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See Homepage. This page: For 1958, Don buys, and rolls, an Austin 8hp van.

Austin 8 Van built in 1947.

Having suffered various motorcars that defied most attempts to be reliable, Don decides to buy his next set of wheels, an Austin light commercial, from a reputable source.

An Austin 8hp van pressed into service on the roads of Kent.

A rare surviving Austin Eight van
The van shown here is a rare surviving example of the Austin 8 van, similar to the one that Don ran in the late 1950s.
"It was December 1958: I was 20 years old and had already played a major part in the demise of six motorcycles, three cars, a Norman Autocycle and possibly some fellow road users with high blood pressure. No car, Christmas approaching, and having run out of relatives with surplus cars, there was nothing for it but to buy one from a garage.

In a back street behind the 'Tank' in Ashford, lurked a car dealer who was reputed to be a gentleman. It was none other than Peter Blair-Richley, who was a well-known collector, and expert on 'Automobilia'. He was indeed a gentleman and sold me a nice little 1947 Austin Eight van.

Even then: Peter was collecting interesting cars that otherwise would have gone to the breakers. He also had the idea of buying up old Mk7 Jaguars (about 25 pounds each at that time) to re-body as sports cars.

The van was my first post-war car; I thrashed it unmercifully, knocking up some ten thousand eventful miles in a year. The eventful bit consisted of doing a 'wall of death' on the bank of a country lane after a nights carousing. I suspected trouble when my shoulder started to scrape along the road; an uncanny silence, then all three passengers fell on me. Another 'Chicken Likken' moment in my short motoring career.

We climbed out and had a body count - there seemed to be one too many: our number had been increased by the arrival of an 'honest rustic' who, on seeing two headlights, one above the other, guessed something interesting may have happened. With his help we righted the van and drove off, leaving a trail of petrol, oil and battery acid. I parked with the damaged side away from the house that night, to avoid reinforcing my parent's worst fears about my activities.

Another 'event' with the van was some 9 months later: having used up my quota of goodwill in the villages to the east of Ashford I moved operations to the south of that fair town. With a new set of friends in Tenterden our preferred watering hole was "ye olde Cellars" in the high street. One night we went to Rye for a couple of drinks at the "Mermaid", but as we walked in they called time; closing being 30 minutes earlier in Sussex. Much aggrieved we decided to hurry the fifteen miles back to the "Cellars", for another drink.

Driving at a breakneck 45 mph we saw a car parked alongside the road with headlamps full beam, I had almost reached him, dazzled by his headlamps, when I realized he wasn't where he should have been, I braked, but hit him head on. To cut a long story short, the fellow had passed out; paralytic drunk, leaving the headlamps on full beam - the arrival of my Austin had a very sobering effect on him. He was driving some sort of Ford but the front wheels had now assumed the ten-to-two position. The damage to the Austin was slight so I escorted him home, driving behind me with his tyres scuffing, and no headlights.

To maintain that level of motoring excitement donor cars were needed, to cannibalise for the bits I'd worn out or damaged. I found it distressing to buy new tyres. One such sacrificial beast was a sit-up-and-beg Ford of some species. It was reported to be driveable and had four new tyres - mine for a fiver. I had to collect it from Mitcham. There must be different definitions of
Austin 8 Van bought for spares
'driveable'? This car didn't fit any of the familiar ones. Supplied with the car was a gallon of very cheap "reclaimed" oil (in case I could find a use for it?) I did find a use for it - it was all used before we'd driven the fifty miles home. It's lucky I drove it home at night, the smoke made visibility to the rear non-existent. The worst thing by far was the steering; the wheel would turn in excess of 90 degrees before making mechanical contact with anything.

I also cannibalised another Austin 8 van, this provided a very good engine, a new grille and some more tyres. (See photo, I'm the one dressed like a pox-doctors clerk). As with many of my vehicles: after giving much reliable and faithful service the Austin van turned rogue. I was 'Best man' at a friend's wedding, the reception was being held on an isolated farm at Frittenden. Having made the speech, fallen off my chair, and discharged many other responsibilities, I was the last to leave. It was about midnight and the Austin van wouldn't start. The bride and groom were the only able bodied people left on the farm. What could I do? I got them out of bed to give me a push."

Other memories relating to motoring in the post-war years, including some other interesting yarns kindly sent over by Don, can be found in the motoring memories section at oldclassiccar. With the Austin van proving to be a little less-than perfect, the hunt was on for something more agreeable. A series of pre-war cars ensued, detailed on the following page of Don's motoring memories.

(Talking of post-war British vans, a letter discussing the sale of a new Austin 8 van, at a dealership in Stafford, can be found on this page, in the Motoring Memorabilia section of the site. A 1950's photo of an RAC Austin 8 van in period, can be found here)

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