by Mark Smith
The Morris 1100 Traveller stuck in my mind as a result of its idiosyncrasies. Given the spectacle it make as it bounced over the campsite field in Norfolk with smoke erupting from every orifice and the engine sounding like thunder as I waited for the exhaust pipe to vibrate its self back into the remains of the broken bell-end, I am sure there are still people in East Anglia suffering trauma to this day. This car eventually went the way of its predecessors and met its end in the local scrap car dealer’s crusher.
I am sure there are many of us that remember our past cars as a result of the experiences we had with them but we do not always remember them in the order in which we owned them.
So it is with me. I could have sworn that the Morris was car number three but after my last Blog offering was published, I remembered to my horror that this was not actually true. Car number three was actually a Triumph 1300 front wheel drive. From the reader’s perspective, this makes no difference at all of course as the events described did actually happen, just not in the order I had assumed. Describing these events out of chronological order will not have affected how much activation your ‘tickle bone’ as Ken Dodd describes it, was activated. You will not suddenly be thinking ‘I should not have laughed so much as the fool told the tale in the wrong order and I must now re-read it and laugh less’ for instance. However, put yourself in my position; I have had a memory lapse. I have had a Senior Moment. In essence, my brain has become muddled.
What’s more I have to face the truth of the matter which is……I’m getting old! Oh it’s no good being patronising and saying ‘It doesn’t matter….could happen to any of us.’ You see, it does matter! It’s perfectly normal to forget your anniversary, the wife’s birthday (in my case that’s a double whammy as they’re both on the same day), or even the birthdays of your children….but to forget the order in which you owned your cars, well that is SERIOUS!
So we will move on. We will forget car number three was actually car number four and car number four was actually car number three and talk about car number three as if it was car number four. Car number five, you will be pleased to know, is actually playing itself in this narrative so no confusion there…I hope.
Right then, car number four, the Triumph 1300 Front Wheel Drive. This in itself is confusing because for all these years I have been telling people ‘I once owned a Triumph Toledo 1300 front wheel drive, the one with the rubber doughnuts’ only to discover recently that in fact it wasn’t. The Toledo was rear wheel drive. So my car was just a Triumph 1300…..with front wheel drive and rubber doughnuts. One thing I am absolutely positive about though, is that it was maroon. ‘Does that make a difference?’ I hear you ask. Well, to you no, but to me it makes the world of difference, it means I have remembered something that was correct! And that is a good feeling.
I purchased this car as I did with many of my heaps, though an advert in the local paper. This was convenient as I knew I would never have to travel too far to look at it which made life easier as the reason I was looking for another car in the first place, was because the last one was now residing in the local scrap dealer’s yard.
In fairness to the Triumph, despite its high mileage, it wasn’t that bad. The paint was knackered which saved me lots of time as there was no point in polishing the thing but mechanically, it was not that bad. Of course it did suffer from the usual Achilles Heel on these cars - perished rubber doughnuts. So these had to be changed. I purchased new ones and talked a friend into helping me change them one Saturday morning. After all, difficult could it be? Well very actually!
Oh, if you have access to a workshop lift, I should think it is reasonably easy but we were attempting the job with the passenger side of the car on the pavement and the drivers side on a scissor jack laying on the road on our backs under the car! Health & Safety ? What’s that! I recall it was a real struggle but we did eventually complete the job. Beyond that, the car never really gave me any trouble…until it eventually died. It used a bit of oil but then all my cars did and in any case it was a heck of a lot less than the Morris had done so a good result all round.
During the time I owned the Triumph, my friend had just passed his driving test and purchased a lovely Triumph 1500 in white. It was a stunning car and reliable too. We joined the local branch of Club Triumph and attended their monthly meetings at the Enfield Golf Club. We would take it in turns to drive so one of us could have a couple of pints. The evenings would usually involve some rally films or a quiz and a raffle. The first meeting we attended, one of my raffle tickets was drawn out of the hat. Brilliant I thought! OK, it was the last one drawn so the prize was not going to be great but hey, my ticket was drawn out and I never win anything! It turns out I didn’t this time either. I joined the queue to collect my prize and by the time I got to the front I saw that the table was strangely empty. ‘Sorry’ I was told, ‘We drew out one too many tickets’!
During our time as Club Triumph members we attended a few Auto Test’s, even acted as minor Marshall’s at one. We never took part in any actual events as my friends felt his car was too good to risk damaging and mine was too rubbish to risk damaging….especially as we needed to drive home in them afterwards! It also became clear that many members didn’t actually compete in their road car. Most it seemed, had stripped-out Minis that they towed on an A frame behind their car. It seems you could tow another car behind on an A frame and it would be classed as a trailer as long as it was under a certain weight, hence the stripping out of any unnecessary weight. This usually meant that there was only the shell, driver’s seat, engine and transmission left. We did see one young woman who competed in her Spitfire and was extremely good at it too but we just felt it was too much of a risk for us to attempt it.
One summer our Branch of Club Triumph had made arrangements with one of the West Country Branches to have an inter-Club Auto Test competition. The venue was to be on the Plymouth Hoe. My friend and I decided to go down and watch. We went in his 1500 as it was too risky in my 1300. We took a tent to sleep in but couldn’t get a campsite on the Plymouth side of the Tamar so ended up on the Cornish side. This allowed us to make an evening visit to Polperro on our first night which was very enjoyable.
On another evening, we headed on to the Moors and found a high spot to park up. Back in the late 70’s, CB Radio was the in thing. Of course, people had been using the American AM system for years (not me I hasten to add) but by the late 70’s the Government had legalized a British FM system. This one was not as good as the AM one I am led to believe as its broadcasting distance was quite limited and in a built up area, you would be lucky to reach someone in the next street!
However, I had bought a set and we set it up in my friend’s car. My friend was an apprentice electronics engineer with the BBC (he worked on a number of the Top of the Pops recordings of the period) so he thought we should find the highest spot in the area and see how far we could reach. Due to the height and the openness, we thought 10 to 20 miles would be possible. Imagine our surprise when we picked up someone in Scotland! The signal was weak but we were able to confirm his position and he was just as surprised to know he was talking to someone in Cornwall!
We were very lucky with the weather, the sun shone for the three or four days we were down there. We went on the Friday and travelled home on the Monday I think. Anyway, on the Sunday morning, the day of the Plymouth Auto Test, we were woken about 5:30am by the sound of a motorcycle engine. It went on and on and was getting very annoying. We imagined it must belong to one of the other groups camping near by.
We opened the tent door to see what on earth they were playing at and were surprised to see that it wasn’t a motorcycle after all, it was a huge blower being used to inflate a Hot Air Balloon prior to igniting the burners! We decide to get up and watch them launch the balloon, which was very exciting.
Once the balloon was airborne, the rest of their group took to their cars to follow it and prepare for the landing. They all arrived back around breakfast time. We set off for the Auto Test just after they arrived back and when we returned at the end of the day, they had broken camp and left.
I kept the 1300 for a couple of years but eventually it went the same way as all my cars at that time. It seemed to be that I was the last of the line for all these vehicles! I left Club Triumph after the car had gone as I felt there was little chance of me ever having another. In fact I did get another…..around forty years later! I now own a Dolomite 1850HL and a member of Club Triumph once again. As I explained at the start of this Blog, things have got a bit muddled and the Triumph was actually car number three, followed by the Morris 1100 Traveller and then car number five, a Ford Cortina Mk1 1500GT.
The Cortina belonged to a rather fierce woman I worked with. She had owned the car for many years. It was red with the cream flash down the side but had never had a proper wash in all the years she had owned it so the paint was very grimy. The car only had 55,000 miles on the clock.
Beth was not a car person, it was just a mode of transport, wheels to get her to work. Her husband didn’t drive and so also had no interest in cars. As I said, Beth was a fierce woman, scared the life out of me for sure! At the time she owned the car, Starsky and Hutch was THE programme to watch on telly.
One day Beth was sat in her car at a set of traffic lights and a couple of lads pulled up next to her. Being the type of person she was, she would not be intimidated by anyone so she sat there blipping her throttle. One of the lads wound down the passenger window and shouted across to her, ‘Who do you think you are…..Starsky’s mother?’
Anyway, one evening on her way home from work, someone rear-ended her as she waited to pull out from a junction. Her husband said the car was not worth repairing and insisted he would get her another car. She didn’t want the bother of finding a replacement car but he insisted so she had to sell the Cortina. I said I was interested and she sold it to me for £55!
When I had a closer look at the car, the only damage was to the driver-side rear wing where the light cluster sat. The light was undamaged but there was a crease in the metal. My friend with the Triumph 1500 and I spent a Saturday morning stripping the light assembly off, bending out the metal as best as we could, applied a bit of filler, repainted the area and refitted the light assembly and unless you knew, you would not have known it had ever been damaged. The car was then washed and T-cutted before being polished and looked brilliant!
I kept the car for a few years and loved it. The son of another woman I worked with eventually said he wanted to buy the car off me if I decided to sell it. Looking to buy my first really good car from a dealer, I found a lovely Ford Escort Mk1 1300 Saloon in red. It was a gorgeous car. I took my father to look at it with me and he thought it was nice too so I raised the £650 to buy it and sold the Cortina to the lady’s son. He had not long passed his test; a price was agreed….and he wrote the car off within two weeks by wrapping it around a lamp post. He was unhurt luckily but I was devastated, the car was already rare back then, just think how rare it is today and what it would now be worth. To the lad, it was just an old banger and didn’t matter.
I don’t have any tales to tell about my time with the Cortina but I loved it and in hindsight, should have saved my money and kept it, but the Escort was the newest car I had ever owned (it was on an ‘L’ plate) and it was a beauty.
How strange it is that back then, all I wanted was a newer car, a ‘better’ car and today I would rather have an older car, a car from the 1970’s or earlier, a car that most people still think of as poorly built and yet both my Lada 2101 and my Triumph Dolomite 1850HL have what a modern car lacks….soul.
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