My Life on Wheels

Beginnings

 Note.  The Items underlined have links to the relevant pages on Wikipedia.

Like many of my age group in Britain, over eighty, my experiences with wheeled transport is a reflection of the times we have lived in. My first experience of a wheeled devise was a pair of roller skates given as a Christmas or birthday present, I don’t remember which. I used them to roll down the steep city street I lived on for thrills. It was quite safe to do so because there was so little traffic away from the main roads in nineteen forties Britain, with only one person in the street owning an elderly pre-war Austin Seven. My first bicycle was a hand me down from an older brother which I used get around the city where worked as an apprentice electrician. In time I graduated to a sports model. This was OK until my parents decided to move back to the country village ten hilly miles from the city I worked in. I don’t know how these modern Lycra tyros do it today, But I soon found that after a hard days work it was just too much, and had to resort to the cold, slow, often crowded country bus. As soon as I was old enough in the early nineteen fifties, I began looking for a motorcycle I could afford, and purchased a very tired 500cc Rudge Special, from a colleague that broke down before I had ridden all the way home. The Special had a single cylinder with four overhead valves and two exhaust pipes and would have been something special in its day, but that was long gone so I sold it on. So again I was looking for transport and found that I could just about afford an Excelsior 98cc two-stroke, two speed motorcycle. Very light and simple and slow. This suited me for a few years until I could afford a proper motorbike,  A Matchless G3/LS, 350cc single. This served me well, with many journey from Cornwall to Bristol while I was serving my National Service in the RAF, and later weekend trips to Dublin via Holyhead for the ferry, to visit my future wife in Dublin. Married life and the start of a family brought about the need for enclosed transport, and as I only had a motorcycle licence and insufficient means to purchase even a second hand car. I purchased my first and so far only BMW. A British built Isetta three wheeled bubble car. You could drive one on a motorcycle licence if the reverse gear was blanked off. The blanking plate I made was a bit springy so it still worked. The longest trip we made in that car was to Dublin via Fishguard. This before the days of the roll on roll off ferries, and It was hoisted on and off the boat in a net. I always remember when off-loaded at Rosslare Harbour in Ireland, three large men dwarfing it, pushing it on to a flat railway truck as if it was a tank. This was at the end of a pier with only a railway track to the shore, so we then had a short train journey. I remember the road to Dublin  was terrible.

                                                                                              
  Isetta in Ireland
With the Isetta in Ireland


On Four Wheels

 This was in the early nineteen sixties.  At that time I had begun to work for a local utility company, that due to government  policy was expanding its area of operations, and needed a mobile workforce. As at that time it was not common to hold a driving licence for cars and vans. They had their own driving instructor to remedy that. So I learnt to pass the driving test in a series 2 Morris Minor van, the beginning of a long association the Minor and derived models. From that time, 1964 and the next ten years was the period when I only drove light vans, at work and my personal transport. As my family continued to grow, the two seat Isetta had to go and was replaced by a new Autobianchi  Furgoncino van. The was the van version of Fiat 500 Gardinera derived premium model the Autobianchi Panoramica. The Gardiniera  was the estate version of the Nova 500. It had an air-cooled engine located under floor at the rear of the car. I purchased a van because at that time the tax imposed on luxury goods like cars, purchase tax at 25%, was not levied on vans. (I would have liked a Beetle but it would have been an old one.) This served me and my small family well for a couple of years, although slow by to days standards was fun to drive.

                                                                                                 Autobianchi

Our Autobianchi  Furgoncino van.


But the family kept growing and in numbers, so it was replaced by an other van, a one year old Austin A55 half ton model. The solid but dated machine served us well for the next seven year. The longest trip in this one was a camping holiday in Scotland. Throughout the nineteen seventies I drove a Morris Minor Thousand, van for work, which I always enjoyed. Whilst referring to vans, I had a short test drive in an electric van developed by the local electricity supply company, that was quite lively, but heard no more of it. In nineteen seventy four I purchased my first car. It was a new1275cc Morris Marina 2 door. I had ordered the cheapest model in the range with drum brakes, but was pleased to received one with disc’s at the front. I remember being disappointed in the paint finish. I selected a model of dated design because to keep cost down, it was easier to maintain myself than the newer front wheel drive models.It remained in the family until the early nineteen eighties.

                                                                                                    Out Morris Marina

Our Morris Marina

Early in nineteen seventy nine I received a promotion at work that required me to provide my own transport, As by then the Marina was being used regularly by the family, I had to find a reliable car that I could afford to purchase. My answer to that that was to purchase a new Citroen Dyane, a fancy version of the Citroen 2CV. The 2CV was not sold in the UK at the time. It was good basic if quirky transport that did the job for about a year until my employer decided that a company car was the way to go. As a temporary measure I was given a Mk1 Ford Fiesta that was great fun to drive. This left me with an ageing Marina that was passed to a daughter and an almost new Dyane, which I found my wife could not master the odd gear change. So the Diane was traded in for a one litre Austin Metro which was similar in size and performance as the Fiesta and served us well.  We had a trip with our son to Yugoslavia in 1982, via Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy and back via Switzerland . A summary of the trip can be found by following this link- Yugoslavia Trip. A year later we needed a car with more room than the Metro. We planned to take one of our daughters, husband and young family to France for a holiday, so needed a larger car. I traded in the Metro for a year old Morris Ital. I knew this model well as it was revamped Marina with component links to the Morris Minor. Little did I think that I would drive this car for nine years and keep its major components until two thousand and sixteen.
In the mean time the Mk1 Fiesta had been exchanged for MK2 1600cc diesel Fiesta that did the job but was definitely not fun. I was to drive Fiesta diesels for the next nine years for work. Perhaps as a result of driving diesel Fiesta’s and elderly Ital. for leisure, I made my only motoring impulse purchase. For some reason I was walking past a high street car dealership, and spotted a new MG Metro in the window. Out of curiosity I went in and made enquires. As a result  I was offered the car for £5360 almost £1200 off list price, an offer I could not refuse and never regretted. It had the same engine specification as the Mini Cooper of the period and was great fun to drive. 

                                                                                               MG Metro

Our MG Metro

It served me well and was used for trips all over Europe, that is until about eight years later we were on a trip to Germany. We were about to leave the cross channel ferry but were unable to start the engine due to starter failure, so had to be push started. So I had to park the car on a slope for the rest of the holiday. To make matters worse an intermittent ignition fault  was added to our troubles. Both were soon rectified in the UK, but confidence was lost and it had to go.
 I had tried classic car restoration previously, A Morris Minor MM and an MG Midget, both of which had to be abandoned due to the advanced corrosion of the shell. I was able to pass on valuable components to others to complete their projects. So had turned to a kit car, whose chassis and body panel’s where both corrosion free twenty five years later. By then the ten year old Morris Ital. was showing signs of advanced corrosion as had the Marina before it, So was dismantled and the components where used to build a kit car, a Marlin Roadster.  You can read more about my kit cars by following this link. My Fun cars.

                              My Ital      building the Marlin     My Marlin roadster

From Morris Ital To Marlin Roadster

Going back to company cars, by 1992 I was promoted to a Ford Orion 1800cc Diesel saloon. It was less than two years later that I took early retirement, so the car was surplus to my employer and I was encouraged to purchase it. It was a well appointed car and could have been our family car for many year, but unfortunately smaller Ford’s did not come with power steering at that time and the engine was a heavy lump, so much so that my wife could not manage the car. We forget about such things today, but without it you would not see many people driving large SUV’s today. So the Orion had to go, being replaced by a Subaru MV pick-up, which I used for  my new occupation, gardening and odd jobbing. It was to prove very useful for collecting components and GRP mouldings for the GTM project that I will come to later. It was sold on after a few years, being surplus to requirement. The Marlin Roadster carrying on in its roll until I finally retired at seventy.

                                                                         My Suberu MV, MG Metro
            and Marlin

My Subaru MV, MG Metro and Marlin Roadster

My GTM project began in 1995 and the result of a request by my son for us to build for him a GTM Rossa K3 kit car. Soon after he was asked to work in Germany. So had to finish it for my self and drive it for the next twenty years. That story is also told in My Fun cars.


                            Rossa under
                construction   Rossa open top   Rossa Coupe

My GTM Rossa

The MG Metro was traded in for a new Citroen ZX  in 1994, that was to give good service for five years before repeated small failure indicated a poor build quality so that had to go.The ZX was replaced by  a Rover 25 that gave good service for eight years pleasant driving, selling it on to a member of the family.

                                                            Our Citroen ZX          our Rover 25

Our Citroen ZX and Rover 25

 Our next car was a Fiat Punto Grande, with a turbo diesel engine. Very economical if not the best handling car I have owned. I made the great mistake of trading it in for a Hyundai i20, after five years due to some component failures. Of all the cars I have driven over the last fifty years, which will include a lot more I will come to later, none has made me feel that I was losing my ability to drive, but this car did, at one point making me think I would need to change to an automatic, and after persisting for four increasingly frustrating years it had to go. The car that replaced it, which I will come to later, soon confirmed that was unnecessary.

Rental Cars around the world

 After using our own car, with the aid of various cross channel and Irish sea ferries to explore Europe, It was inevitable that we should venture farther afield to various Mediterranean island. To explore them we needed the aid of the rental or to us British, hire cars. Our first couple of experiences with them was not promising. The first was on Malta, and was a beat up Mini with only one wiper blade. Fortunately Malta is quite small so we couldn’t get into any trouble. The next one was on Cyprus and was a part of a holiday package. It was an elderly Suzuki SC100 with a 970cc engine. Unfortunately it refused to climb the Trudoos Mountains, so it was exchanged for a Daihatsu, possibly a Charade that would. This was at a time before both makes had became a familiar sight in the UK. Over the years I would become familiar with various small European rental cars, from Corsa’s to Punto’s, to small Peugeot’s and others I can’t recall. One of the oddest was a Citroen C2 that I thought to have a strange seating layout. During the same period we ventured farther afield to the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Tasmania, sampling all kinds of rental cars. In the USA  I found the Chevrolet Corsica’s and Cavalier’s, high on specification by European small car standards but low on refinement. The Chrysler Neon was better, but I was not impressed until I drove a Ford Focus in Canada in 2010 for a couple of weeks and thought it was so much better than the north American Ford Fusion that I had driven on a previous visit. In Australia I remember renting a Toyota Starlet, a Suzuki Cultis and a Hyundai Getz. They were quite sufficient for a country with a 100kmh speed limit. In New Zealand I drove a Nissan Maxima in the North Island and a Rover 600 in the which I enjoyed. In Tasmania I drove a Hyundai i30, fortunately an automatic. It was great fun driving on road similar to rural UK but without the traffic and the lycra covered cyclist. I have now become of an age that rental companies don’t like. It seems that renting a car is a thing you do between the ages of twenty five and seventy five.  In recent years I have managed rent a couple of cars, the first was  a very underpowered Corsa for a two week tour all round the coast of Ireland. The second was very new VW Polo for a few days in West Cork, Ireland, which was a great drive. Fortunately Enterprise did not discriminate against elderly drivers. But maybe my days of fly and drive are over.

                 Chysler Neon  Chev Cavalier  Rover 600  Fiat Punto  Ford Focus 

Exchanging

I have also found another way in the past of driving while visiting other countries, as part of house and car exchange. That extends my list of driving experiences to a Hyundai Accent in Queensland, Australia, and a Honda Civic in British Columbia, a Mazda 5 in Toronto and Toyota Corolla on Vancouver Island all in Canada.

Recent Years

By two thousand and seventeen I had sold my two kit cars, both in running order and with the potential for a long life ahead of them, with the necessary safety test certificates known as an MOT in the UK, although the Marlin engine needed work to get running correctly, after resting in the garage for a few years. I was looking around for a replacement for the i20. I have learnt that a super mini car with a small engine tuned for economy, such as the Opel Corsa I had driven in Ireland and my Hyundai i20, was no fun to drive, so I had to find a car with reasonable sized engine that I could afford to to buy and would be rewarding to drive. That's when I discovered  my latest car. After reading reviews on line, looking up background information and a satisfactory test drive I chose a car that was designed and assembled at the site that had produced many of the cars I have owned in the past, at Longbridge, Birmingham, England.  My MG Motors MG3 may have been manufactured in China but it reflexes the spirit of  the past, with a firm but precise ride and handling, a flexible and willing 1500cc engine. By using the the gear box, as with a small turbo-charged diesel the lack of low end torque is easily overcome. It has restored my faith in my ability to drive, and has been a pleasure to drive for the last two years, and I hope for many years to come.

Our MG3

Our MG3