My First Car: Super Snipe put me on road to motor maintenance

Adrian Cannon’s 1951 Humber Super Snipe, right, with another owned by neighbour and mechanical mento

Adrian Cannon’s 1951 Humber Super Snipe, right, with another owned by neighbour and mechanical mentor Bill Casson. - Credit: supplied

A 1951 Humber Super Snipe put Adrian Cannon on the road and, with a friend's help, taught him a valuable lesson of money-saving mechanical maintenance.

My first car was a 1951 Humber Super Snipe Mark III – registration OPK 35.

It sounds a bit ostentatious but after several years going 10 miles to and from work by bike, then a Norman Nippy moped which kept breaking rear wheel spindles and chains, then a Lambretta in all weathers – summer and winter, sunshine and ice and with several close calls – I needed a car of some sort.

I saw this in a garage on the way home one day. A close neighbour had one so I knew I would not be out on my own.

It cost me £115 and, around 1965, the garage wanted more than that for a scruffy rusty Ford Pop.

The brakes were poor, the steering slack and the water pump leaked like a sieve but, what the hell, I had a car. On the test drive I could not find reverse with the unfamiliar column change and did an extra five miles to turn round to go back, having only passed my test a few months earlier in an Austin A40 at the first attempt after only six lessons.

The local Rootes dealer wanted £150, which I didn't have, to correct the faults so, deflated, I spoke to Bill Casson, the neighbour, who said it could all be done for practically nothing.

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He had been working on Ribble buses in Lancashire for about 20 years as driver and mechanic and knew a bit about mechanics. The Rootes garage had said that the steering box needed replacing, the master cylinder and all wheel cylinders were shot and the water pump finished.

At the age of 20 odd, first vehicle, no knowledge, I was devastated but Bill helped me.

He looked it over and decreed new rubbers in the brake cylinders – that done, the brakes were fine. The Burgess steering box had adjusting shims and removing two made the steering nice and tight. A visit to our local scrapyard produced a water pump from an ambulance and the job was done. Probably less than £10.

I had to start buying spanners etc as I had no tools. Bill saw me through these problems and later many others. Not only was a friendship born but it was my most important lesson in car mechanics. The car, and all others I have owned, never went to a garage, except for tyres and exhausts, for all the years I owned them.

It transported us from Berkshire to York, South Wales, London, the south coast and everywhere else.

At one point the transverse front spring broke, luckily it had a restraining strap, but another visit to the scrapyard yielded a Mark II spring and fixings from a newspaper van – with suitable adaption it fitted and saw many years of service.

I don't think we ever used the rear picnic tables except to support the workshop manual during work.

Engine maintenance was easy – lift the bonnet, climb up and sit on the radiator, with your feet on the girder chassis, and everything was within reach.

The tappets, which seemed to need frequent adjustment, were reached by raising the car and removing the front nearside wheel, then removing a panel from the wing and then a panel on the engine and working between the exhaust pipes with two spanners and a feeler gauge to adjust them. That's when cars were cars – happy days.

The car was a beauty and a joy to drive, apart from its attempts to remove all lamp posts from the highway when in reverse – or was that me?

It was a 16ft, two-ton vehicle with a four-litre, straight six cylinder, side-valve engine which ticked over at a couple of hundred revs and managed about 15mpg at less than five shillings (25p) a gallon. I don't remember ever using first gear – it would merrily go from 5mph to 85mph in top gear.

In 80 years I have never bought a new car, and never would. The newest one was probably about 10 years old.

Tell us about your first car and the adventures and scrapes you had. I doesn't matter how long ago it was, just email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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