IN THIS CHAPTER:
In those early days I regularly completed 40,000 to 50,000 miles per year in pursuit of my sales careers. Back then tyres seldom seemed to last 20,000 miles and the engineering tolerances on engine, gearbox and wheels were not as they are today. Invariably there were routine and regular breakdowns and issues, not helped by the fact that the type of car I could afford was a low-end second-hand one.
For example, my Mini Van conversion had a nasty habit that showed up particularly when crossing moors – and my first sales patch included Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Crossing them on rainy days was a nightmare as driving through any lying water would often result in the engine cutting out. If you had momentum, pumping the accelerator might just get it to restart before coming to a halt. I traced this to the coil being located at the front of the engine compartment. I fitted a plastic bag around it with gaffer tape to ‘hermetically’ seal it and this seemed to solve the problem.
Later, a similar flaw occurred with several of my Ford Granadas but this time in hot weather. I would often travel up the old A38 back to the Bristol branch (and to see the family there). In the summer this invariably involved sitting stationary for hours in holiday traffic past Exeter, Taunton and Bridgwater which was when the problem would occur most often. Don’t ask me how I established this, but I found that if you took the top off the air filter (two nuts) and held a rag over the top of the carburettor while someone pressed the pedal to the metal it would clear the airblock in the fuel pipe serving the petrol pump.
On one occasion I was in static traffic when I saw a Granada on the hard-shoulder up ahead with the driver scratching his head. I pulled in just in front of him and walked back to him with my spanner and a rag (always kept these to hand!) Without saying anything I removed his air filter, pressed the rag over the air intake and had him gun the car – it started. Wasting no time I got back to my car and felt no qualms, as a Good Samaritan, and drove past the stopped traffic along the hard shoulder for several miles.
One piece of early good news I learned was that, as I was using the car to enable my occupation, I could accumulate all the costs at tax year-end and make a claim against tax paid, and this was from the top-end of my ‘contributions’ – I never appreciated that term; this was no form of contribution, it was wrested away from you!
But it was something like a piggy-bank. You survived the costs through the year and got a nice lump sum back after April 5th. Later I learned I could claim for work suits which I did. Still later when I travelled internationally, provided I spent more than 28 nights in the year overseas (and I did), I could claim back a proportion of my tax paid. Needless to say successive Inland Revenue regimes set about removing each of these benefits.
ASIDE: There was also the benefit you could claim on birth of your children. You received a full-year allowance for them regardless of when they were born. Someone sent us a card on Sarah’s arrival born which waxed lyrical on the joys of a child but its punch-line was ‘And Tax Deductible Too!’ –Sarah was born on March 30th and we enjoyed a full year’s tax allowance for the six days that she was actually with us!
Jane’s father had a Singer Chamois and we bought one ourselves in an effort to seek more reliability. On a trip home I was on the Cullompton by-pass and my windscreen was shattered. It was a cold day and I had no AA or other cover. Normally if a screen is out and you maintain a reasonable pace the air in the passenger compartment builds up a sort of baffle that stops the worst of the air-blast into the car. However the Chamois had vents at the back window and it was like riding a motorcycle all the way back to Bristol. Fortunately our young baby, Sarah, was well wrapped – but we weren’t.
In my early days I could afford only remould tyres. I knew enough not to go for re-treads that would often de-laminate. Radials were the stuff of dreams that might one day be realised. I had by now ‘upgraded’ my car to a Vauxhall Victor FB – much more about form than function. I went through a set of remould tyres in under 10,000 miles.
When my local Esso garage announced a new line of accessories (including tyres) that would be supplied under a ‘No-Quibble Guarantee’, I had the front tyres replaced. I noticed the steering wheel was heavy and a little off-centre but I was only driving twenty miles to Liskeard so kept going. I got back to the garage to find the treads scrubbed back to almost the canvas. They established that an inexperienced fitter had adjusted the tracking so the front tyres were turned in towards each other. I had bought the tyres on the first day of the launch of Esso’s No-Quibble Guarantee – and made the very first claim on the same day!
On another occasion the same garage did a service for me and as I drove through Barnstaple (sixty miles from home) there was an almighty clatter and I found the bottom of my bell-housing had fallen off! Fortunately, this was not an oil-filled area, so I was able to take it carefully on the way home where it was established that another inexperienced fitter had stripped most of the studs in refitting the bell-housing it was held by just two intact studs. Needless to say I did not use that place again.
Off the radar
Back then, the curse of someone travelling 50,000 miles in a year – mostly travelled on their own time! – was the radar trap, no cameras as yet. But early on I led a charmed life.
Outland Road in Plymouth runs past Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park ground where there is a switchback section, dropping steeply and then climbing. As I blasted past another car on the downhill section a young copper stepped into the road to stop me, beside him was a radar kit. He said I was travelling at 40mph in this 30mph zone and I replied ‘Yes, I was overtaking’. He looked confused at this so I added ‘I was getting past promptly so I could minimise any problems to oncoming traffic.’ He countered ‘you were still going faster than the limit, after overtaking’. I said ‘I couldn’t just slam on my anchors (good use of nautical terms apt for Plymouth!), I was gradually slowing back to 30mph.’ He waved me away.
I confess that I often found myself in duels down the A38 between Exeter and Plymouth which helped to pass the time. The route consisted of a series of dual carriageways punctuated with single carriageways through small villages, some barely a few hundred yards long with little going on, but with a speed limit. I had seen off a duellist on a stretch of dual-carriageway and burst into a 30mph zone when a PC waved me into the layby where he had set up his radar. Something rang untrue when he said ‘You were going very fast’ – didn’t they normally mention an actual speed? I again played the ‘gradually slowing to the speed limit’ argument. It turned out he had just switched off the radar and was clearing it away with a colleague arriving as we spoke to take him back to the station. I would clearly have been his best catch of the morning, but there was nothing he could do formally.
Morris 1000 Traveller
Ken Turner offered me a personal loan so I could afford a car that would not fall apart on me or be constantly in the garage.
It was a great car. It soldiered on without complaint and was perfect for lifting cash registers in and out.
Jane took her first driving test in Launceston, Cornwall and was failed for driving too closely to parked vehicles, although that was de rigueur in that town, as they parked on both sides of the road with one lane barely free between them. After we moved to Thornbury in Gloucestershire her second test was taken in Henleaze, Bristol in the Traveller. She was seven heavily pregnant at the time and it was her 22nd birthday. I sat in the test centre and she was out with the instructor for barely ten minutes. Fearful of her condition he did not even ask her to do an emergency stop. On arrival back at the centre, he told her to stay in the car and that he would send me out. She had passed and Matt was driving even before his birth!
COMMENT: This was the era before wind tunnels changed all cars so they all look very similar. Gone were the days of distinctive shapes and this was the death knell for Matchbox and Corgi car collections. Much later, driving with the sales manager of Corgi I asked him why his company was in trouble. He pointed at a car in the other carriageway and I got it at my third attempt. It is similar to today’s homogeneity of High Streets, hotels…