THE AUSTIN CARS
The Austin Cars are one of the most popular juvenile rides, and that's mainly due to their interactive nature – it gives small children the opportunity to drive on their own scale. Judging by their earnest expressions, there's nothing more fun than driving a speeding motorcar around tight bends while simultaneously waving to parents.
The Austin Cars have an interesting history. In 1943 Parliament passed an act finally recognising the existence of pneumoconiosis in miners – what was commonly known in Wales as "the dust". A lot of Welsh ex-miners were suffering badly from the condition and Leonard Lord, then chairman of Austin Motors, felt that they should be given the opportunity to earn a wage. He built a factory in South Wales and employed the disabled men to build pedal cars in the style of contemporary Austin cars.
The toy car, known as the Austin J40, was designed with the basic premise that it could be operated by a child up to the age of about nine; it should have room for a younger brother or sister to ride as a passenger; and it should have opening bonnet and boot. Built around the smallest tyre available (the Dunlop Cord on 8" wheels), they were built using scrap sheet steel from the Austin factory, and had dummy engines with real spark plugs donated by Champion.
Showmen, never to miss a trick, soon came up with the idea of using the J40 on roundabouts, and adapting them to run on electrical power. A number of Austin Car rides were made; it's not known whether Austin actually provided cars with floors and no pedal mechanism for the show trade, or if showmen adapted the toy cars themselves for the task.
Carters Steam Fair's Austin Car ride is thought to have originally been built by Hayes Fabrication (who also built the Carter family's Octopus) in around 1955, and was owned by showman Billy Hewett. Carters purchased it from John Smith in 1988, and subsequently renovated it for travelling.
The two red and maroon cars have electric motors which engage with copper contacts in the brass track on which they run, and they pull the non-motorised ones around. The ride originally had no roof, but English summers soon put paid to that, as the electrical contacts won't work in the rain, so a canopy was added in 2008.
Carters Steam Fair's Austin Cars is one of the few Austin Car rides which is still travelled in parts and built up, rather than being travelled on a trailer. They're a lot harder to build up this way, but they're closer to the ground and on the right level for little children. Its rounding boards along the top are decorated as a tribute to a Lakin's dodgem track, which was originally painted by top fairground decorator Edwin Hall.
Workers in the Austin J40 factory, South Wales.