My passion for cars
Like all of my School friends I got my first car when I was seventeen years
old and I've never been without a car since then - apart from a few days when
my Corsair GT was stolen from the Festival Hall Car Park in 1970 and recovered
a few days later, minus all the interesting and special 'extras' that made me buy it!
I'd be very surprised if I could remember all of the cars I've had ... but
none was as out-of the ordinary as my 1937 Convertible Pontiac Silver Chieftain (or similar name!). With right-hand-drive it had belonged from new to a doctor in Harrow until a school friend bought it for £25 (1961), took it home, parked it on his parents' drive in Woodford ... and was promptly told by his Bank Manager dad, "You can't keep that there thing on here. Get rid of it!"
I paid him £15 for it and had just one month of amazing motoring before the money ran out! I think I was earning about £7 a week (and so was he) and at 17 years of age Insurance cost me £5 for one month of Third Party Only cover! I couldn't afford a year! Fortunately, with my parents, I lived in a place where the 60 acres of grounds (not our own!) were not open to the public so I was able to drive round for hours on end. With petrol at several gallons to the pound, the fuel consumption of 8-10 mpg wasn't the problem it would be today. In the end I sold it to someone who said they were just buying it for scrap ... and I paid them £10 to take it!!
I'd love to think that EGP 988 was still going strong - but I'd hate to know what it's worth now!
My first car, found for me by my Uncle Walt of Cosham, was a black (of course) 1946 Singer Ten Saloon (Reg. No. MMG 461). Immaculate and smelling of the leather that car seats were made of back then, it came to a sticky end when I was driving along the North Circular near Walthamstow and heard an unusual noise. It proved to be the last few breaths of at least one big-end and very soon the engine did what it had to do when I had forgotten to check and top-up the oil. An engine rebuild was going to cost more than the car's value - and that's when I bought the Pontiac.
When EGP had to go I took my first steps into HP with a bit of 'guarantor' help from home! I bought my first Mini (an Austin Seven variety) about 18 months old. It was off-white and registered as 247 AXE.
Neither of my parents ever drove so I was their means of transport. I suppose it was a fair trade!
Unfortunately I drove it faster than I should have done - with two or three of the usual consequences - but without ever making contact with another vehicle, object, person or animal.
Around that time I started to enjoy motor sport, and Rallying and Auto Tests (remember them ?) in particular. As a result I traded in '247' for an original Austin-Healey Sprite (Reg. No 422 CXU). You can see that car in the photo that heads my little online EShop www.RecordAndBooks.co.uk - enhanced by my (now) wife Joy who, even then, was younger than me!
It came from the dealership described in the next section ... Wells of Woodford. Unbeknown to me the Sprite had been owned by someone who had been at School with me (Stuart White) and I understand that he had raced it quite seriously in the UK and Europe - obviously properly prepared - but had managed to blow the engine during a race. As a result the original had been re-fitted before I bought it. When I owned it the car was red as in the photo. Many years later I saw the same car and Reg. No. parked outside the New Theatre Royal (a very old theatre) close to Portsmouth Guildhall. By now it was re-sprayed green ! It was unattended so I couldn't speak to the owner.
( A LATER NOTE: March 2016 : ... Recently, while playing on the DVLA's new website for checking MoT HISTORY of ANY CAR, I typed in that Reg. No. and Make ... and it shows it as being RED (again !) It also shows that it does only about 200 miles a year !! Nice to know it's still around )
Then, after a while of Frog-Eye fun I had a funny few minutes, retraced my footsteps and traded in 422 for a brand-new Minivan in mid-grey (Reg. No X 007 93 !!) also from Wells of Woodford, not far from Gates Corner. In those days it WAS just a corner (well, a crossroads junction) with GATES Ford Dealership on one corner of the North Circular, a few hundred yards north of another busy crossroads, known as MAYBANK ROAD. Nowadays, Gates Corner is unnoticed when you drive up or down the North Circular because you will be in an underpass, with Gates Corner on the road which now crosses the North Circ on a bridge.
Incidentally, just down from Maybank Road was CHARLIE BROWN's ROUNDABOUT, home of the famous and now late, lamented TED'S CAFF - a Transport Cafe beloved of the 'Ton-Up' Boys who used to ride their Manx Nortons, Vincents and other exotica along the Southend Road - and back if they were lucky.
After that, there followed, for me, a succession of Minis, one blue, one a dull lime-green Mini-Cooper (which had belonged to Charles Bent-Marshall and was then registered as CBM 7 ) and another was a brand-new White model reg. no. RYX 163F. On one of its first long journeys, a holiday with Joy heading for the North and Scotland, Joy, with 'L' plates, had been driving and we left it in the car park of another 'Transport Caff' while we went in to eat. Imagine our surprise when a very honest lorry driver walked in, came to our table and said he had just sat his lorry on our Mini's bonnet! We were impressed as well as not too happy. The car was fully driveable if a little less pretty than when we arrived. We enjoyed the rest of the holiday and got it repaired on the lorry driver's insurance.
Around this time I owned, for a very short time, the VW Beetle my brother GLYN had bought brand-new and didn't like. The blue mini had come via the same route.
Another short period was filled by owning an old Ford Popular (3-speed), followed by a Ford Anglia and then a Ford Zephyr. All served their purpose but weren't much fun! At one point I had owned an E-type ... but sadly it was an E-Type Morris 8 - the one with early faired-in headlights !
At sundry times I had bought from relatives a white Hillman Imp, a white VW Beetle (Reg. No. DOH 2C) and an older red Beetle. There have also been a Toyota Corolla (a car bought from a retired Salvation Army Officer, Brigadeer Percy Hipwell of Emsworth) out of necessity and sold as soon as possible!), a silvery-green Volvo 240 GLS (?), a white Citroen BX19, and a Ford Fiesta Diesel (Reg No T 208 BAY - in a colour that Ford called Royal Blue - but which was more like purple from a distance ! ). The Fiesta was brand new and as good as gold until I put VERY marginally imperfect Diesel into the tank and finished up with a bill for £1100. Tucked in here, hoping no-one notices, was a brand-new brown (!) Skoda in 1972, reg. no. JRF 983K. There was nothing wrong with the Skoda except for the feeling that one ought to be embarrassed or ashamed to be seen driving it!
After that, on transferring from Aldridge, Staffs to work at Havant, Hampshire, I bought a car that was more fun than it sounds to drive - a Ford Capri GTXLR Automatic. Purchased from Hendy Lennox Ford in Havant, it had been kept as a second car in the household of a prominent local Optician (Wingate)
A several year old, low mileage Mercedes 190E (dark red) got into the list in about 1999-2000 and lasted until it was hit while parked in a Waitrose Car Park - but I lost the details of the lady driver who did it! I know she gave her address as Pinewood Studios - and I believed her !! Years later, after the car was sold, I found her name and address! Eventually though, still running - but out of MoT and Tax - the Merc was sold "for spares or repair" on eBay for £50. A very nice, very dark, man came by train from London to our home in Devon to collect it. Fortunately I had wisely made sure the receipt (which we BOTH signed) said the exact time he took the car and became legally responsible for it ... because just over an hour later, untaxed and who knows about insurance, he was caught speeding past a Speed Cam on the M5. Several days later I got his Speeding Fine Ticket in the post !! The signed, dated and timed receipt was invaluable in sorting that out. The car, he had told me, was being purchased to go to London where it would be cut in half to take up less space in a container, then in the next 48 hours it would be shipped to Nigeria where, he added, " ... they can't get enough Mercs and Land Rovers ... they’re the only ones that can cope with the road surfaces over there ". I was left to assume that the two halves would be matched up and stitched together after the voyage.
That was in some time ago and right now I can't remember what I bought to replace it ! Maybe it was the red Peugeot 3 series or was it the Nissan Bluebird of which I have no recollection. Joy and Owen are adamant that I had one in Devon !
We've got badly out of sequence now but when Joy and I married in 1969 I had the Ford Corsair GT mentioned a long time ago, the one that was stolen and recovered. After it had been partially repaired I sold it to a friend who was living at Buckhurst Hill and has since moved to South Devon.
When we knew we would be moving from Winchester to Selsey I bought a very dark blue-Grey VW Passat ( FTP 9 X )... with 5-speed manual gearbox, 5 seats, 5 seat belts, 5 cylinder engine and 5 doors !! It had previously been owned by Sir John Hogg of Shenfield, near Wickham. I LOVED the way it drove but couldn't get comfortable in the driving seat so it went too soon ... and was replaced by a car I wish we had kept - but that's another story ! (Ask daughter Samantha !). My lips are sealed! It was the car Joy had liked better than any other we had owned; a low-mileage SAAB 99 2-litre Automatic, in silver with Factory fitted Sunroof - and ultimately, square wheels !). Anyway, moving on ... !!
In my last few years before very early and welcome retirement, I had been able to lease a car for private and business use. The first was a very economical, comfortable and responsive Peugeot 205 Diesel. It was replaced by a Peugeot 405 which we had for only 2 weeks before being hit head-on by a woman driver (a visiting Nurse) turning right, into a non-existent road on our side while on strong medication and under medical advice not to be driving. It wrote off our car and hers, caused injuries to the other driver and to Joy, our daughter Rachel and son Owen in the back seat - and to me - but proved beyond any doubt the value and importance of seat-belts ... AND PRAYER.
In fact that began a period of time-off-work when I didn't own or have a car ! On my return to duty I leased a similar but higher-spec. 405 and reflected on what might have been if the collision had found us in the 205 instead of the much longer higher and stronger 405.
After 2 years with that car, and faced with imminent retirement I accepted some advice which proved to be wrong. It said that the smaller the car I had when I retired, the better it would be for me financially - so I had chosen a Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 litre Auto.
For this one's story you had better ask son Owen. Again my lips are sealed!
If he is wise he will overlook what happened to me when I was returning a hired Mercedes to pick up my Corsa from the repairer!
Apart from a couple of cycles and an NSU Quickly ( Remember those ? ) I think I've listed most of the vehicles I've owned in my long life so far!
Oh no I haven't !! ... I've just remembered buying a silver Ford Cortina Estate (late model) from a Director of Jetmaster Fires in Winchester - and I know I borrowed and drove a blue Bedford Dormobile for a while. Now, that was something "different"..
Very early on, shortly before getting married, I was in partnership in East London in a Driving School business. Part of my contribution to the scheme was the low-mileage Austin A40 (white) that I bought from Clarke's of Wolverhampton after it had been my father-in-law's 'company car' when he worked for Dr Barnardo's Homes as an Appeals Officer (nowadays called a Fund Raiser)
Since moving to where we are now I have had a hardly used Peugeot 406 Manual, a Citroen top-of-the-range C4 with every conceivable extra already fitted ... and now I have a Citroen C5 2 litre Diesel Auto. That came to me after a protracted and sometimes difficult battle with Portfield Citroen of Chichester. The C4 (4 speed Petrol Auto) they sold me could not change down a gear without the most uncomfortable jolt and bang. I kept asking for repair, or a replacement vehicle - or a full refund - and they tried repairing the fauilt ... with first one ... and then a SECOND ... brand new complete Auto Transmission system at £4,500 each time !!
Neither replacement cured the problem; indeed the second one made it worse !
In the end, rather than go to court, the Director agreed to replace my 4-speed Petrol Auto C4 ... with a lower mileage 6-speed Automatic DIESEL C5 ... so we stopped arguing.
I have never had the heart to tell them that I found out, late in the day, that the fault wasn't in the Auto Transmission ... it was a simple software problem that stopped the car's computer from sending the correct messages between the Throttle and the Computer !! It could have been fixed in under 2 hours ... with no parts required !!
The C5 remains with us (January 2015) and has had a major Auto Transmission cpmonent replaced by Express Gearbox in Portsmouth (£1400) ... and more recently a new Timing Belt as it approached 100,000 miles (£350). It has also just had its second replacement EGR (Exhaust Gas Regulator) Valve (£350). It continues to run well and has moved with us to Norfolk.
February 2016 ... At a time when I wasn't even thinkiong of changing the Old Faithful Citroen C5, our son Owen began looking for a more spacious, more practical vehicle for his work which sometimes requires him to transport 8 ft x 4 ft sheets of plywood or other material - and he saw adverts for Volvo V70s ... the reliable Estate Car workhorse so beloved of Antiques Dealers and many others ! In the end he bought a Ford Galaxyand removed 5 of the 7 seats, including 2 with the optional extra "Child Seat Conversion".
Right now, (March 2016) his Volvo C70 - a pretty looking convertible car - is about to go on sale>
Meanwhile, for reasons I'm still trying to understand fully ( ! ) Joy and I decided to buy one of the Volvo V70s that Owen had decided not to have !! It is a factory-built LPG / Petrol model which I bought from a former LOTUS Cars manager ... Lotus are based near Norwich at Wymondham ("Winned -em !" )So far, so good ... it may not go as far on a gallong as the Citroen C5 Diesel (47mpg) ... but LPG is considerably cheaper than Diesel or even Petrol ... and it is a more comfortable car with a lot more carrying capacity - and roof rails if we ever need them. I must now decide whether to keep it ... or sell it on and stick with the Citroen !