Luck of the Irish
Ithought you might like to hear of my Herald-owning experience in the 1960s. Having owned my Morris Minor for several years in Northern Ireland, it was looking a bit sad, so I spent a week of evenings after work at a friend’s place, where we did some panel beating getting it ready for a respray the following week. On my way home that last Friday night, I missed a bend on a typical narrow country road and found myself and Minor in the middle of a field! In mitigation, I will say it was a rotten winter’s night, with rain belting down as only it can in Ireland. I found the gate to the field and drove the Minor back out onto the road again, and from there to home, feeling very unhappy.
It was still raining the following morning, Saturday, so I drove out to the Rover, Land Rover, Vauxhall, Bedford agency where I worked as a young motor mechanic, so that I could have a long look at whatever damage had been inflicted to the Minor the previous night. Most of my hard work had been undone.
Then I saw it. Standing, dripping rain water in the middle of the workshop floor, a 1964 Triumph Herald 1200, in Litchfield Green and Sebring White. It was immaculate. It had been traded in that morning for a new Vauxhall Viva. Joe, the sales manager, came over and explained that the Herald had been owned by a schoolteaching couple from Larne, which is a port for the Stranraer Ferry crossing to Scotland. The car was only four years old, this being 1968 or ’69. The rear seat had never been sat on, the ashtrays had never been used, [and] the interior was perfect with its red vinyl seats. I had to have it!
As I did not have enough cash, Joe accepted the Minor as a deposit, and we filled the HP agreement, it was mine! Joe put a couple of pounds’ worth of petrol in the tank for me, and off I drove. It ran as sweet as a nut. It was at the first stop sign I discovered that the Herald didn’t have synchromesh on first gear, whoops. That Saturday night, I set off for a drive to the coast, and, upon entering a sharpish bend a bit too quickly, I braked on the apex and then discovered how the rear wheels tucked in at the bottom, causing the rear end of the car to hop sideways, exciting to say the least … It was a steep learning curve.
The following night, Sunday, I drove down to Belfast, where I met up with some friends. After an hour or two, I set off on the 30-mile trip back home. Driving along York Road with the heater on, all was well with the world, until there was a bang which made me think I’d been shot at, this being the start of ‘the troubles’. There was a shower of sparks from the nearside rear corner, and then the car started to wobble all over the place. I pulled over to the edge of the road, got out, and had a look underneath. The outrigger coming out of the chassis which secured the shaft that held the rear suspension upright in place was so rotten it had broken away from the main chassis and was dragging on the road. I had a roll of single-core wire in the boot for spotlights I was going to fit, so I tied one end around the broken outrigger and pulled it tight around the passenger door handle to keep it off the ground, and very slowly drove home.
On Monday at work, I got it up onto a hoist and had a look underneath, it wasn’t a pretty sight. At first Joe, the salesman, was reluctant to get involved, as there was no warranty, but he eventually agreed to have the outrigger replaced. I helped with the work to keep the cost down. A few months later, I replaced the other side. I continued to drive the car for the next couple of years, repairing as necessary, but the Herald’s death knell came as I was again driving home one night in the rain, I felt my feet getting wet! Upon arriving home, I lifted the carpets and found the driver’s floor, which was basically an open-top box, had rusted away on three sides. That was the end. Despite all the drama with the car, I loved it, the engine really was unbreakable and never gave me one moment of trouble. Sadly, it didn’t like all of the salt that was spread on Irish roads in the winter or being exposed to the coastal salt air 365 days of the year.
I love what has been done to Andrew Cowsill’s Herald, and I wish him all the health in the world to enjoy it; the only advice I’d offer him is never take it to Ireland. The only other thing I can say to everyone else is, avoid buying a car on a wet day!
If the Mini’s new owner would like to get in touch, I can give him a memory stick with the black-and-white photo that is attached, taken by one of my work colleagues. I was an ambulance officer in Dunedin at the time, and we worked closely with the traffic guys and rural Ministry of Transport traffic officers in their PAX Vauxhalls, Cortinas, and on Norton motorcycles.