- Car Safety & Safe Driving
My cars and motor bikes down the years
The Austin A55 Cambridge - 1955 version
I learned to drive a car in 1955
Home on two weeks leave from the Navy and nineteen years of age, I took a few driving lessons, went for my test and picked up my drivers licence. In those days there was only one category of licence. If you could drive a car you were assumed capable of driving a 20 ton articulated truck. However, you needed a separate licence to drive a motor cycle.
I got my licence, and never drove another car for the next six years. But I did learn to drive and did drive - motor cylces.
Triumph Speed Twin 500 cc motorbike.
A lot of cars didn't have brakelights, or turning indicators in those days. Motor bikes didn't.
What you need to remember is back in 1955 the Automatic Transmission was still a thing of the future. I drove manual-transmission vehicles for 20 years before I got into my first automatic. Most cars didn't have stop-lights or turning indicators. One kept the driver's side window open and did hand signals. In those days trucks were often seen with broom handles with big, wooden hands on the end, being used to signal right-hand turns. The 'crash gearbox' was only just giving way to synchromesh, and one really did have to know how to use a clutch.
In 1958, three years after learning to drive a car, I bought my first motor cycle, a used, 1949 500cc Triumph 'Speed Twin.'
The Triump 650cc Thunderbird. Very popular with teenagers of the day.
I had more accidents on motorbikes in three years than over fifty years of driving cars.
I didn't keep the Speed Twin for long. A friend of mine had a Triumph Tiger 110, a bigger, 650cc job. So, I upgraded to a 1951 650cc Thunderbird. The extra 150cc made quite a bit of difference to the performance. In those days, of course, everything was miles per hour (MPH) not kilometres and hour, and this baby could easily top 90 MPH. At twenty-two, of course we think we're bullet proof, and there were only two speeds: stop and flat out!
The Royal Enfield 700 cc Meteor.
We youngsters only new two speeds: stopped and flat out.
After a year or so with the Thunderbird - and the reader needs to remember this was a machine already six or seven years old - I wanted something newer. Not wishing to spend a lot of money on a new bike, I bought what was then considered to be an unpopular model (now, probably worth a mint because of their rarity) a 700 cc Royal Enflied Meteor.
Now this thing could hike. Easily top 100 MPH. Naturally, I had more accidents on it than any of the other bikes. Wonder I didn't get killed. As it was, I was involved in an accident in 1960 whiich wrote off the bike and ended up with me going for a trip to hospital. In the same year my younger brother, Robbie, was critidcally injured when his 600cc Norton collided with a car. He died in hospital a week later. Much as I loved riding bikes, I realized why people in Austalia referred to bike riders as "temporary Australians." It was time to change to safer transport.
One of the world's most popular cars on its day,the VW Beetle.
My first car was almost brand new: two years old and only 7,000 miles on the clock.
In 1961, after commuting to work by public transport for over a year, I saved up enough money to buy my first car, a used 1958 VW beetle. And it was a beauty; only 7,000 miles on the clock. I bought it from a retired solicitor who even financed it for me. I simply paid him back the money out of my pay and in a short time I owned it outright. Yes, I gave it a name: Bess. A lovely dar, off white in color with red and grey interior trim.
One thing about the beetle. Once you could drive a beetle hard every other car seemed a doddle. The engine at the back make for terrific oversteer and is quite unforgiving. Every car after that seemed much, much safer.
Equalling the VW in popularity in Austrlia in the 1950s, the Morris Minor
It was quite a shock going from my VW to a rattly Morris Minor.
I kept Bess for around eighteen months and then got a transfer with my employers to Madang in Papua New Guinea. I sold Bess and my little family and I moved to that tropical town (now a tourist resort) In Madang there were very few cars for sale - unless you could afford to have a new one shipped to you - so I bought the best available, a very rattly 1959 Morris Minor 1000.
The Morris hadn't seen a sealed road since it was delivered. Still, it went okay. Not as pacey or powerful as my former beetle, but it got me the short distances I needed to travel on Madang's crushed coral or dirt roads. We kept it for the year we were in Madang, and when I was transferred to Port Moresby, it followed us by ship.
I get rid of the Morris Minor and buy my first new car.
Funny thing happened when we got to Moresby. I had the Morris Minor up on a home made hoist built for Landrovers when it all but fell through the middle because the Morris's width between wheels was almost too narrow. I recall confidently driving the car up onto it. Doing the oil change and grease, tightening up the exhaust pipe etc then, to my horror, I noticed the the outside of the tires where haning onto the edges of the hoist by only about an inch. Had I not line it up perfectly to go up, I'd never of made it. Now I had to get the car down.
I dare not get into the car to drive it off. As it was, I tried to steer in back down backwards by learning through the open window. Almost made it, too. Then the car plunged off to one side, bottoming the right hand suspension. It was never the same again.
Time to get a new car.
Every year of its manufacture the Beetle got better.
A beautiful light blue 1965 VW Beetle.
And this time I did get a NEW car. First I'd ever owned. A beautiful light blue 1965 VW Beetle. It was a advance on Bess by a good seven years. Looked almost the same. Why spoil a good thing. But it had more grunt, was quieter, and - Wow! It had that new car smell. I loved it, as did my wife and two small children. We'd drive right up into the high country up to the Kokoda Track where the Japanese had almost reached Port Moresby in 1941.
But alas, the powers that be were to transport me and my family South. We were going home to Ausralia. To take the car with us would have entailed a lot of red tape and delay, so I sold it to a woman doctor. She promptly put a huge dent in a rear mudguard but then, the car was mine no more.
The Datsun Bluebird 1200cc Station Wagon - a little tank.
The east-west engined Morris 1500 - worst car I ever owned.
Home to Sydney, Australia and into those traffic jams again.
Home to Australia. Within two years of our return my little family had grown. Now we had three children. Ah, but we had the car to cope with the increase: a 1200cc 1963 Datson Bluebird Station Wagon. Lovely little car; robust, build like a tank. In those days the Japapanese were still trying to earn a reputation for durable, reliable cars. The Datsun had an A-type series 4 engine in it and it was a great little unit. I kept it for eight years, even taking it with us to New Zealand in 1971.
In my two-and-a-half years in Auckland, NZ, I only got held up in traffic three times.
Disillusioned with my career prospects in New Zealand after two-and-a-half years, my family and I return to Australia where in my hurry to get a car I buy the worst lemon I'd ever owned. Oh, it looked great. It was nearly new: a 1970 Morris 1500 east-west engined vehicle which gave me nothing but grief from the outset. It went through front wheel bearings and steering joints quicker than children eating ice cream. it was always in the garage. Eventually I sold it to some happless fellow for around a day's pay. He got a few months out of it before one of the front wheels fell off.
The AP4 or was it AP5 Valiant. Tremendous power.
"You're in an automatic now, mate. Just use your right foot."
At around this time I was earning my living by driving trucks. Now, if you drive a split-diff four-the-floor all day, i.e. with eight forward gears and air-breaks, you sort of lose the enthusiasm for further driving when you get home. I'd had it up to here wanking a gear handle and doubling de-clutching all day long.
Something happened which brought about a complete revolution in thinking as far as my driving was concerned. I was asked to take a deliver out in a Holden Ute. When I got into the ute I found to my dismay that it only had TWO PEDALS on the floor instead of the usual three I'd always been used to. "Just forget the left foor, mate." All you've got there is an accellerator and a brake."
Well, I couldn't believe it. After a few minutes I realized that this was a far more civilized way to drive than the way I'd been doing for the past two decades. My next car was definitely going to be an Automatic.
My Valiant had dashboard pushbutton selection.
My big AP5 Chrysler Valiant - the Yanks called them 'compacts' in those days - had a push-button automatic selector on the dash board. It had a 4-5 litre engine and could probably pull a D4 Tractor out of the mud. So much power. Wonderful. Once it changed into top gear it would stay that way all the way from Sydney to Melbourne. And at that time I was running down to Melbourne and back because in a very short while I was going to leave Port Melbourne to sail to the sub-Antarctic, where I'd be staying for a year. Time to put the Valiant in storage...well, leave it with a brother-in-law.
Probably the best value car I ever had - I kept her for twenty years.
I return to my old Valiant but she was showing her age.
On my return from the 'higher latitudes' it was time to pick up the Valiant again. It wasn't looking real good, rust everwhere. Got it patched up and sold very cheaply and then bought the car which I was to drive for the next twenty (yes 20) years. An 1972 6 cylinder Holden HQ 202 automatic. Probably the most reliable car I'd ever had, it had over 90,000 kilometres on clock when I bought it and was third time around the clock when I sold it cheaply in 1997. A real workhorse.
I did put another engine in it about four years before I sold it. A great car.
Most luxurious car I ever owned - though it was far from new when I bought her.
I 'traded up' to luxury only to have it stolen after fourteen months.
Three years after retiring I thought it time to 'trade up,' so I sold the old HQ for a song to some frineds and bought a 1981 Holden Calais VK fuel injected job. First fuel injected car I'd owned. She was a beauty. Could go like the clappers. Must have been the power to weight ratio and the fact she had V8 fuel injectors even though she was only a six. Beautiful looking car. The people who stole her thought so too. I don't know about 'Gone in 60 seconds' but she was gone when I came out of the movies.
The police found her burned out with stereo, front seats and one set of mag wheels gone.
At least the insurance paid out. It was time to get another car.
The Mitsubishi Magna TP 2600 was a fine car.
Over the years I'd had one bike and two cars stolen. Not to mention the unsuccessful attempts.
By now I was wise enough to know that Holdens, Fords, and Suburu's were the cars the theives went for. Over the years I'd had my first motor cycle stolen, my Holden HQ -both of which I'd got back, damanged but not beyond repair. Now my lovely Calais. Time to get something not so tempting. My choice: a 1990 Mitsubiship Magna. 2600cc
As it was,it turned out to be a terrific vehicle. I kept it for a well over eight years.
The 2007 Ford Focus Hatch, a good, sound 2 ltr car with all mod cons.
As cars become more sophisticated we leave most of that 'home grown' maintenance to one side.
And so we come to my present vehicle. I bought it new. It is the only new car I've ever owned since my 1965 VW beetle way back in 1965. A good little car, economical, reasonably lively, it is my first hatchback. Automatic, of course. Every car since I left that truck driving job in the mid 1970s has been an automatic.
Of course, I have on the odd occassion driven manuals. Taught my daugher to drive a beetle long after I'd switched to automatics. At seventy-five this Ford Focus could be my last car. But then who really knows?...
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