Happy Memories Of Cars And Wet Tramlines (1 March 1974)
In the early 1960’s when the Gazette office was at the station end of Queensway, I used the Oliver Road car park. Regularly during the winter I noticed a 1934 Morris 10 parked there. I was interested because it brought back happy memories.
One day it drew up alongside me and a woman got out of the driving seat.
“I envy you your car,” I told her. “I had one like that before the war. It cost £50 second-hand and it was the best car I’ve ever had.”
“It’s interesting you should say that,” she replied. “My husband has a brand new car, but I’ve had to bring him to work every morning this winter in this.”
Looking back over a longish list of cars, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t still feel the same today. True, modern cars are slicker in acceleration, but I put that down to a dicey improvement in power-to-weight ratio more than anything else.
Certainly I felt safer in that old box on wheels than in any of today’s egg-shell torpedoes. Their aero-dynamics can make little difference at normal travelling speeds and their colouring mainly for the birds. Can anyone imagine those being driveable and comparatively rustless after 30 years?
That specimen of mine did everything I shall ever want a car to do.
I think there comes a time when the development of anything can go little, if any further with advantage. In the case of cars I think that stage was being reached before the war. What we have paid for since have been trifles like windscreen washers – forced upon us by increased traffic – and synchromesh gears, which are just a help for those who can’t drive without.
When I first knew cars those really old tiller-steerers and the like were already laid up in their sheds.
I remember one or two delightful trips from school in open charabancs with solid tyres and some years after that we passed into the era of Model-T Fords, bull-nosed Morrises, two-stroke Jowetts and Morgan three-wheelers.
The car I learnt to drive on was an AC open tourer of about 18 h.p. and unknown age. Its floorboards had been dispensed with and I could watch myself changing the gate-change gears. Although it had a slipping clutch it did a fine, stirring 65 m.p.h. on the old dross roads – which was as fast as I have ever wanted or needed to go since.
Other cars (I) remember using before the 1934 Morris, were a Singer that caught fire at a petrol station, a Morris 8 that seized up while full of oil and a Morris 12, of which the Morris 10 was a younger brother. I kept the Morris 10 in a farm barn for the duration of the war. Then I found various things had been pilfered and thought I was onto a good thing when I sold it just as it was for twice what it cost me – to rue it ever after.
Several years after the war, when I thought of taking up motoring again, I saw that road conditions had changed a lot and wondered how I should get on.
“Don’t be silly,” said a relative who had been driving since about 1930. “It should be a piece of cake for anybody who drove thousands of miles all over West and South Yorks and into Lancashire like you used to.” So I began driving again.
But how I do remember that pre-war driving, both the pleasure and the pain of it and tyres half-a-crown apiece at knacker yards. My chief bugbears were trams and tramlines. They were all over the place except for the open moorland between Yorkshire and Lancashire.
On those wet tramlines you really had to know how to get out of a skid – and quick. The law allowed you to overtake a tram on the nearside, but you had to watch out for the many places where the track swerved to the kerb or you were in dead trouble. I remember one holiday trip to North Wales when we were hardly ever off tram tracks from eastward of Oldham to Flintshire. Fog was what it is now, but those higher-clearance cars could get through snow better. I think my worst experience, however, was in the almost total blackout of the early days of the war and passing series of factories like Wolverton works when the workers were coming out.
But there were also incidents that look hilarious in retrospect. The spare wheel of one of my cars was clamped to the nearside – or should have been. I was beginning the descent of one of those long, long coasting hills down into Huddersfield when suddenly I saw it running in front of me. For at least a mile it ran on and off the pavement, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing, with myself driving after it like Charlie Chaplin chasing his bowler hat.
Is driving easier today? My conclusion is that we have exchanged one set of difficulties for another. My own biggest snag today concerns one-way traffic systems, especially in towns I knew quite well in the old days and am now revisiting for the first time since. You know your destination lies on the right, yet all the new signs point to the left. It is much worse than coming to a town for the very first time and I am indebted to numerous unknown drivers for flashing me out of trouble.
Before I ever had a car I had occasion to interview Donald Campbell (father of Malcolm) who at the that time held the world speed record. During our talk I had the neck to ask him what good there was in chasing around race tracks and other places at speeds which would never be possible on roads.
He looked at me with pity and scorn. “Are people still asking that?” he said. “Don’t they know that practically every improvement in cars has first been tried out on the race track?”
And so, with that flea still in my ear, but still not quite convinced, I leave you.