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My First Car – Ford Y Type’s journey from scrapyard to crusher

11:27 12 June 2015

David Clark

David Clark's 1936 Ford Y Type wasn't as smart as this one having bought it from a scrapyard for £15 in 1960.

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My First Car: David Clark, from Wymondham, Norfolk, tells how his £15 Ford Y Type ended up back in the scrapyard where he had bought it for £15.

My breath steamed in the cold morning air. Wrapped in my duffel coat and a two-metre woollen scarf, my hands protected by a worn old pair of leather gloves, I scraped the frost off the windscreen and prepared to crank. My first car was a 1936 Ford Y Type, purchased in 1960 with three white fivers, 15 precious pounds from Mr Yates, who ran a local scrapyard.

The Ford had only a six-volt system, and a battery which would hardly power a torch, let alone start a car on a frosty morning. Cranking was the only way of starting her in these conditions.

I carefully removed the old blankets wrapped round the radiator, put there to keep out Jack Frost and Mr Damp, and just in case I hadn’t got enough anti-freeze in her leaky cooling system. I inserted the key and switched on the ignition – a red light, a good sign, the battery wasn’t completely flat. I set the choke, an essential starting device which controlled the petrol/air mixture in the carburettor, no such thing as fuel injection in those days, pushed the starting handle through a hole in the grill and connected with the engine. Carefully wrapping my hand round the handle, with thumb and fingers on the same side in case she backfired (which could result in a broken thumb) I cranked.

Usually after a couple of turns she would rumble into life. After all, I had spent the previous afternoon putting new points in the distributor ( no such thing as electronic ignition in those days) and cleaning the plugs, so she was in top condition. Well, not exactly in top condition – she had a appetite for engine oil. The gallons I had to buy, probably making me one of the best customers at Coopers Garage, where they sold 50 grade Esso oil out of a steel barrel in the yard. Thick like treacle, it held back the voracious appetite of the worn-out old engine.

Among the other qualities of this green hand-painted beauty, were loose headlights which often vibrated round at night, sometimes spotting roosting birds in the trees, and sometimes even turning right round to dazzle me. Worn-out old springs provided my only insulation from bumpy roads – it was like riding a horse without a saddle. The exhaust leaked in countless places but silencer bandage kept the worst of the fumes at bay.

The brakes, operated by a web of complicated rusty rods, were appalling. Even after an afternoon spent knocking the rivets down on the brake shoes to extend their life, and greasing the many complicated joints, it was often touch-and-go whether I could stop in time – it taught me anticipation. The handbrake still worked if you could set its ratchet.

This model had no heater, no fan and a single wiper blade powered by a suction tube connected to the engine. When you put your foot on the accelerator it stopped altogether and, when you lifted off, it raced away like mad. The only instruments were a petrol gauge which had given up long ago, and a dodgy speedometer which oscillated over 10-15mph so it was necessary to take an educated guess to get the average speed. Fortunately there were no speed cameras, radar traps or other such irritations, and the police tended to regard us student drivers with some amusement, to be quietly ignored.

The three-speed gearbox was supposed to have synchromesh on the top two to help with smooth changes but this was so worn that it was a practised art to change gear without a loud scrunching noise, which frightened not only the passengers but pedestrians too. Thank goodness reverse was working, so I could extract myself from the various verges and field gateways where my girlfriend and I stopped on the way home at night.

The tyres not only had no tread, but were through to the canvas and in highly dangerous condition, but I was a student with no money to replace them. She may have been old and battered but anything was better than freezing to death on my previous transport, an equally ancient two-stroke Ambassador motorbike.

Once she was warmed up and the choke slipped progressively in, she ran like a sewing machine, and I could lurch off down the road in a cloud of smoke. For all her faults she was pretty reliable, never letting me down on visits to my girlfriend at her home 15 miles away, and our Saturday night trips to the bright lights of Nottingham.

Her top speed was about 55mph, if you dared the speed wobble, but she was freedom, mine and I loved her, even though my irreverent friends held her in some ridicule. One of them even had the temerity to stick a notice on the back announcing, “Don’t laugh madam, your daughter may be in here!”

After an unfortunate incident when we bounced at high speed over a railway crossing and broke one leg of her chassis, I realised I could no longer fool the MOT inspector, and the sad day had come when she had to return to Mr Yates and the crusher.

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