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Thursday, November 12, 2015

CARS. Or transport through the ages

Now that I am probably on the last car I shall ever own  I got around to thinking of the cars I have had in my life. Overall I suppose I have owned about 25 cars. I won't bore you with a complete list, but some are worth a mention for specific reasons.

Like first love a first car is always remembered. I was in the army, age 18, and needed transport to get home on weekend leave. My parents were against motorcycles and suggested an old car. This was the time of the Suez Canal crisis (1957) when petrol was scarce and learner drivers had special dispensation to drive unaccompanied. I found a 1934 Ford 8 Model "Y" for about £80. I applied for a driving test which was a disaster. The nearside passenger door had a faulty catch and was prone to fly open on corners. I wired it up and asked the examiner to enter from my side and swing himself over into the passenger seat (it would not be allowed these days). He looked a bit doubtful but did so. Of course the door misbehaved on the third right hand corner and flew open. The examiner stopped the test. I offered to take him back to the test centre, but he said he would prefer to walk!

It was an awful car, very hard to start. A case of pulling out the choke button, weighting the accelerator pedal with a brick (kept in it as essential kit), going around to the front, inserting and churning the starting handle and praying....
After a couple of months I was so fed up with it that I sold it at a loss (story of my subsequent car life) to a sergeant at my camp. I well remember seeing him being push-started by a bevy of squaddies and me hiding behind a building whilst he passed!

I then bought my first motorcycle and a life's passion was formed. But that's a different story.

Some years later, married with children, my first decent car was a Morris Minor Traveller (the famous "woodie")

Then came the first car of which I was proud (and have mentioned in an earlier post). A 1952 Austin A70 "Hereford"

I sold this and for some reason, which must have seemed good at the time, I bought a Morris Minor open tourer

actually this was probably the most fun I have ever had with a car. I fitted a klaxon horn (think the diving alarm on a submarine) and it was used as a family car, hood usually retracted, for about 3 years. Three children, a wife and a dog (under wife's legs in front seat) would cram in and off we would go to Cornwall. This was about 350 miles before motorways and involved a start at about 5.00 am with arrival at 5.00pm

The first car in which I managed 100 mph, overdrive engaged, on the Hog's Back dual carriageway, kids shouting "go for it dad", was a Rover 80 (the view down its long bonnet was magnificent)

My love affair with SAABs started soon after, initially with a "99" model of which I had three consecutively

Then came employer's lease cars, which were available to "essential users" at a reduced rental in return for taking a smaller mileage allowance  and I chose to lease a succession of Vauxhall Carlton estates with their comfort, vast capacity and ability to tow caravans well ( rear wheel drive) for about 20 years

Came retirement and still caravanning, we decided to try our first four-wheeled drive car a Nissan X Trail

for some reason I and every driver who tried it found it was most uncomfortable for our backs. So it was a return to the only car I have ever felt really comfortable in, the SAAB. To settle in and relax in one was wonderful and drives of over 600 miles in a day were possible and enjoyable. I had 3 SAAB "9-5" estates in succession.

Oh... and the worst car I ever owned? A very expensive Mercedes E200 Estate in which I needed 3 motorway stops between Kent and Gloucester to alleviate back ache. Sold at great financial loss after about 6 months


Lucy said...

What a wonderful history! The bit about travelling to Cornwall made me laugh; when I was a kid I didn't believe it was actually possible to travel all the way to Cornwall from the home counties where we lived in a single day, we always broke the journey in Somerset or Dorset, towing the Sprite Alpine of course. Your children must have been better behaved than we were.

The woody Morris Traveller is also nostalgic. My notorious bachelor uncle had a white one for many years, till he died some time in the eighties I think. It had read leatherette seats and served as a sometime kennel for his even more notorious dog Brack, the only dog I've ever known without a single redeeming or loveable feature, who often had to be banished there when visiting us for his unpleasant behaviour, the details of which I shall refrain from going into. The car was always in pretty good nick, his nephews, my cousins, who were mechanics and had patiently kept it running for years inherited it, I think.

Roderick Robinson said...

Best car is present car: Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI turbo-charged diesel, six-speed DSG gearbox, capacious, utterly lacking in charisma. judgment based on technology and plethora of features not subjectivity. An old man's car and I am an old man.

Others may be seen as evolutionary steps: Heinkel three-wheeler (bought to pass driving test and because it was cheap), Austin Cambridge (in effect pre-war; synchromesh gone on first gear - "they're all like that"), VW Beetle (nightmare on wet corners), Volvo 122S (bought in USA; starting to rust), VW Variant (also USA; second best car; station wagon to accommodate growing family; died of rust in UK), VW Beetle (less lethal than earlier model; functional; slow), VW Scirocco (a middle-aged rush of blood; severe rusting; four-speeds when most cars then had five), Audi Coupé (127 mph on M20 near Ashford; clutch cable vulnerable to RHD layout), VW Golf GTI (no power steering, very wide tyres, almost impossible to park), BMW 3-series (prone to back-end breakaway - in dry as well as wet), Citroen B series (company car which I subsequently bought; third best car; suprisingly durable; gave to younger daughter; died after 180,000 miles), VW Passat diesel station wagon (slow, cumbersome, ludicrously expensive repairs), Toyota Carina (bought for reliability; unfairly despatched because of growing wealth), Lexus Two series (three models: one standard, one "ostensibly" a station wagon, one with built-in satnav; first with A/C made 600 miles/day in France a doddle; best handling car ever; VR says "best seats ever"; increasingly expensive to trade in for replacement), first of two Skoda Octavias.

Wouldn't buying a Recaro driver's seat have been a less expensive way of seeing whether the Merc had other worthwhile qualities?

Avus said...


Thanks for that amusing reply. On trips to Cornwall choruses of "are we nearly there yet, dad?" used to start just after breakfast (taken al fresco on the Hog's Back just after Guildford!), but frequent subsequent stops seemed to help.

Like me, an eclectic mix. My mother had a BMW Isetta 3 wheeled bubble car which I found quite exhilarating to drive. The gear lever once came off in my hand and she eventually trashed it trying to squeeze it through to small a gap (she only had one eye which compromised stereoscopy). I actually did try another seat in that Merc but to no avail and in the end I just got fed up with the whole car.