The first family car that I remember was a pre-war Singer. There were two previous cars in my lifetime, but I was too young to remember either of them. The first of these was a Morris Minor, not the well-known model from the post-war years, an earlier production that dated from the 1930s. This car seen in the photograph (left) turned over in 1949 when, as a baby, I was fighting for my life in hospital. My father was far too worried about me to notice that the springs of the suspension were slowly cracking, one by one. Eventually nothing remained to keep the car upright, and it turned right over as he was driving home. Fortunately no one was injured but the car was a write-off. This car was followed by a Canadian built Ford Pilot van, which I am also too young to remember.
The Singer that came next was originally all maroon, but my father repainted her to bring her into the modern era. Modern cars were then all ‘two-tone’ and the Singer, while remaining maroon below the window line, had her upper part painted beige. The Singer always broke down if we took it outside Norfolk and on one occasion my father unwisely tried to drive to London. Needless to say we broke down. We had got as far as the outskirts of the capital, to Harold Wood. We were quite hungry by then and survived on some bread rolls we bought at a shop on the High Street. There was no real bread available, but we got some low-calorie long-life dry rolls called Energen.
In 1958 Dad bought a brand new car, a Hillman Husky, in which we could go across country as far as Oxford with no risk of breaking down. I am sure it would have gone a lot further, but in our rare adventures to the distant parts of the country it was better to go by train. There were no motorways then. Our previous cars had all been secondhand, so it was very special to have a new car. I have already mentioned the colour scheme of all new cars in the late 1950s, so it was naturally painted in two-tones, mid-grey below and light grey above. We kept it for three years and then replaced it with another newer model, fawn above and powder blue below. This second Husky we kept much longer, about 8 years. It was the first car we owned that had a safety belt fitted. These were optional extras, and my father was exception in seeing the need for this feature. Even so, he only had one fitted, for the front seat passenger. He was the driver of course, and he felt that the steering wheel was sufficient for him to hold onto in the event of a crash. Luckily he never discovered the error of this belief.
From 1966, when I myself began to drive, until 1969, I had a Fiat 500 to potter about in. The tiny Fiat was definitely not a family car. It was very much my own personal possession. It would take four people with great difficulty and discomfort, and then there was no room for any luggage. It was a marevellous form of transport for a young man though, and I was very lucky to have it. It was given to me by my generous sister who had previously used it herself on the Channel Islands where she was working. Because my Fiat had been imported from Guernsey when it was already three years old it should have had its first MOT on arrival, but in those days it was regarded as a new import by the authorities. Consequently it did not require an MOT until I had used it for a further 3 years, when it was 6 years old. This loophole in the rules has been closed many decades ago now, but the result of its first MOT test was however devastating. Because of the salty sea air on Guernsey, this six-year-old car was riddled with rust, and would have been far too expensive to repair.
The family car by 1969 was a Hillman Minx. This estate car was rather too big; it was the first car we had ever had with five doors, but it was soon sold. The next family car was the much smaller Daf 44, which we bought in April 1972. This brown, a colour called Tabina! Because this wasn’t an estate car we soon changed this one too; we had grown accustomed to the ease of putting all sorts of things in the back. We bought another estate, but for some reason we went over to Russian cars.
The first was a Moskvitch, an extraordinary vehicle. Its styling was twenty year old, a brash communistic version of the early 1950s, and the handling was appalling. Nothing about it was right, the steering, braking or starting, and our young dog Fido cut his paw on a piece of trim. The quality of the build was dreadful, and I don’t know how it was allowed into the country. The brake pipes were however made of pure copper, an expensive and quite needless luxury. That car didn’t last long as the family car, but it was followed for some reason by yet another Russian car, this time a Lada.
This was better, because it was an Italian design, originally a Fiat 124. The quality of the build was once again pretty awful, but the importers of the cars into Hull did a fantastic job of virtually rebuilding them, so they turned out not too badly. The Lada came to a bad end when I crashed it on a sharp bend in the fog. This had nothing to do with the car, it was all my fault.
By then I was living on my own and need a smaller car. I took over my sister’s yellow Fiat 127 when she bought one of the first Fiat Pandas. I then took over the Panda when she moved on to a newer model. My Panda came to a sticky end as well, when I skidded straight over a roundabout at Mendelsham in Suffolk and ended up in a gorse bush. I then bought a white Ford Escort estate.
When I married my wife in 1986 she already had car of her own. This was red VW Beetle that had been passed on to her by her father a year or two before. By then my Ford needed a new MOT and so I sold it. We kept the Beetle for six or seven years while the children were growing up and followed it with a dark blue VW Golf. Then came what in my opinion was the most practical car we ever possessed- a diesel Golf estate in dark red. It was both economical and capacious, and no problem to drive. We followed this by five door Polo, which I drove in France. I found it OK until I came to the French roundabouts, which needed frantic readjustment of your mental outlook. The blue Polo that followed is still in the family, now being used by my son in Bristol. Our current family car is a Skoda Fabia
Skodas were once popularly regarded as a joke, although they were not really a joke to my mind. They were certainly nothing like as dreadful in all respects as Russian cars; the worst you say about these communist Czechoslovakian cars was that they were a little old-fashioned, being rear engined, when we in the West had abandoned such things. Now Skodas have been taken over by VW, and these Czech built motors quite often come top of all the car satisfaction surveys.
For the last 11 years before my stroke ended my driving career I had a little personal car of my own. The first of these runabouts was a Nissan Micra which I bought in secondhand in 1998 from a work colleague. Then I bought a brand new Fiat Seicento, which I acquired in a very up-to-date manner via the Internet. It was a good bargain, but I had to go to Lincoln to collect it. It was fun to go there on the train, and after I had discovered how to open the petrol tank, it was fun to drive it back to Norfolk. I sold it when I retired at the age of 60, and within a few months my driving career was over when I had my first stroke. Let others take the wheel now – I am quite content to be a passenger once more. I need never worry again about speeding fines or being guilty of drink driving!
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE