Arabella the ageing Austin 7 ‘a simple, uncomplicated female’

Nigel Smart, right, and John, one of two others he transported to teaching practice, pouring hot wat

Nigel Smart, right, and John, one of two others he transported to teaching practice, pouring hot water into the radiator so that they can start the car. You can also see the petrol tank under the bonnet. - Credit: supplied

Nigel Smart tells of the TLC he gave Arabella the Austin 7 during their two very happy years together.

In 1957 I was in my fourth year at Nottingham University doing a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).

I was sent on teaching practice to a school that was very difficult to access by public transport, so I invested the whole of the money I had earned during the vacation, £32, in a car. It was a 1932 Austin 7 – only 25 years old – registration DR 9800.

She acquired the name Arabella and we spent two very happy years together, until the MOT test was brought in!

She had a top speed of 50mph and did 50mpg, had to be regularly decoked, which involved taking off the cylinder head and scraping off the carbon deposit, and, even more frequently, her plugs needed cleaning.

She was a simple, uncomplicated female, with a six-volt battery under the driver's seat, dim headlights, a starting handle and a gravity-feed petrol tank over the front passenger's lap. The petrol gauge was a piece of stick which I had calibrated and dipped into the tank to see how much was left.

You really had to learn to drive. No synchro on the three gears, necessitating double de-clutching every time.

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If parked facing uphill, she rolled gently backwards – on one occasion ending up on a putting green!

Petrol would drip slowly from the carburettor unless I remembered to turn off the tap at the bottom of the tank. Many times I had to unblock the slow running jet while on a journey, to get her to run evenly. But she took me to Kent and back each term, on one occasion with three passengers wanting a lift to London.

On cold mornings, she liked her radiator filled with hot water – the radiator was too fragile for anti-freeze – so had to be drained whenever frost threatened. While she was economical on petrol, she needed a pint of oil in the engine to every four gallons due to the wear on the cylinders.

After two years, I sold her for £34. Feeling affluent, I bought the 'Cream Bun' – a 1936 Ford 'Special' – with a glass fibre body and eight horsepower. I would love to have the chance to drive dear Arabella again.

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