I have always liked cars. Note well the terminology – “liked” NOT “loved” because I am not a petrol head seeking to gain an image through the vehicle I use to get around.
Cars are a useful means of getting around. Faster and safer than a pushbike. Faster and safer than a motor scooter (not open top sports cars when we talk about safety). Maybe not faster but definitely safer than a motor bike.
When I graduated from a pushbike, actually a drop-handled Viking with a front frame clip for my hockey stick, to my scooter (which I did sell and buy a sort of moped-style machine which had belonged to footballer Mike England’s father) I was still just waiting to pass my test and swap two wheels for four (five if you count the steering wheel and six if you include the spare wheel).
I had been transported in cars before I could drive myself, ranging from the Bullnose Morris my parents had when I was very young to a Vauxhall Viva then a Vauxhall Vector.
My scooter and moped were a beginning to my independence. With them I did not need to wait for someone to give me a lift or use public transport.
As I have already told you my first car was a green Morris Minor, 1955 vintage, which I bought from my sister for £50 and when I wanted something different sold on to a friend for £50.
It did me good service, especially when I was driving to work in Holywell.
In the summer of 1968 my mate Roger Steele and I used to drive out to the villages for a drink as our favourite pubs in Rhyl used to be crammed full of holidaymakers.
We used to take it in turns to drive, not because of any drink/drive worries (nobody really bothered about that at the time, unless someone was so drunk they could hardly walk) but just to make a change.
We would vary the pubs we went to depending on whether we wanted drink and darts; drink and snooker; or drink and dominoes. What an exciting time in the swinging sixties up in North Wales.
One night we had been out in my car and came back by a different route to usual. We were on a country lane and I suddenly realised that straight ahead was just a muddy lane as the road took a hard right turn.
Instead of slowing down, stopping and reversing I tried to take the corner at the last moment and skidded on a pile of leaves ending up with the rear nearside wheel stuck in the ditch.
We both got out, Roger had to slide over to my side as the passenger door was right by the ditch, and studied the situation.
Cars from the 50s were solid and even a Morris Minor was a heavyweight. With the rear passenger wheel in the ditch and the front one on the edge there was little chance of the two of us shifting it.
Then we noticed a car coming up the muddy lane and we flagged the driver down.
It was a young couple in the car and the man got out and had a look, using a torch. In looking around he came close to both of us and eventually shone his torch on us.
There was instant recognition as he said: “You’re Nigel’s young brother. I’ll tell you what, as you clearly haven’t been drinking I’ll give you a lift home and you can arrange for someone to pick the car up tomorrow.”
We were too surprised to say much and accepted the lift.
My brother and some friends were out by the back gates when we rolled up and Nigel greeted our rescuer – and his companion.
He drove off and Nigel said he and his friends would come out now to get the car. Nigel, Roger, myself and three or four others got into two cars and headed off.
On the way Nigel asked if I knew who our Good Samaritan was and I told him about the inspection of the vehicle and the recognition of me as his brother.
I also told him that the car came up to the road from the lane and the driver had said he was only going to help because we hadn’t been drinking.
Nigel laughed and said: “More likely he didn’t want you to take too much notice of his companion and where they had been.
“That was NOT his girlfriend and he has recently completed his training for the police force. If he thought you hadn’t been drinking he would be too stupid even for the police force.”
With the whole gang of us we managed to get the car out of the ditch then Nigel’s friends “escorted” us home.
I only had one other minor accident with the Moggie and that was one Friday night at the yacht club. I was reversing and caught the rear light cluster on an empty beer barrel.
It was raining and the lights were fused. Roger did a running repair, taping over the broken cluster and jerry rigging the lights into the ignition.
I was driving down that night to Oxford with a couple of others for the wedding of a friend the next day.
The jerry-rigged system worked well. At dawn I stopped in a lay-by and disconnected the lights, before heading back on the Saturday night I reconnected it.
The following week I sold the car to a friend who was aware of the broken light.
I then bought a black 1955 Austin Cambridge A50 for £50 and was back on the road without a break.
If the Moggie was a solid vehicle then the Cambridge was more along the lines of a Centurion tank. It certainly proved its worth one winter’s day in 1968.
I was driving to Holywell on the top road. It was icy and it had been snowing earlier in the morning.
The car caught on a patch of ice and slid across the road, over the icy grass verge and hit the iron fence around a field. It was one of those fences made up of flat iron uprights with solid iron rods going through.
There was a shallow, narrow ditch and one wheel was in it. The front bumper had hit one of the flat iron uprights.
I couldn’t reverse out because it was too icy but luckily for me there was a council depot opposite where they stored heavy duty vehicles for snow clearance, gritting, diggers etc.
There were men working there and they dragged me out with a pick-up truck and didn’t even expect a reward.
The car was fine, one of the over riders on the bumper had a minor dent and was fractionally out of position.
As I said – built like a tank.
It was also a comfortable ride inside with a leather bench seat in the front as well as the back. The gear change was on the wheel and the handbrake under the dash. This made for a cosy front seat when parked and saying goodnight to a girlfriend.
I had an accident on ice again a couple of years later but that was on a mountain pass in Austria with a straight drop over the side of about 500 feet.
Which is another story.
The A50 came with a car radio but I swapped that for a radio-cassette player which meant I could play the music I wanted and when I was driving on my own that was quite often classical.
There were many more cars to come over the future, Toyotas, another Austin, Volvos, Renaults and more.
While I was working in Oman I used to test drive cars every couple of weeks including wadi-bashing in a LandCruiser and in a top of the range Range Rover.
That’s all in the future, however.
My dream car would be a 1960 Mk II Jaguar or a 1950s Moggie. I wonder what that says about me.