Tag Archives: Hillman Avenger

Age of Innocence – 1959, Britain’s First Motorway and First Cars

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.  This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit.  In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.

The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.  When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic!  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.

M1 Motorway

In 1959 cars were still a bit old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 673J.

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.

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

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 after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.  My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.  Ah happy days!

photo (1)

Scrap Book Project – Motorways and Minis

M1 Motorway

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick (where coincidentally my Mother now lives) was opened on 2nd November.

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a three-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.  The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.

When it first opened this was practically the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic.  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men and that was about one mile every eight days.  Compare that to the sort of productivity road builders achieve today – a twenty mile stretch of road between Spalding and Peterborough, the A1073, for example took nearly four years and then had to be closed immediately for repairs!

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed very much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL two door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The first Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

photo (1)

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your bum in the summer.

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 big grinning chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

Motorways and Minis

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened on 2nd November.

I have always thought this to be a curious choice of route.  Starting in London was sensible enough but it didn’t actually go anywhere and ended abruptly in a sleepy village in Northamptonshire.  Surely it would have made more sense to build a road between London and Birmingham?

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a three-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.  The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.

When it first opened this was practically the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic.  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men and that was about one mile every eight days.  Compare that to the sort of productivity road builders achieve today – a twenty mile stretch of road between Spalding and Peterborough, the A1073, for example took nearly four years and then had to be closed immediately for repairs!

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed very much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL two door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The first Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

photo (1)

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your bum in the summer.  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 big chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

Bank Loans, Credit Cards and Mortgages

By the middle of July 1975 I had been in full time employment for the first time for just about four weeks and I already had my first pay cheque in the bank so with money that I was unaccustomed to having I set about getting some of it spent.

My first car was a two-tone blue Hillman Imp that my parents had given to me some months earlier as a twenty-first birthday present but it was unreliable and the aluminium engine had a tendency to overheat badly which meant any journey had to be broken down into thirty mile chunks every time the orange warning light started to blink with fifteen minutes or so in between to cool down.

I needed a new car but rather save up and buy one I needed one now.  Bob Arrowsmith at the garage in Braunstone, who used to service the family cars, found me a bright red Hillman Avenger and I was determined to have it.

Having no money was a bit of a problem so I made an appointment with the Manager of the National Westminster Bank in Rugby for an interview for a bank loan.  These days getting a bank loan is as simple as making a phone call or making an on-line application but thirty-five years ago it required an interview to assess an applicant’s suitability.

I turned up at the appointed time and was shown into the Manager’s wood panelled office, an intimidating sort of place with a large desk, red leather seat for the Manager and a wooden chair for the customer and we went through the application form and he asked me a series of questions and then he took some time to deliberate on the matter before satisfying himself that I was a reasonable risk and with a flourish of his fountain pen he signed the form and I had got £600 to buy the car.

Despite the formalities that all seemed terribly easy and before I knew it I was applying for loans and credit cards on a regular basis.  Soon after this I got my first credit card, an orange, blue and white Barclaycard and I was soon spending away on that as though money had gone out of fashion (which of course, it had) and then a couple of years later I needed more money because I wanted to buy a house.

I was planning to get married and we found just the place we wanted at 118, Frobisher Road on the Admiral’s Estate in Bilton but the asking price was £8,000 and I didn’t have the £800 required for the deposit.  So I made an appointment at the Bank.  In those days finance was a lot simpler – Bank’s lent money for things like cars and boats and caravans and Building Societies lent money for property and everything was quite orderly.  I just turned up at the bank and told the Manager that I wanted to buy a new car and as I had by now repaid the earlier loan he had no issue with advancing me some more money and after half an hour I had £800 in my bank

I took the £800 around to the Halifax Building Society where I knew the Manager, Graham Brush, and when he was satisfied that I had the deposit he signed off the mortgage application and a couple of weeks later we had our first house – it was as easy as that!

A Life in a Year – 2nd November, Motorways and Minis

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened on 2nd November.   The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a three-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.  The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.

When it first opened this was practically the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic.  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men and that was about one mile every eight days.  Compare that to the sort of productivity road builders achieve today – a twenty mile stretch of road between Spalding and Peterborough, the A1073, for example has taken nearly four years!

In 1959 cars were still a bit old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL two door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!  The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The first Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 673J.

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.  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 big chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

A Life in a Year – 16th July, a Bank Loan and a Mortgage

By the middle of July 1975 I had been in full time employment for the first time for just about four weeks and I already had my first pay cheque in the bank so with money that I was unaccustomed to having I set about getting some of it spent.

My first car was a two-tone blue Hillman Imp that my parents had given to me some months earlier as a twenty-first birthday present but it was unreliable and the aluminium engine had a tendency to overheat badly which meant any journey had to be broken down into thirty mile chunks every time the orange warning light started to blink with fifteen minutes or so in between to cool down. I needed a new car but rather save up and buy one I needed one now.  Bob Arrowsmith at the garage in Braunstone, who used to service the family cars, found me a bright red Hillman Avenger and I was determined to have it.

Having no money was a bit of a problem so I made an appointment with the Manager of the National Westminster Bank in Rugby for an interview for a bank loan.  These days getting a bank loan is as simple as making a phone call or making an on-line application but thirty-five years ago it required an interview to assess an applicant’s suitability.

I turned up at the appointed time and was shown into the Manager’s wood panelled office, an intimidating sort of place with a large desk, red leather seat for the Manager and a wooden chair for the customer and we went through the application form and he asked me a series of questions and then he took some time to deliberate on the matter before satisfying himself that I was a reasonable risk and with a flourish of his fountain pen he signed the form and I had got £600 to buy the car.

Despite the formalities that all seemed terribly easy and before I knew it I was applying for loans and credit cards on a regular basis.  Soon after this I got my first credit card, an orange, blue and white Barclaycard and I was soon spending away on that as though money had gone out of fashion (which of course, it had) and then a couple of years later I needed more money because I wanted to buy a house.

I was planning to get married and we found just the place we wanted at 118, Frobisher Road on the Admiral’s Estate in Bilton but the asking price was £8,000 and I didn’t have the £800 required for the deposit.  So I made an appointment at the Bank.  In those days finance was a lot simpler – Bank’s lent money for things like cars and boats and caravans and Building Societies lent money for property and everything was quite orderly.  I just turned up at the bank and told the Manager that I wanted to buy a new car and as I had by now repaid the earlier loan he had no issue with advancing me some more money and after half an hour I had £800 in my bank

I took the £800 around to the Halifax Building Society where I knew the Manager, Graham Brush, and when he was satisfied that I had the deposit he signed off the mortgage application and a couple of weeks later we had our first house – it was as easy as that!

A Life in a Year – 17th February, Volkswagen outsells Ford and First Cars

On 17th February 1972 The Volkswagen Beetle became the first car to outsell the Ford Model ‘T’.  Since I learned to drive in 1973 and got my first car I had always wanted a Volkswagen but I had to wait thirty-seven years until 2010 when I finally got a Golf.

I can remember my dad’s first car that he bought once he had passed his driving test, it was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55 registration number SWD 774.  The Cambridge had been introduced in January 1957 and was 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 an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour at 4,250 revs per minute, 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 and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing 30miles 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!

On the outside it had a lumpy bulbous body shape, 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 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.

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 arse in the summer if the car had stood out in the sun.  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.

For the controls there was a simple dashboard display with a basic speedometer and 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 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.

 

Dad only had the A55 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.  After that he had a succession of red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again. 

My first car was two tone blue Hillman Imp which was a twenty-first birthday present but I only kept it for a few months and I bought my own real first car, a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

A Life in a Year – 31st January, Jimmy Saville and Clunk Click Every Trip

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.

Once he had passed his test he bought his first car, an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55 registration number SWD 774.  The Cambridge had been introduced in January 1957 and was 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 an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour at 4,250 revs per minute, 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 and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing 30miles 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!

On the outside it had a lumpy bulbous body shape, 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 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.

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 tombola drum.  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.

SWD774

And it wasn’t just seat belts that the A55 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 arse in the summer if the car had stood out in the sun.  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.

For the controls there was a simple dashboard display with a basic speedometer and 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 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.

Dad only had the A55 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.  After that he had a succession of red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

 

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

1959 – M1 Motorway and Rocket Mail

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.

I have always thought this to be a curious choice of route.  Starting in London was sensible enough but it didn’t actually go anywhere and ended abruptly in a sleepy village in Northamptonshire.  Surely it would have made more sense to build a road between London and Birmingham?

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit.  In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.

The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.  When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic!  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.

M1 Motorway

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

Mini BUE 635J

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that. 

His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer. 

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 after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.  My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.  Ah happy days!

Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services and in 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen thousand metre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo but in 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the US Post Office Department in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation with the first and only successful delivery of ‘Missile Mail’. Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck its target at Jacksonville.

Only the American’s could waste thousands of dollars on such a pointless exercise because it must have been obvious even to a five year old that this was never going to be a commercially viable proposition.  Even so the US Postmaster General declared it a great success and instantly proclaimed the event to be “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world“, and predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles.  We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”  This was probably one of the most inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard of’ ‘Missile Mail’.  Bill Bryson in “The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid” sums up exactly why:

“Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates”

In the world of entertainment the big star of 1959 was the plinky plonky pianist Russ Conway who had five top ten hits this year with the first two going all the way to No 1.  One of these, Side Saddle, stayed at the top spot for four weeks, and Russ was the top-selling UK artist of the year.  On the sheet music chart, three of his compositions were at number one, in total, for over six consecutive months.  Russ was a big star and famous as a pianist for having only seven fingers having lost the tip of one of his little digits in an accident whilst serving in the navy.

In world politics Fidel Castro became President of Cuba after overthrowing the corrupt pro-American Government and after getting a frosty reception from the United States, partly because he had closed down the casinos and seized the assets of the American owners, declared his friendship for Russia and established the first communist regime in the western hemisphere.  This was going to be a bit of a problem in the future.