Motoring Days of Long Ago

A trip to Scarborough in the old Austin, COH 74, in 1957.

A trip to Scarborough in the old Austin, COH 74, in 1957.

When I was young, in the early 1950s, my parents didn’t have a car, but would either borrow my grandparents’ car or we would all go out together in it. The car had none of the modern conveniences, but neither was there much traffic on the roads then to cause inconvenience.

The favourite hobby of my grandmother when we were out car riding was stopping for a picnic. We all expected her to suddenly shout: “Stop here!” and she had to be obeyed. It didn’t matter where she was, she would always find somewhere to stop. I remember my mother complaining of having picnics in some very strange places. There again, though, with not so many people out in cars doing the same thing, this posed no real problem or caused us to be a nuisance to others.

A Primus stove would always be packed along with any other objects required to bring a modicum of comfort to this ancient car and to the picnic. My father continued using the same Primus stove until his death in 1994, and we still have it stored. Many of these habits have lived on with me.

In 1955, much to my father’s delight, he bought a secondhand Austin car,

COH 74. It was his pride and joy, even though he seemed to spend more time under the bonnet than driving it. We were now mobile ourselves, and weekend trips during the summer became a regular habit.

Plenty of room to pull off and get the food out...a roadside picnic in 1951.

Plenty of room to pull off and get the food out…a roadside picnic in 1951.

During the winter it was a different thing altogether, as there was no heater in the car. There wasn’t even any heat to stop the windscreen from freezing up, and it often necessitated my father’s head hung out of the window to see where we were going, or a hand out to remove ice from the windscreen.

One winter I remember him being asked by a friend to take her to Grantham so that she could stay with her family. It was such an important decision: a trip like this in winter had never been undertaken before. There was a family discussion, then all the organising to do.

On the important day, Thermos flasks had to be filled with hot drinks to keep us warm inside, hot water bottles were filled and finally blankets were piled into the car, then we said a little prayer that the weather wouldn’t get too bad for the journey, but more importantly that we wouldn’t get a puncture, for these were the norm on long journeys then.

At last we were ready for the expedition – at least that’s what it felt like to me then, and still does today when I think of that journey.

With modern cars we I wouldn’t think twice about doing such a trip. Those were certainly the motoring days to remember -but not to be endured again!

* S. M. Shaw.