Cars and Driving and Formula Ford
Since I was 17 years old I have owned a number of different cars – from the practical to the exotic. It took me three attempts to pass my driving test ….
I have always been more interested in the driving rather than worrying about the comfort factor: I have never owned a BMW or a Mercedes but I do regret never driving a Porsche Turbo (or any Porsche for that matter.}
My cars have been for the most part British – and they have been pretty awful when it came to reliability and bodywork issues. The full list of 10 cars as I remember them is below.
I was not afraid to “get my hands dirty” and carried out some of the maintenance and repair work myself on the earlier cars. Modern cars, however, have sealed units and are mostly computerised, and so unless you have the test equipment necessary, there is a limit to what repairs can be carried out privately. Now, I am not at all interested in “what’s under the bonnet”, preferring 100% reliability and minimal servicing costs – a good reason for not owning a BMW for example!
Two episodes in my life were related to driving: one was my first and only car crash and the second led to my spending the night in a police station.
The accident happened when I was still in the RAF and commuting from my cottage in Norfolk to the Marconi Headquarters in Chelmsford, Essex. This commute involved getting up early in the morning and setting off in my trusty Mk 2 Spitfire. One fine morning I was driving through one of the villages en route, which had a blind, sharp left hand corner: I must have taken it a little faster than usual – or was not concentrating – because this time I went too wide and lost the backend of the car (in other words, the rear wheels lost grip and I went into a sideways skid). As luck would have it, a tractor was coming the other way, just at the wrong time, and the Spitfire cannoned into the tractors front wheel. I was unhurt although thrown into the road (no seatbelts in those days) but the car was pretty badly dented – luckily not so badly that I had to write it off.
The second experience was a more shameful experience involving “driving under the influence”. More importantly, my passengers were my first wife and our young son.
This occurred in the Citroen in about 1984 – we had been attending one of the late night parties given by our very generous friends Chris and Jenny Efstratiou, who had a marvellous house in Stadhampton Oxfordshire. After much alcohol I decided to drive back to London at about 3 a.m. with the family – not a choice I should have made. I can remember being stopped by the police car on the A40/M40 as we were making very slow progress on the inside lane. Of course being over the limit and failing the breathalyser test was a formality and I spent the night in the police cell. Equally inevitable was the 12 month driving ban that followed.
Formula Ford Course
While under the driving ban in 1985, I took the opportunity to sign up for some experience in a single seat Formula Ford Racing car at the Snetterton Race Track in Norfolk.
The one week course was professionally done and I learnt a lot about car control. Later I also experienced the race circuits at Oulton and Donnington Park in a Formula Ford.
- Riley Monaco 1932 – My first car! A Classic car when I bought it for £5 in 1966, and had some months attempting to drive it on local Somerset roads. It had an autoVac fuel system as I recall, and stopped on a regular basis without warning. I sold it after a few months for £35 – the first and last car I ever made money on!
Morris Minor Classic £50 – The next car and in traditional green. I used this when I was at Cranwell for the first year or so. It suffered from rust – the traditional UK Motor Trade shortcomings – but I remember it because it did not seem to require engine oil. After adding oil on a number of occasions, I stopped doing so because there appeared to be no benefit! No idea what happened to it.
- Triumph Herald 950 – As I recall it was predominantly blue and was the next in the series of underpowered and forgettable British cars but it was cheap and replaced the Morris.
- Triumph Spitfire Mk 2 My Mother bought this car for me in 1969 as a graduation present – it cost then £400. It was a white two seater with a black interior and was a big step up in performance terms with a top speed of about 90 mph.
- Jaguar E-Type Coupe 4.2 Litre -White 2 seater with black interior. I bought this myself when in London for £900, and used it on occasion to drive to work. Beautiful looking car, fantastic engine noise and a top speed approaching 140 mph. Not so good in the corners! Sold it after six months or so for same price.
- Triumph Stag 3 Litre V8 1972 – I bought this car in about 1980 for £3000. Originally red, I changed it to white. I loved the sound of the engine and it was a pretty car although suffering from “UK engineering”. I spent a fortune on it over the next 35 years and kept it as a second car in London, using it exclusively for short trips. Sold for about £4000 in 2014/2015
- Citroen CX Familiale 2400 cc 7 seater Estate This was bought in about 1980 as a practical family car for long trips to parents in Wiltshire and Yorkshire with child and dog. It was large and grey, and comfortable, although not very economic. My first non British car!
- Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 2 Litre – This was the 2 door version and I bought it circa 1985 for £15000. Not the most practical of family cars, my version was white, and the fastest car I had ever driven – great acceleration – with a large “spoiler” at the back. I was a big fan of the Touring Car Racing series at the time. I sold it after about six months for a little less than I paid.
- Honda Prelude 2.2 Litre VTec – I loved this car – it was a 2 door coupe coloured metallic grey. It was surprisingly quick and comfortable and reliable – Japanese engineering! Bought in about 1987 it lasted more than 20 years until my second wife decided to check whether it was amphibian on a flooded Thames Towpath. Unfortunately it was not, and it died.
- Nissan Micra 2006 – My present car, I bought this to use in Crete for 6000 euros in about 2012. Despite the appalling roads and appalling conditions, it has been reliable and economic to this day.