My first car
I passed my driving test at the second attempt in May 1965, at the age of 17, and was impatient to buy my first car. Money, or lack of it, got in the way.
We lived in Great Bookham, in Surrey, and a pal of mine’s dad was an RAC mobile mechanic. He had a Renault Dauphine for sale, only £10, with a guarantee it would go. He delivered it to my house, and then gave me a little test drive. Like any sucker, I knew I had to have this car.
The very first licensed minicabs in London were Renault Dauphines. On reflection, this is completely illogical, because they were small, just sufficiently large for three, let alone four passengers, were pretty basic, and weren’t even English. They also had a tendency to be top heavy, rolling over when carrying too much weight. Like a driver and four passengers, let alone luggage. As long as this only consisted of a handbag for four.
I had passed my test on a manual gearbox Austin A40, three forward gears and one in reverse, but when sitting behind the wheel for the first time of my new car, immediately saw a problem. It had a gear stick on the floor between the driver and front passenger, but only had two foot pedals. How could this possibly be?
The solution was carefully and slowly explained to me. It had something unique called a Ferlec clutch. It was so unique that no other car had it, nor was ever likely to, so I would be driving something the envy of all other motorists. My 17 year old brain was so excited it lost all reason.
Two foot pedals, one to go, the other to stop. The gear lever had to be depressed down onto the floor, so the clutch plate underneath the lever would engage. So from neutral, press the lever down, up into first, release lever, clutch engages, and off we go. Simples.
At the end of a ten minute test drive, we returned to my driveway, with the RAC man extolling the Dauphine’s virtues. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, mentally and physically, youthful enthusiasm meant that I knew I could overcome any obstacles.
The RAC man went away, with my tenner, and it was time for a solo effort. The car was outside on the road, nothing parked in front or behind, which was just as well. There was a design fault with the Ferlec clutch. You never knew if it was in neutral, despite waggling the lever. Turn on the ignition and it was a lottery if it was in gear or not. If neutral, no problem. If in gear, the car shot forward. Or back. My first time, it was reverse.
No pedestrians, a quiet street, I just felt initial embarrassment. Sorting out the gears, after five minutes I had had enough. Back to base, I was allowed to park on the driveway. Full of confidence, I reversed to within a couple of feet of the garage door.
Next day, dad wanted to quite reasonably want to go to work, so I had to be roused from my bed. Still sleepy, I got behind the wheel. Big mistake. It was in reverse, and shot back, creating a huge dent in the metal door. Big bang, neighbours appeared on their doorsteps with quizzical looks.
Dad was inside the garage, behind the wheel, the impact shot him back against the rear wall.
His car was a Hillman Minx, when he emerged it was an unhappy littler Minx.
Dad got behind the wheel of the Dauphine, after I had explained the basics, and he confidently drove the thing forward without hitting anything. It must have been a fluke
The same thing occurred for me for the next three days. By this time the garage door was almost useless, still on hinges but only just. I was now banned from parking in the driveway. Our relationship, never the smoothest, was now fraught.
After repair, an advert was placed in our local paper, along the lines of ‘unique opportunity to purchase a rare version of this concept car’. I sold it for £15, lesson learned.
Harry Pope is www.harrythewriter.com also