Tag Archives: M1 Motorway

Age of Innocence – 1965, Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams

1965 was the hundredth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and to celebrate appropriately the United States started a new one in Vietnam.   American troops had been there for some time of course but on March 2nd, following an attack on a United States Marine barracks, Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder commenced and the war was official.

An estimated six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers died in the American Civil War and one million one hundred thousand in Vietnam.  There were many more unaccounted civilian casualties in addition to that.

civil war soldiers

In politics Edward Heath became leader of the Conservative Party and began the period when he and Harold Wilson alternated occupancy of 10, Downing Street.  Although these two party leaders certainly didn’t have the stature of Gladstone and Disraeli it is just about the last time in British politics when the two party leaders were almost evenly matched and this generated an interest in politics that has been sadly lacking since.

Around about 1970 I even joined the Young Conservatives but this was nowhere near as exciting as the Boy Scouts and I didn’t renew my subscription when it ran out at the end of the first year.

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways, and in December as a bit of a panic measure an experimental speed limit of seventy miles per hour was introduced.  This really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get more powerful and faster.

It is an interesting fact that car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

M1 Motorway

The history of the speed limit is interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, lets be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.

In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.

Genevieve_LC2

Speed limits didn’t make any difference at all to Jim Clark who was one of Britain’s greatest Formula One racing stars and in 1965 he won both the Formula One championship and the Indianoplois 500.  He was regarded as the greatest driver of his time and won twenty-five of his seventy-three grand prix starts but sadly died prematurely in an accident at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968 when his car left the track and crashed into trees.  This was a time when motorsport was a lot more dangerous and the life expectancy of a driver was a great deal less than it is today.

A significant event of 1965 was the banning of cigarette advertising on television.  I am thankful for that because at eleven years old I was at my most impressionable and I am quite convinced that I might otherwise have been seduced by the macho image that cigarette advertisements used to lure teenagers into tobacco dependency.

It was about this time that I enjoyed, or perhaps more correctly endured, my first cigarette.  My friend David Newman had slipped some woodbines from his dad’s half empty packet and we went into the fields behind his house for a smoke.  David’s dad, Harry, wouldn’t have noticed a few fags going missing because he used to smoke about sixty a day and that certainly helped towards a premature death.

Woodbines were untipped and maximum strength and we lit up and I can clearly remember trying to adopt an adult demeanour and puffing away but without inhaling until an unfortunate combination of sucking in and speaking at the same time involuntarily drew the foul vapour into my lungs, filled my brain with noxious gasses and made me giddy and unsteady.  I literally fell over as though someone had punched me in the head, turned an unpleasant shade of green that matched the Woodbine packet and was violently sick.  Much to the amusement of my pals.

I tried cigarette smoking a few more times, as we all did, but I have never forgotten that thoroughly unpleasant experience and gladly never became a real cigarette smoker at any time ever after that.  In 1968 Lotus started advertising tobacco on their Formula One racing cars.  That didn’t do Jim Clark any good did it!

1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!  Who needed the eleven-plus? Not Me!

Age of Innocence – 1959, Missile Mail and Fidel Castro

Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services.  In 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen kilometre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo, which was a bit of a shame if you had put ten shillings in a birthday card to someone!

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.

What an utterly absurd concept and probably only the American’s could waste hundreds of 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 wildly inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard again 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 in the United Kingdom 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.

Now we didn’t just have to worry about the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and this was going to be a bit of a problem in the future and Regulus cruise missiles were being quickly refitted with their nuclear warheads!

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.

Motorway Speed Limits

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog over the United Kingdom and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways and on 25 November the government announced that a temporary 30 mph speed limit would be applied to sections of motorway affected by fog, ice or snow and that a general maximum speed limit of 70 mph would be applied to all otherwise unrestricted roads, including motorways, for a trial period of four months starting just before Christmas.

Speed hadn’t really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get faster.

It is a frightening fact that some car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and early one morning in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

M1 Motorway at Watford Gap

The history of the speed limit is interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, let’s be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.  In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.  There are currently plans to review the limit and there is speculation that it will be raised to 80mph.   In France and Italy the maximum speed is 81mph while in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Belgium it is 75mph. Parts of the German autobahn network have no speed limit at all.

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.

A Life in a Year – 25th November, Motorway Speed Limits

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways and on 25 November the government announced that a temporary 30 mph speed limit would be applied to sections of motorway affected by fog, ice or snow and that a general maximum speed limit of 70 mph would be applied to all otherwise unrestricted roads, including motorways, for a trial period of four months starting just before Christmas.

This really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get faster.

It is a frightening fact that some car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and early one morning in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

The history of the speed limit is quite interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, let’s be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.  In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.  There are currently plans to review the limit and there is speculation that it will be raised to 80mph.   In France and Italy the maximum speed is 81mph while in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Belgium it is 75mph. Parts of the German autobahn network have no speed limit at all.

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.

1965 – Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams

1965 was the hundredth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and to celebrate appropriately the United States started a new one in Vietnam.   American troops had been there for some time of course but on March 2nd, following an attack on a United States Marine barracks, Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder commenced and the war was official.  An estimated six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers died in the American Civil War and one million one hundred thousand in Vietnam.  There were many more unaccounted civilian casualties in addition to that.

In politics Edward Heath became leader of the Conservative Party and began the period when he and Harold Wilson alternated occupancy of 10, Downing Street.  Although these two party leaders certainly didn’t have the stature of Gladstone and Disraeli it is just about the last time in British politics when the two party leaders were almost evenly matched and this generated an interest in politics that has been sadly lacking since.

Around about 1970 I even joined the Young Conservatives but this was nowhere near as exciting as the Boy Scouts and I didn’t renew my subscription when it ran out at the end of the first year.

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways, and in December as a bit of a panic measure an experimental speed limit of seventy miles per hour was introduced.  This really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get faster.

It is an interesting fact that car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

The history of the speed limit is interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, lets be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.  In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.

Speed limits didn’t make any difference at all to Jim Clark who was one of Britain’s greatest Formula One racing stars and in 1965 he won both the Formula One championship and the Indianoplois 500.  He was regarded as the greatest driver of his time and won twenty-five of his seventy-three grand prix starts but sadly died prematurely in an accident at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968 when his car left the track and crashed into trees.  This was a time when motorsport was a lot more dangerous and the life expectancy of a driver was a great deal less than it is today.

A significant event of 1965 was the banning of cigarette advertising on television.  I am thankful for that because at eleven years old I was at my most impressionable and I am quite convinced that I might otherwise have been seduced by the macho image that cigarette advertisements used to lure teenagers into tobacco dependency.

It was about this time that I enjoyed, or perhaps more correctly endured, my first cigarette.  My friend David Newman had slipped some woodbines from his dad’s half empty packet and we went into the fields behind his house for a smoke.  David’s dad, Harry, wouldn’t have noticed a few fags going missing because he used to smoke about sixty a day and that certainly helped towards a premature death.

Woodbines were untipped and maximum strength and we lit up and I can clearly remember trying to adopt an adult demeanour and puffing away but without inhaling until an unfortunate combination of sucking in and speaking at the same time involuntarily drew the foul vapour into my lungs, filled my brain with noxious gasses and made me giddy and unsteady.  I literally fell over as though someone had punched me in the head, turned an unpleasant shade of green and was violently sick, much to the amusement of my pals.

I tried cigarette smoking a few more times after that, as we all did, but I have never forgotten that thoroughly unpleasant experience and gladly never became a real cigarette smoker at any time ever after that.  In 1968 Lotus started advertising tobacco on their Formula One racing cars.  That didn’t do Jim Clark any good did it!

1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!  Who needed the eleven-plus? Not Me!

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.