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Vauxhall 14 really got up steam running hot

PUBLISHED: 13:09 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:09 14 November 2017

One of the cars that followed Dusty Miller’s Vauxhall 14 was this Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. Picture: Dusty Miller

One of the cars that followed Dusty Miller’s Vauxhall 14 was this Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. Picture: Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller’s Vauxhall 14 steamed along but it helped put him on the road to some ‘big old beasts’ of motors.

When I was an apprentice fitter, at Reavells in Ipswich, in the 1960s I bought a Vauxhall 14.

It must have been late 40s vintage, black, with the two Vauxhall chrome strips down the sides of the side opening bonnet and running boards. I think I paid £25.

I was still into bikes at the time, owning a Norton Dominator 99 among others, and thought I would get something I could go out in with my mates. This decision was prompted by an old ES2 Norton 500cc single, with a huge sidecar, that I also owned but, after filling it with friends one day, the wheel collapsed. Time for a car.

As an apprentice, I had earned the right to go on ‘outwork’ with a fitter servicing air compressors etc. A job came up to commission the company’s Pure Air equipment on guided missile destroyer HMS Fife at Portsmouth. My fitter didn’t have his car at the time so we took the 14 – unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it.

We had a good trip down there and spent two weeks running and commissioning the equipment. When it was time to go home, we loaded all the tools and cases and left Portsmouth. Just on the outskirts, we heard a loud noise and found one of the rear leaf springs had broken. We managed to find a spare one at a scrapyard and fitted the new spring. We set off again and, a little later, thump, thump, thump – a flat tyre. Changed the wheel and off again. We were on the home straight now, on the A12, when it started getting foggy. No, not fog – steam from the radiator. It was past 10pm – we had started at 8.30am – and started searching for places to get water for the rad, stopping every few miles to refill. At around 1am, passing Colchester with the car looking like a steam train, I decided to press on regardless as the car had earned me more than £100 in expenses and was expendable, Unbelievably it got us home, I lifted the bonnet to see the cylinder head glowing red.

In the morning, to my amazement, it started and ran fine, I fixed the radiator and gave the car to a mate, who ran it for about a year, as I had bought a Rover 105R with my expenses.

The Rover 105R was a beautiful car but, wanting something faster and more edgy, I sold it and went for a Vauxhall Cresta PA – a red and white ‘big old beast’ but it suffered steering problems. My fiancée persuaded me to sell it and get something smaller, as we were soon to be married and set up home. I came across an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire which a trader couldn’t get rid of and offered me a straight swap for my PA. I couldn’t resist it but, my goodness, was I in trouble, especially when I suggested the car was big enough to live in.

I eventually succumbed to pressure and put a ‘for sale’ sign in its window and sold it to an American airman and his two friends, who all owned sports cars – Jaguar E-Type, MGB and Triumph TR6 – and wanted a “passion wagon”! I settled for £110 and six months’ tax.

I nearly bought a pink Hillman Husky, to keep the ‘wife’ happy. Fortunately the guy I was buying it from, crashed it the day before I was meant to seal the deal – a very narrow escape!

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

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