by Nick Arthur
My passion for motors is intertwined with lots of different stages in life, so here goes!
School wasn't really for me. I learned stuff, but it wasn't the curriculum that was planned, more a series of life lessons, so I left at 15. My bedroom walls at my parents house in Warrington were covered in car pics- e types mainly, spitfires and mgbgt . I dreamed that one day I'd own an e type roadster.
Other kids had pop stars or footballers. I had some from my beloved Liverpool F C but mainly cars. My dad offered me some stark choices when I decided I was leaving school. I had to go to work, earn money and pay rent, or go and get educated.
I opted for the latter, it seemed easier. I went to further education college. I like to think I learned lots in that year. I learned to gamble, I'd buy and occasionally steal ex juke box singles and I'd sell them on the coach going home. I saw myself as a budding if not slightly drunken entrepreneur . College expelled me. My dad offered me some familiar choices. This time with a bit less patience!
I went to work after lazing around for as long as possible. I was 17/18 by now, doing bar work mainly. Then a job on shifts when I was 18 . It was an aluminium smelting factory. Real life kicked in. Job was hard, tough folk work hard in hot and sweaty conditions. It was rightly well paid. I was on shifts and I had plenty of time on my hands and, as I was often reminded, I was living in the cheapest hotel in Warrington.
I needed a car. I badly wanted a car. My dad had company cars so I wasn't allowed near them. My mum had a very faded Red Austin 1100 - I wasn't allowed near that on my own. I wasn't responsible enough apparently. Probably right.
I changed jobs as I was made redundant - I was being taught practical lessons in politics. 'Don't mess with the unions '- as they will strike. Quickly followed by 'Don't mess with the management ' or they will stop investing and make you redundant. Strikes = redundancies, last in first out !
I got a job in a warehouse, stacking pallets, picking loads, brushing up and making tea. It paid poorly, but I got overtime and worked in a pub as well. I got by, I still had the red e type roadster on my bedroom wall.
I got in a fight, admittedly not my first - I was beer brave! Me and two mates took on a group of less drunk, much harder scouse guys in a chippy. They were mucking about, we took them on, Warrington vigilantes - we got badly beaten up. Me a bit more than the others, so enjoyed the hospitality of Warrington General Hospital.
The Coppers took our side as they were sick of Scousers coming to our town and causing trouble. I got to go in a brand new police rover SD1 and bled all over it ! But I'd been in a SD1 nonetheless . I got awarded criminal injuries and I had some savings. I could get a car, my very first car of my own - criminal justice ?
DWB 686H - a very second hand Cortina 1300 deluxe, pale blue, 4 doors, MOT. It had a few corners knocked off it but I loved that car. I did loads of stuff to it. I filled the dinks, sprayed them badly and then did it all over again. I put a 'stick on' heated back window!
I painted the wheels and meticulously cleaned the engine bay. I put a centre console in and fitted switches that kinda just switched on lights as opposed to really doing anything ! I had spot lamps with bright white covers on the front. I had a whip lash aerial.
For the first time in my life I was very nearly cool. I had a job, worked in a bar so I met lots of girls and I had a car! ( I was still a ginger so obviously unable to ever really be cool) . Me and DWB went everywhere.
I learned to drink shandy not beer anymore so we could go places. Me and my mates could go places outside of Warrington. Lock up your daughters Cheshire set, the Warrington boys were upwardly mobile. Knutsford, Nantwich, Alderly edge - even camping weekends in Anglesey. I loved DWB, it never once let me down , what could possibly go wrong?
About 6.30 am one foggy morning I was on my way to work and an uninsured driver came straight out of a junction and took me out. It was a big hit, I was ok, but DWB was in a bad way. Insurance write-off, way beyond my skills of redemption, it was towed away to a sad and lonely place.
I got about £200 insurance and at the age of 18 was back riding my old push bike to work.
Not cool. Time to find a new motor!
by Jim Lodder
My second Mini was not quite as old as The Bomb – this one (5577 HP) was a 1961 model! Not quite as expensive as a 1959 one these days, but not far off. It was a real bargain though. A bit tatty and rough round the edges, with both front wings in Red Oxide primer, but it was only £35! Another 850cc model, I originally intended to “do it up” but a change of job and a lack of finances prevented this, so I just had to keep it maintained.
Around this time my parents had bought a holiday caravan in mid Wales, so most weekends I used to head for Wales with a mate or two in the Mini, whilst the parents sped ahead in the GT6. They used to do it in around 2 ½ hours, I used to take nearer 3 ½ ! One weekend the exhaust manifold cracked whilst in Wales – I “repaired” it with a baked bean can and 2 jubilee clips. It stayed together as far as Warwick, almost home!
Shortly after this, my parents returned from Wales one weekend to announce that they had decided to give up their well paid jobs, sell the house, and move to mid-Wales permanently where they were going to buy the shop on the caravan site and make their fortunes. Did I want to go with them, or did I want to buy the house and stay there?
With hindsight probably should have done the latter rather than the former, but hindsight is a great thing! So armed with the knowledge that I was going to be living at the seaside in the near future, I sold 5577 HP and bought…………….. an ex British Army Austin Champ!
The Champ was a real hoot, limited to 55 mph despite having a 2.8 litre Rolls Royce engine under the big bonnet. And around 15 miles to the gallon! To get from Coventry to mid Wales required a tankful of petrol plus the reserve in the jerry can on the back; plus it took most of the day. It only sported a canvas hood, no side screens, so the horizontal Welsh rain soaked me through to the bone.
Once settled in my caravan with the Champ proudly parked outside, it started to unexpectedly earn a living! The slipway down to the beach was quite steep, with a bit of a drop at the bottom during low tide and the beach was mostly shingle. Once word got round that the Champ was mine I started to get lots of people asking me to tow their boat trailers down to the sea, and subsequently back onto dry land again, for a bit of “petrol money”. Turned out to be quite a lucrative hobby.
Plus on one occasion I dragged a stranded Vauxhall Cresta off the beach – never did get to the bottom of why the owner thought it was a good idea to try driving onto there in the first place though. Of course I soon found out how much fun could be had actually driving the thing in the sea! As it had a 5 speed box with a transfer box that selected forward or reverse motion, it was possible to drive as fast backwards as it was forwards. Changing gears whilst reversing was a bizarre experience!
Inevitably within a few short years the body tub disintegrated because of the salt water and the poor old Champ got scrapped. In the meantime my Dad had bought an Austin Maxi that then became my daily transport. It was an early one, with the cable operated gear change……………
by Jim Lodder
The Herald was a very different animal to the Mini when it came to driving! After the go cart handling of the Mini, cornering like it was on rails, the Herald’s tendency to tuck those rear wheels under and try to catch up the front end was quite a frightening experience. I mostly got used to it, but could still get caught out on wet bends!
Although the girlfriend (now officially fiancée) couldn’t understand why, I immediately began to personalise the Herald just as I had done with the Mini.
I made a centre console from aluminium, covered in black vinyl, that sat on top of the gearbox tunnel and housed a radio and an 8 track tape player. Speakers fitted into each front footwell trim panels. The radio aerial was a fibreglass whip thing, mounted on the rear offside wing and clipped in a big arc to the front of the rain gutter. Occasionally it became unclipped, and whipped around quite dangerously!
I also had fake sheepskin seat covers, topped with matching front headrests that slipped over the seat backs. Weird! One evening whilst parked up in a multi storey car park whilst I was at a night club, I returned to the Herald to find that someone had got into it, stolen the seat covers, headrests, and radio aerial and then locked it again! They left all the 8 track tapes and the £3 / £4 in loose change in the tray on top of the tunnel. Thieves with bad taste I think!
Around now, for reasons lost in the mysteries of time, the girlfriend / fiancée became the ex girlfriend / fiancée. Her mother never did like me! To celebrate my new found single status, 4 mates and I set off for Minehead in the Herald for a weeks jolly holidaying at a caravan park.
Around halfway through the week, as we were cresting a rather steep hill, we came to a sudden and immediate stop. Opening the front end of the Herald we were met with a pool of oil on the road, and a con rod sticking out of the side of the block! Curses! At the bottom of the hill we spotted a traditional garage / petrol station so we jumped back into the Herald and coasted into the forecourt.
The sympathetic owner allowed us to push the car round the back into his compound, on condition that unless we removed it within a month he’d scrap it for spares. We got a bus back to the caravan park, finished our weeks holiday, and went home on the train.
The following weekend, my long suffering Dad and I drove down to Minehead in his GT6. It had a towbar fitted to move his speedboat around, so with an AA approved tow rope we proceeded to tow the Herald back home, me sat in it and concentrating 101% on braking and turning. I was completely exhausted by the time we got safely home.
Then one particularly rainy evening, on my way home from the pub, I went into a sharp right hand bend far too fast, and made the classic Herald mistake of lifting off the throttle half way round. The rear end inevitably spun round, and the car left the road, spinning sideways down a grassy bank until a large oak tree stopped it by getting in the way of the front nearside wheel.
Fortunately I was shaken but unhurt, and there was no one else around, so I managed to pull the dented wing off the still inflated tyre, got back in and somehow managed to drive back up the wet grassy slope onto the road, and nursed the car back home. In the cold light of the following morning, the true extent of the damage became obvious. The bonnet was really damaged beyond repair, so that came off first, to reveal a slightly repositioned front suspension unit, and a decidedly redesigned steering rack.
Still don’t know how I got it home that night! Fortunately I had a mate who had a 1600 Vitesse bonnet going spare, but it was in blue. And I got a second hand steering rack from a scrappies, although I had to remove it from the donor car myself. Those were the days of proper scrap yards!
I took the steering rack, wrapped in old newspapers, home on the bus, to many odd looks! Having rebuilt the Herald, I flatted the blue Vitesse bonnet and managed to press the rather useful paint spraying uncle into action again. But this time he also provided the Conifer Green paint!
By now I’d had enough of the Herald, especially as it had never really been my choice, but that of the now ex girlfriend. So it was duly sold, and replaced with …………….. a red Morris Mini Minor!
by Jim Lodder
A long time ago, in a city far away, this 17 year old had just spent 4 days in hospital after coming off his motor scooter (Italian, so not to be identified here) on his way to the school 6th Form. Not my fault by the way, although the scooter was a write off.
So the parents agree that he will be safer with four wheels, plus his car driving test is imminent. Having had to resort to the bus to get to school, which admittedly was considerably easier in those days; just walk to the bus stop and wait for the next one to arrive; I used to come home every afternoon, turn the corner into our road, and hope that there would be a nice shiny Mini Cooper S parked outside our house, bought for me by my generous caring father! (He was actually neither of those things, but that’s another story).
Having passed my test first time, the nice Co-op insurance man (who else remembers the insurance man calling each week to collect premium instalments?) explained patiently that there was no way on I’d get cover on a Cooper S, why didn’t I aim lower and get a basic 850cc Mini? Sensible chap!
So trawling the classified ads in the evening paper – Thursday was the car ads night – I found a 12 year old Morris Mini Minor in beige with a brown roof – registration 659 BOM. Several previous owners but seemed to be in reasonable condition, and £135, which was the equivalent of around 10 weeks of my wages at the time.
Of course, back then a 12 year old Mini was just an old car. Now of course, realising that “then” was 1971, that 12 year old Mini was an early 1959 model complete with floor mounted starter, dog leg gear stick and floor mounted dip switch. Worth a small fortune now, but sadly I suspect long gone to the great scrapyard in the sky.
Shortly after getting the Mini several mates and I came back from the Racing Motor Show with lots and lots of stickers – Castrol, STP, Esso, Duckhams etc etc which I proceeded to cover the Mini with! I thought it looked really cool; my manager at the bank where I worked was less impressed and asked me to park it out of sight of our customers.
Over the next year or so 659 BOM (affectionately known as “The Bomb”) provided regular service with only the occasional breakdown, usually during heavy rain. Anyone who’s had an early Mini will understand why!
Then one day, on the way to the girlfriend's house, I lost all gears except reverse. The nice AA man towed me home, and at the weekend my Dad took his brand new Triumph GT6 Mk 3 out of the garage (it only usually came out at the weekends) and we pushed the Mini in backwards. To cut to the chase, bonnet off, front subframe unbolted, we lifted the front of the Mini and pushed the body to the back of the garage. Engine and box separated, we rebuilt the gearbox on the garage floor over many long evenings and weekends with guidance from the Haynes manual.
Whilst sitting on the garage floor with the ‘box at my feet, I began to ponder tidying up The Bomb. So off came all the stickers and the paint was flatted (mostly to get rid of all the adhesive residues). Now at that time I had an uncle who worked at Standard Triumph as a paint sprayer, whilst my dad worked at Massey Ferguson as a maintenance electrician. So when The Bomb finally hit the road once more, it was now Tractor Red with a matt black bonnet and boodlid (and a few new stickers!)
Sometime later I added a black vinyl roof, bought as a kit from the girlfriends mother’s Kays catalogue at 50p a week! I used to spend every Saturday morning at the local scrappies, climbing through the wrecks looking for anything I could add to the Mini. I got lucky one time with a newly arrived Mk2 Jaguar and along with the switch panel I took most of the gauges as well. These I fitted to a plywood dash panel in the Mini along with other toggle switches, most of which did nothing! I also fell lucky when someone I worked with at the bank, who also had a Mini, offered me a set of five reverse rim Mini Cooper S wheels that just needed a repaint. For free!!
The Mini provided a further year or so of fun transport, including holidays to Wales and Cornwall (that journey used to take over 12 hours!) The girlfriend and I slept in it on a Welsh beach once, did “other” things in it (it is possible in a Mini, but only if you’re young and flexible) and generally had good times with The Bomb.
However, the girlfriend decided one day that “we” needed something bigger (she didn’t drive) following our recent new status as “engaged”, so the Mini was sold and I bought a C reg Herald Estate in Conifer Green with a white stripe. But more on that next time!
by Nick Arthur
So after the brutal demise of of my first love, my faithful pale blue MK 2 Cortina, or just plain DWB as it had become known, I was left as a 19 year old with a pushbike, a kinda homemade push bike , not much cash and a poorly paid job.
Things got better, I got promoted to Fork Lift Truck driver, then Supervisor then full time delivery driver. Don't under-estimate the pride of being a full time driver - even if it was a derated class 3 . A professional driver.
I would take out 4 ton deliveries on the back of a very tired old Bedford as new drivers weren't allowed anywhere near the sparkling new Bedford TK's. Mine was a very faded red massively high mileage abused wreck of thing that was just waiting to be traded in or sold off .
It had nothing in the cab, no radio, no creature comforts- it would just about make 50 mph flat out. It had a tail gate and canvas flap for access to the load. It had air brakes and a sitty up driving position that felt like you were sitting on the rusting cow bars on the front .
It wasn't an easy beast to work with. No side doors, so everything got loaded and unloaded by hand. No pallets on and off as it had wooden floor boards and couldn't take the weight of a pallet truck and a fully loaded pallet without splitting the floor. Tell tale holes showed me where other had tried before me! Those holes proved useful if you were caught short and a long way from a W.C, if you follow my thinking.
I loved this old red truck. We had a couple of years covering 1000's of miles. We new the streets of most North West towns. No sat nav then, just a box of Ato Z's and a Collins road map. I loved my Bedford, can't just recall the full reg- FED was the starting point.
During this year I saved enough money for another car. A maroon 1500 avenger. Much more modern in looks than my mk2 cortina. I'd love a mk 2 now, but back then it was considered very boxey after the shapely mk1 and the American looking mk3 - went back to being boxes in mk4 times
I contemplated putting a "Starsky and Hutch" stripe on my Hillman Avenger but my friends reminded me that this was early 1980's Warrington, not downtown Manhattan. I settled for black louvres on the back window, mud flaps that said 'dirty mean and nasty ' on them and sheepskin seat covers.
The car regularly jumped out of third gear, but that wasn't an issue to a boy racer. My maroon Avenger gleamed when polished. The black vinyl interior came up a treat. It was dark inside with those louvres. Black on black - my very own voodoo lounge!
Eventually I got to drive the New Bedford TK at work. It had sliding loading doors , a radio and a heater that worked. Oh yes, I was no longer the newbie. I was sad to see my old truck getting sold to the gypsies. Not sad cos they were getting it, just sad that in a strange way we'd become attached ! In its latter days I'd wired a cassette player into it and put a speaker in the box. Earth Wind and Fire booming out of the back, that's living alright !
Anyway I got a shiny new big red Bedford TK. Essentially I was nearly cool again (albeit still ginger) and I got to pick my deliveries. I also got to drive the managers' cars when emergency runs out were required. They had Marinas, all mustard yellow in colour.
The boss had a Wolsey Ambassador wedge in red , with black vinyl roof - It was top spec, fully loaded. It was different to the Austin variant. This beauty would do over 100 mph on the Widnes to Speke by- pass - sorry Mr Turner! I'd never driven a car that had velour seats and smelled brand new. A proper privilege that of course as a 21 year old was seriously abused!
They promoted me to warehouse manager, but they laughed at me asking for a company van. The status quo remained, then it dawned on me- to get a company car, you had to be a salesman.Salesmen had mustard marinas - One day I would have a mustard marina !!
There was a whole hierarchy that I wasn't previously aware of that would come to really matter.
Some had Marina coupes, some had 4 doors and some had a better spec. Not just old and new like vans and trucks. Like I was used to The senior had more add ons than the junior. You could tell rank of the man by the car, it was a whole new world!
The salesmen came to work later than me, went home earlier, earned stacks of wonga, they worked in clean smart clothes while I had second-hand light blue overalls. They had mustard marinas and just signed for their fuel - an epiphany moment. "I will be a salesman", I decided - what could possibly go wrong?
by John Simpson
Moving on a few years, about 1970, and the introduction of the Citroen GS. The first models were equipped with a flat four cylinder air cooled of 1015cc and were fitted with cambelts, something of a novelty! They were a lovely little car and fitted nicely in the middle of the Citroen range of vehicles, selling for just over £1000 they proved very popular.
I remember working on a GS, I was going to change the front inboard brake pads and reached into the car to start it up and put the suspension on full height, they were hydro-pneumatic like the DS, but the customer had left it in gear and the car started off across the workshop with me hanging on to the 'B' post trying to stall it before it ran into the wall, which I managed, phew!!
Also I can't be the only one to have drained the oil out of a car and refilled it without putting the sump plug back, messy!!
One of my jobs was cleaning out the pit, which used to flood regularly, and it was common for the rest of the lads to put the pit boards back and drive a car over, trapping me, we used to get up to all sorts of tricks, bolting tool boxes to the bench, making and throwing water bombs and setting fire to rags mechanics used have in there boiler suit pockets, don't try this at home, it's very silly and dangerous, especial if the rag had petrol on it!!!
1974 and the first Citroen CX's arrive in the country, a totally different car to the DS and I always thought a backwards step, the early ones had an enormous steering wheel and no power steering, they also got through front brake pads at an alarming rate! I went on a technical course for the CX at Citroen's British headquarters in Slough and with other trainees we were able to lift the body off a CX in 20mins, never did it again at work.
Going back to when I bought my first car, around 1972 when I was 19 years old, it was a 1966 Vauxhall Victor 101 Estate, it was a bit rough and ready, but I went miles in it, a special fitment was a mattress in the back, say no more!
Also about this time I started racing a Ford Anglia 105E on the grass, I used to buy the shells from the local scrapyard for £15 each, but I had to remove the interior, glass, fuel tank and engine, but I could keep the gearbox.
The engine I used was from a Ford Consul Classic, 1340cc with modified head and Weber carburettor, off a Citroen DS, the crankshaft was a hollow cast assemble not suitable for high revs, but I regularly used to take it to 7000rpm and it lasted several seasons. It was fun for a few years but I met my future wife so it had to stop!!
Next time, the Citroen dealership loses its franchise and turns Japanese!!
by John Simpson
After I'd been employed for a while, and gained a bit of confidence, my boss, Mr 'R', gave me first big job to do on my own - strip a V8 engine out of a Plymouth Fury. This was something I could get stuck into, learning all the while. Suffice to say that another mechanic, Dougie, reassembled it!
By this time I'd got my own tools which consisted of Britool A/F, Metric & Whitworth ring & open ended spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, hammer etc., in a barn type tool box, how much did it cost? The princely sum of £19 11s! A bit different to my toolbox today, full of Snap On tools, worth about £10,000!!
A job I remember working on a Reliant Regal, changing the brake master cylinder, which is located under the vehicle, similar to a Morris Minor. It was over the pit with the front wheel on two pit boards and me working underneath, I needed to get at the brake pipe union, so without thinking pushed the car forward, crash bang wallop! You've guessed, the front had dropped down the pit causing slight damage to the fibre glass body!! Another telling off!!
While working on a Citroen Dyane I had an embarrassing moment. It was stood outside the workshop doors, gently ticking over. I opened the bonnet and revved it up, panic it lurched forward pinning me against the doors, I shouted for help and it caused much amusement with my work mates.
Some Dyanes were available fitted with a 'Trafficlutch', which was a second centrifugal clutch much like a lawn mower, which enabled you to drive in traffic without depressing the clutch when stationary, so I'd left the car idling in gear and when I revved it lurched forward!!
Baitstrand of Kirton - that was the name of the garage I was working at - were well respected in Citroen circles and we used to get cars from all over the country coming in for their annual service, which took a full day to complete.
We also had a lot of customers from the RAF (there are a lot of RAF bases in Lincolnshire) with their DS's which most had purchased in Germany. I got to meet some very interesting people.
by Tony "Tosh" Brooks
If you read Part 1, that was the good bit!
As we got going and came to the first roundabout, I seriously thought the thing was going to turn over, the steering was that vague and the weight on the back wallowing about so badly that I thought all four tyres must be flat. When we finally found a petrol station, we filled up and checked the tyre pressures, and to my dismay they were about what we thought they should be, which meant it wasn’t go to get any better, all the way home!!
After going for a couple of hours or so on the motorways at what seemed like a fair pace but turned out to be only 30 mph, I could take no more. I had pins and needles in my hands, my face was wet and freezing and my stress levels were through the roof. I honestly thought if I carried on I would have a heart attack.
The car seemed to want to throw me into every ditch on every camber in the road, and started to wander across all three lanes as soon as I lost concentration for a second. I couldn’t take either hand off the wheel, otherwise I found myself over correcting the sway, and taking out any passing vehicle or road sign that got in the way! How on earth the old boy who owned it used to do the London to Brighton Rally I’ll never know, he must have had nerves of steel!!
I forgot to mention - it’s three speed automatic, which set off fine in first, but had no second gear, so it would scream it’s nuts off until finally finding third and then settle into motion. But as soon as you slowed down to stop it would not tick over and cut out - then take forever to re-start, so I had to keep it running at all cost! Great fun!
So we pulled over at a service station and my brother kindly offered to take over the driving seat for the rest of the journey home. He thought I was exaggerating, but soon found out that something major had to be done to make this a safe and roadworthy car.
I’d like to say my wife Alison was pleased to see me when I got back, but we were so late, and I’d just spent £3500 on an old banger that she wasn’t expecting, that she was actually a bit “miffed”!
The next morning didn’t get much better. When we had a chance to look round the car properly, we realised it was a lot worse than “just a bit rough round the edges”. Although it only had two doors, two wings, a bonnet, and half a roof, every panel had holes and rough repairs that would need to be addressed. The engine was running as rough a pig, the gearbox was shot, the sills and floor were rotten, (despite it having 6 months mot!)
The cab interior was manky, with split seats, ripped headlining and door cards, rotten carpets, cracked and rotted wood dash and door tops, perished rubber seals, no door seals, rotten fur flex etc, and that was before even looking at the camper side of things!
Really the only saving grace with the car so far was that the chrome bright work was in really good shape, nice and straight with very little pitting. This probably gave the initial impression that the car was better looking than it really was - and the fact that it was white, which is a very forgiving colour, fooled us into thinking it would be easy!
So we were at the point where we had a choice to either scrap it, break it up and probably lose most of our money, or go for it and carryout a full restoration job. I know which choice my wife would have preferred, but my brother and I, who still loved the car decided to go for it!
Alison asked me what we were going to call it, and is it a he or a she? After giving it some thought, and discussing several options, we decided it had to be a “He” - it was too big and brash to be a “She”. I then thought about his build year being 1969, the same year as Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, and the NASA Lunar Lander vehicle being called the Lunar Rover. So there really was only one option, he had to be called “Apollo”!
That then gave us a theme for the interior. It was going to be as far away from the sort of interior people would expect to see as we could possibly get. There was going to be no flowers and twee Kath Kidson type décor for Apollo! But it would be many months before we started fitting glittery wall paper, carpets and worktops!
Next time - the restoration begins
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