My point of view

My point of view

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My personal views on life and things that make me think twice.

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A little bit of America in the Thames Valley

MemoriesPosted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 15, 2015 10:16AM

Dad’s Ford Anglia 1200 Super wasn’t just a car, it was our family’s entry into the space age long before the Weasley’s got theirs to fly in the Harry Potter films. After several, in my eight year old opinion, abortive attempts to join the ranks of the modern motorist, via the dreaded Triumph Mayflower and the evil-smelling Austin A30, we had finally arrived in something that was two toned, had chrome plating, and more importantly possessed fins. Ok they were English fins and nothing like the elegant excess of those on a Corgi model of the Chevrolet Impala but then we did live in a council house at a time when ‘coffee’ was considered a reckless shade of ‘beige’ so anything too extreme would have provoked comment, caused curtains to twitch and rumours to start that one if not both of my parents were heading down the slippery slope of debauchery.

What was there not to love about this car? Inside you had colour-coded upholstery and rear side widows that could be opened with a reassuring click to allow 2 inches of fresh air into the cabin plus an actual stalk that flicked up and down to control the indicators. No more trafficators for us! The nifty angle of the rear window meant acres of headroom so even with a full load of four claustrophobia was going to be the least of your worries. Set in a brushed steel panel was a state of the art speedometer that didn’t look like granny’s mantle clock and all four forward gears had the luxury of synchromesh which made a huge difference to my Dad’s inability to accurately judge the impact of inclines on our journey. If things got too much in second gear you could change down into first without all the bother of a hill start and, with Dad’s variable skills in clutch control, all the heart stopping panic that entailed. There was even an ashtray that wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of those new-fangled Apollo things the Americans were regularly sending up to orbit the moon.

And it wasn’t just me that loved it either. Between 1959 and 67 1,004,737 of the 105E rolled off the production lines and on to the nation’s driveways to be joined on the roads by another 79,223 of the 1200E variant. I think everybody also loved the fact that this was the first Anglia with an electric motor driving the windscreen wipers, previous models having relied on a vacuum arrangement that meant frantic sweepings at low speed and next to little movement beyond 40 mph, which is a bit disconcerting in a sudden English down pour.

Back then this Ford Anglia looked American enough to a boy raised on ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘Bewitched’ and the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ to be living the dream where food shot out of holes in the wall and everybody had a refrigerator the size of a British wardrobe. In fact if you closed your eyes that could be Mary Tyler Moore sat in the front passenger seat couldn’t it?

Well maybe not. No amount of chrome detailing and colour-coded PVC upholstery could alter the fact that the minute we headed beyond the town boundary my dad would invariably get lost and that even with a mouth full of barley sugar sweets my mother was still able to make enough loud very un-MTM sounding noises to signal her disapproval.

However in the micro-world of an eight year old child, two-toned paint work, chrome stripes and knowing that your indicators were set in an elegant upright arrangement rather than being orange blobs bolted on as an afterthought were all enough to make you wonder if Las Vegas wasn’t just lurking on the other side of the Thames Valley. So perhaps getting lost wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

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The Austin A30

MemoriesPosted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 08, 2015 10:25AM

I’ll admit to having a guilt trip about this one. My dad loved her. I just thought she was old and smelly. There was something about the PVC upholstery that gave the car a very distinct chemical smell. So much so that my mother was convinced we were leaking fuel. But looking back our old Austin gave sterling service and later went on to be the family car for my sister and her new family until 1968.

And they must have been good little motors (223,264 produced in between 1951 – 1956) because despite my mother gripping the seat in fear of being blown to kingdom come ours never broke down, blew up or otherwise protested at my dad’s erratic driving. Somehow he never mastered the art of navigating, steering and changing gear but the Austin A30 was a very forgiving car. Which was more than his wife was when we got lost – yet again.

So what was there to be eight years old and embarrassed about? Apart from Uncle Ron’s brand spanking new Mark I Ford Cortina and Monica Moss’s gleaming black Austin Cambridge you mean? Probably it’s lack of speed because with three forward gears and a 0 – 60 time of 42.3 seconds she was never going to stun other drivers by skimming along the fast lane unless the road was empty and Dad had steered her into it by accident, the Austin I mean, not Monica.

Hills were a bit of a problem too. I remember one outside Hurstbourne Tarrant that nearly proved her undoing. That gradient was never going to be conquered in top (third), or by the time Dad had got the hang of it, second either. So up we crawled in first much to the distress of the people in the rear view mirror and the twenty odd bewildered drivers behind them. Was there a cow in the road they wondered? No just a man with no synchromesh on first gear, an angry wife sucking furiously on a Barley Sugar sweet and a son hiding in the back seat under his anorak.

Luckily a previous owner had modernised the car and fitted proper indicators and unlike the base model version ours had two wipers, two sun visors and a heater. She still smelled funny though, and continued to do so to the end of her life, a smell so strong that even the combined delights of my two nephews with full nappies and occasional projectile vomiting never managed to overcome it.

But hey! The Austin A30 had a floor mounted gear change, which should have made Dad’s job easier and a dash mounted indicator switch loud enough to hear at low speeds but over 40 mph often meant the car following wondered when and if we were ever going to turn left.

So why the guilt trip after all these years? Well, there’s something cosy about the fact that the A30 looks like it’s been designed by drawing round various sized jelly moulds and it’s cheeky little face always looks as if it’s enjoying itself. You don’t see that many now (somebody will correct me) which is a shame because in its day, at £507 it was £62 less than its Morris Minor rival. The van variant, boosted into A35 format, went on being produced until 1968. So where did they all go?

All articles ©Ian Ashley 2015

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The Triumph Mayflower

MemoriesPosted by Ian Ashley Fri, January 30, 2015 08:56PM

Somewhere on the scale of life’s embarrassing moments between suddenly finding yourself naked in church and dribbling on a stranger’s shoulder on a train has to be the moment your dad turns up with the new family car and its…a Triumph Mayflower.

Collectable today? Possibly. Rare? Certainly. But you have to put this little gem into context to appreciate the full shame of being that six year old boy sitting in the back and hoping nobody could see him. You also have to bear in mind that whilst we were trying to look proud riding in what could have been half a Rolls Royce, Margaret, across the road, was ducking her beehive into husband Stan’s Ford Zephyr MkIII ( with real fins!) and Vi Parsons who lived on the opposite corner was riding in state in a two-toned Zodiac MkII. Even Charlie Gore’s Humber Snipe had a bulbous majesty we lacked. Somehow, even amongst, the council houses with their pristine hedges and manicured lawns we were never going to cut the mustard in THAT CAR!

And with only three column mounted forward gears propelling a 1200 cc engine trapped in a body without even a nod towards aerodynamics we were never going to get anywhere fast, which was probably just as well because drivers behind were getting out of the habit of spotting trafficators even back then so whichever way we turned they were always taken by surprise and honked horns accordingly.

True, ‘Winnie’ as she was known (none too affectionately) had leather upholstery and my mother did attempt to boost her social standing by claiming all the white knobs and levers on the dash were made of ivory. They weren’t. In fact the only things that car had in common with the elephant was its lack of climbing ability up even the smallest incline and it’s habit of stopping suddenly and refusing to budge another inch. Had she ate buns and squirted water we may have loved her more.

She was very good at rolling backwards on hill starts towards other startled drivers amidst a chorus of screams from me and my sister. Overheating it just loved and whilst other motorists hit the then new M4 motorway with a sense that the Sixties were really swinging, we headed off tearful and fearful that we were never going to see our loved ones again. The only thing between us and death by dads idiosyncratic driving style was the fact that anything we ploughed into would have been smashed to smithereens, ‘Winnie’ being nothing if not a sturdy girl.

For all her faults, like doodle-bugs, rationing and gas masks, there is a rosy glow of nostalgia on the very rare occasion that I see one now. Oh and yes…a sense of being six again, calling out, ‘are we there yet dad,’ not because we were going anywhere nice but even then I suspected that embarrassment in such large doses could be fatal.

For some strange reason Standard Triumph’s managing director Sir John Black believed this car would be especially appealing to the American market. It wasn’t. But then ‘Winnie’ didn’t seem to have been built with getting her kicks on Route 66 in mind. Even then she was more a sedate shuffle round the dancefloor in a polyester two-piece than a twirling dirndl and a flash of bare thigh.

Dad sold her, or rather mum made him, after one breakdown too many (the car not her) and a very nasty moment around a clock tower in Sunbury for the princely sum of £55.00. Was that, I wondered even then, enough to buy something, anything, with fins and proper indicators? Sadly no.

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