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Homepage. This page: More pre-war cars come and go, in Don's motor memoirs.

1935 Vauxhall Fourteen six, Martin Walter Drophead.

Don's motoring exploits during the mid 1950s have been covered in some detail in previous instalments of his memoirs, now we're upto 1960ish, and a series of interesting pre-war cars take to the roads, and hedges, of Kent.

Vauxhall 14/6 Drophead.

"You may have noticed, gentle reader, alcohol features prominently in my motoring experiences. I am ashamed at the amount of money wasted on it but in 1959 there were comparatively few and slower cars on the road; my drinking was no worse than anyone else’s. Beer was weaker, few of us would drink spirits and drink-driving was not really stigmatised.

Vauxhall 14 car
Don's Vauxhall 14/6 drophead
I’d started going out with a better class of girl (only because I had cleaned up my act and bought a decent suit) but the Austin 8 van was causing me embarrassment. I heard about a very nice car being sold by a lady who worked for Martin Walter. This car was a Tickford style Vauxhall 14/6. Always maintained by the main dealers it was in excellent order, it even had a new hood. I really wanted this car, and on being told it could be mine for £22:10s (because all the tyres were bald) I almost got religion. The downside was, I had gone back to a pre-war car … but what a car! (See pic.)

I drove it home on the ‘Yul Brynners’ but next day my employers asked me, and a colleague, to undertake a few days work at Heathrow Airport. Not having the time, or money to fit new tyres I bought four of the correct wheels with just useable tyres from a breaker, ten bob each. These completed the run to Heathrow and back, and lasted months before the tubes started to show through.

I have happier memories of this car than any other, the only problems I ever had: being a burnt-out valve and, at the advent of the ‘Ten year test’ (now called MOT) one of the Dubonnet front suspension units had to be replaced, costing a total of £8: 7s 6d.

It’s amazing how many people one can get into a four-seater drophead with the hood down … three across the front seats, three across the rear seats with three sitting on their laps (usually the girls) or sometimes even on the folded hood­ if the weather was fine. As many as nine of us would leave ‘ye olde Cellars Inn’ at Tenterden for a midnight swim at Camber Sands. In the winter it took us to dances at the ‘Leas Cliff Hall’ at Folkestone. The Vauxhall never let us down. I don’t know what caused me to get rid of the Vauxhall, possibly I considered worn out; I sold it to a friend for £7.

1938 Triumph Dolomite arrival

A couple of cars at Ken Seaton’s breakers yard had caught my interest: one was an MG J2, the other a 1938 Triumph Dolomite. Fourteen quid each, (that’s right £14.) It was spitting with rain so I plumped for the Triumph, thus buying into a few months of misery.

Triumph Dolomite saloon from 1938

It had open grills in the side of the bonnet so, at the first flurry of snow, the ignition would become damp with predictable consequences. I hatched a ‘cunning plan’ to overcome this problem: I covered the engine with an old sack, planning to remove it before driving, I forgot of course! The engine started to smell hot as I drove through Ashford. Thinking it was low on water I pulled on to a garage forecourt. Flames leaped skywards from the burning sack as I opened the bonnet causing panic among the forecourt staff. Before they could discharge an expensive looking fire extinguisher at it I picked up an armful of snow and dumped it on the burning engine; the fire was put out and surprisingly it started and ran with most of the insulation burnt off the H.T. leads. This was fortunate, as I had to leave the forecourt hurriedly; pursued by (what sounded like) more death threats.

Although I loved the Triumph’s interior, with its Dunlopillow seats, leather and woodwork, the car had many problems. I started to repair some of the more annoying ones: the driver’s door lock being one. Needing one vital part but, at the same time, having to use the car, I wired the door closed and climbed over the gearlever to gain access to the drivers seat. While driving through Tenterden with this modification in place some clown hit the side of me, folding the running board along the side of the passenger door and tearing off the rear wing. Imagine my embarassment at having to climb over to the back seat in order to get out. Exit one Triumph Dolomite. (This and other examples of the pre-war Dolomite also feature in the image archive section.)

Along shuffles a Morris 8 tourer

I was again without wheels, but a work-mate had a pre-series 1935 Morris Eight two-seat tourer for sale. This car had crap performance, no hood but had (reputedly) been restored. Firstly, to address the lack of performance I looked for some ‘tuning goodies’, the very thing was found in Halfords; a roll of chequered tape … With a strip of this down each side of the car it really did seem faster. (See pic.)

1935 Morris Eight

The Morris was fun in the sun but by winter a source of total misery. I remember driving up Challock hill in a hailstorm with the speed reduced to about 10mph and the hailstones beating me senseless. Another time I left a girlfriend’s house in the early hours to find it covered in a thick frost and refusing to start. Daren’t use the handle because of the noise so had to push it about 500 yards to the nearest slope, in order to bump start it. It was only a naval surplus duffel coat that kept me from freezing to death on the drive home … god we were tough in those days.

Somehow I survived to the summer when, as with many of its predecessors it turned rogue. Around midnight, outside the nurse’s quarters of Benenden Hospital, the crankshaft broke as I pulled away. Had to walk four miles into Tenterden and borrow a friend’s Austin Princess to get back to Ashford. This taste of comfort and luxury, after my suffering with the Morris Eight, caused me to re-assess my motoring priorities.

Luxury at last, in a 1938 Rover 16hp

The Princess was for sale, a tempting proposition, but considering the four litre engine, the running costs etc not to mention the pisstaking from my mates for driving something so vulgar. I plumped for a 1938 Rover 16 another workmate was selling. This car was beautiful; immaculately maintained the engine being so quiet you could only hear a gentle hiss from the air cleaner as she ticked over, I grew to love that car.

By this time it was 1962, at 24 years old, you may well ask: why hadn’t he bought a new or modern car? The reason: I had a very full and expensive social life, beer wasn’t getting any cheaper, I enjoyed going out every night spending every penny. I didn’t want this curtailed by having the responsibility of hire purchase payments, as was the case with some of my friends.

The Rover was an absolute joy, totally reliable and a cut above the ‘modern’ cars my friends were driving. But I had to behave myself; because as well as the car being very noticeable, the registration was FLY 47. I was often told where I’d been seen.

I only recall one ‘adventure’ with the Rover. Returning after the 1962/63 new-year-eve dance at Tenterden, in a blizzard, the Rover failed to respond to the steering on a sharp bend and ploughed on into the hedge. I got out and plunged nearly three feet into a snow and ice filled ditch. It was three days before the weather was good enough for the recovery vehicle to attend to it. The Rover was undamaged and started at a touch of the button. A week later I met the future ‘Memsahib’.

My life of continual pleasure seeking had started to worry me; more of my friends were marrying and buying Morris Minors and Austin A30s. It was time to settle down. With the impending nuptials in autumn 1964 the running costs of the Rover came under scrutiny. It would get through rear tyres and brake linings at an alarming rate; the use of the ‘freewheel’ facility didn’t help. It wasn’t light on petrol either. But I was unhappy to see it go; it was to be my last pre-war car until the restoration bug bit me in the 1980s.

There was a short and disastrous association with a sit-up-and-beg Ford until the gearbox seized solid. After that, a nice 1947 Hillman Minx, which served us well for our Honeymoon, and for several months afterwards until the coming of a 1953 (standard model) Volkswagen Beetle. But more of that later…"

Hillman Minx heads off on the honeymoon

Other memories relating to motoring in the post-war years, including previous motoring recollections submitted by Don, can be found in the motoring memories section at oldclassiccar.

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