Austin Gipsy experimental dept

On this page you will find articles on the history of the Austin Gipsy.

The following article was written by Dick Axtell telling about his experience working at the Austin Gipsy experimental department.

Gypsy Experimental Memories

I started my Apprenticeship, at Morris Commercial Cars Ltd., in September 1961, finishing 5 years later. During this time, I spent an unusually long period in the Gypsy Experimental shop. The Austin Gypsy had been designed and developed as a successor to the Austin Champ, which had been produced mainly for military applications. Although initially produced at Longbridge, the Gypsy’s assembly had been moved to Adderley Park, by the time of my apprenticeship.

The Chief Designer, Special-Purpose Vehicles, was Albert Moore, and his right-hand man was Len Ainsley, Chief Experimental Engineer (for Special-Purpose Vehicles). Day-to-day running of Gipsy Experimental Dept. was overseen by the foreman, Bert Hartwell, assisted by chargehand Frank Powell.

The work in this experimental shop was mainly on “special” (i.e. non-standard production) versions of the Gipsy. One of these was the prototype fire tender, with roof-mounted hose racks moulded integrally with the fibreglass canopy.

I had to load up the rear of this LWB version of the prototype vehicle, with 56lb weights, in order to simulate the correct laden condition. We also fitted a couple of hoses and a ladder, to more fully replicate the intended working condition. I accompanied one of the mechanics on a test run to MIRA, where we were scheduled to drive this well-laden Gipsy over the Belgian pavé. We set out to drive over these granite blocks, and managed to complete about half of the scheduled laps.

Example photo of the integrated hose carrier.


The fibreglass canopy, with integral hose & ladder extension, had stood up well to the harsh test. Unfortunately, the rear floor of this Gipsy hadn’t fared so well; carrying all those 56lb weights had proved too much for the metal. The rear floor was now in danger of giving way completely, having cracked through at the edges, close to the join with the rear wheel arches. I can’t recall how that problem was resolved; I suspect that simulated loads would have had to be more evenly distributed – and fastened down very securely!

Example vehicles had been supplied to the Military, for them to evaluate. I remember having to drive down to the F.V.R.D.E., (Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment), near Chertsey in Surrey. Back in the early 1960s, neither M40 nor M25 motorways had been built yet, so it was a long working day, driving down from Birmingham and back again. The Army Gipsys were kept together with other manufacturers’ experimental vehicles, so I noted, with interest, a couple of Forward Control Land Rovers, a very odd little close-coupled contraption called “The Standard Bug”, and a few other strange-looking vehicles of indeterminate origin. On one of these visits, I was working underneath a Gipsy, concentrating on the job in hand. A Regimental Sergeant-Major came bustling into the workshop, calling for a Corporal Dixon, in very strident tones. Said corporal heard his name being called, and I heard his boots clattering into the workshop – at the double!! The RSM then proceeded to give the corporal the mother-and-father of dressings-down, using what I can only describe as “excoriating Army language”. By then I had decided that my best course of action was to stay under the Gipsy, hidden from view. I encountered some new, interesting expressions that morning, none of which are fit to put into print!!

One of the more unusual projects we worked on, in Gipsy development, was a specially-commissioned “independent suspension” Gipsy. This used the older style Bramber Flexitor rubber-sprung trailing arm units. I was told that this was how the early Gipsys were built, supposedly providing a smoother cross-country ride. This vehicle was built for Alec Moulton, who was the inventor of the Flexitor suspension unit. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet this innovative-thinking man, who was also responsible for the original Mini’s rubber suspension.

                                                                               A view of the Gipsy Flexitor trailing arms

One of the Gipsy test vehicles had been modified, at Albert Moore’s request. It was fitted with Austin Taxi differentials, to enable it to cruise at normal speeds, but with lower engine revs, in order to reduce noise. As I recall, this vehicle served as Albert Moore’s personal transport. I also recall that an additional fuel tank had been fitted, which was located under the floor, by the front passenger seat. Being the apprentice, I had to refuel this vehicle each week, including the “extra” fuel tank.

Another Gipsy encounter occurred at the annual distributors’ and dealers’ show, held at Longbridge. Apprentices were at this show, to provide chauffeuring duties, for visitors, and to assist as requested. Part of the display set-up included a large, double-ended 45˚ ramp, which had been built to demonstrate the Gipsy’s climbing capability – i.e. a steep “1-in-1” slope. I had remembered that there had been such a display elsewhere in Birmingham, but had never managed to see it for myself. So when there was some free time, during our show duties, I managed to get a ride on a LWB Gipsy, going over this steep ramp. The demonstration driver said that he went better after lunch (having consumed a few stiff gins!!). One fact escaped me, as I climbed on board this vehicle; our driver usually drove a SWB model. So as the LWB version drove up and then got its front wheels on the downward slope. Something in the chassis area caught the edge of the temporary roadway, due to using the longer wheel-based vehicle! Our demonstrator driver, fuelled no doubt by some liquid lunch, decided to “give it the beans”, in order to overcome the (ahem) unexpected break in our progress. Well, he succeeded – and some! This Gipsy shot down the slope much quicker than our driver would normally done. I had taken the precaution of putting my feet on the dashboard, but fortunately, we didn’t hit anything (nor anyone!!).

For another project, the Gipsy experimental shop also prepared vehicles for a competitive motoring event. This was called “Autopoint”, and was televised on BBC. The event was held under the auspices of the London Auto Club (as I recall), and involved teams from the Club, the Army, and other clubs. It was supposed to be a motorised version of point-to-point racing. MCC supplied a suitably tuned Gipsy, but one of the Club’s drivers had the pleasure of driving it in this competition.

Sometimes, customers’ vehicles were returned to the experimental shop for inspection, evaluation of any damage due to working conditions, and repair. I have a very distinct memory of one filthy, mud-caked Gipsy being brought in for such inspection. A few mechanics looked distinctly sideways at this vehicle’s very self-evident farm-yard usage, and unanimously decided that the apprentice should work underneath it. So, yours truly got the job, and slid beneath the vehicle, using a crawler. Whereupon all those mechanics banged all round the vehicle sides and floor, showering me with lumps of mud – er, and other stuff!

That is just a small part of my experience in Gipsy Experimental. It was an interesting experience.