Member's Story - Steve Rose
“This story is entitled ‘Memories of my first car’ – it takes me back to the time when I first started driving”. – Steve Rose
In the summer of 1959 I withdrew the princely sum of ten pounds from my bank account and used it to purchase my first car. This amount included delivery (all of half a mile) of course, as I had not passed my driving test at the time. The car that introduced me to motoring was a 1940 Standard Flying Eight, a two door saloon in an interesting shade of black patina. It sported a 1021cc engine producing 31 bhp coupled to a three speed gearbox and, in its youth, would have had a top speed of 61 mph. When it came into my possession the 'Flying' part of its title was a bit of a misnomer. I bought it from a dealer in previously used (very much so) automobiles whose select premises were situated in a yard behind the Millstone public hostelry in Wigan. The car had been traded in by a customer during an upmarket move and was surplus to stock requirements hence the low price at which it was offered. During the short run home the engine stopped twice but, eventually, there it was outside our house and I was a member of the motoring public!
(Not my car but an identical one in better condition!)
Not long after assuming ownership of this nineteen year old vehicle it developed a bad rattle in the engine which turned out to be a broken little end bearing. My older brother, with a degree in engineering, came to the rescue and, with me acting as assistant mechanic, we took the engine out and replaced the broken bearing on the con-rod. The back alley of our terraced house was our garage and the small back garden the workshop. Intricate technical work was done on the kitchen table when my mother was absent. Having taken the cylinder head off, the engine had a de-coke (which it fully appreciated) at the same time. In due course it surprisingly all went back together, the car was back on the road and I duly passed my test. The world was my oyster, or perhaps to be more truthful my cockle, or would have been apart from two small things.
The first was that the engine continued to stop at inconvenient times and places. I tracked this down eventually to dirt in the fuel pipe from the tank to the mechanical petrol pump. The remedy was simple. All I needed to do was to get under the car, disconnect the pipe at a convenient coupling and give a good suck on the end leading from the tank. If I was lucky I would suddenly get a mouthful of grit and Shell and the fuel would start to flow again. Connect up the pipe and away I would go. This regular occurrence was the main reason that I never took up smoking. Eventually I saved up enough money to have a new pipe fitted and the problem was solved.
The second was that the Standard Eight was one of the first cars to have independent front suspension (mine being extremely independent). A transverse leaf spring connected both front wheels and these were damped by friction shock absorbers. The car was also fitted with cable brakes rather than the more modern hydraulic ones, which were coming in just before the War. My beloved car, due to age and no doubt bad maintenance over its lifetime, was severely lacking in the friction department of the shock absorbers. The nearside kingpin on the front suspension was also well worn and exhibited an appreciable amount of movement. If you added these factors in with the action of the cable brakes an interesting end result occurred. If the car was turning to the right then the cable to the nearside front brake tightened up as the wheel turned outwards. The offside slackened off as the connector on that wheel turned inwards. Now if, whilst turning right, I had to brake sharply the nearside front wheel would easily lock up as the cable was already tight on that side. The wheel would then jump back on the lack of suspension and there would be a clunk as the kingpin moved in sympathy. All this sudden movement would cause the body to flex on the nearside, the result of which was that the passenger door would often fly open. A certain amount of dexterity was required to keep the car on course whilst leaning across the startled passenger to grab the door before it opened too far! A piece of strong string hooked round the door handle and tied to the parcel shelf became a pre-requisite if one was carrying passengers of a nervous disposition. This gave a whole new meaning to the term 'suicide doors' with which the car was fitted!
I suppose that you always have a soft spot for your first car and, although I have neither owned nor driven one since, a wave of warm nostalgia comes over me on the rare occasions that I see one. The photograph which illustrates this article is of the identical car to mine but in somewhat better condition! Sadly I do not have a photograph to remember it by or to remind me of its registration number.
Such were some of the pleasures of youthful motoring and you may not believe it but, when it was eventually traded in, the dealer gave me a twenty pound allowance for it!