The urban myths of classic motoring

| 1 Jun 2011

It was the merry tales told by my father that initially got me intrigued in owning a classic when I was learning to drive. Put simply, it sounded like fun, although I now realise that I bet there weren’t many smiles on faces at the point at which these yarns originated back when the classics weren’t actually classics – merely second-hand motors picked up dirt-cheap.

He owned several Morris Minors – the most well-remembered of which was a 1000 nicknamed the ‘green pea’ on account of it’s hand-painted exterior.

He tells of leaving struggling Fords and Vauxhalls standing at traffic lights, thanks to the Alexander Phase Three conversion he had fitted to the Moggy. “Sh*t off a shovel” apparently. On one journey, something fairly major broke underneath. No problem – he just pulled over onto a grass verge, dug a ‘bloody big hole’, got in it and proceeded to change ‘it’ for a spare. Naturally it was raining throughout this exercise, but of course he successfully made it to the pub before closing time for a celebratory pint.

Many years later, as I stood in the middle of the road trying to divert traffic around my stranded Morris Minor, I recalled another of his ‘adventures’: “I pulled out of a side road and one kingpin dropped out, sending the wheel turning under the car. I turned the steering wheel the other way and the other kingpin fell out”. Naturally he was smiling throughout this tale, but as I stood inspecting the front wheel of my own car (sans kingpin and with wheel tucked under – steering arm embedded into the tarmac), I struggled to see why he felt it had been so ‘enjoyable’ at the time.

A family friend once owned a string of Citroën 2CVs – apparently he could take one completely apart in a weekend and frequently took two to bits and rebuilt them into one roadworthy example. I’m pretty sure there was a tale where the two halves parted company at a fork in the road, but I could well be making that up.

This chap also owned a Mini – an odd choice seeing as he was getting on for 7ft tall. He overcame this problem by removing the front seat and sitting in the back, but I suspect that this may be a slight exaggeration. As we all know, the good old Mini was subject to a spot of ignition trouble thanks to putting the distributor in the direct line of fire of any puddles.

Our Gulliver-esque driver explored one such puddle on a journey circa 1972, which immediately saw the troubles start. So frustrated with the Mini was he, that he allegedly climbed up onto the bonnet, onto the roof and proceeded to ‘stomp’ the poor car in. After releasing his inner-anger, he walked straight off the back end, thrust his hands into the pockets of his rain mac (ripping them out in the process), and strode off. Now that’s what you call road-rage.

During his time in the Royal Air Force, my father had part ownership in an Austin Ten. Proof that in car entertainment is nothing new came with the story of him and his pals suspending a gramophone (of the wind-up sort), on bungee cords from the roof in a bid to make their journeys more interesting. I’m not sure they needed it though, as the story about them trying to get airborne by driving rapidly down a runway while four people flapped their arms goes some way to prove that alcohol and cars don’t mix!

Our motoring heritage is full of these apocryphal tales that are handed down through the generations. One could argue that in addition to the cars themselves, they are what encourage new owners and keep the lifeblood pumping into the hobby. I can most definitely recall the day when they were the catalyst for me to set my heart on a Morris Minor when all around me other seventeen-year-olds were yearning for a Fiesta 1.1.

I’m already brushing up on my story-telling for when my sons eventually get behind the wheel and think about a first car. Let’s just hope that the world allows them to even consider a classic – whatever it has to run on.