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.