Girlfriend drove me to Emma…

Alan Drake's then girlfriend, June - now his wife of 47 years - with Emma, a 1937 Standard Flying 9.

My first car was a Standard Flying 9 of 1937 vintage. She was named Emma by my then girlfriend – now my wife of 47 years.

I was in the Army then. Emma was bought instead of a motorbike because she thought motorbikes were too dangerous. It was a choice – motorbike and no girlfriend, or car and a girlfriend. I still reckon I made a good choice and, yes, I am still doing as I’m told!

It was motoring at its most basic – a canvas top, Perspex windows with the flaps in for hand signals and semaphore indicators which, like everyone’s, could not be relied on.

I used to travel backwards and forwards all over the country from various postings, but it was mainly from the wilds of Westmorland – a gunnery training school just east of Appleby where I maintained tanks the trainees used – to Bungay at every opportunity. I would leave camp as early as possible on a Friday afternoon arriving home at about 10pm, spend the weekend courting and travel back on Sunday night at about 9pm, arriving back at camp about 4am ready for first parade on Monday morning. Who needs sleep! A round trip of about 550 miles, the only dual-carriageway was on the A1 around Leeming Bar and no services except a ‘tiddle’ house on the outskirts of Doncaster. And all at no more than 50mph, even downhill – above that she was a bit unstable and, with cable brakes, it was risky. It used to take around seven hours each way.

In summer, with the top down and windows unscrewed, it was the bee’s knees, but the winter was another story. It was marginally warmer than a motorbike but – with no heater, no screen-washers, draughts through the floorboards where the pedals came through – only just. If you got a side wind blowing on the top of Stainmore (A66) the roof would bow upwards the windows would yield to the way the wind was blowing. If it was raining or snowing it would pass straight through the gap above your head – you were all right if you kept your head down. I used to wear two of everything and three of some things and it was still cold – that’s when a greatcoat was worth its weight in gold.

Once I got to know her little ways she never gave me much bother. When I stopped in Doncaster for a comfort break, I used to disconnect the petrol pipe from the petrol pump and blow back into the petrol tank to clear the pipe, otherwise she would draw up somewhere around 25 miles further on, near Bawtry or, if you were really unlucky, somewhere along the A17 and probably at an inopportune time so it was best done under the street lights in Doncaster. Apart from that I do not think she broke down once.

My wife and I cannot agree which car this story was, it could have been Emma or the Austin 10, but I do know a starting handle was involved. Taking the girlfriend from my parents’ home to her home at about 2am or later, the police were doing roadside stops at Cemetery Corner, Bungay. We stopped and the policeman peered inside before waving us on. But by that time the engine had stalled and because we had come only about half a mile the battery was not charged enough to allow the starter to be used. So I opened the door, gave the PC the starting handle and asked if he could give us a swing. He obligingly did but after that they recognised the car and we were waved through without having to stop.

Unfortunately I had three accidents with Emma. In one I punctured the radiator halfway home when I hit the back of an A40 pick-up and had to carry out emergency repairs – a mixture of eggs, flour and water put in radiator and the punctured tube nipped together with a pair of pliers (it was later soldered properly). The second one saw a lorry cut a corner and nearly take the offside front wing off. The third one was when a learner driver pulled out of a side road – with cable brakes I had no chance of stopping. I do believe she was repaired after that but by then I had bought my second car – a 1947 Austin 10 with wind-up windows, a tin roof and a heater of sorts. This was luxury, the journeys were no quicker but it was a lot more comfortable.

We did that same journey some 12 years later when most of the Al was dualled but it still took us just short of seven hours – we just spent more time in queuing traffic.

Alan Drake, Christine Avenue, Lingwood.

To share your own first car memories, send them with a photo to Sadie.Jennings@archant.co.uk.

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