MAY 1959

You’d be far bet­ter off head­ing to­wards Lon­don rather than away from it on this sunny Whit­sun Bank Hol­i­day week­end

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

The Whit­sun Bank Hol­i­day al­ways felt like the of­fi­cial start of sum­mer un­til the May Day Bank Hol­i­day was in­tro­duced to most of the UK in 1978 – a cen­tury af­ter it had first ap­peared on the Scot­tish cal­en­dar. It usu­ally even man­aged to have suit­ably sunny weather, un­til some id­iot re-des­ig­nated it the Late Spring Bank Hol­i­day, where­upon the rain gods took charge, bar­be­cues were aban­doned and we started mut­ter­ing about ‘typ­i­cal Bank Hol­i­day weather’ and ‘feels more like au­tumn’ as we took shel­ter in front of our TV sets.

But back in 1959, Whit­sun was still Whit­sun and a sig­nal for any­one with any sort of trans­port to head for the coast. With more than 30% of Bri­tish house­holds now own­ing a car, and the open­ing of the country’s first mo­tor­way still some months away, there were al­ways some im­pres­sive jams to get through, such as this one in south-west Lon­don.

Head­ing up the A298 to­wards Mer­ton is a side­valve Hill­man Husky be­ing eas­ily out­gunned by an Austin Here­ford with its 2.2-litre four-pot en­gine, whose next tar­get is an Austin A40 van. More Austins can be seen hop­ing to join the south­bound progress – an Austin Ten of pre-WW2 vin­tage lead­ing a snazzy A90 Atlantic, fol­lowed by a cou­ple of mo­tor­bikes, an Austin Som­er­set and a ven­er­a­ble Austin Seven.

Leav­ing Mer­ton with the am­bi­tion of join­ing the A3 to­wards Lon­don – as­sum­ing that any­one in the south­bound lanes would be kind enough to let them through – are an E1P Vaux­hall Velox, a Hum­ber Hawk, a PA Velox or Cresta, and a Rover P3, with an EOTA Ford Con­sul poised to join them.

How­ever, it’s the op­ti­mistic trav­ellers head­ing south two-by-two on the A3 who are in the ma­jor­ity. A two-door Mi­nor 1000 is along­side an­other EOTA Con­sul, a well-loaded (or low­ered) A55 Cam­bridge sits be­side an EIPV Velox, a Ford Ze­phyr MkII sits next to a top­less split-screen Mi­nor Con­vert­ible, a Sav­ille’s 300E Thames van with what’s pos­si­bly a VW Bee­tle with its pas­sen­ger door open to let in some cool­ing air, then an­other A55 be­side a Con­sul MkII, a 100E Pre­fect with a pre-WWII Mor­ris Mi­nor, then an un­known mo­tor­bike, a Phase 2 Stan­dard Van­guard, and an A30 van along­side an early Re­liant Re­gent three­wheeler van (the sort that looked as though it had half-swal­lowed a mo­tor­bike and which had only gone out of pro­duc­tion in 1956).

Be­hind them comes a smart chap in a Jaguar XK140 fixed-head coupé tow­ing a speed­boat (we sus­pect he’s avoid­ing look­ing at the tem­per­a­ture gauge), with an equally up­mar­ket drop­head of some sort along­side. A Hum­ber Hawk has its nose wor­ry­ing close to the boat’s tran­som, while the Stan­dard Ten astern of it seems to have its bon­net ajar for ex­tra cool­ing (we hope they re­mem­ber to shut it if the traf­fic looks like speed­ing up). A Volvo PV544 is ap­par­ently one of the few for­eign­ers in the neigh­bour­hood, fol­lowed by a very Bri­tish Jaguar MkVIII, an­other Austin Som­er­set, a Mor­ris 8 tourer, a Vic­tor F-type, an Austin Princess and an MGA.

An Austin A30 seems to be the only ve­hi­cle us­ing the A3 to get to Lon­don, although we won­der if the bus that the bloke at the re­quest stop is wait­ing for is still em­broiled in the south­bound traf­fic – if so, he’ll have a long wait. Would he be­lieve you if you sug­gested that, in 55 years’ time, he’d be stand­ing in the mid­dle of a six-lane dual car­riage­way and that Mer­ton would be on a mod­ern tram­line be­tween Wim­ble­don and Croy­don?

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