Tuesday, 12 July 2011

My Life in Cars

See this? It's an Austin A40. Back in the 1960s all the cars were like this. Me and my two sisters grew up in the back of one of these. It had indicators that stuck out of the side of the car like flags: we had to bang on the inside to get ours to work. You tell kids of today that, and they wouldn't believe you.

This beautiful example of softer-edged days gone by was at a car show in my local park, positioned next to an award-winning Renault 10 (I think the awards were for the Renault's immaculate condition rather than for its abilities as a car).

I must say an A40 does more for me than any Lamborghini or Ferrari, but maybe that's me being a product of post-war parents where 'waste not, want not' was one of the mottos. Not a bad motto, as it goes.
 See this? It's an Austin 1100. That's one of the cars we graduated to (before the utterly unspectacular Daf van mentioned before). I was about 10 or 11 when we had one of these, yet when I looked through this car's side window on Sunday, all the knobs and ashtrays and handbrake and indicators were exactly how I remembered them thirty-five years ago.

There I was back at the Cheshire Show, or waiting in the car park for my mum to come back from the Post Office - the Post Office is long gone. Funny how cars can bring back such memories.

And see this? It's a Volkswagen 1600 fastback, air-cooled with the engine in the back. This was one of the cars my dad drove, along with a Singer Gazelle, Hillman Minx and a Ford Cortina Mk2. The reg of our car was XMB 188J and one day it wouldn't start. Somehow my dad and I got it started but it was running very badly, so I followed him on my bike around the estate when I noticed flames coming out of the back of the car. I cycled up alongside the driver's window and shouted to him to stop, which he did... when he saw the flames he legged it! The car ended up burnt out but after something like that you don't want it back. He got a Triumph Dolomite which I ended up learning to drive in.

Funny that at a small car show there should be three cars with such memories from when I was a kid.

But it was full of cars from the 1960s, and I love those Zephyrs (the original Z-car) and especially the Zodiac. The shot left is like a scene from the car park when I was doing my paper round as a 9 year old kid! That's a Ford Consul on the right, which sadly had rather inappropriate Confederate flag stickers displayed in it. Guys.. that flag means something entirely different and sinister in America.
But anyway, I know you're gagging for a look at the Renault 10, from the days when the Renault factory was a powerhouse of industrial relations in France and also a very significant factor in the 1968 riots. Our next door neighbours had a version of one of these called a Simca. Their dad used to switch the engine off and freewheel down hills to save petrol. So, it's a car in great condition but I'd struggle to call it a great looker... the Renault 10.

Renault 10: not a good looker
These are days gone by, definitely. Imagine having a look at one of these and feeling a longing to have that parked outside your house. Maybe there are generations of French guys my age who remember exactly the smell of the interior of a Renault 10 from spending hours inside one waiting for Maman to wind up at the Toulouse county show.

Who knows? I think amid the MG Midgets and the  - yes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Aston Martins - I have a favourite shot of the day, and it's this one of a row of early Zodiacs.. not the exuberant beast of the mid-1960s but this one preceding it. Clearly when it comes to Memory Lane, this particular model is more durable than most.

Muscular: a row of 1960s Ford Zodiacs. If you're not on the list, you ain't coming in

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