My life in cars; part one
January 22, 2013
This was the early 60s and there were no seat belts or many rules. My father at the time had a beige Hillman Minx which I didn’t like as much as Mum’s car apart from the bench seat all the way across the front, but his number plate amused me – FM 274. I imagined it was a personalised plate and he was Farmer Morgan (as he sold grass seed to farmers) and 274 was our real telephone number. (Haha – just thinking about having only three numbers. Brilliant.) The bench seat meant I could sit right next to him if Mum wasn’t in the car (she made us sit in the back) and he’d let me change gear when he pressed the clutch in.
We were a two car family as Dad bought Mum a Morris Minor convertible – GUT 200.
When we moved away from Scotland Dad had a bigger job and got a bigger car. A big green Zephyr. JHR something, but I can’t remember. It was manual but had the gearstick coming out of the steering wheel. It was so cool. Big and boxy and loads of room to play in with my mates. Which we did lots. Mum still had a Morris Minor, but hard top this time – XVJ 514. Not as fun as the convertible, but again great for playing in.
Then Dad’s boss left or something like that and we got his purple Ford Zodiac. Another oversized car and this time an automatic. Dad didn’t like it so I didn’t either.
In the mean time I was going out in to the night watching rallies through the forest. Getting to hear conversations about RS1600s, watching Timo Makkinen win the RAC rally, lusting after Mini Cooper Ss, and generally staying out all night with an excuse my mother thought acceptable. If only she knew.
Then I left home and came back to learn to drive before I went to University. My father at this time was a Sales and Marketing Director so still had a company car. But he was the one always telling the fleet of salesmen not to let learner drivers use their cars so he asked on of his Regional Managers to teach me. He turned up not in his wife’s car as anticipated, but in the company Granada. My father turned away saying he hadn’t seen and we set off to Radnor Forest where Mel taught me clutch control by making me balance on a steep hill and play with the clutch and accelerator until I understood the biting point. Then he got me to reverse and allowed me to smash in to a gate post just to learn what it feels like. He didn’t care. It was a company car after all.
Then we set off and he would tell me to go as fast as I possibly could on the straight, urging me to put my foot to the floor. I was terrified at 20 mph but I was in a deserted forest so was safe enough really. But he would be shouting ‘Faster, faster’. His father had been a policemen and taught advanced driving skills so he thought he would see which type of teaching I preferred; continuous commentary telling me what to do, or only interjecting when neccessary. I opted for the latter after a few sessions of the former. Then I got some lessons with a proper instructor as I needed to use a car for the test and wasn’t insured on the company ones. I had a woman with a Ford Escort.
She turned up to take me to the test in a different car. An estate. Still a Ford so still easy to drive. On the way to my test in December, just home from first term at Uni, I went in to a full blown skid as I rounded a corner. It was a great place to have your first skid as she just told me to keep my feet off the pedals and steer in to it. I wouldn’t have known what to do and would have instinctively hit the brakes I imagine. All was well and we continued to Ludlow with hearts pounding. I had to take the test 20 miles away as there were no roundabouts or traffic lights in the whole county at that time.
I was the first test after lunch a few days before Christmas. Monday 19th. The examiner was a big bloke and was obviously the worse for wear. We set off and I turned left. My back wheels mounted the pavement. I reversed round the corner and ended up with my nose half way across the road. I simply realigned myself and did it again without asking. My back wheels continued to mount pavements. We came to the questions at the end. “What are pavements for?” “Pedestrians” “Yes, not your back wheels.” It was a perfect opening for me to tell him I’d never driven the car before. He told me he’d seen me in town last week in it. I said that would have been my sister who was due for her test in two days time.
Then he asked me “What does a pretty girl like you need to drive for anyway? You’ll always get someone to drive you.” Did I raise my feminist hackles? Did I try to put him straight on the equality of the sexes? Did I buggery. Sitting in my short skirt and my skinny rib polo neck barely containing my heaving breasts, I was able to feed him the perfect line, “Oh, I’m going to be a doctor so I need to be able to drive to see patients. ”