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Homepage. This page: John's car memories from childhood, growing up in the late 1930s and throughout the war.

John's childhood recollections featuring various vehicles either side of WW2.

John kindly dropped me a line, early in 2008, with his own childhood memories of the first motor-cars he encountered as youth, growing up in 1930s Britain, shortly before the outbreak of WW2. I'm very grateful for John putting finger to keyboard and sending this over, recording these memories and allowing them to be published here.

Memories of local cars, including some exclusive hearses.

A garage worked cleaning a pre-war car's windscreen
"I was born in 1937 and I reckon my early "flash backs", as they seem to be are often set off by a sound or smell or even a piece of music. Our next door neighbour had a garage business, doing repairs and servicing, as well as taxi and contract work for a local funeral undertaker. The cars for these duties were a Rolls Royce hearse, plus two more - Ghosts I think - and another sleeker, lower Rolls (called Viv for its V V registration). There was also a Daimler saloon. Obviously all were pre-war and some were considerably so.

A number of locals kept their cars here too, including a 1937 Wolseley, a Riley circa 1936 with, I think, a pre-select gearbox and a very distinctive sound when the car was started. The Morrisons, our neighbours, had no children so I seem to have been accepted as a substitute, which was great for me and I was allowed access to the garage, becoming almost a sort of mascot, I think. I could sit in any of the cars and marvel at these gleaming beauties, the fittings and dials, the large steering wheels complete with the polished advance/retard lever and mechanism at the centre. It was quite simply a small boy's heaven.

When all the cars were out on a job, funeral or whatever, Mrs. Morrison would sit knitting and "minding the shop" so to speak, and would serve petrol, but not a lot because of the rationing, so her main task was serving folk who were having accumulators charged. For those who dont know, these were heavy glass objects with a metal carrying handle, they were square in shape and about 9" tall. These were, in fact, batteries needed by many to power a radio in houses with no electricity, as many still had gas lights and cookers only. This charging room with its dials, switches and subdued humming sound seemed very high tech and a bit scary to me.

Of course being wartime there were lots of army vehicles, often convoys of them, with dispatch riders on motor bikes, Bedford lorries and tracked vehicles too, mostly light Bren gun carriers. Quite a lot of excitement for a little boy!

My grandmother and my maiden aunt lived together, and my father's youngest brother as yet unmarried had been there too. Dad's older brother and wife had been in India for years and their son, my cousin, had been brought up by these three. Of course my uncle was called up and my cousin went, earlier than he should I am sure, to the army.

Gran had a Morris 16. Neither she nor my aunt drove, so that car was laid up pending the return of uncle and my cousin, Scott. Sadly he never returned. He was killed fighting in Burma. I don't know what happened to the car.

Post-war years, few new cars, and petrol rationing ahead.

The war was over but years of rationing ahead, and no new cars, certainly for the home market. Dad got a car which made a great impression on me. It was a 1937 Armstrong Siddeley, and the registration was BSP 416. It was dark blue, picnic tables built into the rear of the front seats and, I felt, just as well built as a Rolls! It also had a pre-select gearbox. I loved that car, still do in fact.

Austin A50 saloon car
Next, Dad got an Austin A50, which could have been a good car if they hadn't got too clever for their own good, and everyone else's, by fitting it with a Manumatic gearbox. This abortion had a column mounted gear lever but no clutch pedal. There was a solenoid or sensor in the gear lever which was intended to do the disengaging, and sometimes it would and often it wouldn't, and sometimes it would even select a gear of its own volition. Rather like a pre-select you could sit stationary with the lever "In gear", so to speak, without the engine stalling and then move off by simply pressing the accelerator. I had just been to collect the car from the garage, again, and was sitting in a long line of traffic with second gear engaged, ready to move off. However the gearbox had decided that reverse might be better so, when I pressed the accelerator the car shot backwards!!! How I slammed on the brakes and stopped before slamming into the double decker bus behind me I shall never know. My reflexes must have been in their prime but that was the last straw for Dad and the Austin had to go.

We had a Ford CONSUL Mk 1 and it had those stupid vacuum operated wipers. The faster you went the slower the wipers went.

I am sure that is more than enough about the 'Olden Days' but I often wonder about things like insurance for young drivers, when I had a friend with an Austin Healey 100/4 and another with a Jaguar XK120, both in their very early 20's and they weren't wrapping them round trees or generally making a damn nuisance of themselves. Here endeth the rant for today."

Thanks again for sending that over, much appreciated. Its really interesting to read about motoring back then, especially for people like me who 'arrived' on the scene much much later, yet are interested in the cars of those years.

More old motoring experiences, similar to John's, can be found in the motoring memories section at oldclassiccar.

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