We always enjoy receiving correspondence from our readers, but one particular missive stood out this year. Jim sent us a fascinating typewritten letter detailing his extensive driving experience, dating all the way back to the thirties, when the Morris Minor MM and the Ford Model Y reigned supreme in Ireland.
Jim, who lives locally, asked us not to publish his precise date of birth, but the Irish Free State was in its infancy when he was born in Cork. He later joined the Irish Army as a cadet, graduating into ‘The Emergency’.
It was a time of immense change, not least in the realm of transportation. Frank Whittle tested the world’s first commercial jet engine and Aer Lingus began operations with a modest flight from Dublin to Bristol.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jim, who told me about the first car he ever drove, HI 2056. He recalled that it was quite basic: “The wiper did not have a motor – a pin ran from the wiper through the upper part of the windscreen and there was a little handle fixed to the pin at the driver’s side, which the driver turned to move the wiper.”
It also had a new and somewhat dangerous addition called four-wheel brakes. Most cars in the thirties only had brakes on the rear wheels and his car had a small sign warning other motorists to keep back, as its fancy new four-wheel braking meant it could stop quite quickly. “If you want to see why the warning was necessary,” he said, “stop your car using the handbrake only.”
A key skill back then was the ability to change a tyre: “Imagine what a worn horseshoe with an edge like a razor could do to a tyre and wheel.”
The first car he owned was a black two-door Morris Minor MM, with no sat nav – “who are you codding” – nor heater, radio or reversing lights.
Jim recalled getting a new engine fitted to his car for the princely sum of £30. He was quick to point out that at that price it was only a reconditioned engine. Most engines of the time would only manage about 30,000 miles, at which time the fumes would “smother anyone within 100 yards.”
I was particularly taken with the price of motoring necessities back when Jim began driving. A licence was obtained by simply filling out a form with the County Council and forking out a mere ‘ten bob’, which is less than €5 today. His car insurance for the year was £32 on a ten-horsepower car, and he considered it expensive – some things never change!
Jim went on to have a succession of cars as the years went by, including the above-mentioned Ford Model Y, a Volkswagen Beetle (costing him £444 and proving to be very reliable), and a Toyota Corolla. Despite entering his tenth decade, Jim still drives about 6,000 miles a year in his present car, a Suzuki Liana (an acronym for ‘Life In A New Age’).
When asked about his observations on our modern driving style, he mentioned the usual suspects: motorists not dipping their lights on meeting other cars and failing to indicate at junctions, traffic lights, etc. He also lamented that today, nobody seems to stop for other motorists who have broken down – back in the forties and fifties you always stopped to help a fellow car driver. Indeed, I saw my own father do this many times when I was young.
Jim is a very spry and switched-on motorist with great memories of a time when driving was an adventure and there was no guarantee that you’d finish any particular journey on the day you set out.
This columnist was delighted to meet up with him and wishes him safe driving and a very Merry Christmas. Thanks, Jim.