Z’s cars

Wendz asked about the car in the picture.  We only ever had one white car, so either it’s that or it belonged to a visitor.  I’ve been looking for pictures of our white car and can’t find one taken from just that angle, but I think it’s possible that the car is my father’s Daimler Dart.  If it is, this dates the photo to the very early 1960s.  My parents saw the car at the 1959 Motor Show when it was introduced and ordered it.

My father’s previous sports car was the Austin Healey Sprite, the frogeye model.  We travelled all over Europe in that when I was five.  I was a dainty child but my mother said I got heavier with a bonier bottom by the day – it was a two-seater and there were four of us, they put a little seat in the middle behind the seats for my sister, who was just eleven that spring and must have been quite uncomfortable, and I sat on my mother’s lap.  That was the holiday we were about to leave for when we first got Simon.  I don’t remember all that much about it, we visited several countries but I only really remember Austria.  We stayed at the Sport Hotel which might have been in Innsbruck and I do remember liking Innsbruck very much.  I also remember being overcome by the sight of all the snow with the sun shining on it and crying – little wuss – but afterwards eating oranges and enjoying the scenery.  The next year, my parents went back to the hotel and the staff were very disappointed that I wasn’t there.  “Where’s Alice?” they asked – I was often called Alice in my younger days, even when grown up, right up until the time I had my hair cut short, in my thirties.

I suspect that this car wasn’t fast enough for my father and that was the reason it was replaced by the Daimler Dart.  My mother always had a second-hand Daimler and my father also had a small runabout for general getting about town.  All our cars were always British, there was no question about that.  My mother had learned to drive in a big car – I think it was a Lanchester – and there was no clutch but, as she told me, a “fluid flywheel and pre-selected gears” which was, I suppose, the precursor to the automatic gearbox and she never mastered the clutch.  If she’d had to, she would have but she liked the feel of a big, coach-built car and didn’t mind how old it was.  I have to say, I see her point – I used to like a nippy little car that was easy to park when I used to go to Norwich a lot, but I do like the weight and high seat of my present Landrover and I’m rather enjoying having an automatic again, though I don’t mind either way.

My parents’ first car was an elderly Landrover which was missing its back door.  When they drove to London for a banquet at the Mansion House, they wedged a suitcase across the gap to stop everything from falling out of the back, and cheerily handed the keys over for it to be parked, not being a bit dismayed by having such a scruffy old car among the smart ones.  I was born later the same year and my mother insisted on selling it because she was afraid of my carrycot falling out.  Later they had a Morris Oxford – there would have been no question of an Austin Cambridge.  The town was never mentioned in our house – as an Oxford graduate, he’d have referred contemptuously to ‘the other place.”  I never even visited Cambridge – which is lovely, of course – until after he died.

I’ve been rambling on and I meant to tell you about the Daimler Dart.  It was a marvellous car, very fast with a superb engine.  However, as so often happens, there was a problem with the detail of manufacture.  They had a reputation in the early days of a door flying open at speed.  Worse was a fault that came to light when my parents were on that holiday they took without us.

We had been left with our Dutch au pair’s parents in the Hague and they left for another tour of Europe.  They visited Nice, Chamonix, Capri, Innsbruck, Vienna – can’t think of other places at the moment, but it was a lovely tour.  They had been driving across the Alps, up and down winding mountain roads with hairpin bends, then reached their overnight destination.  When they set off again, my father drove down the road, braked for a junction and the brakes failed completely.  He twisted the wheel to the right, turned the corner at some speed and, changing down gear, slowed the car with the wheel against the kerb and finally stopped it with the handbrake.  When it was taken to the garage it transpired that the brake cable was too long and rubbed every time he put his foot on the brake – the mountain trip had finally caused it to wear through and all the brake fluid was lost.  And if it had happened an hour’s drive earlier, they would have still been on the mountain and would certainly have left the road and been killed.  When they arrived home, there was a letter from the garage calling the car in for the fault to be corrected.

But no matter, an accident that didn’t happen isn’t one to dwell on.

Some years ago, we visited the Haynes Motor Museum near Yeovil and it was a brilliant nostalgia trip. They had all the cars that my parents and the Sage’s parents and their friends had ever owned, large and small.  What was particularly good was that it wasn’t just the big cars, like the Sage’s godfather’s Bentley, but the little Morrises, Austins, Rovers and so on that most people had.  Few people had a foreign car in those days.  

15 comments on “Z’s cars

  1. Sir Bruin

    I remember my father having a Morris Oxford. It was two tone blue and grey and I believe he paid around £60 for it. There was a pull down arm rest on the back seat that I used to seat on so that I could see out of the front. I used to get very travel sick, as I recall.
    I also prefer big cars (being the larger bear, that makes sense). I had a bike licence before I got my car licence. At that time, British cars were not worth having (remember the awful Morris Ital?)

  2. allotmentqueen

    I used to have a boyfriend who had a frogeye…

    Can’t imagine anyone wanting to have a five year old on their lap whilst they drove round Europe, though.

    For a brief period in the late 60s, when I was about 13, we had a Bedford van (I can’t remember why). It had a bench seat in the front and doors that slid back. When it was sunny we used to drive along with the doors open. And no seat belts, obviously.

  3. wendz

    Thanks Z. When we were talking about it I poo-poo’ed it being a Peugeot – said I couldn’t imagine your family buying anything but British and there you go.

    I hate trying to park our cars – they are far too big for our little town – and I am lightly teased every time. I do miss my nippy little Citroen.

  4. Wink

    Hi darling – sorry to be pedantic but the daimler dart was pillar box red and we stayed in Igls which is just outside Innsbruck.

  5. Z

    It’s my pleasure, Ruma, you have a lovely blog.

    I suppose it was just because I was so small, AQ, that they thought it would be all right. But three weeks!

    My mother’s Daimlers had bench seats in the front, jolly useful because you could get three in the front, whole crowds in the back. And driving was fun in those days.

    At least being used to a big car (my last two were estate cars) means that my reverse parking skills are pretty damn good, Wendz – and thank you for inspiring a whole post!

  6. Z

    Was it? What was white then, was it the Sprite? And I thought the Sport wasn’t in Innsbruck itself, but I couldn’t remember where. I was only little…

  7. Mike and Ann

    Hello Z. Your mother’s car with the fluid flywheel and the pre selector gearbox was probably a 1930s Daimler. I believe several of those had these features. The only car I ever did over a hundred m.p.h. in was a 1936 Armstrong Siddely Sapphire, which also had a fluid flywheel and that strange pre- selector gearbox. It wasn’t mine – I was in the passenger seat- but I think I’ve got the details right.

  8. Z

    It was a ’30s car but it wasn’t a Daimler, I’d have remembered that because she had them when I was a child. She’d have been quite proud of only having driven Daimlers!

  9. Mike and Ann

    I should have said that the FIRST car I ever did over 100 mph in was an Armstrong Siddely Sapphire. Maybe your mother had one of those. They were a lovely car. I’m sure the Sage would know of them.

  10. Wink

    The sprite was white – I think the first daimler was in the 60s because Daddy bought it new for her 40th birthday.

  11. Z

    Could it be the Sprite in the picture then? In that case, it’s a little earlier, late 1950s.

    She was 40 in November 1963 and he bought her new Austin Princess (BRT414B) in 1964 at the same time he bought his green Triumph (BRT5B). The Daimler she’d previously had (ORU750) was second-hand and it was passed on to Raymond. She always said the Princess was the first new car she’d ever had.


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