Triumph over all odds

Triumph Vitesse on the Christmas tree run.

My first car was a 1967 Triumph Vitesse two-litre convertible. My mother bought it for me, in spring 1976, as a reward for having done well enough in my A-levels to get into university in the October.

She paid the princely sum of £275 for what was then, already, a nine-year-old car with 55,000 miles on the clock. Having set my heart on a convertible, it had not been my intention to acquire the sportier Vitesse version of Triumph’s family soft-top – preferring, instead, the less desirable (and cheaper) Herald. However, when I saw the small ad for the car in a local newsagent’s I knew I had to have it, despite fearing the high cost of insuring an 18-year-old to drive such a powerful machine!

To my young eyes, the car fitted the bill perfectly. I had been offered a job in France for the roastingly-hot summer of that year and would need a car for near-constant business travel (as an itinerant holiday camp site courier) across the country.

Apart from a significant rust hole in the passenger door and a major tear in the convertible hood where a thief had cut his way in to steal the radio, I was delighted with my new transport. It wasn’t long before I found myself crossing the Channel with ‘Florence’ (as the car came to be known) on my way down through western France (Nantes, La Rochelle and Bordeaux) before finally finishing up deep in the Basque country, south of St Jean de Luz.

Florence and I had many happy adventures in France, including a notable incident on our way home to catch the ferry from Dieppe. The dynamo had suffered comprehensive failure and the battery was being drained of all remaining life. It wasn’t long before we were forced to come to a standstill. A friendly rural garage owner took pity and agreed to strip and rebuild the offending item, before asking for 150 francs – at least 50 more than I had left. Since I had no credit card, he kindly accepted what little money I had and we were on our way home again.

Florence stayed with me throughout university and joined me on another adventure in 1980 – a six-month stint working and studying in Copenhagen. On returning to London, I embarked on a career in the financial world. Despite the temptation to replace her with something more modern, I stubbornly held on to Florence as my principal means of transport. By 1985 she was starting to look more than a little tired. Her paintwork had been changed from white to a rough grey primer (in anticipation of my one day being able to afford a respray) and reverse gear refused to work. By the time I met my wife (in that same year) I was driving something which had seen better days. I recall one particularly embarrassing incident on top of Greenwich Hill in south London when I had to ask my new partner to get out and push the car backwards so that we could exit the car park! And she had to suffer the occasional indignity of the passenger door opening in sharp bends – and the odd wheel trim falling off.

It wasn’t long before Florence was relegated to my mother’s back garden – with little prospect of her ever being enjoyed again. She spent seven years in storage before a change in family circumstances necessitated drastic action. Either she had to go – or she could, conceivably, be restored. We opted for the latter. A further five years ensued during which she was the subject of a ‘ground-up’ restoration by Anglian Triumph Services of Ditchingham. The end result was excellent. However, I still couldn’t enjoy her as I was then required to serve in Iraq with the military (2003) and then worked in the Arabian Gulf for a number of years.

This summer has been the first opportunity when, at the age of 52, I am finally in a position to renew my association with the car which figured so importantly in my life. I have had, and still have, other cars but my first car is still with me and providing just as much fun and enjoyment as she ever did. After 34 years, my first car is still my car – and she looks better than ever.

One thing bothers me though. My son recently finished his A-levels and we’ve suggested that he has the Vitesse as a reward for all that hard work. Predictably, there was no interest. At 43 years old, Florence doesn’t quite convey the right image for the ‘modern’ generation. Ah well…. I suppose she will just have to put up with me for another 34 years!

Simon Powley, Dereham Road, Mattishall

If you’d like to share your memories of your first car, send them with a photo or two to Sadie.Jennings@archant.co.uk.

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