Mo­tor­ing mem­o­ries

New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial -

Isup­pose most of us can look back to piv­otal mo­ments in our lives — times when some­thing took place that changed us fun­da­men­tally. Per­haps meet­ing the girl (or boy) we would even­tu­ally fall for and marry — or the mo­ment when, for the first time, we met some­one who would later be­come our best mate. In­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships aside, I think a sim­i­lar sce­nario also holds true for those mo­ments that, rec­og­nized at the time or not, pro­vided the ini­tial spark for our sub­se­quent pas­sion for cars and, more specif­i­cally, for clas­sic cars.

Al­though my mem­ory tends to be a lit­tle selec­tive th­ese days, I can still iden­tify two in­ci­dents that I al­ways reckon were point­ers to my later love of cars.

The first of th­ese mo­ments oc­curred in the early ’60s while trav­el­ling from the Mid­lands to Cheshire on the M6 mo­tor­way with my father, who was at the wheel of his com­pany Mor­ris Mi­nor van (decked out in Ko­dak’s black and gold liv­ery). As we mo­tored along, he spot­ted some­thing in­ter­est­ing enough in the rear-view mir­ror to prompt call­ing it to my at­ten­tion. Twist­ing around in my seat, I caught a fleet­ing glimpse of a small sil­ver flash a few miles be­hind us.

Back in those days, there was no speed limit on the M6 (the 70mph [113kph] limit did not ar­rive un­til 1965) and the sil­ver flash be­hind us was about to pro­vide a dra­matic demon­stra­tion of the dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance be­tween some cars of that era. Very quickly, the flash re­vealed it­self to be a small, sil­ver, open-topped sports car — and, as it whizzed past with a mighty howl, I looked en­vi­ously at the windswept bloke be­hind the wheel of the car. It seemed as if our old Mor­rie was in re­verse gear!

Later, once back home, I dragged out my dog-eared copies of Mo­tor Sport mag­a­zine to con­firm my thoughts on the iden­tity of that sil­ver bolide. Yes, there it was — a Porsche 550 Spy­der, the type of car in which James Dean lost his life in 1955.

My later in­fat­u­a­tion with road­sters — even if not Porsches — was firmly ce­mented into place on this day, as I re­solved that, one day, I, too, would en­joy the wind whip­ping through my hair as I sped down the road in a con­vert­ible sports car.

Then there was the time in 1969, while on a fam­ily hol­i­day in North Wales, that I found my­self sit­ting in the front seat of our green Consul Cortina sta­tion wagon — with a bot­tle of lemon­ade and a bag of Smith’s crisps — out­side the Sports­man’s Arms, high atop the Den­bigh moors, while my father sunk a few pints. Rightly or wrongly, back in those nanny-free days, en­joy­ing a few beers at lunchtime was quite nor­mal, even for those plan­ning to get be­hind the wheel of a car. How­ever, I di­gress — there I was, wash­ing down my sodium-rich snack (re­mem­ber when bags of crisps con­tained a blue twist-bag full of salt?) with a sug­ary bev­er­age (more grist for the nanny mill). All of a sud­den, my 15-year-old rever­ies were in­ter­rupted as a white car drove into the car park of the pub­lic house that was touted to be the high­est Welsh inn.

The car that had drawn my at­ten­tion was a Sun­beam Rapier fast­back — and it must’ve been brand spank­ing new, as the Ar­row-based Rapier had only been on the mar­ket for a few months at that time. Im­me­di­ately cap­ti­vated by the Sun­beam’s swoopy lines, flow­ing rear screen, and fancy Rostyle wheels, I was out of the fam­ily Ford as soon as the car’s owner had dis­ap­peared into the pub to more closely check out the Sun­beam. I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed. And while the car’s ex­te­rior styling, to me, looked great, its in­te­rior was even bet­ter. As the owner had left all the car’s win­dows wound down (car theft wasn’t such an is­sue back then) to re­veal the Sun­beam’s pil­lar­less con­struc­tion, there was lots of space to re­ally get my head in­side for a close-up look. In com­par­i­son to our Cortina’s min­i­mal­ist cabin — all nasty-look­ing vinyl and painted steel — the Rapier’s cock­pit was more akin to that of a jet fighter, with a stylish dash­board packed out with loads of gauges, switches, and lights. Right then I de­cided that I wanted one of th­ese cars. Many years later, my mother ac­tu­ally owned an older and rather bedrag­gled Se­ries IIIA Rapier. While that car, de­spite its over­all tat­ti­ness, had a cer­tain sense of style about it, I still pre­ferred the more mod­ern shape of the fast­back mod­els.

Fif­teen years on from that ini­tial, chance en­counter, I found my­self the proud owner of a gold-coloured Sun­beam Rapier fast­back. Some years later, re­luc­tantly, I sold the Sun­beam on to an­other en­thu­si­ast — but some days I wish I still had the car, a re­minder of my youth.

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