Often, I hear tales from folks of cars they admired, even coveted from a distance as they were growing up. Not cars owned by their own parents, but those belonging to other people, perhaps in which, sometimes, an occasional lift was had.
These cars were the punctuation marks outside houses, mostly on driveways, as it was rare for car ownership to rise above two per household and garages were most definitely the province of cars, not dumping grounds for out of favour gym equipment and outgrown bicycles. There were though the odd exception.
Take next door; the Brain family, Doreen, Tom, one girl, two boys, had a P6 Rover as their main car. Very classy, I thought. Why we couldn’t have one was beyond me, but parsimoniously spec’d Fords were the order of the day at my weekday home. However, it wasn’t the Rover which drew my attention. Midway through the 1970s, as the eldest Brain child, Andrew, approached the golden age of seventeen, an Austin A35 arrived on their driveway. Work commenced on making the car driveable, with the two boys hard at work on the thing day after day. A black A30 also appeared as a donor, giving the 10 years old me a little insight into the visual differences between the two types.
The A35 emerged, hand painted in blue, looking rather racy without hubcaps, perhaps sporting ROStyle wheels ate a later date. It certainly had an influence on me as to what I thought was ‘cool’ and all that spannering informed me that such things were possible on a driveway…hmmm! Three doors further down the hill, at number 121 Walsall Road, Four Oaks, lived a family I knew not, but their second car was an appealing Sunbeam Stiletto Sport, which I studied from afar, again noting differences, this time between it and its Hillman and Singer counterparts.
Next door to the Stiletto lived my childhood friend, Susie Adair and her older brother, Murray, the latter being the outgrown source of my first ever cycle with pneumatic tyres. Susie’s mum, Irene, had a rather fetching Mk1 Mini, with cable door releases and what I now know as being an early specification interior. Occasional day trips were had in this fine machine, us children rattling around in the rear, being strongly warned to ‘sit down’. Ah, the excitement of a car ride.
The only further car of note in this direction belonged to the mother of my chum, Richard Brookes, a year older than I and so vastly more experienced. Aged five, he was already at school and took school dinners, regaling tales of having to eat everything on one’s plate, or trouble would ensue. I was terrified at the prospect of being forced to eat a tomato, or a banana. This trouble actually came to pass, such were the times. I digress; Richard’s mum owned a split-screen Morris Minor, which I thought splendidly old-fashioned, with its rigid wiper blades in ‘clap hands’ formation. I remember only one trip in this car, but for the whole journey I sat transfixed on the split screen, willing it to rain. It didn’t.
Turning attention to cars resident up the hill at various junctures, next door, the Farrs had a late model Ford Corsair, which I always felt was a cut above our own string of Cortinas. We had in fact once owned an early Corsair, registered 815KOL.
Next door to the Farrs lived a trendy young couple who, during the mid 70s, had a droop-snoot Vauxhall Firenza as a second car. Stylish indeed.
Further up the road, at number 101, the Whittakers had, for a while, a BMC Farina, a Morris Oxford I think, a car which to this day I admit to thinking of as being a tad ‘stodgy’.
But the car in which I travelled to school most mornings, belonged to my friend, Tim Ricketts’ mum, Dylis. In 1970, Dylis took delivery of a brand-new Mini Clubman estate, in white complete with a faux wood trim strip. This splendid car saved us boys plenty of shoe leather, in reality plastic, as we wore de-rigueur ‘Clarkes Commandos’ shoes. Dylis passed away recently, so this gives me an opportunity to forward my condolences to the whole family.
I mithered as much as I dared to try and get us to become a two-car family, imagining some exotic, mouldering heap arriving on the drive, but it was all to no avail and we never achieved such status, mores the pity.
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