that they also own. Uniform Mike will have a grand life exploring the many bays and inlets on the Baltic sea coast, as well as the rivers and tens of thousands of lakes which are scattered across Finland. A truly exciting prospect.

The Auster Autocar – a real British classic.

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