December 8, 1973 was an exciting day for me. My 17th birthday, my first driving lesson and the purchase of my first car – a black 1961 Morris Minor.
I had great plans for the car as I’d seen a few customised cars in the area and had been reading Hot Car magazine. So, with very little ability but lots of enthusiasm, I dived in.
The bumpers came off followed by the rusty front wings, then reality hit. Large parts of the inner wings came off as well, attached to undersealed foam ceiling tiles.
Dad was a great help, we made repair panels, fitted new glassfibre front wings and added a homemade front spoiler. Dad’s other major part in the project was painting.
I brushed on the undercoat, then when I had conned him into checking I had mixed the coachpaint topcoat properly, I would nip in and make the tea while he applied it. I expect he knew all along what I was up to, but soon the car was a gleaming bright red, with an immitation black vinyl roof.
As I was on apprentice wages everything was modified on the cheap, I painted palm trees and a sunset on the boot lid, stuck on pinstripes, riveted on louvres, made a grille and bumpers from wood and trimmed the dashboard with a green velvet curtain. I thought it looked great. It sounded good too once I had cut the exhaust down – well, the rest of the village noticed it anyway.
It was back on the road after about nine months because it took me three attempts to pass my driving test – you know it’s not going well when the examiner brakes for you as you first drive out of the test centre.
I kept the car for a couple more years and added wide wheels, flared wheelarches, bucket seats and a few dents and scrapes which I had to repair along the way.
I had read somewhere that putting Redex down the spark plug holes to clear the carbon from the engine was a good idea. It was fun too as it produced great clouds of smoke when you drove off afterwards, so I did it again. I suspect the carbon was all that was holding the engine together, as shortly afterwards we had to fit another engine – this time from a scrap Austin A40.
The Minor was replaced by a 1967 Cortina to which I added the same sort of custom parts, bright red paint, wide wheels, spoilers, furry interior and a few dents and scrapes, and life has carried on along these lines for the last 37 years with different custom cars and hot rods coming and going once every year or two.
Very early on I was fortunate enough to find a very rare thing – my lovely wife Kim, who has almost always been understanding and supportive of my addiction. I say almost as even she has her limits.
I have made a great many good friends through the hobby and have for many years been a member of local modified car club Norfolk Street Cruisers – www.norfolkstreetcruisers.co.uk – and currently own what I call my ‘old people’s hot rod’ – a 1951 Triumph Renown with a V6 engine and automatic gearbox. It also has luxury features Kim enjoys which many of my cars haven’t had, such as a roof, windows, comfy seats and a heater.
What’s next? Well, I’ve just bought a little chopper motorbike and it’s being painted to match the car, so perhaps I’ll keep the Triumph a while yet.
Bob Pike, Magnay Road, Drayton, Norwich.
If you fancy sharing your own first car story, send it in with some photos to Sadie.Jennings@archant.co.uk.