Last Friday one of the things we were making fun of was our various car histories. Now I’ve owned some truly poor cars, not necessarily the condition, and when I say British cars from the 70’s were some of the poorest ever made. And here I talk from a place of authority, I owned some of them.
Austin Allegro – This was the first generation and one of the worst cars ever designed, complete with hexagonal steering wheel. It really did show everything that was wrong with the British car industry in the 70’s. But it had three things going for it:
- It was free as long as I could get it started and moved from under the tarp in my Aunts farm
- It was cheap to insure
- I had the engine out of the Mini in it and was ridiculously easy to work on.
This last point was very important, because I got a lot of practice working on it. My grandfather was in his own petrolhead heaven, passing on hard won experience to his grandson. I learned how to set tappits, timing, points, plug gap, clutch throw, valve clearance, bearing preload and what the kingpin angle was. He showed me how to measure and set toe along with a thousand other little things.
Unfortunately almost none of them have any use on the computer controlled cars of today. But rebuilding a distributor and resetting the points on the side of the road in darkest Surrey did more to prepare me to work on racing cars than anything else.
Vauxhall Chevette – Another 70’s British car, it was affordable, had decent handling (especially compared to the Allegro) and enough power to get me into trouble. The only problem was that it was British built once more. I did a few road rallies in it, spun it into kerbs a couple of times and once missed a turn, went through a wooden gate and into a plowed field. After a year or two of abuse something broke in the gearbox and I was left with 2nd and 4th only.
Ford EscortMkII – A classic, bought it from my mums boss for the princely sum of 400 pounds. It was a four door and had a lot more power than the Chevette. Unfortunately the tires were well worn, I gave it a boot full in the wet, went spinning off the road, bounced off a portakabin and into a parked RAF Land Rover 6 days after driving it for the first time. The car was destroyed and I was back into the two speed Chevette for another few months.
Austin Metro 1.3s – Here is where the apprenticeship that started with the Allegro was honed to a fine edge. It had the same engine and gearbox as the Allegro (A series if you are interested) so I knew what to do when it blew a head gasket. First time it happened it was just like old times. Granddad and I had the engine apart, head gasket replaced and the car back together in about three hours. After the second new head gasket blew I learned how to check the head for warping with a sheet of glass and a feeler gauge. Then off to the scrap yard we went for a new head and back to the whole tappet setting routine.
Ford Escort Mk3 – this was just about the most boring car I’ve ever owned. There was nothing remarkable about owning this car what so ever, I think it was red.
There were a few years filled with company cars, yes it’s a nice perk to have a company provided car, but they are so damn boring. Yes, we had fun with them, abused them in ways I’d never do to my own car (and that’s quite the claim as I have really thrashed my own cars at times).