My first taste of car ownership was shared with a fellow post-graduate student at Nottingham University in 1958-59. We had both graduated in music at Manchester University, and by chance both chose to study for our teaching certificate at Nottingham.
We shared a 1934 Hillman Minx, bought for about £60, but although sturdily built and quite a good runner, its big drawback was its rod brakes. It didn’t take very much pressure on the brake pedal for the wheels to lock, and the subsequent skidding could be quite frightening. We didn’t keep the car very long and sold it for about £45.
I soon set about acquiring wheels of my own. Another student in the education department – Nigel – loved doing up old cars in Norfolk. It transpired he was putting the finishing touches to a Morris 8 Tourer, from about 1936, which he hoped to sell. It sounded a dream car – he had sprayed it cream, with black mudguards, and fitted a maroon hood. We agreed a price, which I think was about £120, and later he drove the car from Norfolk to Nottingham, where I took over its ownership with pride and joy.
During my year at Nottingham conscription was abolished, so we newly-qualified male teachers, instead of being engaged in National Service for the next two years, found ourselves in need of securing employment.
I secured the post of head of music at Fakenham Grammar School, about eight miles from Nigel’s home village of Syderstone. When I began eaching, I lodged with his parents until I found digs in Fakenham, just around the corner from the school. All this time I was revelling in owning this smart little car, especially on fine sunny days when I could put the hood down. Nigel maintained it for me – fortunate since my expertise in motor mechanics was decidedly limited.
At the grammar school, the music teacher I was replacing was also the organist at Dereham Parish Church, and when he learned that I too was an organist, he persuaded me to take over that post as well. So, although I could walk from my digs to school in five minutes, I was jolly glad of the Morris to take me from Fakenham to Dereham for choir practice on Thursday evenings, weddings on Saturdays and morning and evening services on Sundays. During term-time, I would from time to time drive round The Wash to my home at Skegness to see my parents. The Morris never gave me any trouble on all these trips.
Things changed one weekend in February 1960. I had driven to my parents’ seaside home on the Friday evening and set off for Dereham early Sunday morning. The morning service at St Nicholas’ Church began at 11am, so I usually set off from Skegness about 8am, which gave me plenty of time to complete the 90-mile journey.
This particular Sunday, although bright and sunny, was also very frosty and there was ice on the roads. Regulations concerning depth of tread on tyres were not yet in force, and as my tyres were bordering on the bald side, the inevitable happened and I skidded into a rather solid roadside fence. I wasn’t hurt, but when I emerged from the car, the verge and road were covered in bright green antifreeze. The fence had punctured my radiator, but apart from a bent bumper, that was the only damage.
Nine o’clock on a cold and frosty Sunday morning in the heart of rural Lincolnshire is not the best situation to find yourself in when needing help. I felt totally helpless, and with no hope of meeting my church commitment in Dereham.
My mishap had happened outside a farm. The farmer took me to one of his barns, where he filled a cardboard box with oats. He then found a large tin and filled it with water, advising me to put a couple of handfuls of oats into the car’s radiator and top it up with water.
The oats effectively sealed the leaking radiator. However, about every 10 or 12 miles the radiator boiled, though I didn’t sample the resulting porridge! I just waited for it to cool down, topped up with water (which I had to cadge from houses en route) and limped back into Norfolk. By the time I reached King’s Lynn, it was no use heading for Dereham, as morning service was over. I had telephoned the vicar and explained my plight.
Instead, I headed for Nigel’s home in Syderstone, having alerted him. I arrived mid-afternoon, and after Nigel had assessed the damage, he told me he would have to fit another radiator – fortunately he had one. He then drove me on to Fakenham in his car, and late the following Thursday afternoon he delivered the Morris, complete with reconditioned radiator, back to my lodgings – just in time for me to set off for Dereham to take choir practice.
What a valiant little car it was!
John Farmer, Barnard Avenue, Yarmouth.
We’d love to hear your own story of your first car. If you’d like to see it on our drive24 blog, send your memory with a photo to Sadie.Jennings@archant.co.uk.