The Standard Motor Company was established in 1903 in Coventry, England. The Standard Vanguard was introduced in 1948 as the Phase 1 ‘beetle’ shaped saloon, followed in 1953 by the Phase 2 with a notch back. This was replaced in 1955 by the Phase 3 which continued until 1958. The Sportsman, Ensign, Vanguard Vignale and Vanguard Six were variants of the Phase 3 model and produced after 1958.
The Austin Motor Company began in 1905 in Longbridge, Birmingham, England. The Austin Seven was produced in various forms from 1922 to 1939. The Ruby was just one of these. The Austin Ten GS1 was a restyled Austin Ten from earlier years and was produced in large numbers during the Second World War. The Austin A40 Somerset replaced the Austin A40 Devon in 1952 and was similar in styling to the larger Austin A70 Hereford. Continuing with the company’s policy of using county names, the A40 Somerset was replaced by the A40 Cambridge in 1954.
Although Wolseley cars had been manufactured since 1895 the company was established as the Wolseley Motor Company in 1914 in Birmingham, England. The 12/48 was first produced in 1937 and became the Series 3 after the Second World War. The 6/80 and similar shorter wheelbase 4/50 were launched in 1948 as Wolseley’s first post-war models. The 6/80 became popular as a police car because of its impressive power, steering and suspension. They were produced at the Morris factory in Cowley and had similar body styling to the Morris Oxford. The 6/90 replaced the 6/80 in 1954, a model similar to the Riley Pathfinder.
Morris started manufacturing cars in 1913 in Cowley, Oxford, England. The Morris Minor MM of 1948 was updated in 1952 as the Series 2, using an overhead valve engine to replace the original side valve unit. The estate version, called the Traveller, was introduced featuring wooden framework on the outside. A third series was introduced in 1956 called the Minor 1000. The split windscreen was replaced by a single curved windscreen and an enlarged rear window. By 1961 the popular Morris Minor notched up a million sales, the first British car to achieve this. Production ceased in 1971 to be replaced by the Morris Marina.
Ford in Great Britain started assembling cars at Trafford Park, Manchester, England, and by 1931 manufacturing in Dagenham, Essex, England. The first Zephyr was introduced in 1951, called the Zephyr Six, alongside the Mark 1 Consul with similar bodies, though the Consul had a shorter wheelbase. Mark 2 Zephyrs, Zodiacs and Consuls were introduced in 1956. In 1962 The Zodiac Mark 3 came along with four headlights and was a superior version of the Zephyr 6 Mark 3 with various styling differences.
The Cortina was manufactured between 1962 and 1982 from Mark 1 to Mark 5 versions. The original Cortina was aimed at rivals Morris Oxford and Vauxhall Victor at the beginning of the sixties, and for the first two years was called the Consul Cortina. The Mark 2 came along in 1966 and a year later Ford achieved its goal of Britain’s most popular new car. The 1600E launched in late 1967 proved to be a winner and helped the Cortina’s supremacy. The Mark 3 TC replaced both the Mark 2 and the larger Ford Corsair. The 1970 launch was hampered by production difficulties and suspension problems, but went on to beat the Austin/Morris 1100 and 1300 cars and outsell all others for 1972. The Mark 4 replaced the Mark 3 in 1976 and was similar in styling with improvements such as larger windows. The 2000E was replaced by a top-of-the-range Ghia version. The Mark 5 was officially known as the Cortina 80. Launched in 1979 various special editions were available, including Calypso, Carousel and Crusader. By 1982 the Cortina lost its number one position to the Vauxhall Cavalier and was replaced by the Ford Sierra.
Citroen was established in 1919 in France. The Traction Avant was a front wheel drive car first produced in 1934 at a time when front wheel drive was unusual. The name means forward traction and the number refers to the horsepower. The original saloons had 7 and 11 horsepower rating, the Light 15 being produced from 1938. A six cylinder version was available called the Big Six. The 2CV had a long run from 1948 to 1990. The name comes from deux chevaux, meaning two horsepower. Noted for its ingenious design, it was first conceived to ‘move the French peasantry on from horses and carts’ which it did with low cost, simplicity and reliability for 42 years. The 2CV ceased production in 1990 and replacements such as the AX, Dyane and Visa never had the same impact. The DS was produced between 1955 and 1975 and was famous for its self-levelling suspension and futuristic design. A cheaper version was introduced in 1957 called the ID with similar body styling. The CX replaced the DS in 1976 after sales of nearly a million and a half.
MG was established around 1924 in Oxford, England, manufacturing rebodied Morris cars, and got its name from Morris Garages. The company moved to Abingdon in 1929. The Y Type was renowned for its high standard of interior finish and performance. The MGA was produced by the British Motor Corporation when MG became a division of BMC. The 1500 was upgraded in 1959 with a larger engine and finally replaced in 1962 by the MGB. The Magnette ZA was manufactured between 1953 and 1956, similar in appearance to the Wolseley 4/44 and replaced by the Magnette ZB with more power and a ‘Varitone’ option of two-tone paintwork.
Chevrolet Motor Car Company was established in 1911 in the USA and acquired by General Motors in 1917. The 210 replaced the Styleline Deluxe in 1953 as a mid-range model with more style and luxury than the basic 150 series. The Bel Air name was first used as part of the Styleline Deluxe range for 1950. In 1953 the Bel Air became a separate model in its own right, more pricey but much more popular, reflecting the new found affluence of Americans at the time, and soon accounting for more than a third of all Chevrolet sales. The Biscayne was introduced in 1958 mainly as a no-frills low cost car with the space and power of something more expensive, and was aimed at the fleet market. Chevrolet produced its thirty millionth car during 1953 but rival Ford had a slightly higher total for that year.
The Pontiac Motor Company began trading in 1926 in the USA, previously as Oakland Motor Company since 1907, the year the first Pontiac car was produced, and Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works since 1899. General Motors took over the company in 1909 and the Pontiac brand has always been marketed as their performance division. The Chieftain models were introduced in 1949 to replace the Torpedo. Famous identifying features of the car, common to all Pontiac models at the time, included the steel streaks along the centre of the body. The Star Chief was added to the Chieftain range in 1954, continuing the convention of using Native American names for the models. The GTO was originally a design option of the Tempest and Le Mans models, short for Gran Turismo Omologato, a term used by Ferrari. The GTO became a separate model in 1965 due to its popularity.
During the late sixties the Ford Popular could be seen everywhere. Whoever chose the name at Ford certainly got that right. We are talking here about the original Ford Popular 103E which was launched in 1953, the one everybody lovingly called the ‘sit up and beg’ car. In the 21st century that term could be used on lots of motors on our roads that style themselves as SUV’s or the smaller off-road jeep type of vehicles, but when many manufacturers were building more modern ‘post-war monocoque’ cars, the 103E continued to wave the old school flag until 1959. There were lots of second hand examples around when I saw the one I bought. There it was, sitting on the side of the road, a card stuck on the inside of one of the windows, ‘For Sale, £12’ followed by an address. Actually it wasn’t a proper address, just a house number. Would you believe that lots of people in the late sixties didn’t have a telephone? The house number was indicating a place about three doors along, so I knocked.
My Bedford CA van had recently given up the ghost to the great breaker’s yard in the sky and apart from buses and a pushbike I had no way of getting around. Mates with reliable cars were rare, reliable mates with cars were even rarer, so now was the time to tool myself up with another motor, and this Ford Popular had a message to me and me alone, ‘Buy me, you won’t regret it’, or maybe ‘Buy me, you’re welcome to it’. The model was actually based on the Ford Anglia, launched in 1939 but production soon ceased while car factories decided to make tanks and bullets instead, for obvious reasons. The Ford Anglia in turn was based on the Ford Eight Model 7Y, first produced in 1937 to replace the famous Ford Model Y, the basic version of which was also called a Popular. All three shared roughly the same body with various tweaks. I cannot believe I actually wrote that last sentence in relation to the subject of cars. It sound more like an erotic adventure (editor’s note: think about deleting that sentence from the final edit but, on the other hand, a little controversy might be good publicity).
The guy selling the car was at home so off we went on a test drive around the block. Was I insured? No, in those days you didn’t worry about lots of things such as expensive pieces of paper from insurance companies. Before anyone in the 21st century raises their hands in horror, remember this, there are lots of countries right now where motor insurance is not compulsory, including South Africa. The Ford had a long MOT and a long gear stick, the two abiding memories I have. I couldn’t believe the length of the gear stick, it was like I was digging in the garden with a long thin spade every time I changed gear, of which there were three, slow, very slow and wake-me-up-when-the-grinding-noise-stops. I’m being cruel to the poor little Popular, it was a nice little runner and as far as I know there was just one careful owner. Mind you, I wasn’t too impressed about the other dozen rotten careless owners on the log book but, after knocking the guy down from £12 to £10 I was willing to take a chance. This doesn’t sound like high finance until you remember that £2 could buy you sixteen pints of Double Diamond in the local pub.
The car’s paintwork was white all over, which obviously wasn’t the original colour as I could detect the brush strokes in the finely textured finish. I immediately guessed that the gentleman who sold me the car was a house decorator, and I was right. Over the next few weeks of happy motoring I added a red stripe down each side of the doors and painted the mudguards, front and back, in a blaze of red that was guaranteed to add 1mph to the top speed of 60mph. No, I don’t know how that works, but it does. Haven’t you ever heard of a go-faster stripe? A black mudflap behind each mudguard completed the ensemble, and I was happy with the look throughout the remaining life of the car, which wasn’t very long.
Although a two door saloon, the doors were huge, practically the entire side of the car opened up. Passengers in the back, if they were small, wouldn’t have to push the front seat forward to emerge from the vehicle. I’d decided I was going to drive this car into the ground until either it died a death or the MOT date came up. A wonderful expression, drive into the ground. Always reminded me of those old Roadrunner cartoons where the coyote really does drive his car through the tarmac.
Whether I would put it through the MOT remained to be seen, but that was ten months in the future, plenty of time. After nearly ten months of trouble-free couldn’t-care-less motoring with no servicing or maintenance bills to show for the effort, the combination of two bald tyres (there was no spare wheel which I discovered a month after buying the car), battery charging problems (thank goodness for starting handles), a mis-firing engine and some really threatening noises coming from both the gear box and the back axle (were they connected? Of course they’re connected you silly person, it’s called the prop shaft, boom, boom!). I think the prop shaft was bent or something. I’d decided it was time for my mate Peter to give me a tow to the breaker’s yard with his very nice looking Austin Westminster. The smug look on Peter’s face was there to make me jealous. He’d spent considerably more on his Austin than I had on my Ford and was sending me a subtle message for my next purchase. When the Ford Popular was launched in 1953 it was Britain’s cheapest car at £390. At that particular point in time, I was the proud owner of the cheapest roadworthy car in Britain, the price, absolutely nothing!
A colleague at work was running a green 1953 Bedford CA van. There were windows in the side but these had been added by previous owners to try to turn it into a ‘dormobile’, a very desirable vehicle to own back in the sixties. With a dormobile you could kit it out as a caravan and go on holiday in it, even put little curtains up in the windows.
I needed a van so I bought it from him for £15. He was also running a stately 1954 Daimler Conquest saloon, but I think his father was in the motor trade so it probably wasn’t actually his, which helped to make me feel less jealous. As I didn’t have a full driving license I had to get my good friend Roger to accompany me to get it home. During the 6 months I ran the Bedford, I managed to pass the driving test. The feeling of independence that you get when you jump into your vehicle on your own for the very first time (legally) is exhilerating, a true highlight of anyone’s life.
The following morning I was off to work with the doors wide open (my van had sliding doors that you could pin back) and the radio turned right up (not the car radio, that didn’t exist, my old Fidelity portable lying on the floor with the aerial sticking out of the doorway for improved reception). ‘Here I am world, a fully licensed driver, gangway!’
MOT time was coming up fast, there was no way those tyres were getting through and I was not willing to pay for the wonky electrics that definitely needed attention. A mate needed to move alot of gear quickly (sounds like I was mixing with criminals, but it wasn’t like that at all, guv, honest). He bought the van from me for £5 and a month later took it to the scrap heap, as he’d finished with it and was very happy thank you. My enduring memory of my Bedford? Behind the driver the flooring was made of wood, and over time the planks had warped to such a degree that small items were lost forever through the gaps. Back then we made many trips to the breakers’ yard for various projects, all to do with keeping ageing wrecks on the road against all logic. My last sight of the Bedford was about a month later. There she was, sitting on top of three other vehicles, all of them moving slightly in the breeze, ready for a crushing end. I also remember painting on some ‘go faster stripes’. Before you dissolve into tears of laughter, lots of vehicles had those in the sixties and seventies. The MOT test changed in April 1967 to apply to vehicles three years old for their initial test. Befor that date it was seven years. The actual items tested were minimal compared with now, giving plenty of scope for running some serious old bangers into the ground and creating some unforgettable experiences in the process, and all without seat belts and air bags.
In the early seventies the Morris Minor was everywhere. The one I bought was called Marigold for two reasons. Not that I was interested in giving names to my motors, but this one was bright yellow and the colour marigold was written in the log book, so I couldn’t resist. The only mechanical problem I had with the vehicle, after eighteen months of ownership, was the alternator, which refused to charge the battery sufficiently to start the car. Fortunately starting handles were still supplied with cars in the late sixties and my Minor van was so well tuned, for some unknown reason, that turning the handle was a doddle, it would fire at the first turn. Some manufacturers in the fifties and sixties decided that their vehicles were so good they didn’t bother supplying a starting handle or even a hole for the thing to go into at the front of the car. Alot of people didn’t trust this apparent arrogance and refused to run vehicles if it didn’t have the starting handle option. The same attitude applied to air transport at around the same time, ‘I’m not going to fly in one of those jet aeroplanes, it’s got no propellers, so how is it expected to fly?’
The van developed a fan belt squeak, which alot of cars suffer from, even in the more modern age. The obvious answer to cure a fan belt squeak is to tighten the pulleys, wherever they occur. I’d tried this to no avail, the belt still squeaked which was embarrassing to say the least. Apart from a water leak from the radiator there was no other trouble from my Morris. Somebody suggested I pour mustard powder into the radiator to cure the leak. Apparently the powder hardens when it comes in contact with the air and seals the hole. I never tried it, some stories you refuse to believe.
Back then lots of people locked themselves out of their cars, which was very easy to do. If you inadvertedly leave the key inside the car you could still lock the doors without using the key. Impossible now, of course as everything is electronic and it never goes wrong, does it? Try telling that to my wife who was recently stuck at the multi-storey car park when our Peugeot 508 refused to start. The reason was radio interference from a nearby Range Rover that was taking ages to park close by. Apparently even CCTV can affect your remote key fob if you’re too close to it. According to the nice RAC man, there’s ‘an awful lot of it about madam’.
Back then many of the road rescue patrols were called to enable their members to gain access to their vehicles after locking themselves out. However, getting into a vehicle in the seventies without a key was relatively easy thanks to the quarterlight. What is a quarterlight? Back in the thirties a sports saloon might be a ‘four light’ with two windows on each side. A luxury saloon might be a ‘six light’ with three windows on each side. Starting to make sense? A light, in this context, is a side window. A quarterlight is a small part of one of the windows that opens on a vertical hinge so that you can flick your cigarette ash out whilst driving without having to wind the window down (and have it all blow back inside the car). So, the quarterlight is not a lamp, it’s a convenient alternative for thieves to break into the vehicle without making a huge fuss. Needless to say, quarterlights have long since disappeared.
I was due to work overseas on a three month contract. In the absence of my own garage a friend kindly offered the use of his parents’ double garage whilst I was away. He advised me to park it up as close as possible to the wall to enable him to use the remaining space without damaging my van. This I did, but my big mistake was parking with the driver’s door up against the wall. I parked, switched off the ignition, took out the key, climbed over to the passenger’s door, emerged from the vehicle without a care in the world, making sure that I securely moved the door lever in the ‘down’ position, so that when the door slammed shut, it was also locked. My smile slowly faded as I realized what I’d done.There was no key lock on the passenger’s door, so I couldn’t gain entry that way. I’d cleverly parked the back of the van against the back wall of the garage, so I couldn’t open the back doors either without demolishing the garage wall.
I stood there wondering about a problem that would need solving in three months time when I would return home. During the next three months I had to come up with a plan. Various co-workers made suggestions,involving coat hangers, electric drills, replacement window glass for when you break your way in, large hydraulic trolley jack or inflatable rubber dinghy for placing under the car. Eventually the answer was obvious, get one of your mates to help you bounce the Morris away from the wall, thus giving access to the driver’s door for entry. How’s it done? Two people at the front of the car, with thick gloves (recommended) place their hands beneath the bumper and bounce the vehicle up and down and occasionally sideways away from the wall until there is enough clearance. This method may not work very well if the tyres are flat by the way.
The Ford Prefect E93A was a thirties family saloon that continued to be produced after the Second World War almost unchanged. My 1946 model was already 20 years old when my sister’s boyfriend gave it to me. I’d been in it a couple of times, once on an outing to Southend-on-sea for a day, so I was feeling confident that it would continue to run, eventually. The MOT had long since expired, and as the engine was mis-firing so badly it sat on a public grass area in front of our house, as we didn’t have off-street parking. The fact that the car stood on a concrete path next to the grass area, but not quite on the public pavement was probably the only reason the inefficient local council only asked me to move it three times in the six months that the Prefect stood there. Each time I explained that the car was awaiting repair and would be taxed and insured as soon as it started to move. They must have felt sorry for me, which is the only reason I can think of as to why I got away with it for so long. Our neighbour had a 1946 Vauxhall 10-4, the same year as mine, parked on the next patch of concrete, but he used his every day and it was legally allowed on the road, a big difference as far as the authorities were concerned.
I was running a Lambretta scooter so transport wasn’t a problem for me in that part of north London. My aspirations for owning a car were very powerful for various reasons, two of them the weather and meeting girls, not necessarily in that order. I made lots of new friends whilst I owned that Prefect, they wanted to come round and advise what needed doing and how to do it to get the car back on the road. I remember one guy, Terry, a neighbour from five doors down, who was running a 1960 Vauxhall Victor Series F with a specially adapted steering wheel that enabled him to go round corners faster. This was in the days before power steering was standard, so any help you could get was welcome. Basically it was a wooden knob screwed to the rim of the steering wheel which you grab hold of whilst doing tight turns. I thought it was pretty cool at the time.
Terry raised the bonnet of my Prefect and peered in. Being a side valve engine, and a bonnet that hinged from a centre bar, access was rather awkward. The later ‘sit-up-and-beg’ Ford Prefect E493A had a hinge underneath the windscreen, as most bonnets have now, where everything was exposed and very tamper-friendly once the lid was raised. Terry managed to get himself into an almost upside down position by standing on the running board and bending his body at ninety degrees. After some incoherent mumbling, he emerged and announced that the distributor could be faulty, or at least the rotor arm and contact breaker inside. All I could think of whilst he was pontificating was wondering how anyone could manage to get an oily streak across his cheek about an inch and a half long in such a small space of time. He jumped off the running board, said his farewell and went off on his date as planned, although I often wondered how long the oily streak lasted before he noticed it.
The Prefect’s running boards were a thing of fascination to me. How could modern cars do without them? Not only did they make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle, where were you supposed to stand if you were a Chicago mobster from the thirties with evil intentions? Where was the whistle-blowing policeman supposed to stand when he requisitioned you and your car to ‘Follow that cab’? Finally the Prefect was towed to the scrapyard, doing the work would have been too costly, and the young lady I’d recently met liked my Lambretta scooter. Funny how one’s priorities change so quickly.
My good friend Phillip finally bought his dream car, a 1953 Riley Pathfinder. Back in the mid seventies there were still a few to be found. Considered to be the last of the ‘proper’ Rileys, although a similar model came along in 1957 called the Riley Two-Point-Six, unofficially a Pathfinder mark 2 and also unofficially a Riley flop, withdrawn after a couple of years as a poor seller. His Pathfinder was black and looked sinister, which I admired, imagining all sorts of shady characters as previous owners. Monday morning was back to work after a sunny weekend. I knew he’d planned to work on his car. I also knew that even though he was a draughtsman by trade, he wasn’t particularly mechanically minded. “How’s it going with the Riley Phillip?” I enquired. “Not bad thanks. Got a few things done on it, mostly cleaning and polishing. Mind you, it took ages to top up the engine oil”. I assumed he meant that he’d changed the engine oil, which can be long and messy, involving draining the old oil out of the sump, flushing through, changing the oil filter and putting the new oil in. “So, you managed to change the engine oil? That’s good, should be done on a regular basis, I’m proud of you”. Most people would take a job like that to the local garage, so Phillip was showing the right attitude. Just what you need if you want to run a 22 year old classic like his Pathfinder. “No, I didn’t change the oil, I just topped it up, took ages”. Silence followed, during which time my mind was processing the information. Why would a simple job like topping up the engine oil take so long? So I asked him. “Why did it take ages Phillip?” “Well, I realized when I took the dipstick out that the level was down quite a long way. I reckoned it needed about half a litre ’cos I checked the manual and did a rough calculation. I used one of those small cans of oil with a ring pull, and slowly topped it up. My arm was aching towards the end but I got the quantity right.” I thought for a minute. Should I ask? Could I ask? If I did, would he be upset? What to do? My suspicions were aroused. “Er, did you pour the oil into the little hole were the dipstick was?” “Yeah, of course, why do you ask?” “Er, no particular reason. What about the oil filler cap?” “The what?” he enquired. I couldn’t tell him, it wouldn’t be right. Maybe he found out one day in the future, but he never heard it from me.
Alot of miles were eaten up by my Fiat 850 Sport Coupe as I was living in Australia at the time back in the mid seventies. Just popping down the road is a term hardly ever used in that country. On some stretches of highway the tedium of the journey on a flat straight road is punctuated only by the sudden appearance of a six foot high male kangaroo jumping over your car, which is what happened to me in Cooma in the Snowy Mountains area. This is obviously more preferable to the same kangaroo colliding with your car, because if you’re travelling at 70mph, say, due south, and the animal is maintaining a velocity of about half that in a north west direction, then the law of physics states the front bumper, headlights and most of the radiator grille will combine with a large chunk of kangaroo causing the resulting chemical compound to change direction slightly right through your windscreen. Although the speed of the animal and your car are drastically reduced, the overall effect is not conducive to your continuing contentment of your long Australian journey. If it hadn’t been for the diminutive height of the Fiat coupe, in a country full of massive utes (pick-up trucks to us Brits), passion wagons (large engined vans used for surfing and parking backwards at drive-in movies), Chevrolet Ram truck wannabies and other huge in-your-face four by fours, then I probably would not have survived the encounter. One minute he was there in front of me, and the next minute, or however long it took me to grind the steering wheel to powder with my bare hands and shut my eyes at the same time, he’d gone. On a long twelve day trip from Sydney to Cairns and back, I’d no idea that the state border between New South Wales and Queensland would be an issue. Unknown to me, the transport of fruit from south to north was forbidden, and probably going the opposite way also. There were little huts on the side of the highway occupied by a uniformed officer whose job it was to check for fruit in your car. A barrier was placed across the road to ensure your obedience. I slowly drove up to the barrier. The man came out of his office and immediately raised the barrier and waved me through. I wasn’t arguing, maybe small Fiat Coupes were exempt today. Maybe small Fiat Coupe owners just didn’t eat fruit, so no risk. Queensland has a huge industry in citrus growing, they certainly didn’t want Southerners bringing in their horrible pest-infested fruit to spread
around the state and wrecking the economy. They were having a tough time enough bending all those bananas for export. A few miles further on there was another checkpoint, with the usual notice warning of compliance with current fruit export laws (editor’s note: can we change the spelling of this to say ‘currant fruit export laws’ and get a laugh? Perhaps not.), and the dire consequences of anyone attempting to break this law (what are you going to do to me officer? Transport me to South Wales?). However, the barrier this time was up, and there didn’t appear to be anyone in the hut, so I drove through slowly, despite the notice of warning. This behaviour was purely based on my previous experience with the fruit department.
As I went through there was a sudden shout from an Australian chap who not only appeared out of thin air but had a ruddy complexion caused by his close proximity to a seizure. He was standing next to the barrier and asked me rather impolitely with a loud voice to reverse my vehicle to his location, by this time about a dozen yards away. As I stopped and got out he asked me whether I’d seen the sign. I explained that I had but the last officer waved me through. etc, etc. When he calmed down ever so slightly he ordered me to open the boot of the car because he had to check for fruit. I went something like ‘But...but...’, he wasn’t listening. He stood behind the Fiat, arms folded, body language not good. I decided to comply, thinking to myself that surely the Australians must know what’s going on in the Italian motor industry. Great car designers the Italians, always coming up with new ways to package things. I opened the boot to reveal.....an engine. Yes, the Italians decided many years ago that is where the engine belongs, in the boot. There it was, staring up at the fruit official, who was staring down wondering why an engine would be kept in the boot. Maybe it was a spare engine. He looked at me, I looked at him, I set my face in passive mode. I remembered years before being pulled over by a policeman who was really cross with me for driving over a pedestrian crossing whilst a lady was making her way across it. If I hadn’t acted in a certain contrite way, full of humility and acting meek, I would have been booked. It worked, let off with a warning. I put that same demeanor to work. He wasn’t impressed. ‘I suppose you think this is funny? Shall we now go to the front of the car and check your ’boot’ for fruit? So we did, no fruit, only eight tins of Castlemaine 4X and my luggage. I doubted very much whether the beer would be forbidden in Queensland. ‘That wasn’t too bad was it? You’re clear, off you go, and next time, stop at the barrier’. I scarpered, but I couldn’t help noticing, there was a hint of a smile on his face as he went back to the hut. I’d like to think, to this day, that he did see the funny side of it.
For a small engine of 903cc (my car was the series 2 with front spotlights) the Fiat 850 Sport was quick, I do remember hitting 95mph at least once on a new stretch of highway near Goulburn. I figured because it was a new road the traffic cops hadn’t quite got round to patrolling it yet, so it was full throttle time!
Back in the seventies I was working as an electronics technician for a surveying company. A great way to see the world but also an opportunity to explore my own country, England. Lots of the surveying jobs were short breaks away from home, with local guest houses, bed and breakfast accommodation and family run hotels all part of the plan. Nothing fancy mind you, as at the end of a gruelling day running around the countryside, accidentally catching all sorts of natural substances on the way, a hot shower a meal and a couple of drinks in the bar or a local pub was all that was required.
Much of the survey work was carried out on farmland, with permission for access previously gained. The code of the countryside was not to be ignored by us ‘city slickers’ - always shut the gate afterwards when passing through. Most of the vehicles we used were Ford Transit vans, but when further going off road made this impractical Land Rovers. In some cases we would use our own vehicles when access wasn’t a problem, and claiming petrol allowance accordingly. Always a nice little earner. One of my colleagues, Tim, had an Austin A35 saloon. This car was manufactured between 1956 and 1968 with the intention of being a small family car for the small family. By that I mean members of a small family that were themselves small in stature, as the A35 really was a small car. Before the BMC Mini came along in 1959 this was the mini car to aim for, not a Fiat 500 or 600, not a bubble car, but a conventional car made in England (as the badge said on the side of the bonnet). Conventional means the engine at the front with the front of the engine facing the front of the car, not the side, and the boot at the back of the car, simple. Tim’s A35 had a curved window at the rear, unlike the earlier A30 that had a smaller window and was flat, a true aspiration for oneupmanship in those days. As well as the other vehicles for the second day of the survey, Tim decided to take his own car for the day’s work. The survey was to explore the geology of an area that could be the route for a new by-pass. Any extra vehicle had to be a bonus as the team could be in more locations at the same time and we could all knock off earlier. Early morning and the three of us set off from the hotel in Tim’s car, with me and another land surveyor, Les.
We arrived at the north end of the site about 30 minutes later, a field with about 30 cows in it. The plan was to set out wooden stakes across the field that would later be used for the geological exploration, put simply, what’s under the ground, soil or rocks, and if so, where are they? We drove his Austin into the field via the gate which we closed diligently and parked the car. Les then set out the wooden markers at 40 feet intervals whilst the curiosity of the herd of cows steadily increased. The more he walked backwards and forwards with the stakes, and the more noise he made with the mallet, the closer the cows came. Eventually all the cows were crowding in on the three of us, no matter how much shooing away we did. We had no idea that cows could be so stubborn and unafraid of humans. There they were, getting in the way, almost standing on our feet in their quest to find out what we were doing in their field. ‘What are you doing?’ they all mooed individually. ‘What’s that for?’ ‘Have you brought any fodder?’ ‘How long are these wooden stakes staying in our field?’ They also acquired rather a fondness for Tim’s A35 by licking it all over, including the tyres. After an hour the entire car was covered in cow saliva. Opening the doors made things worse as the stuff dripped inside and went all over our maps and survey paperwork. Eventually we had to move the car into the next field which was empty of animals but not empty of recent evidence that cows had been there, so, be careful gentlemen where you tread.
We continued with our procedure of putting the stakes in at regular intervals, but this time Les had a brainwave to save time. Rather than walk between the car and the stakes, where he would replenish his armful of stakes and would walk back again to the car, why not move the car slowly along the field and Les could sit on the bonnet of the car with mallet in hand? I could sit next to the driver, Tim, and pass out a stake from the back seat to Les, who would jump off the car trailing his measuring tape and banging his stake in at the right place and jumping back onto the car bonnet for the next one. Everything ran beautifully until a sudden unexpected dip in the field caused Tim to brake without warning. Les slid forward from his sitting position, which was facing forward and leaning against the winscreen. As he accelerated in a forward direction, we suddenly remembered this was an Austin A35 with the usual chrome emblem such as the ‘Austin of England’ badge mentioned earlier. There was also a rather splendid winged ‘A’ which graced the bonnet of many Austin models of that era. The Austin A90 Atlantic had two of them, that’s how popular they were. The A35’s older brothers, the A40 Somerset and A70 Hereford also had them. Made of solid chrome plated metal, it occurred to us two looking out at Les sailing forward that it was very unlikely he could avoid colliding with the winged ‘A’ on his journey to the front of the car and beyond. To add insult to possible injury, the sharp ends of the wings of the winged ‘A’ were facing the rear of the car and hence the front of Les. To put it bluntly, the front area of Les’s trousers around the region below the belt was on an unstoppable path to the very sharp bits. As both front windows were down, Tim and I couldn’t fail to hear the string of expletives that were emerging from Les’s mouth as his journey began. In the space of three seconds from the moment the brakes were applied we had never heard so many swear words in such a short time, to be followed by a tearing sound, rather like someone pulling a tent apart with a pair of pliers. Following this, Les then duly disappeared over the radiator grille and out of sight.
I remembered reading a story once about the battles of the First World War. When the medics used to go out to pick up the wounded, they were instructed to tend to the silent victims first before the ones crying out in pain. The idea was that the noise indicated the poor fellow could probably survive a while longer before being attended to. The good news in this case was that the cursing and swearing was continuing unabated from somewhere forward of the vehicle, meaning that Les was still conscious, obviously. We gingerly emerged from the car to attend to our friend with an urgency that could have been quicker but neither of us was in a particular hurry to witness the outcome. Fortunately there was no blood, which was the first relief of the day. Les stood up cautiously, looking down at his nether regions to discover a huge gash in his trousers on the inside leg about an inch and a half from the groin area. He didn’t even have a scratch on his leg, what a lucky chap. However, he didn’t escape with just a wounded pride and a write-off in the trousers department, oh no. As you may have guessed by now, he had also landed right in it, if you get my gist. The field had its fair share of bovine calling cards and Les had chosen one of them to sit in, thus furthering the demise of his pants. Was he invited back into Tim’s Austin A35 that day for the return journey? You must be joking!
A friend of mine, Frank, owned a red Austin Mini Cooper back in the sixties at a time when it was one of the coolest things on the planet to have, even though they were common all over London. He had bombed up and down the Kings Road in Chelsea but he’d never quite got round to asking me to join him. So when new year’s eve came along and he asked me if I wanted a drive into Trafalgar Square with two of our mates I jumped at the chance. Four of us on a night out in London on new year’s eve, yes please. One never knows who one might meet. The idea of driving into London is almost an impossibility in the 21st century, but back then, you could find parking spaces in the West End if you got there early enough and were prepared to search for a while. We arrived at Trafalgar Square around 9.30 in the evening. The north side hadn’t been pedestrianised in those days so we drove around the square, treating it like a roundabout, looking for a space to park.
Needless to say, the place was heaving with people and traffic. Then we spotted a space near one of the statues, and homed in. The space was a bit tight. In fact, it was really tight. It was so tight it explained why it was still unoccupied. The only thing you could park in that space was a motor bike or one of those bubble cars that were nearly as common as the Mini, or a Fiat 500 sideways! Frank decided that a bit of bay parking was not going to solve it. Then one of the other guys had a brainwave. He explained his idea. We said no, it’ll never work. We parked alongside the space and with one person standing at each corner of the Mini, on the count of three, we lifted the car into the space with about an inch to spare back and front. All four of us were surprised that the Mini was so light. Congratulations all round and here’s to an entertaining evening!
A friend of ours, Mick, had a car to get rid of, preferably with financial gain at the end of it. The vehicle, a 1956 Morris Isis estate, was too large for him and he mentioned it to my best mate Roger, offering it for a tenner. With about 6 months MOT left, that had to be a bargain. Roger had a full license to drive but I was still learning on a provisional. He persuaded me to go halves and we could both own it. He managed to knock the price down to £7.50, which Mick was happy with. Roger wasn’t exaggerating when he wanted somebody else to share the cost. This way we not only went halves on the purchase price but also the road tax, any repairs and insurance. The Isis was already 12 years old but not too rusty for its age. Getting on top of rust was a common task back then, everyone was doing it. Mix up the Plastic Padding, stick dollops of it wherever holes were starting to appear, rub down the areas with emery paper and paint something over the top to hide the shoddy workmanship just long enough to get it through the MOT before bits started dropping off.
Our Morris Isis was an estate version, with lots of wood like its famous smaller brother, the Morris Minor Traveller. The Series 2 model that we had was introduced in 1956 to replace the Series 1, obviously, which had in turn replaced the Morris Six Series MS. It had a six cylinder 2.6 litre engine and loads of room in the back for our gang of mates to pile in when we were going out on a Saturday night.
We thought this car was ready to do the ton. Before 1965 there was no speed limit on motorways in Britain, and in November of that year the Ministry of Transport decided to impose a 70mph limit for a trial period. Every time the trial period was drawing to a close, the Ministry extended it. Little did we know that the limit would eventually be permanent as of July 1967. With our Isis we were looking forward to trying out the top speed eventually when it became legal again to put your foot down and really enjoy yourself. According to the figures, the Morris Isis could reach 90 miles per hour!
One of the reasons for all the space was that the normal seating you would expect in the back of a station wagon such as this didn’t exist. Mick didn’t know where the back seats were, it was like that when he bought it. Maybe the previous owner before him aspired to a van, who knows? A bench seat up front had a gear stick on the steering column, so plenty of room for three. Everyone else would have to make do in the back, sitting or lying on the floor.
The Easter bank holiday was coming up soon, the two of us were planning to drive to the coast for an overnight adventure. If anyone else wanted to come, book your space now. Mick said he’d love to come. As he was the previous owner he was allowed to sit up front, which we thought was fair. Four other mates expressed a positive interest and another three wanted time to think about it (another way of saying ‘I’ve got other plans to do things much more exciting, but so far the invitations haven’t appeared’). By the time Saturday morning arrived, four guys were booked to pile in the back. A bit crowded but the more the merrier we thought. Concern about safety was not a consideration, seat belts were a future dream and anyway, how do you secure a pile of bodies in the back of an estate car with no seats whatsoever? In 1968 the Government said all new cars from now on must have front seat belts fitted but compulsory wearing didn’t arrive until 1983. Before you exclaim in horror at the very thought of those dark ages of motoring, at the time of writing the largest democracy in the world, India, has no seat belt laws at all, and in South Africa, motor insurance is not compulsory.
The Saturday of the Easter weekend finally arrived. Roger picked me up early evening with a new pair of L plates for me. He paid for the plates but said I didn’t have to pay him half until I’d passed my driving test, what are mates for? Talking of L plates, while we’re on the subject of 21st century road safety, there are no L plates in the USA, makes you think!
We then drove to Mick’s house who was delighted to see us and quickly claimed his place centre stage.
Our previous excursions to Brighton were on our ‘mod machines’, otherwise known as Lambretta scooters. The idea of going in our own car was so exciting we were beside ourselves. We could come back to London the next day, kipping down in the car overnight. One slight drawback to the plan was broadcasting it to all our mates. We could have ended up with ten in the back, which was ridiculous and obviously out of the question. We drove to our local pub to pick up the other four guys and tell some of the others they were unlucky this time. We stopped for a while to have a round of drinks to celebrate the holiday weekend. Then we were off, straight down the A1 through London and out of the other side to pick up the Brighton Road. The M25 Motorway was a dream, or nightmare, of the future. The choice to travel from north of London to the other side was either straight through or around the North and South Circular Roads, depending on the time of day to avoid jams. Apart from a problem with the nearside door caused by my stupidity, the Isis got us safely to Brighton. During one of the times when it was my turn to drive, I practised reversing slowly without realizing the door was open on the pavement side which then got caught on a lamp post. After that the door needed some tender loving care to shut it properly.
After a fun packed evening driving up and down the promenade and visiting various pubs, we found a quiet car park to settle down for the night at around two in the morning. Daylight arrived with a beautiful sunrise, almost the perfect time to be on the move to seek out a fry-up breakfast for seven hungry blokes. As usual, Roger was driving. We headed back to the centre of Brighton, driving east along the seafront, on the lookout for a suitable eating place when disaster struck!
I think we were all in the middle of a sing-a-long, something loud and out of tune when there was a sickening crunch from the front of the Isis, and the car came to an abrupt halt. Mick, occupying his usual place at centre front, catapulted forward and his head hit the windscreen. At the same instant I moved in the same direction but my progress was impeded by Mick’s shoulder. On my return to the seat I met two of the guys from the back of the bench seat. I seem to remember receiving a blow to the back of the head from one of them, but it couldn’t have been serious. A few moments later we all had a chance to assess the situation. The windscreen had ejected itself and fallen into the road ahead. I can still see the piece of paper that I’d stuck on the inside with ‘tax in post’ written on it, also lying in the road. The Morris was now sloping front down which we found out later was due to both front tyres being completely flat. The bonnet had opened to a halfway up position and acquired a corrugated roof effect.
We all staggered out of the car to further assess exactly what had happened to interrupt our breakfast seeking tour. Poor Roger, our driver, was so busy belting out his song that he was suddenly temporarily blinded by the sun and failed to see the keep left island in the middle of the road. Back then those island refuges were good solid structures. A metal pillar with the word ‘keep left’ atop a raised slab of kerb stones and paving slabs, strong enough to withstand anything that was thrown at it. Roger had failed to keep left big time. The two front wheels had hit the steep kerb and the front end had hit the metal post.
Over the next half hour the police had arrived and a local garage had sent out a recovery truck, as it was fairly obvious that two flat tyres were not the only damage. Peering into the engine compartment one couldn’t help but notice the engine block seemed to have gouged itself into the tarmac. As soon as the recovery truck had hooked up the front of the Morris and started hauling, the body of the car raised itself but the engine stayed where it was. We then realized that the engine mountings had collapsed and the horrible feeling crept over us like a cold mist, our beautiful Morris Isis estate car was a write-off. The windscreen lay intact on the road but a headlight had changed into hundreds of shimmering pieces of glass, reflecting the early morning sunlight in a kaleidoscope of colour.
We looked at Mick with a new respect, standing there with the rest of us. He seemed okay, no apparent bruising, but managed to head-butt a windscreen out of the vehicle without any ill-effects to himself, amazing. The Isis was taken to the garage. The police advised Roger they would be in touch soon. Something to do with paying for the damage and a possible prosecution. Fortunately the prosecution didn’t proceed and he later claimed a life-long ownership of a small piece of real estate in Brighton which he had to pay for, an island in the middle of the promenade. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
We found a place that did all-day breakfasts and managed to negotiate rides back to north London with various other mates who fortunately still had their transport.
For some reason my Ford Escort Mk1 Estate was only the second car that I’d ever owned that had a nickname, Nelly, although I can’t remember where the name came from. So, the Escort was a female, fair enough. I always thought Nelly was underpowered with a 1.1 litre engine, but reliable. Suffering from rust but not bad enough that body filler couldn’t put right, a very popular commodity in the seventies, especially at MOT time. Nelly forced me to become a member of the RAC. On a day trip to the south coast it suddenly suffered from severe knocking sounds. They were so worrying I decided to pull over and switch off, planning to have it investigated before starting the engine again.
There was an RAC van about a hundred yards away on the seafront. A man in a very smart uniform was standing next to a table containing brochures, parked there to advertise their services. I took the opportunity to ask about my Escort, ‘Certainly I can have a look at your car sir, no problem’ he assured me with soothing tones. ‘I can assess the situation, decide on the diagnosis for whatever the reason is for the knocking noise which is obviously causing you some concern which I can well understand. I can then advise on a solution for you which will help to facilitate your continuing peace of mind and a safe journey home. If not, I will use the services of my organisation to fix whatever the problem may be with a local professional mechanical advisor who will have at his disposal the resources of a garage. There is just one stipulation to this successful scenario. You’ll have to join the RAC first’. ‘Show me where to sign’ I said, grabbing a pen from the table, parted with some money and joined. He then told me to let the engine cool down before topping up the radiator. The knocking noise was caused by an air lock in the cooling system. There was too much air in there where the water should have been. Someone has been negligent, or there’s a leak. He was right, someone had been negligent and I’ve been a member ever since.
A few years later Nelly developed weird grinding noises from the differential, indicating it was time for her to go. I noticed in the small ads section of the local paper that if the value of the item you wanted to sell was less than £50, you could advertise your item for free. So Nelly was included in the paper the following week for just £49 and a nice young man came round and bought it, noises and all. He was about to start a decorating business and the good thing about an estate car as opposed to a white van was the fact that you could put a cheap hand made sign inside the window behind the driver’s seat rather than go to the expense of sign writing a van. If the business failed miserably, no problem, take the sign out!
Ria was desperate for her own car. She was taking lessons with a driving school and had saved up money for the car, hoping to drive it with L plates on even though the insurance would be more than the cost of the vehicle. Nothing new there, until you reach a certain age you are going to have to pay through the nose for motor insurance, and it’s no good putting yourself on your parents’ insurance (in the hope they will pay for it too) because you won’t be building up a no-claims bonus for future insurance policies. So, with about £2000 saved up and a new millenium dawning at the beginning of the noughties, life was looking good for Ria.
University was going well, the driving lessons were going well, why shouldn’t her own car go well too? The family had previously run Renault Fives, so that was the model she was going to go for. Lots of affectionate memories were associated with the Five. The blue one from the eighties, the Mark 1, was the best, the one her Mother used to drive. It was a Renault 5GTL 3-door hatchback called Speedy. For a small car the 1275cc engine was plenty for quick acceleration and ‘speedy’ motoring, and her mother loved it. Later there was the light grey one her father used to take her to school in and then drive to the railway station to go to work in London. This was the Mark 2 version, a Renault Five TL with an 1108cc engine. That one wasn’t a big favourite with Ria’s mother as every time she would go to use it in the mornings it would take ages to start, whereas her father never had a problem with it. They decided it was something to do with the use of the choke on the dashboard. With a manual choke you don’t just pull it out towards you as far as it will go before starting the engine, oh no, that’s far too easy. As you get into the driving seat, insert the key and turn on the ignition, you get a feeling for the temperature of the morning. If it’s fairly mild, you pull the choke out halfway, if it’s fairly chilly, three quarters of the way, if there’s frost on the windscreen, all the way. Ria’s mum’s normal car was a sprightly Peugeot 309 with an automatic choke, so she was not interested in all that manual choke nonsense.
One day Ria’s dad told her he’d seen an advertisement for a 1990 Renault Five Campus in the local paper, a five door version. It was being sold privately by a family in Hendon, not too far away. The asking price was £750. He suggested they both go and have a look the following evening after telephoning the seller. Ria thought the price was good. The car was a later version of the Mark 2, to quote the press at the time, a ‘minimally equipped budget choice’. By that year the Renault Clio had tried to take over from the Five, despite this, the Five remained in production somewhere in the world until 1996, when the production run of 25 years finally ended.
With a name like Campus, it was a perfect choice for a student. When they arrived at the sellers’ house, they noticed the number plate contained the letters ALX. Ria immediately called the car Alex and just knew it was for her. A test drive revealed no problems, so the next day they returned. Ria had the £750 in cash, another good reason why her dad was with her. After a second test drive around the block and the usual inspection, she bought the car. The people selling were sorry to see the car leave, as it was like part of the family, but they felt it was going to a good home where it would be looked after and exercised regularly. Ria‘s dad managed to knock the price down to £700. He promised to take a picture of the car every year on its birthday and send it to them so they would feel better about saying goodbye. Because they were so amused by his little joke, dropping the price by £50 wasn’t a problem. Ria kept Alex for about four years before his final resting place was facilitated by the local council, who kindly transported the car away when major repair bills started creeping in.
One of the disadvantages she found about having a five door hatchback? After an evening out with friends she would sometimes wonder why her mates in the back seat would take such a long time to get out of the car. Even when it was becoming quite late, they would sit there, chatting away about nothing in particular. Unknown to Ria, her back seat passengers were also wondering why she and her front seat passenger were taking such a long time to get out of the car and pull the front seats forward so her back seat passengers could get out. That’s right, in the dark the back seat passengers didn’t realize that they had their very own door right next to them. Having seen those car window stickers displaying messages such as ‘baby on board’, Ria thought about putting a sign on the inside of the rear passenger doors, ‘THIS IS YOUR DOOR, USE IT!’.