The Austin is followed by three car-less years
My next purchase is a small & decrepit
'33 Morris 8 which for two years transports me regularly from our home in Harlow
to my parents' Elizabethan house in Great Dunmow where my father is sadly reaching an
untimely end to his days. In the cold winter of '54 I invest £5 at Halfords for
an interior heater for the Morris. By modern standards it is grossly ineffective
but at the time seems luxurious.
We move to Bishops Stortford, to a house which Margaret
loves. It has a little stream running down the side of the garden. I used
to have a
photograph of 4-yr-old Colin smiling down from the branches of an apple-tree
with, alongside him, his friend Nicky whose mischievous grin identifies him
immediately as the grandson of Sir Malcolm Sargent, Margaret's one-time mentor
(and hero) at the Royal Academy of Music.
A 2-year period follows
during which I have a sedate pre-war Rover (I spend most of '56 recalled to the
army, in Wiltshire and Egypt. The subject of a blog-to-come.)
My vintage car phase starts in '58 with my first Bentley
a 1929 3-litre tourer which I buy from the conductor of the BBC Revue
Orchestra, Paul Fenoulhet. In the thirties it had been refitted with an elegant
light-blue aluminium body a piece of cosmetic surgery sniffily disapproved by
the Bentley Drivers' Club.
Last Saturday Ann and I visited a longtime
(film producer) friend, now in
a nursing-home in the depths of Buckinghamshire, and we passed the road which
used to be the scene of an
annual hill-climb competition for sports cars. This was the first event assigned
to me as an 'outside broadcast' producer by Peter Dimmock. My parked Bentley was
always surrounded by admiring spectators
who probably didn't know that if it had
competed it would have reached the top of the hill slowly and in a cloud of
steam. (Mr W.O. Bentley eschewed cooling fans his cars being intended to move
rapidly along open roads, not lumber up 1:5 rural gradients.)
1938 MG VA 1.5 Tourer
A 1938 1.5 litre MG tourer follows. Bought second-hand
jointly with my friend Geoff Owen (later to become Controller of BBC's Radio 2). When Geoff and Pauline marry they spend their honeymoon touring Europe in EEL
In 1959 I receive a phone call asking if I might be
interested in acquiring a wrecked 1926 car being used as a hen-house on a Yorkshire
farm. When the caller says it's a Rolls Royce 20 with a 'soft-top' body (and is
exactly the same age as me) I succumb.
I have to get a specialist to replace the cogs round the
huge flywheel (with which the starter engages) an interesting process
involving heating the cogs while freezing the flywheel. Otherwise I laboriously
strip the beautiful machinery, clean & reassemble it. Every item is
meticulously designed, including an ingenious power-assisted braking system.
The soft sound of this engine running is a symphony of quiet clicking.
Margaret's mother is now in failing health and has come
to live with us. For several winter months, while we wait for the specialist
upholsterer to create seating and folding roof, the two ladies gallantly suffer
being driven around Hertfordshire sitting rug-wrapped in wicker chairs, placed
in the vast empty space of the open body, with a Valor oil stove between them.
1926 Rolls Royce "Twenty",
touring coachwork by Watson.
I think this eccentric mode of transport amuses Mrs
Thorburn, but her shy daughter plainly hates being so conspicuous. To reduce my
guilt I buy Margaret, in 1960, an elderly Hillman Minx. For the Rolls I obtain
the registration DHM 7 (my initials & lucky number). This costs me one phone
call to a nice clerk in West Ham and a cheque for £5 for a registration now valued
at exactly a thousand times that sum.
I telephone Rolls Royce in Crewe and give the chassis
number to an elderly clerk who goes to the 'cubby hole' for this particular car,
extracts its reserve leather-bound Instructions for Your Driver and posts it
to me. He says this chassis was delivered, on the purchaser's instructions, to a
coachbuilder in Liverpool called Watson.
The following year this genteel old lady goes to a
cosseted retirement in New England (still wearing 'my' plates) and is insured
for two million dollars.
The Rolls is replaced by a raunchy twenties
3-litre 'Red Label' Bentley, this one from 1925 and completely original (and therefore approved in
Long Crendon). It needs enough TLC to ensure that my finger-nails retain
their coal-miner appearance (and Gresolvent perfume) for another year.
One Sunday afternoon,
more than 40 years later, we are driving
back into the village (in our Volvo estate) when Ann says Is the vintage car
parked outside that house like the old Bentley you talk about ...
what was its number? Ah I sighed, My lovely BO.9239. That said Ann
Beckie & Kirstie bored.
BO.9239 has a
'straight-through' exhaust that was already illegal for all but vintage sports
cars a 4 diameter copper pipe like the diapason of a cathedral organ
with a similarly majestic sound.
My friends load their
MP3-players with the latest hits mine includes a 5-minute drive on country roads 50
years ago in BO.9239 with a tape-recorder bouncing on the back seat at 60mph.
To Ann it sounds like
a noisy old banger. To me it is a basso-profundo solo of utterly mystical quality.
You judge - here's a
68-second sample (accelerate to 60mph X decelerate to stop):
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It looks like you don't have flash player installed. Click here to go to Macromedia download page.
And so, driving my 34th
car, I was reunited with my 8th how enormous must be the odds against this
coincidence? BO lives happily on the other side of the village and its
kind owner allows me nostalgic wallows.
Seven of the 35 cars appear on my list as
debutantes - in the year of their
launch. I bought one of the first Triumph Mayflowers (in which I explored the
Loire Valley and acquired a lifelong taste for cold Vouvray, the nearest thing
to nectar in the real world). A white Triumph Spitfire, a Hillman Imp (in
which we discovered the other-world of SW Ireland where drivers halt in the
middle of single-lane bridges, stopping the traffic for 5 minutes while they
savour the view).
In 1965 Rover brought out a curvy new-generation '2000'
which took us on a midwinter holiday to Geoff and Pauline's house in the South
of France. Wherever we parked it an interested audience would gather. An excited
11-yr-old Colin and I joined the 'ton-up' club on the Haute Corniche when mummy
wasn't with us.
Margaret's cars, following the Minx, were a green Mini,
the aforementioned Imp, a little Renault and, her last car, a Fiat Strada
Geoff had become one of my three deputies (responsible
for 'middle-of-the-road' music) and it was on his advice that I bought a
And when I signed a management
contract with EMI, car-providing (and maintenance) passed to an expert Transport
Office and it was in comfortable Jags that I shuttled between home and offices and
airports for the next 13 years, usually digesting legal and financial documents
under the reading light in the back.
In retirement Ann and I kept our final
company car, this blue Jaguar Sovereign. However a £400 bill for one new
tyre sent us back to our budgeting and after a year it was replaced by a
just-launched Honda Concerto, followed by a couple of VW Golfs then 4 Volvo estates in succession (partly as
transport for two Golden Retrievers).
Thirty years ago I was
citing spreadsheets as an example of a benefit unique to computers. My car list is actually
one of my first spreadsheets
at the time, on one of my first serious Computers.
Which will lead us to some other
C things, including meetings of the first dozen owners of Apple computers, and
why two of my exhibition photographs (of an owl & a pussycat) hang in Vera