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My First Car: 1939 Standard Flying Nine case of maintenance and tolerating eccentricities

Keith Shaw working on his 1939 Standard Flying Nine in 1957. Picture: Keith Shaw

Keith Shaw working on his 1939 Standard Flying Nine in 1957. Picture: Keith Shaw

Keith Shaw

After seven years of motorcycling and the excesses of fresh air, Keith Shaw thought a 1939 Standard Flying Nine open tourer would provide some compensation.

It became abundantly clear to me late one very cold January evening in 1957, as I prised my new lady friend from the pillion seat of my beloved BSA B-32 motorcycle at the end of a 30-mile journey in freezing fog, that if I was to stand any chance of progressing my hoped-for relationship with this desirable companion, my motorcycling days must be regarded as close to an end.

I was a student in Birmingham at the time and, judging by her remarks as she thawed out, my young teacher pillion-passenger, who had donned my thickest woollies, topped with duffle coat and wellington boots before setting off on this challenging journey, was obviously used to more commodious forms of transport than was offered by the sponge and plastic pad bolted to the rear mudguard of an ageing 350cc ‘competition’ motorbike, that had started life at the nearby Birmingham Small Arms factory.

So it was that I summoned the courage to exchange the two wheels of my faithful ‘Beeza’ for the four wheels of a more elegant and female-friendly 1939 Standard Flying Nine drophead coupe – a vehicle whose open top, I thought, would provide some compensation for the excesses of fresh air which I had grown to enjoy while riding the open road over the previous seven years and which I was now about to lose.

I had spotted the open tourer in a second-hand dealer’s yard in Washwood Heath and immediately fell in love with her sporty looks and shiny black paintwork. True, the car had a rather tatty canvas hood, and my test drive had revealed one or two minor faults, but I had found no major problems and I paid the salesman his £125 asking price, fixed the insurance, and drove away.

The streets of Birmingham were, and still are, a real test for any car and its driver. To ensure trouble-free progress through the dense urban traffic of the day, I quickly learned the special skills required to negotiate them in an ageing coupé.

I discovered, for example, that the Standard’s door pillars needed a good thump from inside the car to persuade the illuminated semaphore-type direction indicators to appear from their housing, and that to return the headlights to full beam after dipping, the solenoid system, operated by a foot-switch, needed the stimulus of a shock delivered to the front suspension by driving over a substantial pothole.

I acquired other hitherto unpractised skills as time moved on, becoming quite adept at swinging a starting handle and, surprisingly perhaps, developing sewing skills and sore fingers as we fashioned and fitted a new canvas hood.

From then on, with little more than routine maintenance and tolerance of its eccentricities, the car served well for the next three years, not least as a reliable mode of transport several times a year along the 145 miles of the old A45 between Birmingham and Bury St Edmunds – no M6 or A14 in those days.

Eventually, alas, the little Standard began to signal its age and, when its engine developed expensive-sounding knocking noises from the crankshaft area, and my passengers began to complain of the ingress of road-water through gaps in the floor-boards, I realised that this love affair was nearing its end.

Any lingering doubts over the demise of the Flying Nine were dispelled when a friend offered me part-exchange for an immaculate 1947 Wolseley 12, a model much favoured by the police in the post-war years – but that’s another story.

Tell people about your first set of wheels – email your memories with a picture to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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