My First Car: Rough and ready for Jeep thrills
09:10 09 November 2015
Felix Newson really hit the beach in the Sixties in his Second World War Willys Jeep – great fun in summer but freezing in winter.
Reading the amusing stories in your series My First Car has brought back memories of my first vehicle.
Two weeks after passing my motorcycle test in 1960 when I was 18, I was knocked off the bike in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe. I was in hospital for three months and off work for a year. I rode the bike again when my leg was out of plaster but soon realised I needed four wheels to be more visible to other road users.
So, in 1961, I bought an ex-British Army, American-made, Second World War Willys Jeep. I even learned to drive in it, although it was not legal to take the driving test in, as it was a left-hand drive vehicle with no indicators.
I had some lessons in a Ford 100E, with a few problems alternating driving left-hand to right hand-drive vehicles – like trying to change gear in the Ford with the door handle and looking up in the wrong direction for the rear view mirror!
With the Jeep hood and screen folded down it was just like a four-wheeled motorcycle, long before quad bikes came on the scene.
In the summer months it was great fun but in the winter it was freezing, especially the winter of 1963. No sides or doors would’ve meant heaters rendered useless – even if it had any.
With my mates, mainly Ray Wade, Peter Cooper, Bob Taylor and the late Trevor Harvey, we would drive from Felixstowe Ferry to Jacob’s Ladder along the beach, have a game of football, then drive back. Of course this had to be done at low water as the shingle at the top of the beach was almost impossible to drive on.
On one occasion a row of ‘piles’ (posts) blocked our way so, in an effort to get past them, we decided to take a run and drive around them and this meant driving into the loose shingle at the top of the beach. Unfortunately, hidden just under the shingle, was another pile, which we hit with one wheel and it bounced the Jeep on top of it, becoming wedged between the petrol tank (under the driver’s seat) and the rear axle. It took about an hour to hack off the top of the pile to free the Jeep, bearing in mind if we hadn’t it would’ve been under water at high tide.
Once the vehicle was freed, we found out the exhaust pipe had also broken. We managed to tie it up with rope, which had seemed a good idea until it caught fire on the way home.
Driving down Bent Hill one day, the rear axle differential ‘exploded’. We coasted to a stop, removed the axle half shafts and rear propeller shaft, put it in four wheel drive and drove away. In fact, I drove 11,000 miles in front wheel drive only, until I could afford to fit another axle.
Looking back, I seemed to spend as much time working on the Jeep as I did driving it. Even though I ran the Jeep for five years after I married, it definitely wasn’t an ideal family car so in 1969 sold it for £60.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org