Tag Archives: Hillman Imp

Scrap Book Project – Learning To Drive

I had been learning to drive, on and off, since 1972 or thereabouts but at this time was not especially enthusiastic or in a hurry because I was studying at University with no money and no prospects of owning a car so it all seemed rather pointless. Some of my friends had learnt to drive as soon as they were seventeen, Rod Bull had a bubble car and Steve Veasey some sort of old Austin Cambridge but at this time I had no burning ambition to be a motorist.

When I was at home, out of term time, I generally had a job at the local council so had some spare cash and encouraged by my parents took some lessons with a local driving school but I think the instructor, Lois, would get frustrated with me on account of my lack of drive (pardon the pun).  In Cardiff I took lessons from a Canadian instructor in a Hillman Imp and each lesson cost £2 for an hour.

I was ok at driving but one thing that I just could not get to grips with was reversing around a corner.  I was fine with three-point-turns, emergency stops and hill starts but when it came to driving backwards I was completely hopeless.  The instructor was quite baffled by this and would stick bits of paper in the window and on the steering wheel to try and help me line it up but nothing worked and my route around a corner backwards always looked like an electrical wiring diagram!  I preferred tight ninety degree corners but had a dread fear of those long arching crescent shaped ones because these were much easier to get wrong.

Eventually, despite this, the instructor decided that it was time to apply to take the test and my appointment came through for 12th July 1974.  I remember that it was a hot day and in the hour lesson before the test I did a few practice reverses with the inevitable consequences and I am certain that the instructor had zero confidence in a pass result when he watched me drive off with the driving examiner.

999

Everything went well but I was dreading the reversing bit because I knew that this was where I was certain to fail. I knew it was coming when the examiner told me to pull over and I waited for the instruction.  ‘Please reverse around the corner behind you’, he said in his lilting Welsh accent and I looked out of the back window and wondered just what on earth he meant.

There was no road to reverse into! I looked at him quizzically and he repeated the instruction slowly as though I was dense or something.  I had to ask where and he pointed to a little service road running between the backs of two sets of old terraced houses and I couldn’t believe my luck because it was only wide enough for a single car and it had brick walls on either side.  I slipped the car into reverse and drove it backwards absolutely perfectly because, believe me, it was impossible, even for someone with zero reversing skills, to get this wrong.  It was narrow and the brick walls made it easy to line the car up between them and I completed the manoeuvre perfectly and I knew it was near the end of the test so the ordeal was nearly over.

The examiner gave me some instructions and I knew we were on the way back to the test centre so in an effort not to screw things up I drove slowly and stayed in third gear.  ‘Come on, come on’, he said, ‘fourth gear, fourth gear’, and I couldn’t see the point because I would be turning left in just a few metres but I did as I was told and having done that he told me to turn left so I had to go back down the gears to make the turn and I remember thinking ‘what a dickhead!’

The last part of the test was the questions on the Highway Code which was nothing as demanding as today’s theory test and I answered a few questions easily and identified a few signs and then he finished and started to scribble on the paper on his clipboard.  I was shaking when he turned and said, ‘now, why were you driving so slowly just then?’  The answer must have been obvious even to him so I said nothing and he carried on ‘when I’m going home tonight and looking forward to my dinner and I’m stuck in a line of traffic behind someone driving slowly I’m going to think Mr Petcher’s in front of me aren’t I?

The only thought I had now was that I had blown it with a bit of snail driving and if I had to take the test again I would never be so luck with the reversing but then he smiled and said the magic words ‘It’s ok, you have passed your driving test’ and I was genuinely stunned and so was the driving instructor.  He congratulated me and asked me if I wanted to drive home but I was in such a state of shock so I said no thank you, let him drive me back and I smiled all the way there.

I was now a motorist and the following year even had transport when my parents gave me a two-tone blue Hillman Imp for my twenty-first birthday.

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!

The Agony of a Driving Test

I had been learning to drive, on and off, since 1972 or thereabouts but at this time was not especially enthusiastic or in a hurry because I was studying at University with no money and no prospects of owning a car so it all seemed rather pointless. Some of my friends had learnt to drive as soon as they were seventeen, Rod Bull had a bubble car and Steve Veasey some sort of old Austin Cambridge but at this time I had no burning ambition to be a motorist.

When I was at home, out of term time, I generally had a job at the local council so had some spare cash and encouraged by my parents took some lessons with a local driving school but I think the instructor, Lois, would get frustrated with me on account of my lack of drive (pardon the pun).  In Cardiff I took lessons from a Canadian instructor in a Hillman Imp and each lesson cost £2 for an hour.

I was ok at driving but one thing that I just could not get to grips with was reversing around a corner.  I was fine with three-point-turns, emergency stops and hill starts but when it came to driving backwards I was completely hopeless.  The instructor was quite baffled by this and would stick bits of paper in the window and on the steering wheel to try and help me line it up but nothing worked and my route around a corner backwards always looked like an electrical wiring diagram!  I preferred tight ninety degree corners but had a dread fear of those long arching crescent shaped ones because these were much easier to get wrong.

Eventually, despite this, the instructor decided that it was time to apply to take the test and my appointment came through for 12th July 1974.  I remember that it was a hot day and in the hour lesson before the test I did a few practice reverses with the inevitable consequences and I am certain that the instructor had zero confidence in a pass result when he watched me drive off with the driving examiner.

Everything went well but I was dreading the reversing bit because I knew that this was where I was certain to fail. I knew it was coming when the examiner told me to pull over and I waited for the instruction.  ‘Please reverse around the corner behind you’, he said in his lilting Welsh accent and I looked out of the back window and wondered just what on earth he meant.

There was no road to reverse into! I looked at him quizzically and he repeated the instruction slowly as though I was dense or something.  I had to ask where and he pointed to a little service road running between the backs of two sets of old terraced houses and I couldn’t believe my luck because it was only wide enough for a single car and it had brick walls on either side.  I slipped the car into reverse and drove it backwards absolutely perfectly because, believe me, it was impossible, even for someone with zero reversing skills, to get this wrong.  It was narrow and the brick walls made it easy to line the car up between them and I completed the manoeuvre perfectly and I knew it was near the end of the test so the ordeal was nearly over.

The examiner gave me some instructions and I knew we were on the way back to the test centre so in an effort not to screw things up I drove slowly and stayed in third gear.  ‘Come on, come on’, he said, ‘fourth gear, fourth gear’, and I couldn’t see the point because I would be turning left in just a few metres but I did as I was told and having done that he told me to turn left so I had to go back down the gears to make the turn and I remember thinking ‘what a dickhead!’

The last part of the test was the questions on the Highway Code which was nothing as demanding as today’s theory test and I answered a few questions easily and identified a few signs and then he finished and started to scribble on the paper on his clipboard.  I was shaking when he turned and said, ‘now, why were you driving so slowly just then?’  The answer must have been obvious even to him so I said nothing and he carried on ‘when I’m going home tonight and looking forward to my dinner and I’m stuck in a line of traffic behind someone driving slowly I’m going to think Mr Petcher’s in front of me aren’t I?

The only thought I had now was that I had blown it with a bit of snail driving and if I had to take the test again I would never be so luck with the reversing but then he smiled and said the magic words ‘It’s ok, you have passed your driving test’and I was genuinely stunned and so was the driving instructor.  He congratulated me and asked me if I wanted to drive home but I was in such a state of shock so I said no thank you, let him drive me home and I smiled all the way back.

I was now a motorist and the following year even had transport when my parents gave me a two-tone blue Hillman Imp for my twenty-first birthday.

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 – 12th July, The Agony of a Driving Test

I had been learning to drive, on and off, since 1972 or thereabouts but at this time was not especially enthusiastic or in a hurry because I was studying at University with no money and no prospects of owning a car so it all seemed a bit pointless. Some of my friends had learnt to drive as soon as they were seventeen, Rod Bull had a bubble car and Steve Veasey some sort of old Austin Cambridge but at this time I had no burning ambition to be a motorist.

When I was at home, out of term time, I generally had a job at the local council so had some spare cash and encouraged by my parents took some lessons with a local driving school but I think the instructor, Lois, would get frustrated with me on account of my lack of drive (pardon the pun).  In Cardiff I took lessons from a Canadian instructor in a Hillman Imp and each lesson cost £2 for an hour.

I was ok at driving but one thing that I just could not get to grips with was reversing around a corner.  I was fine with three-point-turns, emergency stops and hill starts but when it came to driving backwards I was completely hopeless.  The instructor was quite baffled by this and would stick bits of paper in the window and on the steering wheel to try and help me line it up but nothing worked and my route around a corner backwards always looked like an electrical wiring diagram!  I preferred tight ninety degree corners but had a dread fear of those long arching crescent shaped ones because these were much easier to get wrong.

Eventually, despite this, the instructor decided that it was time to apply to take the test and my appointment came through for 12th July 1974.  I remember that it was a hot day and in the hour lesson before the test I did a few practice reverses with the inevitable consequences and I am certain that the instructor had zero confidence in a pass result when he watched me drive off with the driving examiner. 

Everything went well but I was dreading the reversing bit because I knew that this was where I was certain to fail. I knew it was coming when the examiner told me to pull over and I waited for the instruction.  ‘Please reverse around the corner behind you’, he said in his lilting Welsh accent and I looked out of the back window and wondered just what on earth he meant.  There was no road to reverse into! I looked at him quizzically and he repeated the instruction slowly as though I was dense or something.  I had to ask where and he pointed to a little service road running between the backs of two sets of old houses and I couldn’t believe my luck because it was only wide enough for a single car and it had brick walls on either side.  I slipped the car into reverse and drove it backwards absolutely perfectly because, believe me, it was impossible, even for someone with zero reversing skills, to get this wrong.  It was narrow and the brick walls made it easy to line the car up between them and I completed the manoeuvre perfectly and I knew it was near the end of the test so the ordeal was nearly over.

The examiner gave me some instructions and I knew we were on the way back to the test centre so in an effort not to screw things up I drove slowly and stayed in third gear.  ‘Come on, come on’, he said, ‘fourth gear, fourth gear’, and I couldn’t see the point because I would be turning left in just a few metres but I did as I was told and having done that he told me to turn left so I had to go back down the gears to make the turn and I remember thinking ‘what a dickhead!’

The last part of the test was the questions on the Highway Code which was nothing as demanding as today’s theory test and I answered a few questions easily and identified a few signs and then he finished and started to scribble on the paper on his clipboard.  I was shaking when he turned and said, ‘now, why were you driving so slowly just then?’  The answer must have been obvious even to him so I said nothing and he carried on ‘when I’m going home tonight and looking forward to my dinner and I’m stuck in a line of traffic behind someone driving slowly I’m going to think Mr Petcher’s in front of me aren’t I?

The only thought I had now was that I had blown it with a bit of snail driving and if I had to take the test again I would never be so luck with the reversing but then he smiled and said the magic words ‘It’s ok, you have passed your driving test’ and I was genuinely stunned and so was the driving instructor.  He congratulated me and asked me if I wanted to drive home but I was in such a state of shock so I said no thank you, let him drive me home and I smiled all the way back.

I was now a motorist and the following year even had transport when my parents gave me a two-tone blue Hillman Imp for my twenty-first birthday.

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.

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