Mallett’s mental meanderings
There I was, rummaging through a long neglected box of photographic prints when I stumbled on the accompanying pic of my first Porsche, a 1958 356A. A warm wave of nostalgia swept through me and also a pang of pain for lost youth. I was then a mere 21-years old. The photograph was taken 50-years ago (only 50? – KS), long before the advent, even the idea, of digital imaging, and the flashy speed stripes had been applied with pen and ink! My first computer, the imac G3, in fetching ʻBondi Blueʼ, lay 20-years into the future and Photoshop even further away. In that analogue age the millenniaold artisanal skills of pen and pigment still reigned.
At the time I was working in Knightsbridge, London, as an advertising art director and one lunchtime witnessed a minor commotion outside Harrods when a Mercedes Gullwing pulled up and a very beautiful, long legged, hotpants-clad girl alighted from the passenger seat. The combination of car, girl and pants gobsmacked all in the vicinity. Not only was it my first sighting of hotpants but also of a Gullwing. Iʼm not sure which impressed me most.
The Gullwing, always a crowd stopper when the ʻwingsʼ were opened, was even more arresting in this case as it was bright orange with a broad black ʻracing stripeʼ along its length and curling around nose and tail.
I can only speculate that I returned to the office and immediately doodled on the photo of my pride and joy. Not long afterwards I had the Porsche resprayed – youʼve guessed it: orange. (As fate would have it, four-years later I bought a Gullwing as my everyday car – they were much cheaper then! – and it turned out to be the very same one, now repainted sober silver. But thatʼs a story for another day.)
Although the 356 now created muscle spasms in passers by as heads spun on account of the lurid colour, I didnʼt get around to applying the stripes, trading it not long after for a Speedster.
Memories came flooding back, some more amusing than others. Of the less amusing, one in particular is indelibly seared into my memory bank: the occasion on which I discovered the handling peculiarities of rear-engined cars and the phenomenon of high-speed lift-off oversteer.
Leaving London, four-up after a wild night out (canʼt specifically remember the wild bit but it was the sixties so it must have been a little lively) I was approaching the Hogarth roundabout on the A40 in Hammersmith.
In those days, for those who are familiar with it now, it was sans flyover, much smaller in size and without traffic lights. In fact so much smaller that it was possible to negotiate it at very high speed. To my left was a Marcos and, coming up rapidly on my outside, I spied a TVR Grantura (then a small- engined car unlike the later fire-breathers) all on a chicken run to a rapidlynarrowing gap.
No doubt fired by a little too much alcohol (Iʼm ashamed to say) and an exaggerated perception of my driving ability, I stuck my foot down, determined to be first out the other side. Which I was. However, after a midcorner hesitation on the throttle I was now travelling backwards.
By an incredible stroke of luck I missed the dual carriagewayʼs centre reservation and travelled some considerable distance up the incoming lanes facing the right way but progressing in the wrong direction, coming to a juddering halt with my lower limbs paralysed by fear. I finally managed to muster enough leg power to declutch and select a forward gear and motor home. Shaken and stirred.
I canʼt recall the reaction of my rear seat passengers. I suspect that they were so drunk they didnʼt actually notice anything untoward, but Iʼve often wondered how frequently the drivers of the other cars have dined out on how they humiliated one of those evil-handling Porsches?
Another incident, more amusing than dangerous, involved another late night excursion. An after work birthday drink with an advertising colleague had extended into dinner at a nearby restaurant, which we finally left with just enough time to rush my chum to Victoria station to catch the last train home.
Having consumed an absurd number of Negronis – my friendʼs trendy ad-land tipple of choice – he was very much the worse for wear as we struggled to get him into the front seat of the Porsche. In the exaggerated concern that often afflicts a drunk, my chum was most adamant that he should push his seat as far forward as possible to create legroom for my girlfriend, uncomfortably crammed into the back.
As I accelerated towards Victoria I explained that he had to disengage the lever at the front of the seat and pull forwards. Unfortunately this manoeuvre coincided with me having to execute an emergency stop due to losing concentration while distracted. The immutable laws of physics then applied themselves to the seat and passenger (long before seat belts) who as one continued forward momentum at unabated speed.
The seat came fully off its runners and my chumʼs face became intimate with the padded dashboard. One benefit of (his) mild alcohol poisoning is that he appeared to have suffered no injury so, with time running out and despite him being jammed in the footwell, we continued to Victoria.
In those days you could drive directly onto the platform where, much to the amusement and no doubt amazement of the late-night revellers, with much Fred Karno slapstick, I managed to decant seat, drunken chum and mini-skirted girlfriend into a pile on the platform.
Oh, how I miss the good old days. CP
“OH, HOW I MISS THE GOOD OLD DAYS…”
Many would describe Delwyn Mallett as a serial car collector – one with eclectic tastes at that. His Porsche treasures include a pair of 356 Speedsters, a Le Mansinspired Pre-a coupé and a 1973 Carrera RS. Some of them even work…