Tag Archives: Ford Escort

A First Visit to Portugal

On 5th October 1793 Portugal became an independent nation and I mention this because although I have visited country several times until recently I was ashamed of my previous ignorance about the place.  I had always assumed that because of its geography that it must be a lot like Spain with a few minor differences but I had come to understand that Portugal, its people and its culture and heritage is very, very different indeed.

In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets and, as the property was in rather a remote location, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about.   Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.

Late in 1986 he asked Richard if he would do the job for him in return for a few days rent free holiday at the villa and Richard agreed so long as he could take his pals along to help with the long drive back.  So in October we made the arrangements and one Monday in November Richard, me and our two friends Anthony and Tony flew from East Midlands Airport on a cold wet morning and arrived two hours later in the sunshine at Faro.  It was about thirty kilometres to the villa, which was in a village called Alcantarilha so we found a taxi and set off.  Unfortunately the taxi driver wasn’t fully familiar with this particular part of the Algarve and he didn’t find Richard’s hand drawn location map especially helpful either so there was some confusion about locating the destination, which he only found at about the third attempt.

This was understandable because Villa Estrella was set back off the road with an entrance that was hard to spot and after that there was a short dusty track that led up past the swimming pool and around the back of the property to the car park and the entrance.  And that was when we first saw the car that it was our responsibility to get back to the UK.  An electrifying mixture of shock and panic set in when we realised that this was a ten year old automatic Ford Escort, which, it has to be said was not altogether in the best shape and with its best performance motoring years a long way in the past.  Under the streaks of grime and dust it was a curious lime green sort of colour that was badly faded by the hot Iberian sun and with various minor dents and scratches and missing wheel trims that made the poor thing look rather sad and forlorn and quite frankly a more suitable candidate for a trip to the scrap yard than a demanding two thousand kilometre journey all the way back to the United Kingdom!

Thankfully the villa was in much better shape than the car and inside there were comfortable furnishings, a well-equipped kitchen and a sunny balcony overlooking the garden and the pool and an orange grove next door.  It was a neat whitewashed house with a red tiled roof and brown shuttered windows and set in a slightly neglected garden with wild geraniums.  We selected our rooms, changed into holiday mood, settled in and then all agreed that we needed alcohol supplies so we locked up and walked down the track and down the road a short way to the village shop that we had passed three times on the way in.

This was one of those fabulous old-fashioned shops that you used to find all over Southern Europe but sadly rarely exist anymore due to the relentless march of the supermarkets that has swept them all away.  In fact we wouldn’t have known that this was a shop at all except for a tatty blue canopy advertising Portuguese Sumol soft drinks and a reference to Mercado Braz A Taverna that was flapping over a single door that gave access to the mini-market.  Inside it was dark and gloomy and we all needed a moment or two to let the eyes adjust to the light.  The place was chaotic and everything was piled on the shelves in a completely mad way that made shopping a very random experience indeed.  Vegetables, washing powders, dairy products, died meats all thrown together in a most confusing manner that made it difficult to find the things we were looking for.

Actually we didn’t need a great deal, the two main items on our shopping list were beer and bread, in that order!  We found the beer and quickly calculated how much we would need for three days and set about assembling the purchase at the counter.  The shop keeper seemed a bit agitated by this but all she was trying to make us understand was that she would rather like the bottles back when we had finished with them because there was a deposit on them.  And then we turned to bread and spotted it on a shelf behind the old lady and by pointing and shouting, in the way that we do when we can’t understand each other, we drew her attention to it and asked for twenty mini loaves.  Now she was alarmed because this was only a small community and this would have cleaned out the entire days supply for the village and we had to seriously negotiate with her to get her to release only about half of our requested quantity.

Back at the villa it was really quite warm in the early afternoon sun and this meant that we could sample the Portuguese beer while sitting around the pool and on the sun terrace on the top of the building.  Three of us were content to sit and do very little but Richard, who is by nature a hopeless fidget, quickly got bored and soon disappeared to carry out a more thorough inspection of the car.  He was gone for quite some time and first of all he gave it a good bonnet to boot clean, which seemed to cheer it up considerably and it began to look a great deal happier.  It wasn’t all good news however because Richard advised that a quick mechanical check had revealed that one of the headlights didn’t work and there was no heater because the pipes had been disconnected and sealed off with a bit of wood, which wasn’t a repair process that you would find in a Haynes do-it-yourself workshop manual but nevertheless appeared to be relatively effective.

At this point things, it has to be said, didn’t look good for the journey home and we wondered how difficult it would be to get a flight back instead.

Every Picture Tells a Story – First Cars

Like a lot of families in the 1950s we didn’t have a car and had to rely instead on public transport.  Dad leaned to drive in 1962 when he took lessons with Terry Branston’s school of motoring.  Terry lived opposite to our house and well as being a driving instructor was a professional footballer who played for Northampton Town.  He was a tough tackling centre-back who helped Northampton achieve the impressive feat of moving from Division Four to Division One in three successive seasons in the early 1960s.

I think he failed the first time but once he had passed his test at the second attempt he bought his first car, an old fashioned four door white Austin Cambridge A40 saloon registration number SWD 774.  The Cambridge had been introduced in 1954 and was kept in production for two years.  It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and at 4,250 revs per minute an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour.  Power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.

It was a big heavy thing, hard to handle, I imagine, and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much.  I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note!  I wish I could do that!  Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!

Esso Tiger

On the outside it had a voluptuous body shape, lumpy and bulbous, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front.  It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.

I would like to be able to take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle.  Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.  On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus.  The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and, with no ABS in those days, dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing.  Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.

SWD 774

Having an accident like this in 1964 was potentially quite serious because cars didn’t have seat belts and in a crash passengers could be tossed around as though they were in a tropiacl tsunami.  Drivers and front seat passengers were not compelled to wear seatbelts until 1st February 1983 by which time the Department of Transport estimated that thirty-thousand people a year were being killed or seriously injured in road accidents.  It seems bizarre now to think that there had been a long running row over making front seatbelts compulsory which had been going on for fifteen years with eleven previously unsuccessful attempts to make it law.

And it wasn’t just seat belts that the A40 lacked because in the interior this was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as a radio, air conditioning or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of imitation red leather that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your legs in the summer if the car had stood out in the sun for too long.  For the driver there was a big skeletal steering wheel, column mounted gear stick and a hand brake that was adjacent to the steering column on the left hand side.

The controls consisted of a simple dashboard display with a basic speedometer with warning lights for oil and water, headlamps and indicators.  The ignition key was in the middle of the dashboard alongside the manual choke and the knob to control the windscreen wipers.  There were clumsy air vent controls for the driver and the front seat passenger, a long open shelf for keeping miscellaneous motoring clutter and a glove box for the AA book and important membership details.

1870NX

Dad only had the A40 for a couple of years and after that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and flashy chrome grill.  Then he had a two tone blue and white Ford Cortina Mark I and he must have liked the Cortina because after that he had first a blue one and then a white one.  Sometime in the early 1970s he traded up from a Mark I to a Mark II and had a model in a curious duck egg green.

These were all second hand cars of course but then in 1975 he had his first brand new car when he paid £800 for a metallic gold Vauxhall Viva, which he kept for four years before selling it to me (for £800, I think).  After that he had a succession of red Ford Escorts before finally downsizing to Ford Fiestas, and back to his favourite blue again.

My first car was two tone blue Hillman Imp which was a twenty-first birthday present but it was unreliable and would only go for about thirty miles before seriously overheating so I only kept it for a few months and I bought my own real first car, a flame red Hillman Avenger top specification GL, 1500cc, registration WRW 366J, which featured four round headlights internal bonnet release, two-speed wipers, brushed nylon seat trim (previously never used on British cars), reclining front seats, hockey stick rear light cluster and a round dial dashboard with extra instrumentation.

 Hillman avenger WRW 336J