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My First Car: Morris 8 van reached its peak... just

09:01 19 December 2015

Derek Smith, second left, and three friends went climbing in North Wales in his Morris 8 van.

Derek Smith, second left, and three friends went climbing in North Wales in his Morris 8 van.

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Derek Smith tells of the peak performance of his Morris 8 van on climbing trips to North Wales.

In 1952, when I was old enough to hold a motorcycle licence, my father bought a BSA 250cc bike to take him and my mother to the village pub, although I used it more than he did going on holidays and to motor racing meetings.

He then decided to buy a 1936 Morris 8 van to do the same journey, even though he had never passed a driving test as he had a licence before testing started.

After a while he decided he was not safe on the roads so I inherited the van. I had started work in a garage by then and started servicing the van.

It had a very noisy back axle. I used to take it to a quiet road, remove the floorboards in the back of the van, take the driveshaft off the back axle, then remove the pinion and add or remove shims to reposition the pinion. I then put it all back together again to see if it was less noisy. I don’t think I ever did get it quiet.

One Christmas myself and three friends decided to go climbing in North Wales – about 200 miles from where I lived. We modified the van by cutting a hole in the floorboards behind the driver’s and passenger’s seats, letting a wooden box in the hole and made a backrest and seat so we had a four-seater Morris 8 van. I never actually sat in the back but, as you can see from the photo, I there was not a lot of room left over in the van for luggage and the gallon tin of oil we had to take with us as the engine used a pint of oil every 40 miles and as the sump only held four pints we had to stop and top up.

Looking back on the journey, now I think what could have happened as it was the middle of winter with no heater or screen washer. As it was, when we got to the steep hills in North Wales the van just got over the top in first gear and then it was a problem stopping it going downhill. We had a good time, even though the cottage we stopped in had no electricity or gas but we were looked after very well by the landlady and her Pyrenean mountain dog and had a memorable Christmas and returned home safely.

I then had the opportunity to buy a 1950s Morris 10 car that had been owned by the local vet. This was a very modern car at this time as new cars were very difficult to buy. They nearly all went for export but, as he was a vet, he had priority for a new car.

We all decided to go to Wales again, in the summer this time and in a lot more comfort. Electricity had also arrived at the cottage by now so it was a lot more civilised. We climbed three more peaks and, on the Saturday, we came home via Aintree Motor Racing Circuit and watched the 1955 British Grand Prix which Stirling Moss won in a Mercedes-Benz W196 with Juan Manuel Fangio second. A very busy and exciting week!

I used the Morris 10 to visit North Wales again, this time on my honeymoon after which we sold the Morris 10 to raise some money and bought a 1939 Ford Prefect which I put a Ford exchange engine in and a new steering box and we ran this car for about five years with no problems at all.

I then brought the fourth of a future 40 cars in all. I finished up working at Lotus for 23 years and road-tested Lotus cars so I think I fulfilled my childhood ambition of being involved with cars.

They are not as much fun as they were but a bit more reliable.

Tell us about your first car – bright spots, breakdowns, delights and disasters. Email your first car memories, with a picture if you have one, to motoring@archant.co.uk

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