Colder age of motoring

AIR conditioning, a good sound system, and in recent times, satellite navigation. All luxuries we take for granted as we travel the highways today. A generation or two ago cars did not even have a heater! Travellers would set off on a cold day with blankets and a flask of hot drink to help keep them warm.

AIR conditioning, a good sound system, and in recent times, satellite navigation. All luxuries we take for granted as we travel the highways today. A generation or two ago cars did not even have a heater! Travellers would set off on a cold day with blankets and a flask of hot drink to help keep them warm.

It was during the 1950s that cars were first built with indicators.

Before that there used to be a little arm pop out of the door frame on the side of a car to show the drivers intention to turn. This would often get stuck and require a bang on the frame to make it pop out! Windscreen wipers were a bit unpredictable too. Some cars had a little electric motor inside the screen connected to a single wiper.

I can recall driving a Ford Consul in the 1960s where the wipers worked on pressure from the engine, if you were going uphill the wipers would almost stop, it was very unnerving especially if you were overtaking! The same car had a column gear change, which was also a bit of a challenge to operate!

Seat belts were something you wore in an aircraft. My Austin Cambridge (0-60mph in four minutes) had a bench front seat with the hand brake by the drivers door. If you hit a bump the shock absorbers would still be bouncing about two miles later. It had a leather and wood interior, very comfy, but not very safe!

Tony Adams of Kesgrave travelled thousands of miles a year as a radio engineer in the 1950s and recalls how motoring became more comfortable and reliable as he upgraded his cars.

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Tony said: “In 1950 I owned an economical 1932 Austin 7 saloon, which cost £70. This vehicle enabled me to do my job as a service engineer for Radio Rentals. My car allowance was two pounds and two shillings a week, plus petrol, but we had to surrender our petrol ration books, which were still in use following the Second World War. Five mornings a week I would roll up to 5 The Walk, Ipswich, collect my journey sheet, a case of spare valves, a spare radio set, a solder gun, various components and East Suffolk and North Essex 'here we come'.

“In 1950 it was radio only; TV was unreliable as we were on the fringe for reception from Alexandra Palace transmitter in London.

“Our service area was about a 25-mile radius. The most taxing journey we named the “coast run” which included Clacton, Walton, Harwich and surrounding villages. On Saturday January 31, 1953, the day of the great east coast storm and flood, I was motoring along the coast road at midday between Frinton and Walton in the teeth of a howling gale, loaded with radio sets, my ancient Austin shuddered as it was buffeted by the storm and it was with some relief later when I rolled into the comparative calm of Ipswich.

“There was no heating in a 1932 Austin 7 to help brave the cold winter days. However I was able to make a primitive fresh air heater by blanking off the front of the top of the radiator with tin plate, and a similar plate behind with a two inch hole feeding a flexible ex-vacuum cleaner hose into the car, after about three miles a semblance of warmth was noticeable. Control, although seldom needed, could be achieved by putting any piece of rag in the outlet hole!”

“There were few new cars and old pre-war cars were often less than perfect and there were no MOT tests then. My clutch tended to slip on steep hills and on one journey just outside Boxted the gradient was just too much and the car came to a halt. Desperate measures were called for if I was to finish my journey, so with the engine running and third gear engaged I got out and pushed. As the clutch became effective on the brow of the hill I jumped in and continued on my way.

“Another occasion while motoring from Brantham to Ipswich the steering felt odd so I eased to a stop. Almost unbelievably the front offside wheel was missing its king pin. The wheel all but off. A search back for 100 yards or so for the missing pin proved fruitless. I was seven miles from base and something had to be done. In my case of spares was a copper earth rod, which I fitted in place of the missing kingpin albeit a loose fit. As I drove slowly along the Wherstead Road with my head leaning out of the window to indicate I was aware of the rakish angle of my offside front wheel. Pedestrians still pointed frantically. I had to get to Limpkin and Webster's saleroom in Fore Street. I remembered seeing on the office windowsill an Austin 7 kingpin. Mr Eric Webster let me have this treasure, which we soon fitted, and we were roadworthy once more.

“Another time on the coast run through Little Clacton came my most serious breakdown. I lost all drive; I had a broken half shaft. A colleague Brian Buckingham came to my rescue and towed me the 26 miles with his 1937 Austin Cambridge to my mechanic Pat Pearce of Kesgrave who replaced the half shaft. It cost me £11.The time had come for a replacement. In December 1951 I bought a 1934 Austin 7 for £150.

“After one year of trouble free motoring I changed to a 1939 Triumph 8, big mistake! With useless brakes and constantly jumping out of gear I lost no time changing back to my favourite motor the Austin. In 1953 I purchased a 1937 Ruby saloon for £150. This was an excellent car until, when returning a favour; I towed my colleague's broken down Austin Cambridge up Valley Road hill, Ipswich. Not surprisingly by the time we reached the top the radiator was boiling and worse was to come, the crankshaft broke! In July 1954 after “scraping the barrel” I managed to find £517, the price of a new Austin A30, on sale at Cleveland's of Felixstowe Road. What luxury! A new car with a heater! But still with semaphore indicators.

“In November 1956 I traded in A30 with a new Austin A35. A much improved vehicle with fresh air heater, winkers and larger engine capable of 80 mph plus. Sadly a “Yank Tank” collided with the rear of the car while parked in Woodbridge Road, Melton, setting it on fire, a full tank of petrol making sure of the total write off of the car. The drunk driver was seen to throw a whisky bottle into the field opposite and was fined £200. My brother Roger kindly loaned me his Jowett Bradford van.

“I replaced the written off A35 with a Wolsley 1500 from Egerton's of Crown Street. So ended a decade where motoring changed from pre war to post war, and a period of modern motoring began with all its comforts. However the modern car lacks one very useful item. Who hasn't had a flat battery, had to get a tow, jump leads or a push when all I had to do with the Austin 7 was to turn the crank handle!