Thursday 10 April 2014

Old bangers

Having passed my driving test at the age of eighteen I became eligible to drive upon the roads having previously been restricted to driving tractors and farm vehicles around the farm and fields of Old Park Farm. At that time the farm was host to an agricultural student called Tim and Tim's field of expertise was machinery. Tim and I became great friends and his knowledge of how things worked proved to be a God send as far as I was concerned. Machinery and I have never been particularly harmonious bed fellows! It proved to be, again and again, that Tim would revive the particular old banger I happened to own at the time. These, dear reader, were the days before M.O.T tests had been thought of and consequently one could own and drive almost any old heap that moved. Most old cars in those days were seriously affected by rust which would, inconveniently, rot away all sorts of bits of body work both visible and out of sight. As a result of this we spent much time and money engaged in filling holes with fibreglass resin and various plastic fillers. Smoothed down and sprayed over these substances restored holes in the body work of rust heaps to something vaguely resembling normality. In some cases the vehicles had almost as much filler as it did good metal.

My chief source of supply for the many old bangers that I had the dubious privilege to own was Broxhead Motors. This garage and car sales was located where the road which leaves the A325 at Sleaford, and goes up and over Broxhead Common, meets the B3002 Bordon / Lindford road. The garage was located into the left on an area known as Broxhead Farm. The establishment was owned by Jock Watt, a fairly small man whom had taken up the garage trade having left the army. To say Jock stocked many vehicles at the lower end of the trade, is being both polite and generous in one's description. That said, Jocks vehicles met exactly the market niche that I, as part of the young Kingsley motor buying public, aspired to. I have little doubt if Tim and I had not relieved Jock of the vehicles we bought from him they would have found their way to the scrap heap.

For the most part the cost of these wonders would not exceed thirty or forty pounds and one, a Vauxhall Velox V6 I secured for just five pounds. But more of that later. Jock was a decent fellow, thirty or forty pounds was then a lot of money and on a weekly wage of ten or twelve pounds young men did not have that sort of spare cash to splash out. Hire purchase had not been invented, or if it had, I don't recall it being in wide use in or around Kingsley at the time. Jock, therefore, was decent enough to provide his own form of extended credit to us. The arrangement was the buyer gave him what they could afford and dropped the balance off in weekly installments until the full amount had been paid. Jock provided a payment card upon which was entered each payment. These were not fixed, one simply paid what one could. In a week, for example, when overtime had been done Jock got a bigger payment. He was very relaxed about the whole thing and trust played a major part in the dealings we had with him. Jock would often put right or repair the many minor problems that were commonly associated with the quality of vehicle we purchased from him. All in all the relationship worked well and I and other friends continued to patronise Jock's establishment , no doubt, to our mutual benefit.

It should be remembered that young men of eighteen, by and large, had discovered the delights of young ladies. It, therefore, followed that any serious pursuer of the fairer sex required a set of wheels in order to enhance his pulling potential. It was, based upon this, most serious of matters, that Jock's on going trade with us was secured.

My first purchase from Jock was an Austin A30 Somerset, a fairly large black vehicle. Of course, most cars were black in those days. This beast attracted me the moment I got into it and for no other reason than the row of square dials across the dash board, Petrol gauge, battery gauge, oil pressure gauge and a fourth meter of some kind which I now cannot recall. However, it seemed to me that this display of high tech was most important if not vital, I bought the car. I don't recall how long we stayed together but from day one this object of my desire proved to be troublesome. There was obviously something seriously wrong with the electrics as fuses blew with alarming regularity. This problem Tim ingeniously overcame. Most of us smoked in those days and inside the cigarette packet the solution to the fuse problem was to be found. Tim would simply take out the silver foil which wrapped the cigs and roll this into a fuse shaped cylinder and push it into the fuse holder. This had the great advantage that it did not blow and consequently lasted much longer than the proper fuse. What impact this had on the safety of the vehicle I have no idea but we didn't come to any harm as a result. The other common defect which seemed to plague our vehicles was the exhaust systems. These seemed to rot out as fast, if not faster, than the bodywork of the cars. The A30 was no exception and on one occasion its exhaust system gave up the ghost and dropped off right outside Alton Police station when it was at its old location on the left just before the Butts. Tim and two girlfriends were on board when this catastrophe struck. Tim was somehow able to jam the system in place long enough to allow us to remove ourselves from the attentions of the police. It didn't last long and having dropped off again, the vehicle sounded like a Lancaster bomber. My next purchase was the Vauxhall Velox V6 which proved to be the rust heap to end all rust heaps. Having bought the car for five pounds and found it went like a rocket, I was really quite keen on it. The huge six cylinder engine was, for the whole time I owned it, trouble free. This magnificent brute had a column gear change and a bench front seat, very well suited to a cosy drive with the girl of your dreams. However, it didn't take long to discover the rust problem. Actually, Vauxhall cars in general, had a major rust problem in those days. The car was a dark maroon colour and the rather scalloped orange trim to the bottom of all four doors should have alerted me to the possibility of a greater rust problem lurking out of sight. But having heard the throb of the engine and seen the large leather seats and experienced the smooth change of the of the column gear lever and felt the horse like kick when the accelerator was pushed, this set of wheels had to be mine. Shortly after the purchase had been completed Tim casually commented that the vehicle seemed to be crabbing. Crabbing, what on earth is that? Not running squarely I was told, one side at the rear was lower than the other and, therefore, the car travelled in a crab like way. Tim's investigation revealed a rear spring attachment had broken through the floor of the car and thus it was now uneven. The demon rust! No matter, I was told, Tim would simply weld a plate of metal over the offending area and with the aid of a jack he would restore the car to its former level state. This he did after several abortive attempts. The problem being, the rust had taken over large areas of the floor, and finding metal solid enough to weld a plate to was a major challenge. Challenge or not Tim achieved, what to me, would have been the impossible. My pride and joy was now once again crab less and ready to go. Go she did and I kept her for, what in those days, was a long time for a car. I suppose the next notable event worthy of record in the history of the Velox occurred one summer evening when I was taking my girlfriend, the future Mrs. Yeomans, on a drive to an old shepherd's inn. This wonderful old inn was located in the downs just south of Harting. To get to it you drive up Harting Hill, (I think East Harting, could be west ), and having gone over the summit there is a turning to the left which takes one on to a lane, which goes right down between the hills to the location of the pub at the end of the lane. A dead end. The pub in those days was unspoiled and was used by the numerous shepherds whom worked the downs back then. Sadly I don't recall the name of the pub. We did go back once many years later and it had been completely "improved". It was rumoured that on a Friday night the pub remained open for as long as the sheep men wanted to stay. This was in an era when licensing times were rigidly enforced and police officers regularly appeared at closing time in order to catch offenders. But, of course, I could not possibly confirm if these allegations were indeed correct. I have, however been in the premises when many shepherds have been present and remained, after I had left, quite near to the closing hour. The pub then featured inglenook fires and the floors were all of flag stones and I suppose the best way to describe it is to say it had a very Hardy-esque feel about it.

But back to the car, as we made our way down the lane towards the pub we encountered a rider upon a large horse coming in our direction. The lane being very narrow there was not a lot of room to spare. Pulling into the side as far as I could I stopped the car and waited for the horse and rider to pass. As the animal reached the gap between the car and the off side bank it reared up on to its back legs and brought its front feet down on to the bull nosed bonnet of the Velox. The young lady on the horse remained in the saddle and regained control of her horse. She was most distressed at the sight of the dent which the horse had made. She clearly had visions of paying for damage. However, I reassured her that the vehicle had little value and I dined out on the tale for some time thereafter. Oh, and the claim culture had not been dreamed up for the benefit of lawyers then, people were rather more civilised in their dealings with one another.

The Velox and I remained partners for some time after this event but parted company after I had been stopped upon the Christchurch bypass by a motorcycle police officer when I was visiting my girlfriend who then lived in those parts. During our discussions I was asked where I came from and when I told the officer Kingsley he began telling me of his brothers motorcycle business in Alton. By chance and not a little good fortune, my father, a motorcyclist, had bought his latest motorcycle from this officer's brother. Upon revealing this the officer became very friendly and I think, at that point, decided not to "nick" me.

Instead he told me that he had pulled me over because the vehicle was crabbing! Crabbing, what was that I asked? Patiently the officer, no doubt thinking I was a complete idiot, explained to me in almost the same words as Tim had used many moons earlier. I would, I assured him, take the car to the breakers as I had been considering moving it on. Much to my relief he let me go on my way, not least as I was a Special at the time! Finally, the base plate Tim had put in place, had given up the will to live as the floor crumbled once again. The following week my dear old, rusty, Velox went to the breakers and I went back to Jock for the next car. Motoring has never been the same since!

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