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.