I noticed in the Herald a few weeks ago, a couple of old codgers sitting in their pride and joy, a 1929 Austin Seven motor car. According to the article, they had restored that little car, to its former glory.
For me, memories flooded back sixty or more years, to the time when I owned a little Austin Seven. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was a 1935 model. I sketched my little car mostly from memory
In 1952, at the age of fifteen and as an apprentice, I was learning to drive. My boss at the time, allowed me to take the work truck down the lane, past the timber racks, and into the garage at the end of each day. I don’t know how he would have reacted if I had taken out the back wall of the garage, or demolished one of the doors.
The following morning, I was encouraged to reverse the truck out of the garage and help load it for the rest of the day. A little chore that carried on for several weeks.
One morning, out of the blue, I was informed it was my turn to drive my workmates onto the job, several miles into the country. It was the boss’s view I would gain valuable experience for sitting my licence. (But that’s a story for another time.)
I told my father I was learning to drive the work truck. A grunt was the only reply I got.
When I suggested I take the family Model A for a bit of practice and gain a few skills. That blew the cobwebs out of his ears. He trusted me, so he said, yet somehow, his trust never extended far enough for me to get behind the steering wheel of his Model A. I suspect he had visions of his car being wrapped around a lamp post in the course of practising. That sort of scenario was highly unlikely; for, the speedometer never registered more than 35 miles an hour.
A bit later on, the old man scared the crap out of me, threatening me with a lingering death, if I so much as tried to talk my mother into letting me take the old car for a bit of a spin, while he was away.
It took several weeks before he relented, but by that time, I had concluded it just wasn’t worth the hassle. For quite honestly it took the work of a genius, to start that car.
By the time the spark control was adjusted and I fiddled around with the hand throttle, both on the steering column, one needed to find the starter on the floor with their foot. And last of all, unless I held one’s mouth at the correct angle, the motor never kicked, so half the blasted morning was gone.
Then out of the blue, wonders will never cease, I was allowed to take the old car out on a run.
After going through the usual flight plan, my last option, after the old girl not starting, was to use the crank handle.
If I was lucky, a couple of swings on that handle and the car would burst into life. Otherwise, with another swing on the handle, after advancing the spark a couple of notches and checking the throttle the motor would give a kick, nearly breaking my wrist and flinging me on my back. It was about then I spent the next 15 minutes cursing and sinking the boot into the bumper bar.
Totally exhausted from my little tantrum, I fired one last broadside. “C’mon you lousy bitch, you don’t start this time, it’s over the efin bank into the riverbed. See how you like that, eh?”
It’s amazing how much better one feels after buggering up a good pair of shoes by kicking the hell out of all four tyres. You achieve nothing, but man, it feels so good. That is until mother rushes out, she’s just remembered, Dad said before he went away, the petrol tank is empty . . . . .!
By the time I was seventeen, I had had enough of swinging that crank handle and so on. I had saved up enough ready cash, to buy my first car, an Austin Seven. If I remember correctly, it cost me around one hundred quid.
God, it was a snazzy little thing, had a motor in it about the size of two pounds of butter. With a block of wood, a six-inch crescent, a screwdriver and absolutely no mechanical knowledge whatsoever, there was nothing I couldn’t fix on that little car.
Even though that wee thing was not much larger than a matchbox, I was over the moon.
It wasn’t the most comfortable for courting, the damn gear lever was in the wrong place for a kickoff and there was no room in the backseat.
I do remember one hilarious act though, where I had arranged to take a girl to a party in the city, never realizing her address was via a steep slope, a few miles out of town.
There were a few sharp little bends on that slope and oodles of corrugations to negotiate along that gravel road.
Halfway down the slope, on our way to town, we were doing fine, until my girl passenger; accidentally knocked the gear stick out of gear. At that point, the little car took off like a rocket.
The gearbox was screaming as I stamped on the clutch, trying to sort the gears out.
We flew round the bend at the bottom. On two wheels, and after a 360-degree spin, the car came to a halt. I shuddered to think how many teeth were left lying in the bottom of the gearbox.
As for the girl, she screamed all the way down and refused to utter a single word for the rest of the journey. On arrival at our party, she flung the door open and vamoosed.
It’s been more than 60 years since that little escapade. Consequently, I never laid eyes on that girl again. For all I know, she may have emigrated.
Over the next few months I fitted a chrome plated fishtail exhaust to my little car, a full set of mud flaps with little red glass reflectors, new chrome plated side mirrors and an attachment fitted to the radiator cap, redirecting the airflow and insects away from the windscreen.
As the weather warmed up, I decided the car needed a paint touch up. I was intent on having a two-tone paint job, forest green bodywork, black mudguards, along with white wall tires. I later had visions of my car looking like a dung beetle, so I decided against the white wall tyres.
I didn’t fancy using a paintbrush, so I used mother’s vacuum cleaner, which came with its own spray gun attachment. If I recall correctly it was called an ‘Electrolux’. All that was required was to transfer the hose from the sucking end of that machine, relocate it to the other end, where all the blow power was, and, Bob’s your uncle.
On the back lawn behind the coal shed, after I meticulously masked everything on the car and gave it a thorough sanding, I was ready for my first assault at the spray painting game. All I had to do now was fill the spray reservoir and hold my finger over the little air-hole in the top of the attachment, and __ ___ hey-presto, a fine spray of paint should materialize.
Beginning along the driver’s side, I began working my first coat of forest green. Completing the first coat, I stepped back to survey my handiwork.
Oh man, what a blinkin’ mess. As fast as I was spraying the paint on, it was slipping down behind me, in hideous watery looking streaks. My scientific technique and skill at mixing paint definitely needed a bit more practice.
Carefully rectifying the paint consistency with a bit less turps, a bit more of this, and bit less of that, I was ready to start again, just as soon as I had cleaned up my previous mess and re-sanded everything.
Eventually, over the next few days, the whole thing was completed. That new paintwork looked clean and shiny. I was rather pleased with myself.
There may have been an infinitesimal fault with my work. ___ Alright, alright! ___ There may have been a few more than one. Like, where a dozen sandflies landed but never left, a couple of randy blowfly’s had a party on the roof. A couple of pine needles dropped in on the afternoon breeze. Yet, when I stood back far enough, I couldn’t see any of that.
One thing I did notice though, the paintwork was a mass in little pimples, a result of a non-adjustable air flow, so I was told by one who claimed to know about these things. I guess it was what professionals may call them, ‘orange peel effect’. Looked rather classy, I thought.
Standing back admiring my handiwork, my dad appeared at my side on his way to give the chooks their afternoon feed. He had stopped to pass comment.
Standing there, legs apart, he was plugging Bears Dark tobacco into his stinky old pipe with his thumb and viewing my handiwork.
With a sly grin, he said. “Happy?”
“Of course I am. Why?”
“Oh. Just wondered?” He said touching a match to his pipe.
“Say,” he remarked from behind a cloud of smoke and a smart-arse grin. “Is that a special blend of paint you’ve used there? It’s the first time I‘ve seen that. Just new the market, is it? It looks like orange peel, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, I know. Actually, it’s specially made for racing cars.” Keeping a straight face, I knew very well my old man was trying to pull my leg. “They say it’s supposed to handle the slipstream better?”
“Well,” said my father. “Certainly looks like something slipped. Wouldn’t it have looked better-painted orange?”
Turning on his heel, he started calling the chooks for their afternoon feed, and then he began to whistle. Bloody hell! It sounded like the old rooster was having another asthma attack and was constipated again.