Thursday, 8 September 2011


I came behind a Morris Minor the other day and, as it bounced like a buoyant bubble on the road surface in front of me, I got to thinking about all the cars I’d owned. I never actually had a MM but I remember it well. I don’t think its shape looks all that dated today. In fact it was probably designed for an age before its time.
My first memory of the Minor is as a young reporter on the  Wilmslow, Alderley and Knutsford Advertiser. Our Alderley correspondent who was then seventy years old, if not more, drove the vehicle as though demons were behind him. And as my mode of transport was a bike (and it is again but more of that later) I often accompanied him on press days to the head office and printers in Stockport.
The return journey was frequently a white knuckle ride as with his eyes glazed over like a latter day Toad of Toad Hall, he would floor the accelerator along the A34. I doubt if it would do more than 75 mph. Which is perhaps fortunate, since this dapper elderly scribe with a handsome tash that made him look for all the world like a WW1 fighter pilot, was a maniac behind the wheel of his Minor. We always got back in one piece but I’ve since wondered whether he was a driver who just liked speed, or if his manner of driving was connected to the faint peppermint smell mixed with the whiff of the odd tipple of sherry he was reputed to be rather partial!
 I bought my first car at this time, a 1933 Wolseley Hornet, for £15 (a lot in those days when I earned £5 a week) complete with bald tyres and a useless handbrake, but as the man said - it was a “good runner”. It was during the Suez crisis when fuel rationing made it possible to drive with just a provisional licence. I shudder at the thought of the trips I made in this venerable vehicle with little cash, no AA cover and only faith it would get me there and back. Its days ended when a village PC Plod of my acquaintance stopped me for “a chat”. He happened to put his broad shoulders across the rear and, having no handbrake, it took off down the slope. with both of us in full pursuit. I took his friendly advice to “get rid or mended” and swapped it and £40 for a Morris 10 (circa 1938). I guess if I could have kept and garaged the pair they might be worth a bob or two now. Then they were just two old vehicles fit for the scrap man. A Bedford van that had spent most of its life delivering bread, I think, was the next purchase. Well, actually I handed over £15 to my cousin Tony and his family (it had just cost that to insure) and it was mine. Now, if it didn’t have the bird-pulling power of, say, a Ferrari it certainly proved attractive in other ways: in the days when we flitted between flats (buying a house even then was beyond most newly-weds) it doubled as a removal vehicle for friends.
You will have gathered I’m not what you would call a petrol head. To me a car is wheels to get from A to B. (There have been times when I've owned cars and rarely peered under the bonnet).  Over a lifetime of motoring I’ve had a string of cars bought because, for the most part, they were cheap enough to run. Only once did a mid-life crisis override common sense. I became the owner of a Triumph TR7. However it was a short-lived relationship. One serious wheel wobble on ice and a spectacular skid that sent me whirling like a fairground ride on a narrow country lane and head-on into a hedge confirmed my suspicions that I was not cut out to be an oldie boy racer!  I changed it for a more sedate and safe Renault, I recall.
My first new vehicle was a green Autobianchi made by Fiat. It was really a van but popular because without its windows at the back, its appearance was more of a trendy mini car powered by 500 cc rear engine. And it would do in excess of 60 mpg. The petrol tank was under the bonnet and when a red warning light flashed it was easy to check what fuel remained! We called it the "Queen Bee" and drove it for thousands of miles in this country and France – and the only problem was a foot brake pedal that collapsed at a most awkward moment at a major crossing but I survived to tell the tale.
In a none-too-spectacular driving career I have destroyed two engines, attempted to motor on water and ripped away the underside from a Volkswagen as I went cross country in the saloon!  A Renault engine expired in clouds of searing steam after ignoring a flashing light in my anxiety to reach some dramatic incident in the Peak district. The second engine, also a Renault, was damaged beyond repair when  I plunged through a flooded road at speed, in the mistaken belief that it could take it.
My most exciting “escape” was from a Chrysler Alpine as I ventured to cross the ford at Swettenham, not appreciating it was several feet deep from torrential rain.. Late for a meeting at the village pub I took the short cut – and found the car sailing until it bottomed out, engine somehow still turning, lights on and radio playing. A rescue party of by then hysterical pals from the pub and a tractor rescued the car but it stank for months afterwards!
Now I’m between vehicles but I’m not without transport with two family cars in the stable, and of course my latest purchase - a trike. Since ops to replace two worn out knees, it is some six years or more since I’d had the courage to mount a bike. My first effort on a two wheeler ended in disaster when I stupidly fell off. So it was thought a three-wheeler could be the answer. Sure, with a power packing auxiliary electric motor to take some of the strain, my Batribike has opened new frontiers. It has been a bit of a learning curve. Especially since on my first outing I went A over T 100 yards from home as I was unceremoniously pitched from the saddle when I clipped the edge of the road and dumped in the gateway of the Old Forge !