My First Car: From battleship grey to navy blue... at a stroke!

PUBLISHED: 10:14 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:15 22 March 2018

Romany Poppitt-Price with her 1972 Hillman Hunter after it had been painted navy blue. Picture: Romany Poppitt-Price

Romany Poppitt-Price with her 1972 Hillman Hunter after it had been painted navy blue. Picture: Romany Poppitt-Price

Romany Poppitt-Price

Repainting Romany Poppitt-Price’s first car, a Hillman Hunter, went with military precision and the help of a tin of Dulux!

My first car was a 1972 Hillman Hunter brought in 1983 but, perhaps, I should have been worried when the present owner said “Buyer collects”.

It sat resplendent in his garage. I had never seen a grey model before and it had only 68,000 on the clock but I thought it said 6,800.

“Strange colour,” I commented.

“Yes, love,” he replied. “I work for Westland Helicopters and that’s two undercoats of military battleship grey.”

After negotiating a cash deal, I duly drove it the two miles home. When I got out of the car, and just leant against the bodywork, the undercoat left a residue on my clothes. My then husband was not impressed. As he was serving in the air force at RAF Locking, just outside Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, he arranged to hire a motoring bay on camp to spray it a more sober colour.

He turned up at the motor transport section, parked the car on the ramp and changed into his overalls to start the job.

All round him were trained mechanics stripping cars down to the basics and fitting replacement engines. They thought he was going to do a pre-MOT service but up popped the boot and out came a can of Dulux navy blue house paint and a standard paint brush was produced. He started hand painting at the front, finished at the back, popped open the boot and, within an hour, the car was now navy blue and he brought it home to me.

The car lasted two years before, exiting the motorway at the Weston junction, the engine fell out and I was rescued by the AA.

“Well, love,” said the AA man. “It was probably the paint that was holding it all together.”

It may have lasted only two years but, for a woman, it held a vast amount of shopping, it moved the contents of a house when marching out from RAF Locking and could get three cats in cages safely to the vets.

You could not lose it in a car park as it took up two spaces. It was like driving a tank and, for a young lady of the road, it offered a great deal of security. Yes, I would probably not buy it again but what could you get for 175 quid in 1983.

The tyres were all remoulds, the aerial was a metal coat-hanger but the saving grace was a large rear-view mirror that was great when you’re only 4ft 9in and can’t see to reverse.

When bits fell off the car, hours were spent at the local scrapyard finding suitable replacements. I had two different wing mirrors – one from a Mini Cooper, the other from a Volkswagen camper van, the rear lights were from a Hillman Minx and most of the dashboard was kept in place with black military gaffer tape.

It was always an adventure going on the road, wondering if you would get to your destination. God bless the AA and RAC – I had my money’s worth out of them.

Even though I now have a new Smart car I still hark back to those days of make do and mend.

Tell us about your first set of wheels – email your memories with a picture to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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