SPRING 1958

A traf­fic al­ter­ca­tion in Not­ting­ham re­sults in this fas­ci­nat­ing snap­shot of the 1950s

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

This fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse of Macmil­lan-era Eng­land gives you a clue as to just how un­easily much of Bri­tain’s post-war af­flu­ence sat with its older tra­di­tions.

That mod­ern Bru­tal­ist of­fice build­ing fails to blend with the Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­ture along­side it and on the roads there is not just an ab­sence of dou­ble yel­low lines – these would not ap­pear for an­other two years – but a dearth of any form of road mark­ings. Au­to­mo­tive his­to­ri­ans of­ten re­gard the later 1950s as bring­ing a new di­men­sion to the term ‘mass-mo­tor­ing’ in the UK, but this par­tic­u­lar shot seems to rep­re­sent the calm be­fore the storm.

What first catches the eye is what ap­pears to be a mi­nor traf­fic ac­ci­dent. Ap­par­ently un­scathed is the small Stan­dard that is fac­ing im­me­di­ately to­wards the cam­era. It looks like a Su­per Ten model, of which deal­ers would boast how it came com­plete with hub­caps, an open­ing boot lid and wind-down win­dows. How­ever, the crowd ap­pear less than con­cerned with ‘the out­right win­ner of the 1955 RAC rally’, to quote Stan­dard-Tri­umph’s ad­ver­tise­ments, and more with the other two cars.

We’re willing to bet that at least one of these gentle­men is pos­ing the ques­tion ‘Oi! What’s your game then?’ or words to that ef­fect and there is cer­tainly a bit of lean­ing on the Austin A40 Som­er­set in a faintly me­nac­ing fash­ion go­ing on. Could that sit-up-and-beg Ford Thames E494C van have run into the back of this hand­some Long­bridge car?

It’s hard to turn away from this fas­ci­nat­ing scene and even more chal­leng­ing to se­lect a favourite among the parked ve­hi­cles but what is no­table is how pre-war style ma­chin­ery would still have been com­mon­place on Bri­tish roads un­til the end of the 1950s. In 1958, the MoT test lay two years in the fu­ture, and it was ini­tially an ex­am­i­na­tion of lights, steer­ing and brakes on ve­hi­cles of at least 10 years of age. How­ever, this was more than enough to take vast num­bers of el­derly cars off of the road, a process that con­tin­ued through­out the 1960s.

Could that Austin 16 in the back of the shot or the Hill­man Minx by the tele­phone box be cher­ished and long­stand­ing fam­ily cars or per­haps they were ac­quired for 30 guineas from a bomb­site dealer? In­ci­den­tally, one pe­riod de­tail is that any­one mak­ing a long dis­tance call from that kiosk would still have to dial ‘0’ for the op­er­a­tor be­fore press­ing ‘But­ton A’.

Parked on the left of the shot, and en­joy­ing an en­vi­able free­dom from park­ing me­ters (these were only just start­ing to ma­te­ri­alise in Lon­don) and war­dens (their first ap­pear­ance would not be un­til 1960) is a Hill­man Husky. This was a (very) low­bud­get al­ter­na­tive to a Minx es­tate, a Com­mer Cob van fit­ted with rear side win­dows and a back seat. The cabin boasted vir­tu­ally zero in the way of stan­dard fit­tings with no lux­u­ries at all. Nor was there much in the way of per­for­mance, as the 1265cc side­valve en­gine strug­gled to make the 65mph top speed. But for gro­cers need­ing a de­liv­ery van that dou­bled as a small es­tate car on their days off the Hill­man was ideal and only cost £564.

As for the dark sa­loon ad­ja­cent to that beau­ti­ful wrought iron lamp­stand, it is an ex­am­ple of a now rare Austin A50 Cam­bridge. The Cam­bridge in­tro­duced uni­tary con­struc­tion on a mid-sized Austin for the first time and the A50 also utilised the 1.5-litre ver­sion of BMC’s then-new B-se­ries en­gine.

On the other side of the road is one of BMC’s finest ef­forts – the Z-se­ries MG Mag­nette. This pale-coloured ex­am­ple would have set its owner back a con­sid­er­able sum when new, as £1040 was more than the price of a Ford Ze­phyr Zo­diac – but he or she would have con­sid­ered it well worth the cost. Com­pared with much of the traf­fic on Bri­tain’s roads, the MG would not just have been brisk but one of the best han­dling saloons of its time, with road man­ners our Husky driv­ers would have con­sid­ered ex­trav­a­gant. And then there is Ger­ald Palmer­penned ex­quis­ite coach­work, even if most of the chaps in this pic­ture ap­pear to be more con­cerned with that Austin/Ford in­ter­face.

Look­ing up the street is an E-se­ries Vaux­hall Cresta bear­ing the full-width ra­di­a­tor grille of the 1956/57 ver­sions. By that time Grif­fin-badged prod­ucts were fit­ted with two-speed elec­tric wind­screen wipers in­stead of the ar­chaic camshaft driven sys­tem and the Cresta’s agree­able 1949 Chevro­let looks and high level of equip­ment in­stantly ap­pealed to mo­torists who saw no need to hide their in­come un­der a bushel.

Both the Abing­don and the Lu­ton cars of­fered stan­dards of com­fort that were to­tally lack­ing in that Ford 103E Pop­u­lar to the Cresta’s rear. Side­valve Da­gen­ham prod­ucts were ubiq­ui­tous in the late 1950s and well into the fol­low­ing decade. In fact, I have clear mem­o­ries of sight­ing sev­eral of them dur­ing the 1970s. For a Not­ting­ham driver on a limited in­come who still as­pired to a new four­wheeled and four-seater car, the Ford was ideal. Its ap­pear­ance may have been ar­chaic when com­pared with a MkII Con­sul and there was an al­most to­tal dearth of ac­ces­sories – note the single wind­screen wiper – but this would have mat­tered less than its straight­for­ward me­chan­ics and sub-£500 price.

But the most in­con­gru­ous sight of all is what looks like the most re­cent ve­hi­cle in shot – the MercedesBenz 220 rest­ing out­side of the new of­fice block. In its home­land, this was de­sir­able up­per-mid­dle class trans­port but in 1958 Bri­tain, a six-cylin­der Pon­ton would have been more ex­clu­sive trans­port than a Daim­ler or Lagonda.

The Home Ales de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle is a fond re­minder of 115 years brew­ing in the area that came to a close un­der Scot­tish & New­cas­tle’s own­er­ship in 1996. For­tu­nately the name and the Robin Hood logo has been re­vived by a new gen­er­a­tion of brew­ers.

Not­ting­ham’s High Street has long since been pedes­tri­anised but wan­der through the rest of the city cen­tre and you’ll find it packed with Mercedes, Audi and BMW of­fer­ings (plus mod­ern trams) – mak­ing our Pon­ton a bit of a pi­o­neer. We’d still pre­fer it if a few more of the Bri­tish fam­ily favourites had been pre­served though.

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