The Ford Popular

I bought this off a farmer in 1964. Bristol Fawn - funny how you remember the colour. It was a 1954 Ford Popular. The floor was largely plywood and covered in straw. Some of the floor was rotten and if you lifted the carpet you could see the road. The brakes were rod-actuated and all wear was cumulative, so eventually there was so much slack in the braking that you were lucky if the shoes touched the drum when you had your foot on the floor. If you braked too hard you risked putting your foot through the floor. You had to anticipate the need to brake by about 50 yards. Shortly after witnessing my attempts at braking they introduced the MOT test.

The engine was an E93A with side valves. A heater had been fitted as an extra and consisted of a water pump whose pulley was held against the outside of the fan belt by a spring. The cooling water was circulated to a heater matrix in the footwell. There were semaphore indicators and you had to bang your fist against the B pillar if you wanted them to deploy.

The windscreen wipers were driven from the vacuum in the inlet manifold. If you put your foot down in the rain, the wipers stopped! The opposite of what you wanted. They quickly abandoned that mode of wiper!

Driving over the Pennines once there was an almighty bang and a worrying scraping noise. All a bit more deafening than usual, so I got out to have a look. The petrol tank had dropped off at one side and had merrily scraped along the road, sparking as it went. Fortunately, the bracket nearest the fuel pipe was still intact so no petrol was spilled, and no cremation occurred that time. Tool kit? A length of rope. I tied the tank back up and we continued on our way.

Not long after, in the middle of winter, crossing a bridge on a bend, the nearside front collapsed and the tyre hit the mudguard. The front transverse leaf spring had broken. Limped home and parked in the ice and snow. Went to the dealer who had a replacement for £5. Customer next to me said "What £5? I'll sell you a whole car for that." Didn't have the space so had to decline. It's always winter isn't it. And often Christmas. I lay on the ground in the snow, with a festive paper hat on and covered in streamers, getting the old spring off and fitting the new.

The battery was a 6 volt affair and it eventually failed. I couldn't afford another so I had to start it on the handle. Luckily I lived on a hill and could bump-start it in the mornings. Petrol stations were tricky. I ignored the notices telling you to switch off the engine when filling. If challenged I said that if I stopped it I wouldn't be able to get it going again. That usually did the trick.

Eventually I got married and drove the car away from the Reception, clanking tins along behind, which a former friend tied on for a jape. We couldn't afford a honeymoon so drove home back up the M1, stopping for a rest on a motorway bridge. "Hello, hello, hello." It was the cops. Luckily he was a kindly soul who had prior notice of our situation as the former friend had scrawled in big letters with a black magic marker "JUST MARRIED" on the upright boot. "You can't park here I'm afraid sir. Have a nice honeymoon!" Eventually got the magic marker letters off with cutting compound. But you could always see the message picked out in very clean and shiny Bristol Fawn . . .

Just before I got rid of the car, and after I'd rebuilt the engine a couple of times, we'd been invited out for dinner to some friends. As we pulled onto the drive, the mileometer changed from 99999 to 00000. The husband had to go out briefly in his car during the evening and I reversed to let him out. My mileometer went from 00000 to 99999 and back again. Not many will have witnessed that !

Dr Ian McLauchlin

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