Crash course in repairs

Little did I know that apart from having an RAF apprenticeship as an instrument maker (1941-43) I was to have another apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.

Little did I know that apart from having an RAF apprenticeship as an instrument maker (1941-43) I was to have another apprenticeship as a motor mechanic... involuntarily.

I was posted in 1945 to Flying Training Command in Mashonaland, southern Rhodesia. Here I had my 21st birthday and, with the money that I received, to have a car was a must.

My first attempt was a 1938 America De Soto six-seater open sedan (This will catch the girls, I thought). Instead of a steering wheel it should have had a tiller, as there were, I think, six knuckle joints (worn) before the road wheels - it also wallowed. Not for me.

Instead I settled for a 1936 Morris two-door open tourer. I had been taught to drive in my father's 7hp Jowett when I was 10. I had, of necessity, got my RAF licence to drive all types of RAF vehicles up to three tons.

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The roads in Rhodesia were two tarmac strips the width of the wheels apart, and drainage ditches and feeders diagonal to the road. I hit a diagonal one which my nearside wheel could not mount.

The rest is what you see. My pal and I were saved by the angle of the ditch and were only lightly bruised. We had been going to a rugby match 60 miles from the camp. Luckily, the RAF team was following in a lorry. The team lifted my car into the back of the lorry and took us on to the game and then back to the camp eventually, with much unmentionable language.

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Back at the camp, I had the good fortune of having made good friends with an Italian internee mechanic who had been with Alfa Romeo before the war. The camp also had full engineering facilities. In off-duty times I was allowed the use of the facilities and learnt how to use metal presses, how to panel-beat, and how to make the timber frame for the door. During the rebuild we found that the piston rings were broken and the bearings worn. We replaced the pistons with Ford 8 pistons which needed the gudgeon pins to be seamed out and the groove at the top of the cylinder scraped. He showed me how to remetal the big-end bearings and, finally, how to spray with cellulose paint.

All in all, this took six months and much patience by the RAF. I did 10,000 miles in the car over the next 18 months and sold it for slightly more than I had paid for it.

Little did I know that some years later, after courting a lovely girl on an Enfield 350cc motorcycle from all over England, and eventually marrying her, we were to have our first car when our daughter arrived.

What was it? A 1936 Morris two-door open tourer! And now our daughter has a 1959 Morris 8 convertible that I am allowed to drive on high days and holidays if I service it, polish it and pay for the petrol. Halcyon days!

Terence Menin, Honingham, near Dereham.

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