The story of Dave Randle’s very first bought and paid-for car is swiftly told.
My first wife and I were shopping in Crawley in 1971, and needed to get ourselves and our shopping back to our ten-foot caravan in Forest Row. The caravan had been delivered and sited for us, but we really needed our own transport.
In someone’s driveway we spotted a nice blue Ford 100E Anglia for sale for 20 quid, so we gave it the once-over and bought it. That would be a good start.
The thing started and ran OK. I kept to the back roads through the Ashdown Forest, emerging just next to the campsite at the rear of the Swan Inn.
As I pulled up beside the caravan, there was an almighty bang and a cloud of smoke.
The car’s next – and final – journey was on the back of a scrapyard low-loader. Ho-hum. Even then, 20 quid for two people and their shopping to travel in comfort from Crawley to Forest Row was not that bad.
In the late Seventies I had a half share with a friend and work colleague in an HB Vauxhall Viva with a vinyl roof and front wings that flapped in the breeze. But, following my second marriage in 1980, something more permanent needed to be arranged.
I had always been a small-car fanatic. My dad had serviced Reliants, Heinkels, Isettas and the like when he worked for Freddie Hawken. The dream car for me was the Imp-engined Bond 875, pictured above, that John Surtees had driven at Brands Hatch.
There was one for sale in Croydon, so we let the train take the strain from Paignton station to Croydon East and did the business.
Even with its silly replacement ‘sports’ steering wheel, it was great to drive and quick off the mark. The Imp gearbox was crisp and responsive and the rear-engined layout meant it was remarkably stable. The previous owner had also replaced the original carburettor with a Weber twin-choke, enhancing the performance of the practically weightless car still further.
There were a few minus points, however.
One was that the foot well and pedals were quite restricted – to the degree that I had to take my boots off to drive it. Another was that, somewhere in the carb, a bit of dirt lurked that would occasionally find its way into the jets, so you would put your foot down to exit a junction and nothing would happen for a long micro second. Then the jet would suddenly clear, causing the car to do a genuine wheelie, and you were off!
On the day the car passed its first MOT, my stepson went walkabout, as he often did. So, at the end of a long hard day at work, we had to go off around Paignton looking for him.
As we made our way up Oldway Road, a skip lorry was turning around in the back gate of the mansion. I thought he was on his last turn and going forward, so drove around behind him. I was wrong. The rear girder of his heavy chassis sliced through the glass fibre door and hit my leg. The windscreen popped out in one piece and skidded across the tarmac, its rear-view mirror still attached.
We put the screen in the back and headed for home where, after an entire weekend of cursing and broken nails, I finally succeeded in refitting it to the car. The door couldn’t be saved, but a friend fabricated a bare aluminium replacement, held in place with a stout bar. Before that, I had driven to work and back and through the thronging tourists with no door on my side however.
The car had started to drink alarming quantities of water and I had taken to carrying a plastic container for topping up. One day, it started to overheat near Station Square, so I had to stop and sort it out, greatly amusing the throng. Once it had cooled and could be restarted, I was out of there. However, to even more howls of mirth, I drove over and burst the water container I had neglected to put back in the car.
Extensive investigations exposed the reason for the problem. The skip lorry had also done for the heater radiator. That was solved by closing it out of the water circuit.
The season over, Madame and I could set off for our belated South Coast honeymoon. We now had no heating and I still had to drive in stocking feet. By Collumpton, we were on the way to exposure, so had to go into a pub and hang our feet over the roasting fire. We managed the Isle of Wight fairly well, the New Forest and along the Sussex coast, then headed inland to East Grinstead to visit old friends.
As I began to turn right into the supermarket car park, at the top of Dunnings Road, I was momentarily blinded by full-on sunlight and failed to notice a Renault 4 emerging from it. The driver was understanding. Her car was undamaged. However, the front of the Bond, consisting of little more than a glass fibre skirt, had shattered and more or less fallen off.
I was able to proceed into a parking bay at a dignified pace as Sue walked beside, holding the skirt up.
Thanks to the local trade ads magazine, we discovered a man with a manual drill, who was able to reassemble the thing with bits of aluminium and pop rivets in the car park. It was lucky the drill was of the handle-winding type because, it being somewhat draughty, he more than once got the thing caught up in my hair as I held the sections for him to drill.
We returned to Paignton without further incident, though the car was no longer a great driving experience and even seemed not to be handling as well as it did when collected from Croydon.
At Paignton harbour, we found a man who built glass fibre boats and was prepared to refabricate the car’s bonnet and front end.
When he’d finished, it was much more substantial, but always after had one raised quizzical eyebrow.
I collected it from him to drive to Plymouth.
On the return journey on the A38, there was another bang and the view of the road whited out. He hadn’t put a catch on the bonnet. Fortunately, I was able to judge what was behind me in the mirrors and bring us safely to rest.
Two external flip catches were added thereafter.
Looking at the car one day, I realised the rear panel was slightly out of true. Further investigation revealed that the bolts that connect the panel to the two side sections of the bodywork, and provide the rear engine mountings on the Imp, depend on the three panels all being made of solid metal. The Bond’s depended on sandwiched glass fibre, so the weight and vibrations of the engine had turned the bolt holes on the nearside into slots, and the engine was slowly subsiding. From then on, regular maintenance would include jacking the engine back up and retightening the clamp bolts in the correct position.
A year on and the MOT was due again. I delivered the car to the garage in Orient Road and Nik Roskelli took it for an initial turn around the block. As he returned he told me to watch while he pulled forward a few yards and applied the brakes.
I could not deny what I saw. The front end of the car stopped and the back caught it up.
The skip lorry had fractured the chassis and it was now entirely severed on that side. No wonder the handling had lost something of its crispness.
It had to go.
A man answered the ad in Exchange & Mart and came to buy it for spares. We waved him off down Colley End Hill and that was more or less the end of it… until we tried to cash his rubber cheque.
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