My First Car: Door opens on spectacular autobahn adventures
10:36 14 February 2016
When Hugh Richmond bought his first car in Germany, it was fortunate his Army training included driving and maintenance.
I was in the Army when I bought my first car in 1952 from a well-fed Arthur Daley type on a bomb site in Detmold, Germany.
It was a 1936 Hansa 1100, a quite sporty-looking two-door, four-seater of uncertain mileage. Hansa, Borgward and DKW were all forerunners of Audi – Vorsprung Durch Technik!
My car had an aluminium body on a hardwood frame, painted in a somewhat faded maroon. Safety features were large rear-hinged doors, a fuel tank ahead of the scuttle under the bonnet – like the original Volkswagen Beetle, semaphore indicators and no wing mirrors or seat belts. Comforts were few – no heater but it was cosy once the motor had warmed up.
The car was in generally good condition and had probably been stored during the war so, by the time I had hand-polished the paintwork with Brasso and sorted a loose ignition lead, I had a smart little tourer capable of 75mph.
It even had snazzy tartan covers over velour upholstered seats.
In those days you could actually work on your pride and joy. In my case, parts were the problem and, of course, trying to be understood by the local scrapyard.
“Mein auspuff ist kaput. Haven zie ein neue?” Blank stare. With my somewhat brisk style of driving, I soon had a hole in the exhaust, which I fixed with a beer can bound with wire.
I was fortunate in having a pit in the garage of my otherwise modest requisitioned house. This came in handy when I had to strip down the engine following a blow up on the autobahn caused by a split coolant hose. The correct parts were unobtainable but the bearings were undamaged – only the cylinder walls were scraped and some of the rings damaged.
I obtained some slightly oversized rings and increased the gaps with snips so that they could be squeezed together to fit. This rather crude repair was effective and oil consumption barely increased – not too much blue smoke.
I should explain that my Army training included vehicle driving and maintenance. I passed my driving test in a three-ton covered truck. The test included reverse parallel parking on the nearside. I have difficulty with that manoeuvre these days in my little Renault Clio!
I also picked up some useful tips from Mohammed, the handyman in Egypt, who could famously strip down a motorcycle with little more than a can-opener.
Further adventures included brake failure on a steep hill caused by a cut hydraulic pipe adjacent to a rear wheel rim. Quite soon after repair the drama was repeated. Investigation revealed a split wheel rim, due to corrosion, and forced by tyre pressure on to the brakeline.
Perhaps the most spectacular misadventure was on the autobahn again – this time near Essen in the Ruhr Valley. While travelling at about 60mph, the rear-hinged passenger door flew open, snapped the leather restraint, burst the hinges from the wooden door post and sent it spinning and skidding on the concrete.
Fortunately traffic was light, but my poor bride was left exposed to the elements, while clinging to the seat.
After fashioning and fitting a new door post, and further vigorous use of Brasso, the repair was invisible – not even a dent.
On being posted to the Far East in 1955, I sold the car to a colleague. For all I know, it’s still a runner.
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