My First Car: Bubble burst but ‘old girl’ still part of my life

Tom Evans as a child in his first car.

Tom Evans as a child in his first car. - Credit: supplied

From pedal car to bubble car and a couple of classic Citroens – Tom Evans tells of his ongoing motoring love affair.

I guess my first car was the one my grandfather made for me. I think I must have got the bug from those early days – four wheels good, two wheels bad.

Now as I look at the picture, the front resembles a BMW or Bristol of the 1950s, neither of which I have ever owned. I did get close to acquiring a Bristol 401 though.

This means the Heinkel bubble car I owned in 1966 was my second car but, maybe again, this does not really qualify as it only had three wheels and could be driven on a motorcycle licence, which I did not have. My father came out with me only once, told me the rudiments of driving and left me to figure out the rest. I don't think he really approved of this German contraption and used unprintable words when asked for help on the frequent breakdowns.

It was great fun though, only costing £12 10 shillings and, when it worked, I was in the dry with my girlfriend as opposed to my friends on mopeds and scooters.

I got caught in a gust of wind one day while turning into a corner and the thing turned over. Luckily I was unhurt and, when the Heinkel was set back on its wheels, we went home. My poor mother was horrified!

After a few pounds of body filler and a respray the bubble car looked grand. Mum even helped me make new seat covers.

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Later I sold the Heinkel for £50, enabling me to buy a posh suit and train ticket to London, where I had been misinformed the streets were paved with gold. I eventually got a good job and decided to save up for a car maybe a Moggie Minor or something cheap. It was 1969.

I frequently walked to Hampstead Heath from my flat and one day spied the love of my life, a Citroen Traction Avant. I had no idea what it was except I wanted one, so I saved a little more money and purchased HCR 540, a 1950 Light Fifteen from Ricksmansworth.

They must have seen me coming, itching to part with my hard-saved £80. On the way home – I had never driven in London before and the steering was a trifle heavier that the bubble – I hit a kerb and wrecked a front tyre. There was no jack so I drove home feeling fed up. A jack was acquired and I swapped the wrecked wheel with the spare. The love affair was back on track (or back on Tarmac).

I soon learned I had purchased a very historic car – the first front-wheel drive mass-produced vehicle, all-steel monocoque body, hydraulic brakes, torsion bar suspension, etc. That car took me many miles here and abroad, and was fairly reliable except on a trip to France when it kept conking out in traffic jams. The French 'essence' was blamed as it was fine after getting back to Blighty.

The gearbox broke in 1972 and, while off the road, I discovered another Citroen, a 1952 Traction Avant Big 15 at Wells-next-the-Sea. After a bit of haggling, and borrowing £100 from the bank, she was mine. The bank manager advised me it was unwise to buy an old car like that and wanted to lend me more to buy something newer. HCR 540's gearbox was quickly replaced, then she had to go to pay off the loan.

I still have the Big 15. We've travelled many miles all over Europe, had a few ups and downs and a few mishaps but it would be difficult to part with the old girl now.

The car had only three previous owners and I noticed in the log book the original owner had moved to Brancaster so I paid him a visit in the late '80s. A sprightly gentleman came to the door and was amazed it was still on the road as it had been well round the clock when he had owned it! I learned the guy I purchased it from had driven her hard too, usually London and back every week for many years.

We are off to Holland and Germany in August for another big Citroen get-together, meeting old friends from all corners of the globe – fingers crossed, spanners and spares in the boot!

You never forget your first car so share your memories of adventures and disasters of your first set of wheels. It doesn't matter how old it is, just email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to motoring@archant.co.uk or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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