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Homepage. This page: Nostalgic memories of a sit-up-and-beg 1950s Ford Pop.

John's Ford Popular.

Stories about owning what are now known as 'classic cars', when they were just a regular means of transport, have always interested me. Various stories now feature in this motoring memories section, but I'm always keen to hear more! Below is John's story, about the first car he owned, a sidevalve Ford 103E Popular...over to John:

Starting to drive in a Pop during the mid sixties.

"We all have to start somewhere when we learn to drive, and in as much as this means understanding road etiquette and rules rather than just pushing and pulling the pedals and levers, one needs to drive on the roads in a properly legal car with things like tax and insurance taken care of. At the age of seventeen, for most of us, this means being nice to Dad and pleading for use of the family car and for cash to support the cost of driving lessons. After my seventeenth birthday in 1965, shortly before I took my A-levels, I was anxiously trying to be seen doing as much work towards my exams as possible while trying to spend as much time as I could behind the wheel of the family’s 1959 Standard Vanguard Vignale Estate.

Being by far the youngest kid in the upper sixth at a country grammar school, having passed my 11+ a year early, most of my mates already had driving licences, we even had one of the alumni who had a private pilot’s licence, so there was pressure to join this elite club. Driving tests in those days, were still on a long waiting list, so by the time that I had the little red book in my pocket I had quit school and was at work in a very junior capacity in someone’s office. I took my one and only test in the Vanguard, the examiner must have taken pity on me as I did the three point turn on a back street about the width of the locally newly opened M6.

Ford Pop
The job took me to London, and ownership of a 1954 Ford 103E Popular bought for £55 soon followed. A mate and I used to take the trip to London week and week about, in the Popular or his Austin A30 van. At a cruising speed of about 50mph in the slow lane, the journey to and from Staffordshire could take 4 hours, or about the same as it does now in my 125mph Audi. The cars very rarely finished the journey without a minor breakdown of some kind, worn out tyres and batteries figuring highly in the statistics. At least both cars had starting handles.

One Friday, I had left London solo in the Ford Pop as my pal was on holiday, and joining the M1 at Hendon picked up two hitch hikers (remember them?) for company on the slow grind north. Somewhere past Luton the car began to bump and lurch so I stopped and found that the nearside rear tyre had picked up a nail. Getting the two lads out of the car and telling them to sit on the grass away from the traffic I went to the boot for the spare, which was flatter than the proverbial witch’s chest.

I hitched a lift north, no problem on the M1 on a Friday afternoon, got to the next services and inflated the tyre, crossing my fingers that it was just flat through not having been looked at for ages, rather than there being a puncture in that wheel. The tyre seemed to stay up, so after about 10 minutes I walked across the bridge to the other car park of the services and found a young bloke in a 1935 Austin 10 Tourer eating his sandwiches. The question “Any chance of a lift about five miles south?” received an affirmative so I climbed in, and with the newly blown up spare on my knee we drove back to where I had left the Ford. The Austin stopped, I got out, thanked the bloke, and carrying a 4.50/17 on a pressed steel wheel crossed the M1, on a Friday afternoon at about 4 o’clock, to join the two lads. “Sorry about the time that took” I said, “I had to check that it wasn’t going to go flat again”. “Oh, that’s alright” said the one lad “the police have been here and asked what was going on, but we said the driver had it under control so they went”. I have not invented this story, it actually happened, and I am sure that there must be a couple of sixty-ish blokes out there who may remember it.

Following a move of office to somewhere more local I was able to resume living at home from where I commuted about 35 miles a day round trip in the Popular. I had known of the Ford Pop for a long time before I bought it and knew that the mileage was by then getting up towards seventy thousand and there were various taps and clanks and some knocks coming out of the Ford's engine. Turning out of a side road on to a trunk route not far from home one evening as I accelerated away I was rewarded by a loud thud and everything locking up. A quick declutch and coast into a convenient bus stop revealed a holed crankcase and an oil slick. I found a phone box, and waited for my long suffering Dad to come out with a tow rope and the A55 Farina Cambridge which had replaced the Vanguard.

Ford Book
The next weekend we went scrapyard hunting and found a Ford Pop more or less complete for £7/10/0 (which we call £7.50 these days). It was Easter and I had a few days off so we first of all stripped the engine out of the donor car, put the wreckage from my car into the boot of the donor and towed it back to the same yard, who allowed me to leave it at no charge. We took a piston and rod out of the engine from the scrapper and found that it was not too badly worn, but decided to put new pistons, rings and rods in. You may recall that these engines had cast in big end bearings and not removable shells which were never fitted to the 103E. We borrowed a micrometer and took a chance and ordered the parts from the local Ford agent as the readings seemed to confirm that the crank and pistons were standard.

These arrived by Potteries Motor Traction bus to be collected from Mrs T’s cafe in town a few days later and I rebuilt my first engine, scraping in the bearings with a hand scraper and engineer’s blue. The engine, when refitted, wouldn’t turn on the starter motor but would turn on the handle, so the Cambridge and the tow rope came back into use while Dad towed me round the block a few times with no plugs in. It then started on the pull switch, cheap cars in those days had a switch on top of the starter motor actuated by a short Bowden cable, not a button and a solenoid. Further trips round the block under its own steam and the Pop was again a runner.

By this time an MOT had become due, and a trip to see the local tester revealed that the car needed kingpins and bushes, two track rod ends, and a new drag link. Apart from the steering box, about the only other thing in the steering gear was the bush at the top of the column, which was fine. Another weekend of sweating and swearing, especially trying to move the kingpins, which had presumably been put there when the car was new, and a favour done by someone to ream the bushes for me and it was away for the retest. It passed without difficulty, but the only problem was that having got used to driving the car with a couple of inches of slack in the linkage, I now had to learn to control the thing again, as I was proceeding in a sort of saw-tooth path since slight movement of the steering wheel was now causing something to happen at the front wheels.

I kept it for about another year, during which time it was attacked from behind by a Hillman Imp which shunted me into a 100E in front, and his insurance company wrote it off, sending me a cheque for £50 without even bothering to look at the poor Ford. My written offer of £5 for the wreckage was accepted, and another scrapyard trip supplied two bumpers, a boot lid and a grille for a few quid, which was about the extent of the damage. When I sold it I got £35 which was put towards a £110 1958 Vauxhall Victor Super, which went west in about twelve months as the tin worm spread.

Taken by and large the Ford performed amazingly well for a car which was twelve years old when I bought it, and considering that it was the cheapest full size saloon car available in Britain when new and was grossly misused by me."

Ford Pop saloon

Thanks for the great write-up there John, much appreciated!! John would move on to own various other cars, and his recollections of a VW Beetle that was destroyed by a driver in a Ford Corsair, can be read here.

With Ford Pops being fairly plentiful in the classic car world, I've got quite a bit of material relating to them on the site. For instance, here is a screensaver featuring a number of preserved Pops, which is free to download to your PC, and there are some 103E Pop photos elsewhere, including these old black and white Pop pictures, and a recent account of owning a 103E here. Anyone running a Pop today may find the Ford Pop parts noticeboard of some use too.

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