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Homepage. This page: With the KTT sold, Don learns to drive in a Standard Big Nine.
Book about learning how to drive

Learning to drive in the late 1950s.

By the late 1950s, Don had scratched the motorcycle itch, his KTT Velocette having expired and gone to a new home. The lure of four wheels, and the advantages that this might have re: attracting crumpet, meant that a switch to four-wheeled motoring was on the cards. First though, he had to buy a car, and then learn how to drive ... which is where his uncle's old Standard Big Nine comes in..

Along comes a 1933 Standard Big 9.

"For a few years I had been developing an interest in girls - not having been able to tempt one on to the “pillion” of the KTT its demise didn’t trouble me too much. I had been casting covetous eyes on a 1933 Standard Big 9 of my uncle’s … it lurked in an outbuilding, surplus to requirements. £35 changed hands and it was mine.

It was 1957, the time of the Suez crisis: driving tests had been suspended and learners were allowed to drive without supervision. My uncle drove the Standard across the road on to Challock Leas and showed me the rudiments of starting the car and changing gear etc. I drove it up and down the Leas a couple of times then out on to the road heading for home. This involved driving some seven miles, down a long winding hill, through the centre of Ashford to my home the other side.

Standard cars logo
I can’t remember too much about the drive, I was concentrating too hard, but I do recall a certain amount of hooting and waving of fists. With the settling of Suez I booked in for driving lessons, in the interest of public order and safety, having started to receive death threats from other drivers (at least, that’s what they sounded like.) Great little car, it took me everywhere for over a year, but I felt the need for something more impressive.

Next, a Humber 16.9 Snipe and a Morris 15.6 shooting brake.

I exchanged the Standard Nine, and £3, for a 1931 Humber Snipe 16.9, and began to learn what real problems were. I put a gallon of petrol in the tank, drove four miles to work, and ran out on the way home. The insurance company demanded £16. 10s for third party insurance. The starter kept seizing so I would park at the top of a hill and coast down putting it into gear and letting the clutch out.

Humber Snipe
On one occasion, when at the bottom of the hill, with the engine burbling pleasantly, the gear lever snapped off at the ball! I had completely blocked a busy lane, and again, was starting to cause unhappiness amongst other motorists. With the help of a couple of the ‘unhappy’ drivers we pushed it into someone's drive, where I would only have to handle the one death threat.

Before consigning the Humber to well deserved oblivion I had one last job for it: towing a Morris 15.6 back to my grandfathers. This car had been stashed away in my grandfather’s garage for some years, again, surplus to requirements. He had bought it during the war to use in his horticultural business and having been already converted to a pick-up, he then had a smart shooting-brake body built on so he could use it for best. It took me several days to re-commission it, followed by a couple of weeks of abject misery culminating in it letting me down on a date with a girl I had taken quite a shine to. It had to go.

Joyce, a friend-of-the-family, volunteered to steer the Morris. Putting bicycle lamps on the back because of the flat battery we attached a stout rope and began the 20-mile journey. Two miles from our destination I sensed something was wrong, yes, where the Morris should have been was a frayed piece of rope. I found Joyce and the car a mile back, stuck across a junction in the pitch dark and thoroughly traumatized.

I returned the Humber to the ‘Urban Pikey’ who had supplied it, getting only my £3 back. He had wrecked the Standard and sent it to the breakers yard. Or so he said."

Other memories relating to motoring in the post-war years, including some other recollections from Don, can be found in the motoring memories section at oldclassiccar. In 1958, Don found himself without a car, so there was nothing else for it but to find a replacement, this time in the shape of an Austin Eight van.

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