My First Car: Living the travel dream with Tina
- Credit: supplied
Henry Vincent tells of his new-found freedom as the first member of his family to own a car.
No one in our family had ever owned a car when I joined the RAF in 1962. One of my uncles had a driving licence as a butcher's roundsman, but that was it.
Following square-bashing, I was posted to RAF Compton Bassett in Wiltshire , when I took the unprecedented step of buying a car that year from a guy on the station. I had passed my driving test in 1961, having saved up for lessons from money earned working in the harvest that summer.
She was a 1934 Austin 10HP Lichfield, originally in dark green and black, registered as BGY 870.
I paid £25 for her, road tax cost £12 10 shillings, and 'third party only' insurance was £13. This £50 outlay was about three months' pay – and just about all I owned in the world!
My sole source of support in car ownership was a mate on the course, Al Green, who had owned a car for two or three years.
Another good mate, Paddy, and I used to go around together at weekends in the Austin. Al used to go home to Oxford most weekends, as he was married.
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One June weekend, Paddy and I set out on the Friday evening heading for the South Coast. We camped that Friday night at Stonehenge before driving to Bournemouth and Poole on the Saturday. We spent that night camped at Badbury Rings, the old Iron Age hill fort near Blandford Forum, then drove back up via Stonehenge to Compton Bassett on the Sunday.
It was in the lay-by at Stonehenge that I joined the AA, courtesy of a local patrolman, who stopped by to admire the elderly Austin.
We had a great summer that year exploring parts of the Wiltshire Downs and the Ridgeway, Avebury, and weekend trips to Bath, Chippenham, Swindon and Newbury. The old Austin was very reliable.
This was a new-found freedom, an exciting experience never even dreamed of in those restricted post-war years of austerity, when the only form of travel open to most people in rural areas was the trusty bicycle or a rare coach trip to the coast.
I remember that Jet Regular grade (later two-star) petrol cost 3 shillings and 11 pence per gallon – on payday I used to put in five gallons and get five pence change from £1.
I drove home to Suffolk for three weeks' leave. While there I took my parents to the seaside and other places a few times, and visited relatives. I also hand-painted the old Austin in black and yellow using Valspar enamel, which really brightened up the 28-year-old. I also called her Tina after a previous girlfriend, and painted her name on both sides of the bonnet.
The second part of our fitters training course was at RAF Locking in Somerset.
It was here that Al and I were introduced to club rallying by one of the instructors, a keen motorsport man and a real rally fanatic. We learned rally navigation and entered a few local events in my Austin and Alan's Mark I Ford Zephyr.
It was great fun even though, on one event, Alan had to push to assist Tina up one of the hills in the Mendips, as the clutch couldn't take the full engine torque without slipping.
I travelled more in that 18 months since joining the RAF than I had ever dreamed of as a child, and it was all thanks to Tina.
I was having the time of my life. I had come to realise what a sheltered life I had led before joining the RAF, but I think most of us felt that way at the time. This was 1963, long before the majority of people had cars, and before the great era of taking holidays abroad. Few of us were well travelled.
When the course ended, and we all passed out as radar fitters, I was posted to Northern Ireland to work at the Ulster Radar Air Traffic Control Centre. Naturally, Tina had to go too. After a week's leave back home in Suffolk following the end of the course, I set out to drive Tina all the way up to Heysham in Lancashire for the ferry to Belfast.
Tina spent another nine or 10 months with me there, exploring the lovely County Down including many happy hours in the Mountains of Mourne. Having owned the very reliable Austin for more than two years, it was time to move up to something a little more modern but not as reliable.
As far as I know, Tina spent the rest of her days in Ireland, but if she were still around, she would now be 82 years old.
You never forget the adventures you had in your first car. It doesn't matter how old it is, just email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.