Whenever I start to write or talk about classic cars, I’m always acutely conscious that all I know about is buying classic cars, driving them when they’re working, and throwing myself on the mercy of my local mechanic when they don’t. I’m in awe of those who can take a ‘project’ and nurture it back to a gleaming example of its kind, better than when it drove out of the showroom, having painstaking recreated individual parts in the depths of their garage over the course of many months of hard labour. However, in 33 years of car ownership, I’ve never yet been without a classic car of some sort, and have run most of them as daily drivers, so to provoke a few memories of the vehicles you’ve all owned and driven in the past, I offer a canter through my stable of classics, good and bad.
It begins in 1982 more or less where I am now, with a 4-door 1967 Morris Minor (OYH20F). I’d always wanted a 1950s or 60s classic, but lacked either the cash, mechanical know-how or sheer nerve to keep one of the more exotic 50s saloons on the road, let alone a US import. The Minor was great, and with a cassette player shoehorned in under the dash, faithfully carried my mates and me all over London to various dubious nightspots with a rock’n’roll soundtrack blaring out. Tragically, she was stolen one night in the depths of Tottenham during a visit to Valentino’s nightclub (not nearly as sophisticated as it sounds). After a day spent combing such salubrious spots as the car park under the Broadwater Farm estate, we eventually tracked her down just outside White Hart Lane stadium, joy-ridden into a concrete bollard, twisting the chassis. Rescuing her coincided uncomfortably with the final whistle, making me less than popular with the tow-truck operator. To add insult to injury, I’d only just finished running-in a Gold Seal engine after the original died (my first of many experiences at the wrong end of a tow-rope) so, although she was an insurance write-off, I bought back the salvage for re-sale; hopefully the engine lives on in another Minor somewhere.
Now firmly bitten by the classic bug, I settled on a 1962 P4 Rover 100 (362DXM) as a replacement. Possibly the car I most regret having had to part with, she was beautiful: two-tone green, sweet-tempered and with just one slightly irritating tendency to consume exhaust manifolds. Great for runs down to Southend with the gang – no need to change gear once the wheels were turning, just flick out of overdrive to take roundabouts. She waited patiently for 4 months when I went away for a long 4-month course and accompanied me on my first job away from home, looking very smart parked outside my accommodation in the back end of a former stately home. However, finding suitable local mechanics in a mobile job started to prove difficult and, with a job overseas on the cards, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep her properly maintained so, reluctantly, she was sold after four years for what I’d paid for her. All was not lost, however, as by this time I had also acquired a 1974P6 Rover 2200TC (XPB167N) from the estate of a deceased uncle. With only 30,000 on the clock, she’d hardly been run-in and saw me nicely up to my departure for Germany before heading for my very understanding parents’ garage for the duration. In Germany, I took the opportunity to acquire the kind of big Mercedes, a 1979 230, I’d never be able to afford to buy or run in the UK for exploring the country and making the homeward journey ‘dash’ back to the Channel ports. At the end of my tour, she was sold at no loss to a pal, then written off a few months later when he aquaplaned off the autobahn; luckily, the car was so robust, he walked away unscathed.
Whilst in Germany, I’d taken a close interest in classic VWs and started looking around for a Karmann Ghia cabriolet (the sports-bodied 2+2 on the VW chassis). The only likely candidate I’d found there had a beautifully-restored body, but mechanics and interior in a collection of boxes surrounding it, and I couldn’t see myself completing re-assembly before I returned to the UK. Once back in England, reunited with the Rover and living in Gloucestershire for the first time, I started the search again and located a chap in West London who had just imported two and was selling one. Fortunately, the one he preferred to dispose of was a rare 1968 hybrid model – an older body style but with 1500cc engine and 12-volt electrics. An
awful lot of money changed hands, she returned to Gloucester on a trailer and, with a local registration (CDG594F), she became my second and sunny days car.
Right – that’s five cars in, and enough room for a few photos. Time to take a break on part one