My First Car: Case of maintaining a Standard
09:03 14 December 2015
More rusty than trusty, Bob Turvil’s Standard Eight was a regular source of amusement... and maintenance.
My dad helped me buy my first car, a 1954 Standard Eight, which he’d found sitting all forlorn at the back of a petrol station.
The bodywork was various shades of blue, it was a bit bashed about and rust bugs had been nibbling away at it but the garage assured us it was roadworthy and said it could be mine for the princely sum of £23.
Dad reckoned that I’d probably wreck the thing anyway but, before doing so, it might just knock some of the rough edges off my driving. It didn’t have a boot that opened – the rear seats just tipped forward to allow access to the space behind – and tucked away in here we found a load of old bills and receipts for work carried out on the car. Dad said that these showed that the car had been well looked after but, in retrospect, I think they probably just indicated how often the thing had needed to be repaired.
The Standard Eight was a four-door saloon, boasting an 803cc overhead valve engine – many cars of that period still had side valve engines. It had a four-speed gearbox with syncromesh, sliding side windows on the doors and an electric windscreen wiper, albeit with just one blade. The handbook said that the car’s power output was 24bhp and that it could accelerate from 0-50mph in 26 seconds and reach a top speed of 61mph.
Hydraulic drum brakes on all four wheels meant that it should be able to stop as well. When launched, this model was viewed as progressive for its time which goes to show how much things have changed.
When making a turn in the Standard, semaphore trafficators used to light up and pop out from each side. I didn’t disconnect them when I fitted flashing indicators to the car and, as a result, they then popped up and down repeatedly, blinking on and off at the same time, whenever the indicators were used. I thought this was very funny but I did get some filthy looks from policemen on point duty.
On one occasion, when a mate’s car wouldn’t start, we got it going by pushing it down the road with my Standard Eight. What we didn’t realise was that his rear bumper had locked together with my front one and, when his car started, he gave me a cheery wave and promptly turned off at the next corner. My front bumper was wrenched away from the bodywork and fell on to the road. As I got out of the car, to see how much damage had been done, this kid who’d been watching, told me that the accident was all my fault as I’d been following the other car much too close.
Whenever the battery felt like it, the engine used to start with the key, but the starter motor had a habit of jamming and, if hitting the thing with a hammer didn’t free it, it became necessary to use the starting handle or bump-start the car. When myself and a friend spent a summer working on a farm in Cornwall, we used to park the car each evening at the top of a hill near where we were camping. In the morning, we used to get in and release the handbrake, allowing the car to roll down the hill until it gathered enough speed to start itself. Far less effort than using the handle!
The gearbox guzzled a lot more oil than the engine ever did, as it had a major leak, which I couldn’t find without removing it from the car. This was a challenge too far for me so I lived with the problem. Gearboxes don’t perform very well when they don’t have much oil in them and I found this out when it kept getting jammed in one gear or, as happened on a number of occasions, refused to engage specific gears at all.
Picture a nice quiet evening out with the girlfriend, driving down a dark country lane in the car, looking for somewhere to park up for a cuddle. You can’t find anywhere suitable, so decide to use the driveway of this big house to turn round, as you know it will be impossible to get the car into reverse. After turning off the road, you cut across their front lawn, only to find that they’ve placed great big stones all along the edge, blocking your path back to the road. You can’t go forward and can’t drive backwards and as the girlfriend isn’t strong enough to help push the car off their lawn so additional help will be required.
You decide to stand in the road and flag down the next car you see, in the hope that it contains a few strong blokes. You succeed in stopping a passing car, only to find that it is the only one for hundreds of square miles that’s full of policemen. After you’ve explained the situation, leaving four off-duty coppers falling about with uncontrollable laughter, they help push the car back on to the road and you make your timely escape, just as lights begin to come on all over the house. It just goes to show that there’s no truth in the old adage about never being able to find a policeman when you need one.
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