My First Car by Anthony J Sargeant
My first car was bought from the brother of a friend of mine for £30. It was a 1936 Ford 10.
I completely overhauled the 4 cylinder side valve engine, grinding in the valves, replacing piston rings, big ends, and on two occasions stripping down the rear axle to replace broken crown and pinion gears in the differential.
A 1936 Ford 10 – unfortunately I failed to take any photographs of my own car and this is the only one to be found on the web which has right hand drive and is in Australia (note the typical, for the period, forward opening doors.
My car was repainted by hand in maroon with black mudguards which looked very smart.
For an 18 year old it was great to have a car and to be mobile. I had passed my driving test first time within 6 months of my 18th birthday. I had actually learnt to drive on my fathers 1953 Ford Zephyr which was a big beast of a car but it was thought prudent to take the test on something more modest and so a sit-up-and beg 1949 Ford Popular was borrowed from a friend.
At that time annual MOT tests had started to check basic safety including brakes and lighting of older cars. The only way the Ford 10 would get through such a test was by taking it to a somewhat shady garage underneath the arches in Peckham where the testing standards were less rigorous than perhaps they should have been (also it was run by somebody my father knew).
Nevertheless the Ford did sterling service. Taking four us to North Wales to go rock climbing on one occasion and more domestically getting me to rugby matches and even home again in pre-breathalyser days, as well as other social occasions.
With four of us in the car the trip to North Wales and back to London was uneventful except for a number of punctures – perhaps five or six. These were caused by the pinching of the inner tube in the repaired split wall of the outer tyres. In those days it was common practice to glue a reinforced rubber and canvas patch on the inside of the tyre to cover such splits – today you are not allowed to repair even a small nail hole if it is in the side wall. Side wall repair sounds incredibly dangerous but then cars were much slower. Even if a tyre burst you were unlikely to be going very fast and even in those pre-seat belt days you might survive.
The major safety problem with the car was the brakes. The hub brakes were controlled by four steel rods radiating from a central position under the chassis connected directly to the pedal (no hydraulics). It was however extremely difficult to balance this mechanical arrangement and as a consequence the car would veer to one side or the other on braking, which tendency was more serious if the veering was to the off-side and into the face of oncoming traffic.
The handbrake which only operated on the rear wheels was also ‘difficult’ and on occasions when parking on hills I was forced to ‘lean’ the car against a lamp-post so that it did no run away.
Like all Fords up until the 1960s it only had three forward gears which made for less than nippy performance. Then there were mechanical trafficators which popped out from the door pillar when activated …. sometimes, but sometimes didn’t, leaving one to make flailing hand signals.
Instead of an electric motor the windscreen wipers were driven by the suction created in the inlet manifold – all very well until the engine was labouring to climb a hill when the suction fell and with it the speed of the wipers to dead slow – giving little visible on a dark rainy night.
Then of course there was an electric starter motor which would occasionally get the engine going if the manual choke was carefully adjusted – but more often than not would not and so it was out with the manual starting handle inserted through a slotted hole in the radiator grill.
On two occasions I damaged the crown and pinion in the differential in the rear axle and had to strip this down and replace them with units bought from car scrap yards.
The first time was the consequence of taking a right hand bend at the bottom of Beckenham Place Park on an autumn day when there were wet leaves on the road. The car spun 360 degrees in front of an oncoming truck but fortunately spun back to the left eventually hitting the nearside kerb. The side impact on the rear wheel broke the crown-wheel inside the differential.
The second time was when on my way back from a seven-a-side rugby tournament in Gravesend I failed to stop at a junction and was hit sideways on by a Mini driven by a young possibly uninsured driver whose father agreed to accept some money – not too much – rather than go through insurance. I had a car full of friends and we were lucky not to be seriously injured. So another trip to the scrap yard for replacement parts.
When I owned the Ford 10 I was playing 1st team rugby every week during the season and would drive to the more local games – which was fine. What was less ‘fine’ was driving home afterwards. Rugby was a very social sport in those days and we would often consume a lot of beer (perhaps 8 to 10 pints of bitter) in the club house after matches and still drive home. It was in the days before breathalysers and real awareness of the dangers of drink-driving. Looking back it is amazing and lucky that we survived unscathed – not to mention innocent third parties – the alcohol compounding the effect of the car’s poor brakes, lights, windscreen wipers and trafficators. Oh Dear – the folly and irresponsibility of youth!
Anthony J Sargeant