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Less than perfect Ford Prefect proved an unreal experience

After a valet and a polish, the ailing Ford Prefect looked fantastic. Picture: Gerald Moores

After a valet and a polish, the ailing Ford Prefect looked fantastic. Picture: Gerald Moores

Gerald Moores

Gerald Moores believes supernatural forces transformed his ailing Ford Prefect when he sold it to car dealer and heavyweight wrestling champion Big Les!

In 1956 I was a young police constable in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I had just been accepted as a probationer detective in CID and needed a set of wheels to transport myself and my worldly goods to the capital, Salisbury, (now Harare) – 350 miles over indifferent roads.

My choice was limited by a meagre budget and vehicle availability, but a young chap on the district commissioner’s staff needed £150 to extricate himself from personal debt and offered me his 1952 Ford Prefect for this very sum. It looked presentable and, with a recorded mileage of only 38,000 plus the reassurance of the Ford name, seemed a safe buy. I took the plunge and almost emptied my Post Office Savings Account.

The Prefect proved difficult to start, had an unresponsive noisy engine, an unpredictable clutch and admitted noxious fumes into the cabin.

The assessment of the main Ford dealer of its long-term viability was not encouraging. I decided to cut my losses and spent a weekend valeting the car, culminating in two coats of Simoniz car wax for the pale green paintwork. It looked fantastic.

On Monday morning, after a heart-stopping session with the starter motor, I drove the gleaming Prefect to the second-hand car outlet owned by Les Herbert, a large amiable man who was Rhodesian heavyweight wrestling champion.

Big Les seemed impressed by its appearance and said he would make me a cash offer – subject to a satisfactory test drive. My spirits sank as he climbed aboard.

The starter motor whirred and, unbelievably, the side-valve motor caught first time and settled down to a steady, almost imperceptible, growl. My sense of unreality increased as Big Les selected first gear, smoothly engaged the clutch, released the handbrake and confidently joined the traffic. There was nary a whiff of exhaust smoke or engine fumes.

It was as if some supernatural force had, perhaps temporarily, transformed the Prefect into something it most definitely was not.

“Nice little motor,” said Big Les, as he put the Prefect through its paces. I said nothing – afraid of bursting the ever expanding bubble of unreality – but beginning to experience the first glimmerings of hope!

Big Les parked outside his office and walked slowly around the car a couple of times – apparently deep in thought – before saying decisively “£250 cash – take it or leave it”.

Needless to say, I accepted and ran to the bank to convert his £250 cheque into crisp bank notes.

The following day I saw the Prefect prominently displayed at Les Herbert’s Car Emporium for £375! Within days it had gone.

Two weeks later I was driving an unmarked CID car when I saw a familiar shape and number plate approaching in a cloud of exhaust smoke. As the Prefect passed, I heard the familiar clatter of its engine and saw the driver’s head protruding from the side window – he appeared to be coughing! The head belonged to a senior police officer reputed to be a man of eccentric habits, irascible disposition and violent tendencies. Thankfully, he was not stationed in Salisbury and I never saw him or the car again.

I am not ashamed to admit that I made a point of keeping a diplomatic distance from the car-dealing domain of Big Les and never attended another wrestling match!

Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to motoring@archant.co.uk or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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