Driving down memory lane in our old family cars
PUBLISHED: 08:00 02 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:05 04 February 2019
Remember when cars seemed to be part of the family, and even had nicknames? Here are memories from around the area of the vehicles our mums, dads and grandparents drove when we were young.
Rob Hadgraft of Colchester writes: “My dad, Bob Hadgraft, Ipswich born and bred, learned to drive in the Army. When he returned to his home-town after National Service in the early 1950s he met the Colchester girl who would be my mum, and after they married invested in their first family car – a tiny Austin Ruby 7, shiny black and built in 1936.
“It was small and tough, like a little terrier, but to get it going you needed to turn a starting-handle inserted into a small hole between radiator and bumper bar at the front!
“I recall one family outing in the late 1950s. My brother and I perched on the little rear seat, when my dad suddenly noticed the brakes had failed. Luckily he was able to execute a smart left turn without the aid of slowing down, just in time to avoid ramming into the vehicle in front.
“Without his lightning-quick reactions and the availability of that side-road, I might not have been here to tell the tale! How we got home without brakes I’m not sure, but it must have involved much use of handbrake and low gears.
“When the Ruby’s days were over, we replaced it with an Austin 16, a much bigger saloon, also black, as many cars were in those days. It was another vehicle that looked very dated, compared to the new ones beginning to flood the market around then, e.g. the Ford Classic, Vauxhall Viva, Ford Anglia and Austin Mini.
“As a small boy, I became very interested in cars and around this period proudly claimed that I could name every make of car on the road. No doubt I demonstrated this skill ad nauseam on most journeys, in between the car noises me and my two brothers made as we sat in the back pretending to be in command of our own vehicles. My parents bought us toy steering wheels that you could fix to the back of the front seats, and this kept us occupied on long journeys.
“In the early 1960s, the family Austin 16 was replaced by a uniquely-shaped ‘beetle back’ Standard Vanguard. Not sure if it was the Phase 1 or 2 model of this now-classic car, but it was in RAF blue and felt very roomy to us three boys.
“Among its jobs was the Sunday afternoon leisure drive, in the form of organised rallies out into the country, where you pinned a number to the windscreen and set off in search of various checkpoints according to written instructions. These were highly popular events and accurate route-finding, rather than speed, was the order of the day.
“Our last family car of the Swinging Sixties era involved the rather glamorous choice of a silver (grey?) Renault Dauphine from France. Smaller than its predecessor, but far more chic. After this my dad started using company cars and although far more efficient, none of which had quite the charm of those first four family cars of the 1950s and 1960s.”
Our Cortinas, Fiats and Austin Allegros
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis recalls: “My parents owned a Ford Cortina estate Mark 5 when I was growing up. It was a proper tank and totally of its time (late 80s/early 90s). I have so many memories linked to that big old piece of steel.
“Many times, battle lines were drawn out in the back between me and my younger sibling as we scrapped for entire journeys to Scotland, Cornwall and the Lakes over where the ‘middle’ was - somehow he still always ended up with more space than me (not that I’m bitter or anything).
“I lost one of my big toenails in the car park of Sudbury’s Quay Theatre when I misjudged slamming the door. And I learnt to drive in that Cortina. Not the easiest thing to do a three point turn in at the nearest car park.
“Perhaps most hilariously I remember dad’s old pants always hanging out of the glovebox or sitting on the ledge of the driver’s side - ready for wiping away mist, or scrubbing bird muck off the windscreen. It’s something he still does today. Oh well, at least they’re not going to landfill!”
Judy Rimmer writes: “My parents’ first cars, back in the 1960s in north Essex, were a Bond three-wheeler (you could drive this with a motorcycle licence!), followed by Singer Vogue Estate, and a VW Beetle.
“Later, in the 1970s, after we had moved to rural Suffolk, my mum drove a Fiat 500. I remember my younger brother, then a toddler, determinedly undoing his own seatbelt every few minutes, leading to a constant battle!”
Nick Richards recalls: “We had a beige Austin Allegro estate in the early 1980s with brown seats. It was truly hideous. It was long and flat and looked a little bit like a Werther’s Original sweet. In the days before seatbelts were compulsory in the back, my brother and I would regularly take turns to lie in the car’s huge boot, as we travelled around East Anglia. All highly dangerous, but we actually saw it as a treat!
“The car may have had a top speed of around 75mph but I don’t think it ever got past 55mph, even with my dad squeezing the accelerator for all it was worth.
It was ditched for a brand new red Ford Fiesta 1.1 Popular Plus in 1984. It felt like we were finally at the cutting edge of car ownership!”
Ella Wilkinson of Norwich has a particularly glamorous family car memory. She remembers: “My dad used to have a gold Jaguar S type in the 90s. My mother used to call it the ‘pimp wagon’.”
And Sophie Stainthorpe, also from Norwich, said the first family car she remembered was a red Vauxhall Cavalier in 1988. “Other than the colour, I don’t remember much about it, apart from a clever mnemonic that my dad came up with to remember the number plate – A407 FBJ. It goes as follows: ‘A – for apple, 40 – for daddy (his age at the time), 7 – for Sophie (my age at the time), FBJ – fat bottom Janice (my mum).’ I’m not sure my mum was overly-happy about the last bit, but it stuck none the less, to the point where I can still remember it today!”
John Elworthy writes: “My first car was in 1968, and it was an A35 blue van. I grew up in Norfolk and was living in Gooderstone at the time, having left Hamond’s Grammar School, Swaffham, the year before.
“I had saved for the van through my work as a village correspondent (including earning 2p a line for the Thetford and Watton Times and half a crown if any of my pieces got published in the EDP).
“On the day after I passed my test I went out and bought the van. Mum and dad were delighted. The following day was a Saturday and I drove to Heacham (30 miles), surprised my nan, invited her out, and we drove the 20 miles to Wells on Sea. We played seaside bingo all afternoon, had fish and chips on a bench, and then drove home. She died a few years later, but was forever telling everyone the story of her day out with her grandson.”
Sharing motoring memories on Facebook and Twitter
Twitter and Facebook users have also been remembering vehicles from their past. Everitt Barnes of Norwich tweeted about his parents, Billy and Lily Barnes, owning a Ford Anglia in the 1950s. He said: “We used to drain the water every night in the winter - had to turn the engine over with the handle cold. Mother used to pick her feet up through a puddle, as water leaked through the floor.”
Mark Bush of Felsted in Essex said via Twitter: “The first vehicle I can remember was Dad’s Transit (which got stolen off the drive), with chairs in the back screwed to the floor. We also had a VW Jetta which was called Bertha, which broke down one afternoon on the way to my nan’s in Peterborough. It was towed home and it sat on the drive for years.”
And David Marshall, of Heacham, wrote: “My parents ran an old 100E Ford Anglia reg no RPT 581 back in the mid 60s.”
Jessica Whyte of Norwich drove a classic herself. She wrote: “My first car in 2009/10 was a classic Morris Minor 1000 that my late dad bought me! No power steering, and not the easiest car to learn to drive in - but what a beauty.
“I drove it for only about two years, as I left to work abroad for three years, so no longer needed a car. I did manage to make a profit on it when I sold it, though. I always had lots of comments on it Great car, but very chilly in the winter.”
Greg Macaree from Norfolk actually still owns a vintage family car. He said: ”My great grandad bought a Standard Flying Nine brand new in 1937... 82 years later it’s in my shed (needing work after my dad took the engine apart in 1970!)”
A member of the Ipswich Remembers Facebook group, Jean Brooks, wrote: “In the 1940s, my uncle was driving a Wolseley, and let me have a go at steering it along the road outside our house!”
And Richard Everitt said: “My dad had an Austin Big 7 which had been stood on bricks in the garage during World War Two, PV 4701. I think there was a notice inside saying it was supplied by Popperwells, but he always took it to Clevelands on Felixstowe Road. I think one of the mechanics there bought it for £30!
Jane Greene, another member of Ipswich Remembers, sent in a photo of a vintage car, and wrote: “My grandparents Percy and Dorothy Catchpole of Parliament Road had this old car in the early 60s. I don’t know when they bought it though. I remember helping Grandad turn the crank to start it in the morning.
“By the way, they called her the Tin Lizzie. She had one door that didn’t always close right and my mother told me a story about her sister falling out of the car during a turn when they were children. It was a low speed event and she was not hurt, and they did stop to pick her up.”
Ian Ling wrote: “My dad, Doug, was terrible at picking cars (not a petrolhead by any means). His cars included a Vauxhall Victor, Hillman Minx, Austin A40 Farina, Fiat 500 estate (so rotten that dads feet went through the floor on a trip to Felixstowe) and a Ford Escort (his first company car).
And Mick Borrett recalled pretending to drive his Uncle Charlie’s Austin 7 at Valley Farm Caravan Park, Holland-on-Sea. He said: “Memorable holidays. Six of us in this little car with our luggage and Scottie dog called Linda! We all slept in a tiny caravan, as well. Charlie was the driver and used one hand. The other held a mouth organ so we had a singalong.”
In the Norwich Remembers group, Mark Henderson wrote that his father in the 70s had the spare Lotus Cortina mk 1 which had belonged to Formula One racing legend Jim Clark. “It had his name on the slip too. It would be a wonderful car to still own today.”
Pat Pass recalled: “Grandfather had, pre-World War Two, a black Wolseley. DCE 834, the scourge of every Norwich policeman. He used to drive it up London Street, stopping at the paper-seller at the bottom of Opie St to buy an Evening News, which he spread open across the steering wheel to check “the horses” as he continued up to Bank Plain. Bertie’s car was bought/acquired pre-war when petrol was still on ration, but he had contacts!”
Glyn Norton had a more recent amusing car memory. “My late father had a Hillman Minx. In the early 70s, my mum, brothers and I were waiting to be picked up near Norwich fire station in the city. My dad had been in work (Norwich Coachworks). I saw him arrive and said, ‘Mum, there`s dad. She could not believe it. Dad had the car sprayed bright gold with paint left over on a job. Mum was unimpressed!”
Car took me from village pigsties to life in the Met
Sometimes cars have been passed from one family member to another. Roger Human has fond memories of a car with the reg plate EVG 388. He writes: “It was purchased secondhand by my father in 1960 from a dealership in Norwich Road, Dereham. It was the first modern car that the family owned. Previous cars had been pre war jalopies, that were always breaking down. It was a dark blue Vauxhall Velox, 6 cylinder engine with three forward gears and a bench seat in the front. I took my driving test in this car in February 1964, but that’s for later…
“This car was a real workhorse, quite powerful enough to pull a caravan, on holiday in Derbyshire, but at home it had a more practical use.
“My father Noel was the village bobby in Wendling and we had moved there in 1958, and before too long father had erected a pigsty or two at the bottom of the garden, much to the authorities’ disgust. He managed to secure the use of Honeypot Wood a couple of miles away, and converted some brick buildings that had been left from Wendling Aerodrome after the war, to house more pigs.
“However there was no water on tap, so old oil cans with the tops cut off were filled at home from our private well via a hand pump, and transported in the boot of the car, spilling and splashing as we went along. The carting of water however was short-lived as before too long a local builder with a digger excavated a large hole near to the sties which provided water daily.”
Roger later owned the car himself. He writes: “I passed my driving test in January 1964, and proudly chauffeured my parents back home, them sitting in the back. In the April I took EVG 388 to London where I joined the Met Police Cadet Corps at Hendon, and was the only Cadet with a car, so quite popular I became.”