ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU SWEAR
David Clayton motors along
We were lucky to have a succession of different family cars when I was growing up. My father’s job as a sales rep meant his car would be renewed regularly. They were invariably Fords. One car has stayed with me simply because I probably learned my first swear word while riding in it!
Our 1958 black Ford Popular was blessed – or should it be – cursed with just three forward gears. This was when I was about seven, so had begun to understand the mechanics of a car and why you needed to change gear. The problem with the Popular was second gear was too low and third was too high or to put it another way, the ratios of second and third were a long way apart. Thus, Father would attempt an overtake of a lorry or bus and drop down to second for a hopeful burst of acceleration. Such was the differential between the gears, the engine would scream in protest and there’d barely be any noticeable boost of speed. At this point Father would curse with a range of colourful language and abandon his overtake. Mother would tut and chastise him. The same gear problem would be apparent on hills, especially when the entire family was on board. We grew up in North Yorkshire – North Yorkshire does hills!
Surprisingly he didn’t remonstrate at the absurd windscreen wipers which went slower the faster you travelled. Occasionally they’d actually stop mid-wipe and this could be at full speed, albeit barely 60mph back in the day. If Father started slowing down, they’d go into a frantic,
swishing wiping mode. I thought this was well worth a jolly good swearing at. Had I accumulated a decent vocabulary of expletives myself, I’d have helped him out with a few. I won’t bore you with the bizarre mechanics of this annoying system, save to say the words “vacuum” and “manifold”. Ford drivers of a certain vintage will be nodding sagely.
Father must have made his displeasure known to his bosses because we got a Ford Prefect next, after the usual accumulation of annual rep’s mileage. This pretty much looked the same but had four doors and was a bit better equipped all round. It had four gears. The swearing stopped.
Thanks to me bumping into Bill Catherall, through our mutual love of the Yorkshire Dales, I can now put some flesh on the bones of all this. Bill is the proud owner of a 1960 Ford Prefect 107E and explained the evolution of the car. The body shape was the first of the more modern post-war designs and Ford made jolly good use of it for a decade or so. The Popular, Anglia and Prefect all had the same body shape but different levels of trim, luxury and cost price. As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, Ford was working on its next range of more modern, stylish cars and quickly needed something for the four-door family market. Its Consul Classic was on the way but to bridge the gap until it was ready in 1962, Ford put its better engine into the Prefect/Anglia/Popular body shape, titivated it up a bit and marketed it as the Prefect 107E. That’s what Bill has now and a pretty little car it is too.
Bill had owned the sluggish three-geared Ford Popular too, back in 1968. It was his first car and well second-hand by the time he bought it for £ 50. Mind you, he used it for two years and sold it on for – wait for it - £ 50! Those were the days.
It’s funny how we stay emotionally attached to our first car. When Bill was getting close to retirement, he pledged to get himself a Ford rather like the one he’d first owned. He saw the 107E advertised locally but nearly didn’t buy it. “It was all over the place on the road on the test drive,” he said. The reason was it had oldfashioned cross-ply tyres. A quick switch to more modern radials and all was well.
Bill hasn’t over-restored his car because he doesn’t want it to be like a museum exhibit. He says he just maintains it but also improves it. For example, he once ran out of petrol, leaving him stuck at the side of the road. Back in the day, cars didn’t have hazard warning lights but interestingly you could get a conversion kit. He looked for one on an auction website and winced as it reached over £ 90. Shortly after, at an autojumble, he spotted one for sale for £7 and bought it. Undaunted that it was missing one important part, he went searching for it and found the bit he needed for a further £12. His 1960 Prefect now has hazard
Bill hasn’t overrestored his car because he doesn’t want it to be like a museum exhibit.
warning lights. He’s also added an additional brake light which sits in the back window. Essentially, he’s making the old car safer for today’s motoring environment. When I went to see him, he was just off to buy some seat belts for the car. It is perfectly legal not to have them fitted in classic cars but, of course, you might want to.
Bill laughed when I reminded him of the infernal windscreen wipers. His car still has the infuriating “wipe slow when you go faster” system. I don’t remember Father doing this, but Bill has actually pulled over in a torrential downpour simply because he just couldn’t see where he was going. I do recall Father pressing his nose to the windscreen in the hope of actually seeing what was in front of him and soldiering on – but back then fewer cars were about and they weren’t going particularly fast.
I talk to many owners of classic cars and due to my age, I’m drawn to those models from the 1950s and ‘60s. I pushed Bill to really explain why he loves his Prefect because he has, after all, a modern car to get about in.
“I love driving it, it’s motoring how you remember – on ‘B’ roads, before motorways,” he said. “It takes you back to when driving was a pleasure and you didn’t have a lot of money but enough for a couple of gallons to take a run out somewhere. We take so much for granted now.”
And you know, I think he’s right. I looked at that little Prefect and had a flashback to my younger sister on my mother’s knee in the front (when you could do that), me squashed in the back with my two older sisters and every nook and cranny of the car packed for a holiday, barely 70 miles away from where we lived. It was special. It was anticipated to the point of unbearable childhood excitement. The Prefect struggled to get us up hill and down dale but it got us there. It was Man (my father) versus Machine (the three-speed gear box). There was a palpable sense of achievement when we got there.
I can hear Mother now: “Don’t you lot run off and leave your father to unpack the . . .”
Bill Catherall polishing his Ford Prefect.
Lovingly restored, Bill’s motor is a pretty little car.
The bonnet of Bill Catherall’s beloved motor.
The distrinctive Ford Prefect lettering.
The interior of the Ford Prefect.