Mirabelle Classic Cars

...cars for every occasion...

Motoring Memories - a minor involvement

...got an MOT failure, "basket case" or a box of bits, ring Andrew, he'll probably buy it off you!

Classic cars - to a people of a certain age, these were cars we grew up with, later to become "classics". They were just ordinary cars that were part of our lives meaning no more than current Escorts or Mondeos do. Probably the difference was that they were more involving, whether you lay under them, or drove them. Journeys, especially long ones, were more of an adventure!

My first car recollection was sitting in the back of my dad's Austin 10 chugging along, normally with a large queue of traffic behind us as we climbed up a hill fully laden with the family all packed into that small car. I particularly recalled Dad driving up a steep hill in Tamworth, after which he would pull over for a "fag break", although it's fair to say that the car smoked more than he did!

The second car I recall was an Austin Somerset. I never actually saw this car running, it was a car that languished at the bottom of the garden (some people have fairies!). I recall one Sunday, several of my uncles coming up with a block and tackle trying to pull the engine out for repair. Presumably not successfully 'cause I still don't recall the car ever running again! With the block and tackle over the bough of a tree, health and safety hadn't been invented back then!

Moving on in time to about 1965, my dad acquired a Ford Popular, the later square type 100E I think. This was a white car with black batman motifs on the doors, so not surprisingly we called it the batmobile, needless to say it didn't quite perform as well as Bruce Wayne's machine!

Moving on much further in time to when I was a teenager looking for a car to learn to drive in, I bought for £50 a white Hillman Imp or more accurately termed a Singer Chamois. This was duly handpainted in blue with white flashes down the sides. I recall a little bit of an argument I had with my father on this one because I'd bought a sun strip that I wanted to put on the car. I found it highly amusing as one would at that age; it read "honk if you're horny", but my dad was having none of that parked outside of the house so in the end we compromised with a legend of "racing team." Returning from one holiday I remember, with six of us in the car and the holiday luggage on the roof the cylinder head gasket failed having limped along for a number of miles. This resulted in us replacing the cylinder head gasket at the side of the road, by that time I was getting handy with spanners and was able to assist my father to repair it. My mechanical skills were to come in useful on many occasions from then on, something to do with the quality of the cars that I owned!

The next car that I owned was the first car that I truly drove on my own, shortly after having passed my driving test, it was a Ford Cortina Mk II. I loved this car, putting white wall tyres on it, I remember we'd get five young lads in and we'd travel far & wide. Particularly I recall it was good for "stepping the back end out" in pub car parks (Sweeney style) much to the annoyance of other people who got showered in gravel, but of course at that age we thought it was great fun. I ran this car for about 12 months until the cam shaft started to fail - another of these recollections that after time become endearing but probably weren't at the time. As the cam shaft failed, so a lot of journeys were punctuated by pulling over to adjust the tappet on no. 1 exhaust valve. This continued for a while until the point that I could get no more adjustment so I sold the car with it requiring another engine. I believe an engine was put into this car and its claim to fame after me was that one day I had a call from the police - apparently it had been used as a getaway car in a bank raid. It wasn't me honest guv!

The next car in line was a Mini or more correctly termed, an Austin 7. Even at this time 25 years ago I realised that this was a fairly rare vehicle. It was built in the first six weeks of production but unfortunately it was as rotten as a pear as Minis tend to be, so it spent quite a long time languishing in the garage doing nothing. I acquired another 850 mini so I transferred the engine over into that car and I ran it for a while. Unfortunately as tended to be the way with my transport it's number 4 piston decided to seize in the cylinder bore. I managed to drive it home but later realised that the piston had actually become disconnected from the con rod, so I'd only actually got 3 pistons running up and down with the con rod on number 4 cylinder flailing around aimlessly. This was also identified by a great plume of blue-grey smoke that issued from the exhaust pipe. I limped along for about a week, significantly contributing to the hole in the ozone layer, selling the car to my cousin or should I say I gave it to him be more accurate as he certainly wouldn't have paid for it!

A number of fairly ordinary 70's cars came and went. The next notable vehicle that came along in my motoring life was an Austin J4 camper van. This was a very unusual vehicle with a fixed hi-top roof. It was handy for moving all the family and friends around in as a sort of minibus, but was, at the end of the day, a camper van. I decided to book a camping holiday stopping off at Prestatyn. I recall the morning of this great adventure arrived and we took off up the A41 through Whitchurch - no great problems although I do recall that this vehicle was extremely thirsty on petrol and probably had only got a range of about 120 miles before it would need a refill. The photo enclosed shows me proudly standing by the van at a rest area. Shortly afterwards I lost 1st and reverse gears (rather careless) which rather put a damper on things as I had to push it into position on the hard standing at the holiday site. Consequently, we spent most of the holiday on foot shortening the holiday with a view to returning home to put a "new" gearbox in which I got from a scrapyard. Mauling it into position only to find that that hadn't got 1st gear either! I drove it around for a while because 2nd gear was low enough to get away with until I had a problem with the prop shaft. I realised it was knocking, but with my cavalier attitude in those days, I just let it carry on, until one day it parted and the propshaft managed to wrap up the wiring loom from the rear of the vehicle and drag it all up the prop - leaving me with 2 or 3 happy days making up a new rear wiring loom!

In due course that vehicle moved on to the great scrapyard in the sky and I had another procession of fairly ordinary vehicles come and go; Hillman Avengers, Austin maxis, whathaveyou until 1993. At which point I bought my first Morris Minor from a work colleague called Guy Hughes. This was introduced to me by a mutual friend on finding out that I was looking for some old car just to tinker with in my spare time (why I should still want to tinker heaven only knows!). He'd had the car in the family since 1972, ran it as a car to learn to drive in and then ran it in his early youth till he passed the car on to his father, Guy Hughes (senior). He ran it up until 1992 when it failed the MOT. By this time it had already gained cover sills. I didn't realise when I bought the vehicle for £350, that the registration no. wasn't the original one; it had formerly been REA 232, having an age-related number plate put on it, but then you live and learn!!!

I drove this car home as it was a runner, but soon found out that on removal of the cover sills, there was very little car underneath, although it had looked good cosmetically with a reasonable paint job, there was very little of the chassis left. So after a little bit of deliberation my wife decided that as I hadn't got the time to do all of the welding on it, we should send it off to a minor specialist. The car returned, I did a few more bits and pieces and then proudly went off to my first rally in this car. It was Shropshire if I recall, at Dudmaston Hall. I didn't put my bonnet up, just went along for the ride, but they felt the need to present me with a trophy, and I was flushed with pride until I found out that it was for "vehicle in most need of loving attention". Thanks Shropshire Branch!!

Time went by and I was looking for a vehicle for my father who was carless at the time and I managed to pick up (pardon the pun) an Austin 8-cwt pick-up we later called Gertie (WUX 313K). She came also from a work colleague in a very rough & ready state, but mechanically sound with an MOT. A very useful vehicle, I ran her myself (after my father bought another car) for a number of years - even went to the National Golden Jubilee down at Blenheim Palace & the Gaydon show the same year (if you see the photo you'll see what I mean). I ran that vehicle for some time as a daily driver until I decided that I'd like to do weddings with a convertible.

Convertibles had always seemed unattainable to me - cars that other people owned. Judith had a bank account full of money and she said that she would buy one, and we had it overhauled by a restorer, painted in white, trimmed out, all ready for wedding use which was great. A very attractive looking car although I was soon to find out that the restoration hadn't extended to all of the mechanical parts and I still found that I had to do a lot more work on her (years of getting the Whitworth spanners out didn't seem to have come to an end!). Flushed with the thoughts of weddings, we decided that we'd pick up another convertible cheaply and then do that up and run the two together.

LSL 364 came along, sat on the mother-in-law's lawn for eighteen months killing the grass, until I realised that I wouldn't have the time to do anything with her and sold her off again for what I paid - about the only car I never made a loss on!

Then one day I was at a Birmingham branch rally; rang in to say I'd arrived safely, and my wife said somebody had offered us a traveller for free! I couldn't believe my ears! I rushed home. Two days later I went up to have a look at it thinking that as an old couple had owned the car, and it hadn't run for eighteen years, it was probably going to be like a lost Faberge egg, a real minter! This car had been in a garage, but next to the washer dryer which had been venting into the garage leaving the car as rusty as anything with lots of top rust from the condensation. After two sweaty days of trying to get her up onto her tyres, and trying to get some form of braking so that I could tow her, I had to admit defeat and she was passed on to a trader in exchange for a few parts. Although he did say later on that somebody had bought her with a view to repair, whether or not she's on the road now I don't know.

So that really brings things up to date other than the National rally at Lichfield, when we took our car, Mirabelle, along with several other white convertibles, which made a nice display of wedding cars. Will the youth of today who drive modern cars with little or no driver involvement and certainly no driver maintenance be able to look back as fondly on a career of tinkering, lying underneath cars in the wind and rain, and term them as happy days? Er… probably not!

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