The Way We Were

Spring 1964, Northamp­ton

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - RICHARD GUNN Joined CCW in 2000 and al­though now a free­lancer, he’s al­ways main­tained his con­nec­tion with the news­pa­per that started his ca­reer.

There’s an early movie by Peter Jack­son – of The Hob­bit and Lord of the Rings di­rec­to­rial du­ties – called Meet the Fee­bles, in which all the ve­hi­cles are Mor­ris Mi­nors.

This very black com­edy was filmed in New Zealand in 1989, but had Mr Jack­son pro­duced it in Eng­land in 1964 – when he’d have been three years old – then he could eas­ily have set it in the Kingsthorpe dis­trict of Northamp­ton. Be­cause, as this 53-year-old scene il­lus­trates, the place was Mor­ris Mi­nor Cen­tral.

In a pic­ture where there are 11 iden­ti­fi­able ve­hi­cles, five of them are Mi­nors. That’s al­most the equiv­a­lent of a nar­row ref­er­en­dum de­feat, and we sus­pect a cou­ple more are parked out­side the premises of G Brooks and Co Ltd but ob­scured by the Cleve­land petrol pumps. Ditch the Ford, Hill­mans, Vaux­hall, Mini and Rover and you’ve got a whole black com­edy set right here. But just in mid­dle Eng­land in­stead of Mid­dle Earth, down un­der.

G Brooks and Co is a very tra­di­tional old-school garage. Or a Petrol and Diesel Agency, as the tacked-on no­tice un­der the main Cleve­land brand­ing has it. It’s more a col­lec­tion of ramshackle wooden sheds and ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ings that have ob­vi­ously grown or­gan­i­cally on an ‘as-needed’ ba­sis over the decades – for ex­am­ple, the rather or­nate ‘Cleve­land Dis­col’ and ‘Pre­mium’ globe-topped pumps look like 1930s/40s items.

Cleve­land was estab­lished in 1920 at Traf­ford Park in Manch­ester; the first planned in­dus­trial es­tate in the world, and where Ford set up its first man­u­fac­tur­ing plant out­side of the USA in 1911 to build Model Ts. In 1938, the An­glo Amer­i­can Oil Com­pany, later to become Esso, bought a ma­jor in­ter­est in Cleve­land, took over com­pletely in 1958 and re­branded all Cleve­land garages as Esso sta­tions in 1973.

Mr Brooks was ob­vi­ously lo­cally famed for his me­chan­i­cal abil­i­ties with Mi­nors, judg­ing by how many have grav­i­tated to his lit­tle cor­ner of Welford Road and the A508 Har­bor­ough Road. But you get the im­pres­sion that he’d just be good with any­thing – have the fa­ther and his lit­tle girl with her bike by the small mid­dle shack turned up just to have its brakes ad­justed?

But it’s not just Mor­rises and pedal bikes. Start­ing from the left are a cou­ple of ma­jor Mi­nor ri­vals. The Ford An­glia 105E is an early Deluxe, sport­ing two-tone grey and white in a style that would dis­ap­pear when the 123E Su­per ver­sion was in­tro­duced in 1962. Also in two shades, al­beit dark green and light green, is the neigh­bour­ing Minx Se­ries IIIA, B or C, parked half-in and half-out of the work­shop. The first Mi­nor, a 1952-56 Se­ries II sa­loon is next, in front of a Vaux­hall Vic­tor F Se­ries I, recog­nis­able by its port­hole bumpers. The ex­haust ex­it­ing through the hole in the right one didn’t ex­actly do won­ders for the chrome­work.

The ad­ja­cent Mi­nor Trav­eller and 1000 sa­loon are be­ing sep­a­rated by an­other Hill­man Minx in the fore­ground, this time a blue and grey 1957 or ’58 Se­ries II.

Out on Har­bor­ough Road, the Mi­nors are still con­gre­gat­ing, with a 1000 sa­loon be­ing fol­lowed by an older sib­ling in the form of a split-wind­screen Se­ries II. They’re pass­ing a Mini and Rover P5 MkI, parked just down from Jen­nifer Lawrence’s florist shop. No, not that Jen­nifer Lawrence – she was still 26 years away from be­ing born. Un­like Peter Jack­son.

To­day, al­though the Har­bor­ough Road pa­rade of shops looks much the same, the site of G Brooks and Co is oc­cu­pied by the Lloyds Bank moved over from across the road (al­beit with a semi-sub­ter­ranean li­brary be­neath it). Well, that’s cap­i­tal­ism for you…

‘Mr Brooks was ob­vi­ously lo­cally famed for his me­chan­i­cal abil­i­ties with Mi­nors, judg­ing by how many there are’


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