For much of the 1980s, I worked for the local, rather large bus company, the west Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. This came with a huge benefit, that being free travel on the company’s buses, those of the National Bus Company owned, Midland Red, within the West Midlands County boundary and British Rail’s passenger services, again within the county. Spouses also enjoyed this benefit and so, often, employees and their families got by without the need to own a motor car.
Increasingly though, car ownership was on the rise amongst the general public and the Executive’s employees were no exception to this trend. Older, family types were often car owners, but us young apprentices were also keen to hasten the downward spiral of public transport use. Talk about one biting the hand that feeds.
My journey to Sutton Coldfield bus garage from the two miles north, Mere Green took only 10 minutes by bus, but if workmate Danny May pulled up at the bus stop in his blue Mk4 Ford Cortina, me and my workmates Paul Edwards and Barry Whitelaw would happily hop in for the treat that was a ride to the front doors, a quick ‘clock in’ and then ample time to don overalls, head to the canteen and enjoy some company subsidised toast, washed down with a sixpence cup of tea. The Cortina, at this time around only five or six years of age, exhibited a characteristic looseness of rear end security, due to worn Panhard rod bushes, or the like, a trait which has rather put me off later Cortinas altogether.
Danny lived way out of town and so never enjoyed a reciprocal lift, but Paul lived nearby and for a while owned what was then a rather exotic BMW 2002. Not many rides were had in this fine machine, as it was thirsty, and anyway there was always the free bus pass, or Danny to fall back on.
Barry didn’t own a car at the time, but I passed my driving test in the November of 1981 and gained the use of my foster mum’s Mk1 Ford Fiesta 1.1L (at the time the only mark available), later graduating to a slightly less reliable S1 Land Rover 80”.
Both were used for regularly transporting my chums to and from work, which led to Paul and I becoming good drinking buddies, most regularly at the White Lion pub at Hill Village.
Fellow apprentices, on our college days or when sentenced to a spell at Moseley Road Training Centre, used to stop and give lifts to these far-flung places. Local to me, year mate Brian Bachelor, in his relatively modern ‘P’ registered Morris Marina was ever generous with offering rides and occasionally I would drop lucky with a lift part-way, from another of my year mates, Mark Smith, in his Datsun (remember them?) 120Y (remember those?) and yes, it was bluey-green in colour.
When we arrived at these places, we were able to marvel at fellow apprentice, Stuart Powell’s immaculate Austin A40. The car amused us, not only for its terminally ‘unhip’ status at the time, but because the lad had actually bought it from his father. Surely, it ought to have been gifted, we thought. However, I hope that he still owns that precious family heirloom, he’d certainly be having the last laugh if he does.
However, the king of lifts came from the hilariously funny, decrepit, much patched and on its last legs, 1966, Vauxhall Viva HA, owned by my Sutton Garage chum and spannering mentor, Stuart ‘Winnie’ Winfield. It was nicknamed ‘The Dinosaur’, perhaps a rather telling indictment of 1960s cars, as there were relatively few survivors in regular use at the time. Today, regular spec’ 06-plate cars remain a regular sight on UK roads.
Are they better cars?
Yes, by a country mile, but they’re more likely to make you cry, than wee yourself laughing. The car was nothing short of shagged out, but still it continued towards its imminent MoT expiry, giving transport to any that dared venture inside.
Besides the galloping rust, previous owners had bodged its basic mechanical components mercilessly, meaning that when it did run, any attempt at a quick getaway was thwarted by a wonderful tendency towards inertia, due to the worst axle tramp I have ever, to date, experienced.
Dropping the clutch induced a vertical oscillation of the rear axle, assisted in part by tiny, undersized bolts acting as rear leaf spring shackle pins and by the sagging springs themselves. Rust cascaded to the ground as it performed this party piece, and it was always a surprise just how much more of the stuff continued to appear. I will always be grateful for those lifts to work and those that gave them, but the most moving lift came from a former work colleague who had often been hostile towards me. His hostility was for reasons known only to himself, but after he witnessed me on the receiving end of vile racism, on the top deck of a bus I’d just spent all day fixing, he waded in and rather scarily shut the upper saloon, back seat thugs up in short order.
The lift came on a rainy Sunday lunchtime, late in 1986. I was waiting in vain for a bus which had failed in service when, purely by chance, Colin Bennett, the upper saloon saviour, pulled up in his Ford Granada Mk2 and offered me a lift to my destination which was out of his way.
We chatted away and soon we had reached my drop off point.
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