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Vintage Ford man Terry Smith lives an enviable lifestyle, with no mobile phone, no computer and therefore no email address or social media.
That’s not to say he lives off grid or in the periphery; quite the opposite: he’s spent the past four decades happily and delicately making a name for himself on the side of cars, hot rods, dragsters, vans and more as a signwriter.
“I love the general aesthetics of the 1950s,” he says.“And in my trade, when you look back, the vinyl revolution only really happened in the mid-’80s, so continuing to paint signs is itself a period activity. I love to collect – or accumulate, rather – things that reflect that.”
Few items in Smith’s garage remain his for long, though, and some of them might well be familiar to anyone who’s been to Lymington in the New Forest.
Locals will have also noticed that his sometime shop, Old’s Cool, has gone, as Smith heads towards retirement.
“I love things going through my hands, but I don’t need to own it all,” he explains.“I enjoy passing things on to people who love them more than me.”
He and his collection now reside just along the coast in Emsworth, where Smith has been steadily getting his thinning lot in order to open what he calls, “A fairly low-key abridged version. I decided to reopen the shop as before, with just open days or by appointment [01243 377948]. It looks as if it will be the first weekend of every month, rather than every Saturday and Sunday.”
Some of his energy is going into passing on the paintbrush to the next generation.
“We’re getting thin on the ground. I’m training a young lady who came on my course and expressed an interest in following this through as a profession. My mission now is to keep the trade alive.
“She is showing promise, and has the aptitude and the patience – those you can’t teach. I only work for people I know now, to get a bit of pin money in.”
Not everything in the lock-up adds to those coffers, though, including the Fordson Van he’s owned his entire working life.
“It’s a ’49 and I’ve had it more than half its existence,” he says. “That has brought me all my work and is quite well known.
“I also have a little museum shelf of old materials, books of gold leaf, brushes, kits that they thought would enable people to be signwriters – stencils in a metal case. We are all about maintaining a dream of living in the past.”
His striking roadster, on the other hand, is ready for pastures new: “It’s an all-Ford hot rod, put together in the ’80s using a 1929 Model A as an all-steel copy of a ’23 Turtledeck T. I’ve just given it a facelift with the paintjob round the front end, and made a tonneau cover like the type that just had the cockpit open on the post-war dry lakes. It’s great fun to drive like that.
“It runs a mid-’60s Ford Zephyr straight-six. I’ve had my joy from it, just given it a birthday, and it’s time someone else got to enjoy it.” And the stock Model A, and 1600 crossflow ‘classic’ Caterham.
Other recreations include some of the signage knocking around in his garage-cum-shop, authentic-looking one-offs from scrap metal.
“I can reproduce anything, not printed and thin like those tin things that you buy,” he says. “Classic car owners love all the ancillaries that go with cars, things to fill their shelves with, so there’s a lot of ephemera, old car brochures, oil jugs, enamel signs; all sorts.
“It’s quite nice to have a collection I’m slowly parting with.”
Images: Jenny Godwin