This Singer hit all right notes for Bill’s memorable early adult life
Bill Holland supplied
I bought a brand new Singer Gazelle in 1964, registration MMC 242C, from the Rootes Garage in Tottenham Hale for £760.
For a 17-year-old boy, who lived on a council estate, to have a brand new car was very unusual. The spec was quite high with lavender grey metallic finish, whitewall tyres, walnut dashboard, lavender interior and that all-important radio! Undersealed, at an extra cost, was something quite new at the time.
I had seen a picture of the Singer Gazelle 1600cc model, with its very distinctive grille, in Autocar magazine eight months earlier and decided I wanted one. I saved and was helped by my father who worked on London docks. My father had never driven so the agreement was that the car was to be mine but I had to drive the family round from time to time which worked out quite well.
I used the car for the daily commute from Stoke Newington to work in the city where, fortunately, there was a parking space.
It widened my horizons – there were family days out and family holidays in Norfolk.
My first big trip with my mates – ‘the three amigos’ – was a bank holiday trip to Paignton, Devon, for a camping weekend. We left at midnight on Thursday and it was a nightmare for I hit my first ‘pea-souper’ fog around Salisbury. It took about two hours longer than expected to arrive but once there I recall enjoying the area, particularly a trip across to Torquay. The journey back was, thankfully, uneventful.
A holiday camp in Dorset next year with another friend was followed by a more memorable weekend trip to Norfolk. We arrived at a Camping and Caravan Club campsite near Beccles after midnight and pitched our tent. Unsurprisingly, being three teenage lads who were not members, we were thrown off site at 7am and hastily repacked the car.
Unperturbed, we set off for a cafe in Beccles and hired a day boat for a couple of days. We cast off from the marina, headed to the Waveney River Centre where we had a beer and lunched on our spam sandwiches. Later in the day we ended up in Great Yarmouth where we moored and headed for the town with our small tent.
After the pub closed we pitched our tent on South Denes Caravan Park. We were awoken by shouting and again turfed off a site early in the morning. We went back to our boat and back to Beccles, picked up the car and drove back to London.
In 1966, while still euphoric with England winning the World Cup, my two friends and I drove to Hopton-on-Sea for a week at Potters Holiday Camp. This holiday was particularly memorable as I met my wife there – she was the camp beauty queen. We are still going strong 51 years later.
The car made her think I was rich though she soon found out otherwise. There followed four years of driving backwards and forwards to Welwyn Garden City until we married in 1970.
After driving away from our wedding reception we parked the car at Luton Airport and left for our £33 each Clarksons honeymoon in Majorca. We arrived back at Luton to a foot of snow and a dead battery. The car was parked tight against a wire fence so I got out the crank, walked a mile and a half round the perimeter of the car park and wound the crankshaft through the fence. Old faithful burst into life and my new wife sat revving it until I got back 15 minutes later.
The car was then with us for the hour-and-half commute to London from Hertfordshire daily for a couple of years and then our move to Lowestoft in 1972.
We had many happy motoring hours in Suffolk and Norfolk until the years began to take their toll. A few MOT failures, and hefty repair bills, followed by a reduction in use saw its decline. My wife was driving home one day and the car ground to a halt. The kind RAC man asked her where the (candid) camera was? He wondered how she had got that far and suggested we scrap it. It had succumbed to the salty sea air at Lowestoft and was towed away in 1976 – 12 years old and suffering from chronic rust.
That car was an important catalyst through all the significant memories in my early adult life – work, friendships, marriage, moving house, bringing home our two newborn babies, visiting distant relatives, holidays, shopping and generally living a wonderful life. One wonders what life may have been without it.
Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to email@example.com or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.