by Steve Favill
For those of our members who don’t yet know me, allow me to introduce myself. I emigrated to the United States some twenty-eight years ago now, after retiring from the West Midlands Police on disability. It’s a long story…
Having owned a succession of British and European machinery, plus the occasional Japanese motorcycle in the UK, I had naturally hoped to continue my habit of buying cheap, interesting vehicles that I could tinker with and use as regular transportation as well. After all, the majority of British sports car production had made its way across the pond ahead of me, had it not?
Ah, how the best laid plans of mice and men grind to a messy halt.
I quickly found that there is really no such thing as a cheap car over here. Whereas you can find a decently reliable, not to mention desirable, older car for less than a grand over in the old country, here in the US of A, all you can find for that princely sum is a heap with a heater (if you’re lucky) that requires constant maintenance and most likely several repairs to make it safe.
You see, whilst in the UK we have had the MOT test that has helped ensure that most vehicles on the road are fit for the purpose, at least in theory, over here most states do not require any roadworthiness or safety inspections.
You will see vehicles with body panels held on by zip ties or duct tape, if not missing altogether, and all being driven perfectly legally.
So, having conceded that there are no cheap cars unless you actually want to drive one of these deathtraps, you decide to raise your sights somewhat. This brings us to the second part of my dilemma.
Any cars that might appeal to someone even remotely enthusiastic are still priced way above a similar car in Britain or on the Continent. They will also have a lot of miles. Distances over here are so much greater, and people... Drive… Everywhere... Public transportation is poor to nonexistent, and the rail network is rather laughable. So, we drive.
There are certain states that have long winters, with a lot of snow, and salt being ever-present on the roads from late October until May, so if you have something nice you can’t really use it as your daily driver as you would in the UK which entails the purchase of another vehicle that you can use for this purpose, making you a three-car family for only two drivers because you each need a car. Did I mention that public transport is pitifully bad?.
Another factor is choice, or rather the lack thereof. British cars are rare up north here, simply because most didn’t survive, and the majority of those that did survive are to be found in warmer, southern states, spread over a vast area. Add to this the fact that certain manufacturers dropped out of the USA market due to poor sales, etcetera, and their products were scarce here even when new.
All is not yet lost, however. Thanks to some advice and a handy guide provided by a wonderful gentleman out in Michigan, I now have information that would make it possible for me to source a vehicle over in the UK and have it shipped over here for around $1,200, or £800 or so, depending upon the exchange rate. Even so, I used to be able to buy a decent car for that much back in England.
When the time comes (when I can afford it) the search for the right car should provide material for several future articles, shouldn’t it?
by Steve Favill
So, why do we do it?
Saving old and decrepit vehicles, and rebuilding and refurbishing them when we can just to prevent their continued decay can become something of an obsession with some. Hours spent in a cramped, damp and chilly garage (if we’re lucky) might be good for the soul, but it won’t do your arthritis any favours.
None of us do it for the skinned knuckles or the occasional face full of rust particles, and I’ll guarantee that we are not looking to get rich, having spent any and all of what we might laughingly describe as “disposable income” on parts and consumables for a vehicle that might, if we’re lucky, allow us to just about break even should we decide to sell it.
Terms such as “new old stock” and “breaking for parts” will have us reaching for our credit cards without considering how we are going to pay them off, and summer weekends will see hundreds of kindred spirits heading to swap meets and car shows in an effort to re-kindle their enthusiasm or add to their stockpiles of parts.
Then what is it that makes us do this? We all have our reasons, almost as many and varied as the vehicles that we love. There will be some who want to save a piece of a rapidly-vanishing history, others whose parents owned such a vehicle so they will try to hold on to a piece of their childhood. Some of us will have lusted after such a vehicle when we were young, and there will be people who view their car as artwork that should be preserved.
Admiration and respect will invariably come from our peers, and there will usually be someone who will walk up and say “My dad/ I/ My grandfather had one of these”, sigh and gaze wistfully at the car and yet would not dream of finding one for themselves. There will always be soulless types who see no point in preserving older cars, and conversely others who will walk away so inspired that they will start taking steps to join the hobby, however humble their new project may be.
To be honest, there is probably a part of us that likes the looks and the attention that you get. But that is merely a fringe benefit, and certainly not the reason for doing what we do. I think that a psychiatrist would have a great time studying us, don’t you?
by Steve Favill
....of my last featured vehicle, the gorgeous Lagonda with the perfect combination of elegance and engineering, to the ridiculous, this one. All the aesthetic qualities of a house brick, with the aerodynamics to match.
Those among you who are not in the UK will not have much idea about what this is, and even the Brits may not actually have seen one. You are looking at a Green Goddess! A military fire tender based on a four-wheel-drive Bedford (General Motors) truck chassis.
I spotted this wonderful vehicle at the Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association's Vintage Festival at Road America in September of 2008. The owner, whose name I forgot to write down, bought the vehicle in the UK as they were being sold off as being surplus to requirements. He collected the truck from the docks on the east coast and drove the thing all the way to the Midwest! With a maximum speed of 65mph and a comfortable cruising speed of 45mph it must have been a leisurely journey to say the least.....
Originally conceived as being an emergency response vehicle in the aftermath of a nuclear war, these trucks spent most of their days confined to military bases dotted around the UK. During the Fire Service strike in the early eighties they were sent out to municipalities around the country together with their military crews, to take the places of firefighters who were on strike.
They would be based at Territorial Army (the British equivalent of the National Guard) halls and similar buildings, always accompanied by police officers, usually on motorcycles, on a 24/7 basis as the soldiers didn't know their way around and had to be escorted to the scene of a fire or similar emergency. More than one police vehicle ended up being rear-ended by one of these, as the brakes on the trucks were marginal, at best! I did a couple of stints on these escort duties myself, and would often stop by for a cuppa tea with the squaddies.
The truck that I spotted (and photographed) still had its original equipment intact (with the exception of the ladder!) but the owners was considering converting it into a race car transporter. The tent was custom-made, with a colour scheme to complement that of the Bedford.
Inside was very roomy, but spartan to say the least.
I can’t say whether or not there is another one of these in the United States, but I seriously doubt it, and I'll guarantee that it's the only one that anyone is likely to see over here. A number of them were sold to Nigeria, for use by the Lagos Fire Service, and are still in use by them today.
Basic, easy to maintain and repair, completely reliable and rugged, what they lack in style and speed, they more than make up for in charm and that all-important fun factor.
Seeing it certainly made me smile!
by Steve Favill
Do you dream about discovering a forgotten classic in some corner of a dusty garage? Or tucked away in a barn? Always some other lucky S.O.B. Never going to happen to you, right?
About twenty years ago now, I was collecting my older son from his friend's house, about a third of a mile from my own just outside of Milwaukee, WI. The house was, and still is, rather run-down and poorly maintained, being occupied at the time by the boy's divorced mother.
The garage is situated at the end of a dirt driveway at the front of the house, with the house being set back behind and above the garage. Two old-fashioned doors are set with a number of small windows, all of them dirty, and one of which was broken. The opaque plastic sheet that was taped up to cover it had come away. I had to walk across the front of the garage to access the entrance to the house, and I do not know of any car enthusiast who will walk past a garage without looking in if the opportunity was there. Not that I would open the doors, or clean a window so that I could see in, but if there is a missing window, and you are walking past it, I would defy anyone to resist a quick peek.
What I saw made me stop in my tracks, and go back for a proper look. It was a steering wheel. It sat in the cockpit of what was obviously an open car, but quite what was not really apparent until my eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the garage.
The wheel was large, white, with four spokes and a Jaguar's head on the boss. The car itself was white, or used to be, and from the shape of the car, buried under old sheets and debris, it was old. Very old.
I went to the house, collected my son, and mentioned as casually as I could that I had noticed the car in the garage, and was it a Jaguar? Yes, came the reply, it was, and would I like to take a look at it? Silly question…
She unlocked the doors to the garage, which had obviously not been opened for some time, and there, under a few sheets and a lot of clutter, sat the car. I recognised that this was an XK120 and as you can understand, a little surge of adrenaline kicked in. I asked if I could pull the things off the car, which was okay with her, and I began to "take a look".
There was no rust, anywhere, on the body. The spats that covered the rear wheels were off the car, leaning against the far wall. There was rust on plenty of other things in this garage, but none on the car itself. Was this one of the alloy bodied cars? Not saying anything I made a mental note of the Chassis, or VIN number, which was 670010.
I asked her who this car belonged to, and was told that the car was her ex-husband’s. He had nowhere else to store it when they divorced, and so the car stayed in the garage. The Jaguar had been left to him by his father, who was the second owner, and the car had been brought on a trailer to Wisconsin from New Jersey. The New Jersey plates were still on the car. The Jaguar, which hadn’t run since before the old man had died, was then partially stripped, at which point the son had lost interest, and left things where they were. Then came the divorce, etcetera.
I asked if he might want to sell it, in the hope that he didn't know what he had. She said that he knew it was special, but that he might want sell it. He had, apparently, been making plans to drop a V-8 in the car and making it into a hotrod…
I went home and dug out my books. Sure enough, the chassis number corresponded with an alloy-bodied 1949 Jaguar XK120OTS. I can still remember the thrill at the time. Here was something that I had only dreamed about, and it had happened, but it was obvious that I was getting out of my league, and if this car were to be saved I would need to give the chance of ownership to somebody who could do it justice.
I called a guy that I had known for a couple of years, who already had an extensive collection of British cars and who, I knew, was looking for another car. After explaining what it was that I'd found he grew very quiet, and told me that he'd be down here as soon as he could.
That weekend he drove down, not being able to leave any earlier due to business appointments, and he was as excited by the car as I was. Having put the two parties together, I stepped back and let them get on with negotiations.
My friend the enthusiast finally bought the car, and it was obvious that the owner had not known just how special that car really was.
The XK120 has now been totally restored, no expense spared. I have seen it, and it is gorgeous! The new owner, following that restoration, won every prize possible on the JCNA show circuit, and has since been driving it regularly in classic events including two trips with the car to the UK.
I am thrilled that the old girl found such a good home. I could not have afforded to restore it to this standard, and for such an early, important car as this no other course of action would have been right.
This is the car as it is now:
What a difference money and a lot of attention to detail can make!
If you keep your eyes and ears open while you are going about your daily routine (especially in areas with older houses) you never know what you'll find. If it's happened for me then it can happen to any of us! The "before" shots were taken the day that I went to help the new owner drag the car out of its long-term storage in the damp garage. The "after" shots were taken in the summer of 2010. It was dragged, as well, the brakes being seized solid!
As a postscript, the friend who had bought the car was killed in a hit-and-run in Thailand several years ago. Where his XK120 is now I do not know.
by Steve Favill
This beautiful machine is a 1938 Lagonda. It has a 4.4 litre V-12 engine designed by no less an engineer than W.O. Bentley.
These cars were competing with Rolls-Royce for the performance crown, and were reputed to be capable of accelerating from walking speed to over 100mph in top gear.
They had an advanced chassis and hydraulic brakes, and were unquestionably some of the best-looking cars on the road. They are heavy cars, weighing in at around 5,000lbs. They made less than 200 of these before World War Two came along and it all ground to a halt. Lagonda is currently owned by Aston Martin.
I took this photograph in 2008, at Milwaukee's Masterpiece Classic Car Show. Held each year in late August, the city's lake-front plays host to a mind-boggling array of machinery and is always well worth a visit.
Jay Leno owns a Lagonda, a racing version but with a similar engine and chassis and talks about the company and the cars in this video. It would be really interesting and entertaining even if it were someone else presenting the information but Jay is a true car guy and he knows his stuff. Enjoy!
by Steve Favill
Ahh, the ubiquitous Ford Cortina. I think that just about everyone who was driving in the UK during the seventies and eighties either owned or at least drove one or more of these. I was also, for a period of time, the owner of a MK3 Ford Cortina.
A revised model, with the more modern fascia and switchgear, this was a 2000XL finished in that particular shade of metallic purple that was so popular in the seventies. Termed officially as “Purple Velvet” it was pretty awful but I tolerated it. Registered JGO 994N, this car had been a company car in a past life and had been purchased by the guy who had driven it. I bought it off him.
The car was roomy, comfortable and reliable, although it had a habit of developing noisy cam followers. Yes, I know what causes that and I had everything replaced once, but after it developed again I had had enough and sold the car on for a song.
My time with the car was really rather uneventful, with one exception. I had parked outside my girlfriend’s flat one Saturday evening, and when I came back outside to drive back home I couldn’t get my key in the ignition for some reason. Upon further examination I discovered that some lowlife had tried to steal the car, and had broken his key off in the ignition switch. I was lucky in that he had not been able to make off with the car, but unlucky in that I had to leave the car there and return in daylight the following day with my tools.
An hour of cussing and some delicate use of a couple of sharp objects later, I had removed the broken piece of key and been able to start the car again. I always immobilised the car by removing the rotor arm each time it was parked there subsequently, and thankfully was able to keep the car unmolested.
After this incident, I was never able to bond with this car. Most vehicles I’d owned had something of a “personality” up until this point, but this car was rather bland and did nothing to endear itself to me. I always liked the styling if not that awful colour, but this was not one of my more memorable acquisitions.
It was remarkable for being completely unremarkable.
by Steve Favill
During my time as an officer in the West Midlands Police, no vehicle tugged at my heartstrings quite like the Ford Transit van.
Easy and car-like to drive, with a commanding view of the road and, in its dual-wheeled V-6 configuration, very respectable performance the humble Transit was a wonderful vehicle.
When I received authorization to drive these, I wasn’t over-impressed, however the mere fact that most of my colleagues did not have that authorization meant that I was somewhat in demand as the designated driver, something that I never objected to.
The version that I drove most often looked very much like the photo above, but without the windows along the sides. A plain van with the red stripe and blue light with seats along each side of the van was always useful as people could never know how many officers the van contained. We were able to quiet a rowdy gathering merely by parking close to them, even though there were only two of us. It was the element of the unknown.
A frequent occurrence was that a dozen or so officers would work overtime on a Friday and Saturday night from 9pm until 1am by which time the hooligan element had pretty much dispersed, this being in the good old days of reasonable licensing hours, of course. I didn’t always volunteer for this duty, but on occasions when they needed a driver for the van I’d give in.
Most of these patrols would be uneventful, as mentioned before, the mere presence of the van which, on a weekend the yobs recognized would be full of coppers, was enough we would sometimes have our bluff called and would need to turn out and correct some attitudes or give a select few a ride to the nearest nick for an unplanned bed for the night. The beauty of being the driver was that you would be the last one out of the van, thereby missing out on a prisoner and the ensuing paperwork. There was a method to my madness.
I remember one occasion very well. It had been an unusually quiet Saturday night, no one wanted to fight and so I parked the van on the empty car park of a pub that had closed an hour before, and we sat watching the traffic negotiate the large traffic island right there, in case there were any drunk drivers to nab. Not our prime consideration, but you take what you can get…
A call came across the radio, asking units to look out for a blue Ford Escort estate, stolen within the past ten minutes from a home nearby. As soon as the broadcast finished, what should come around the island right next to us, but that Ford Escort estate, occupied by a handful of young skinheads.
I threw the van into gear, activated the blue lights and took off after the car like a greyhound released from the gate. The sergeant seated next to me had been dozing off, as had the officers in the back, and so they were none too pleased to be stirred from their slumbers in such a rude manner. Amid cries of “What the @#*&” I explained that we were after a stolen car, at which point the cries of dismay were replaced by shouts of encouragement. Did I mention that these big vans were fast? They were!
In third gear I pulled alongside the Escort, straddling the white line and forcing oncoming traffic to give way, at which point the Sergeant instructed me to ram the car. Having already mentioned the fact that I was averse to paperwork, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I was having none of that, plus I wanted to get some poor bloke’s car back to him in one piece.
It was then that I developed my strategy. Seeing parked cars ahead, I simply kept pace with the Escort, matching every change in speed. With my greater size and power the car thief was stuck, and he knew it. Gradually he slowed, and came to a stop behind the nearest parked vehicle, at which point the van emptied and a number of very eager coppers bailed out, surrounding the car and pulling the occupants out to throw them in the back of the van. One particularly large colleague offered me the driver as my prisoner since he said that I’d earned it. I declined, saying that he had grabbed him therefore he deserved the arrest. Besides, I was so pumped full of adrenaline I needed to calm down for a while…
He was ecstatic, and afterwards wrote a glowing duty report, endorsed by the Sergeant, in which he sang my praises as a driver. That gained me a lot of Brownie points!
Thanks to the power and versatility of the Ford Transit van my friend and three other officers had arrests, we had a good end result for the night’s work, I was awarded a more advanced-level driving course as a direct result of that report and avoided several hours’ worth of paperwork, the Escort’s owner got his car back - undamaged – so everyone was happy. Except for the car thieves, of course, but since when did a car thief ever merit sympathy?
by Steve Favill
I only owned a “current” (rather than what might be termed a classic) vehicle once while I was in the UK, this being a 1982 MG Metro. I’ll admit to having rushed into ownership, but the car was available locally at a BL dealer and was in immaculate condition with low mileage. I had also always wanted an MG, but one of the products of Abingdon was out of my reach, for reasons both practical and financial.
Eighteen months old when I bought it, the car was finished in an attractive shade of silver. I liked the styling that the car had been treated to in order to differentiate it from the common or garden Austins, and although it wasn’t the Turbo model, I felt that it had sufficient performance to serve as a commuter car and family runabout.
It had MG badging, vinyl graphics and a tailgate spoiler, with “pepperpot” style alloys. A common problem with these is that they would not want to come off if you needed to change a wheel due to galvanic reaction, of which I knew nothing until I needed to change a wheel.
Other than this, the car never missed a beat. I remember driving this car with my wife, two little girls, a rather large Labrador, plus a week’s worth of “stuff” to the Welsh coast for a holiday in a friend’s caravan.
The car coped admirably, thanks to the versatility of the unusual (for its time) feature of a one-third/two thirds folding rear seat. No car sickness from either child or the dog, and only a few calls of “Are we there yet?”
The interior, with red carpets, cloth seating with red highlights and nicer levels of trim was a pleasant place to be, and it was only the arrival of a third child that necessitated a switch to a larger vehicle.
I liked the car, rather a lot in fact, and I would contend that it was as much a “proper” MG as any of its saloon-based predecessors. It served to introduce me to the MG Owner’s Club (which had a chapter for the “modern” MGs), and although I didn’t have it for long, I can say that I would have another one, without question.
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