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Mick gets his van... and then his girl

Mick Cook’s first set of four wheels, a 1959 Austin A35 van, with his future wife, Judy, sitting on the bonnet. Picture: Mick Cook

Mick Cook’s first set of four wheels, a 1959 Austin A35 van, with his future wife, Judy, sitting on the bonnet. Picture: Mick Cook

Mick Cook supplied

Mick Cook switched from two wheels to four with a 1959 Austin A35 van but then he had to pass his driving test.

Living in the country, as I did in my late teens in the early 1960s, and having to get to work in Ipswich every day I progressed from cycling to motorbikes but successive winters made me yearn for four-wheeled transport.

After taking lessons, and with my test pending, I went in search of my first vehicle.

It was luck that, when I popped into Revetts Motorcycles in Norwich Road, I saw it had a grey 1959 Austin A35 van for sale, complete with fitted rear seats. A deal was done which included a trade-in of my current two-wheeled transport and I duly took delivery of the van, registration number YDU 960.

Unfortunately, I failed my first test so, until I took my second one, I was forced to seek out people in the village who would accompany me on L plates when I went out for a drive. Luckily, someone from the village worked with me at Ransomes and Rapier, so was quite happy to come with me to work and save his own petrol. I passed my test second time and was then free to take to the roads on my own.

As an apprentice electrician, I spent many hours working on the van, adding front spotlights, a reversing light, converting the existing flip-up trafficators to winking indicators, adding ‘must-haves’ like an ammeter, self-adhesive heated rear window and an aerial so a radio could be plugged in.

A lot of the work was undertaken in the evenings, working in the dark by torchlight as I lived by a main road and had no way of running an extension lead across to the layby where I parked the van.

Servicing was simple compared to today’s complicated engines. The carburettor was basically a chamber with a float and a jet that could easily be taken off and cleaned, with other tasks just as simple. Cold weather would make the heater less effective, so necessitated a cardboard baffle between the radiator and the grill to cut down the air flow.

Every Friday I would call at the village garage and get four gallons of petrol for £1 plus the odd pint of oil. The van gave reliable service but eventually the pints of oil became more frequent and I treated it to a reconditioned engine for the princely sum of £55 – quite a lot of money in those days.

Another major thing occurred soon after I passed my test in that I met my future wife, Judy, who was a town girl so most days I was travelling to and from Ipswich twice – once to work and again to meet her in the evening. Together, with two other couples, we spent many a Sunday visiting local haunts, usually with four in the van and two in another car. This included a trip to Butlins Holiday Camp at Bognor Regis.

In 1967 Judy and I married and spent our honeymoon touring Cornwall in the van, returning the following year for a second trip.

Throughout the time I owned the van I cannot recall it letting us down once and it was only its age, and the decision to upgrade, that made us part with it, replacing it with a Ford Anglia estate, which was more trouble than it was worth, but that’s another story.

My wife and I are still happily married and are approaching our golden wedding and, although we have both worked our way through many different cars in our time together, we still have fond memories of the van that started it all.

Do you have some tales to tell about your first car? The adventures, scrapes, breakdowns, mishaps and maintenance just to keep it on the road. 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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