10. Cars

My parents never owned a car although my father told me he rode a motor cycle during the war. Living in town, then as now, a car is not essential, but it is convenient, and so I never drove until the early 70s. I learned on the school playground in Slough using a wonderful, split-screen convertible Morris Minor belonging to a colleague. The first ‘car’ I owned was a converted Austin A35 van which had side-windows and four seats. I think it cost me £40. The front seats tilted forward to allow ingress and the rear seat back folded down to carry large objects. Seat-belts were not compulsory then, and I remember being pinned to the steering wheel by a large basket of theatrical costumes when I braked sharply. It was in this vehicle that I drove from Slough to North Shields with one or more children in the back the day after passing my driving test, never having driven on a motorway before.

Safety in cars then was almost non-existent. I had to fit seat-belts to more than one car I owned and even then they were not self-tightening and had to be adjusted by the user. Back seats did not have them.

Our child-seats were thin plastic and hooked over the seat back with no other means of securing them. Indeed when seat belts became compulsory (1983), many men refused to wear them on ‘macho’ grounds.

The condition of the car I now know left much to be desired, but at the time there was no power-assisted steering, or servo-assisted brakes. I frequently had to repair the rusted floor with aluminium sheet and pop-rivets or repair the sills below the doors with chicken-wire and fibreglass! Most repairs and adjustments were possible if one had the skill until recent electronic engine management systems took this out of the hand of the do-it-yourself owner.

Radios did not always come as standard fittings and I fitted more than one, as well as cassette players and their speakers. Now cassette players have been replaced by CD players and hard-drives and SATNAV has gone from being a rich man’s toy to a built-in feature of many cars in less than 10 years.

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