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Rocky road to beating hasty retreat after coming to blows

Norman Willoughby with his Allard Palm Beach sports car in Venezuela. Picture: Norman Willoughby

Norman Willoughby with his Allard Palm Beach sports car in Venezuela. Picture: Norman Willoughby

Norman Willoughby

It was crash – and nearly bang, wallop – when Norman Willoughby went to confront youths who had deluged him with buckets of water and sent him off the road.

In the early 1950s, the sports car every young man aspired to was the Jaguar XK series.

I had a position with an oil company in Puerto La Cruz in Venezuela. The salary and benefits were such that I could, after too many years of yearning, actually contemplate owning a car. It would take a couple of years to save the cost, which I remember as £1,130. Seems ridiculously cheap looking back but that really was a long time ago.

There were problems, some of which I was aware of and others which popped up unexpectedly.

Available cars in Venezuela were mostly the big and usual American models – not my cup of tea! Ford models were pretty thick on the ground and the nearest similar vehicle would be a British make with a special body.

Allard was then producing a small sports car for the American market – an Allard Palm Beach. This was a nice-looking, aluminium-bodied job, framed with steel tubes and powered by a Ford engine and transmission.

What is more, it could be customised to the owner’s requirements. At six foot four inches tall, the Allard became the only car which gave me infinite legroom – a custom fit, shipped to me in Venezuela.

Its first journey was a 17-hour drive form Maiquetia, through Caracas, to Puerto La Cruz – a test of stamina for car and driver.

The problems soon advertised themselves. At that time, the maximum speed on most roads was 50kph (about 30mph). Most drivers ignored the limit and my car was a challenge. On the only significant road, I could speed on the curves but be overtaken on the straights by monster Buicks. This race, added to the persistence of motorcycle cops, took a lot of the fun out of my chariot.

Another unforeseen problem was that no single girl would share the bench seat without a chaperone – another girl, a brother or an aunt. I made a lot of lonely journeys!

The carefree days ended during carnival time. I was crossing a river ford, impeded by a large truck on which a number of youths were filling empty barrels from the river. As I slipped alongside the truck, my passenger and I were deluged by buckets of water from the six or seven youths on the truck.

Blinded, I accidentally drove my beautiful car off the ford on to a bank of boulders. Furious, I stumbled over the rocks and through the water to threaten the villains but, arriving at the truck shouting abuse, I suddenly realised there were enough burly ruffians to manage a lone gringo without taking breath.

I turned, hastily clambered back to my bent Allard and was overjoyed that it started instantly, mounted the incline and carried me quickly from what was developing into a scary confrontation of Spanish invective. The tubular steel frame remained rigid and only the bodywork was scraped.

I was just due to leave Venezuela on medical leave and left the car with an older friend. I never saw it again!

Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to motoring@archant.co.uk or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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