Driving — 16 Comments

  1. Brings back fond memories.

    Same story about mother; seems reverse parking was her achilles heel. Dad on the other hand was a petrol head, though a lousy driving instructor it seems.

    Went through all manner of cycle until about 14 when I blagged a shot on a Velosolex – and that was it. The day after my 16th, collected a rat NSU Quickly with a top whack of 28 mph (downhill, usual contortions) and a decent cruise of 18 mph. Direct 6v lights scared the willies out of me, but it was genuine independence, until the people at boarding school found out about it, then the shit hit the fan.

    Dad bribed me with a Suzuki M50D, 4 speed, electric start and a proper fuel tank in the correct place if I got rid of the NSU. That would sit in Guyana while I bogged off and got an education in Scotland. I’d get the Suzi all nice and serviced at each holiday, until I got a car licence. Done deal – couldn’t sell the Quickly, so asked a local garage to bung it in his skip. He didn’t, used it as a pit bike for 2 years, but that was okay, I’d got a perfect deal.

    One thing my mother did was telegraph her absolute paranoia of me being in charge of anything with a motor. To avoid stressing her I stuck to 50’s until aged 21 when I got me a Suzuki B120 in London. By then I’d done many other things that sent the pair of them up the wall, like leaving a nice comfortable job in Edinburgh, moving to London, then toying the idea of getting married! A bigger motorbike, albeit a grotty thing, was relatively trivial. (They were still in Guyana and the only practical way to communicate was by mail).

    Still love small engine things. Citroen Dyan being way up there as the most fun for naff all money, with a Honda XL 185 as the best all rounder for me.

  2. I had to Google the NSU Quickly, but once I saw a couple of photos I remembered it well enough. The Velosolex I remember well from my trips to Paris, where they were very popular. Never saw many in the UK though. A few in London when I lived there in 1970, but surprisingly few, given that they’re a great little city runaround.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the Citroen Dyane / 2CV. They always looked like they were going to fall over when going round bends, the body would lean so much, but it was amazing how tenaciously they would stick to the road. Body roll notwithstanding, you could fling them round tight bends at speed with no problem. In fact, I vaguely remember something about Citroen challenging people to cause them to flip over on cornering, they were that confident in the stability, although that may be one of those apocryphal tales. Great fun to drive though. Loved the gear change sticking out of the dash! The Dyane is a rare sighting these days, but there are still plenty of 2CVs running around here in Greece, many of them in mint condition.

  3. The Corgi was dropped with paratroopers during WW2 – and may have been designed with that in mind. I hesitate to think what one is worth in that condition today.

  4. I hesitate to think what one is worth in that condition today.

    I think that about a few of the cars I’ve owned. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

  5. There’s a fully restored 1956 Corgi on one of the classic sites at 3 grand. Most are post war, however the one’s that get collector’s attention are the parachute jobbies. Condition’s secondary – but it has to be all there. Circa 4 to 6 grand Sterling.

    Quickly’s by comparison were far more popular and had a very long production run, plus upgrades. One opportunist in Edinburgh has one up for 1800 Sterling, but it’s a 2 seater and absolutely not a collectable. One’s to get are the single seat circa mid 50’s and in first class nick can go for 3 grand.

    The beauty of the continental mopeds is they were hugely popular over there and the Dutch love them to bits. The Velo solex can be ridden on their (first rate) cycle paths.

    Restored Dyane’s are circa 9k and up. 2 CV are about the same, but not that many are right hand drive. Once in a while a standard car comes up priced sensibly – and they sell in hours. But for real nutters, it’s got to be the 2 CV with the deep bonnet corrugations and (I think) the 400 motor.

    Frustrating one’s the 500 Fiat. Those fetch ludicrous money in restored nick and rhd. Real popular as moving adverts. Even the 126 is a rare thing, mainly because they’re rust buckets.

    Then there’s the bubble cars. It’s total reverse snobbery. I had a Trojan and it was woeful. Kept it for one Weekend! Now it’s the BMW Isetta. Those fetch 20,000 Quid in totally restored condition but you’ll be forced to fork out pretty heavy money even for a barn find. Fantastic investments though, even if they’re terrifying to drive – and fatal in any kind of prang.

  6. I remember the Isetta well, from the early 60’s. One of my neighbours had one and it fascinated me, being a child at the time. It appeared, at the time I ‘noticed’, the engine seemed to be from a Lambretta scooter (I never really found out if that is true). A dog belonging to another neighbour had a penchant for chasing cars up the street, and one day I saw the Isetta coming up the street with the dog glued to the front barking hysterically. It seemed to be standing on its hind legs using the large corner bumper for support and gripping the mirror with its front paws. It was an hilarious car, the first mistake its owner made (only once), was to park the Isetta forward facing into a small garage. It took several people to drag him out, once they had heard his calls for help.

    I also remember, from the same period, the Scammel Scarabs that used to pass my house on their way to the transport yard.

    The Fiat 500 – now there’s one car that people overlooked. When I became old enough for a license I decided to go down the ‘biker’ route and didn’t bother with any more than 2 wheels for quite a few years. When the kids came along in the late 80’s I realised that more carrying capacity was needed, so I got a Reliant Regal van and drove that on my bike license. Almost instantly I became a laughing stock for having only 3 wheels, which I suppose is understandable in a sense – except that some of the people doing the scoffing drove these little Fiats. To compare a Fiat 500 to a Reliant:

    The Reliant would do over 80mph – I don’t know how much more, the speedo needle would sometimes go off the scale and hide itself behind the clock bezel. This was whilst also carrying 4 people. It had a 700cc 4 cylinder engine and once raced (and beat) an 850 Mini up the motorway. It cost (at the time) £35 for a year’s tax, the same as a motorcycle and with the back seat down could carry a decent sized fridge freezer in the back (43 inches from driver’s seat to back door). 0-60 was somewhere around 20 seconds.

    In contrast, they could not produce a 0-60 figure for the Fiat 500 because its top speed was only 55mph so the figures were 0-50. That came out at 42 seconds. Because it had the 4th wheel it cost almost twice as much to tax as the Reliant and boot space was practically non existent. The air cooled 500cc engine was also prone to overheating.

    That being said, I’m glad to see the Fiat 500 come back as a real family car. For all their shortcomings they were sure fun to drive.

  7. One of my early motors was a Messerschmitt, which I touched on in an earlier post. It was remarkably stable for a three-wheeler, so I guess they got the geometry and weight distribution right. I really enjoyed driving it. Nippy and maneuverable, and very low to the ground. It was huge fun, and would probably also be worth a few bob now.

    The old 2CVs, the ‘Dustbin’ model with the corrugations were incredibly hardy. I remember seeing a couple that had made it up to Chitral in the Hindu Kush, which at that time was the preserve of rugged 4WD vehicles. They had good ground clearance, and plenty of travel on the suspension, so coped with the rocky terrain. But tough little buggers.

    As for the Fiat 500, my wife fell in love with them the first time she saw one. Like many Asian women, she’s crazy about anything that’s kitsch, cute and cuddly, and the old Fiat 500 ticks all the boxes! 🙂

  8. Ah, the Scammel Scarabs! When I was nine, I’d get the train to Reading station on my way to school, and they had a few of them there, buzzing quietly around the station area with mysterious packages on the trailer. Didn’t the driver stand up in the cab? My memory is a bit hazy on that. But I seem to recall the guys standing, or half-standing with a bench seat perhaps? Dunno.

  9. That bike looks lethal! No front brake, rear brake lever on the crossbar, and a narrow steering wheel? Blimey! But I can see the appeal. It might not be very safe, but fuck, does it look cool! 🙂 I bet it was a girl magnet!

  10. The scarabs usually worked on the rail yards, you would normally see them in abundance wherever a railway station was nearby. The amazing thing for me at the time was that I’d never seen a 3 wheeled lorry before those. I can’t recall the driving position, I think they had a conventional seating position, unless I’m talking about a late model. The predecessor to the Scarab was the Scammel Mechanical Horse, perhaps they had the stand up cabs. But the Scarabs that worked near to me were always yellow and bore the NCL (National Carriers Limited) logo.

    Sometime around 1966 they changed slightly, single windscreen and two headlamps with a more intricately shaped front. I thought they were all Scarabs but it wasn’t until many years later that I found out that this was the Townsman which replaced the Scarab model.

  11. As I have come to discover, the VW Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche on Hitler’s specifications, which were that it had to be a car for the people, carry a family long distance and be cheap to run and easy to maintain. It seems the Beetle delivered on that, its chassis is incredibly versatile and the engine can be dropped in literally seconds. The 2CV was born the same way – Citroen making a people’s (or peasant’s) car, aimed primarily at peasant farmers. One of the specifications was that the car had to be capable of carrying a tray of eggs over a ploughed field without dropping or breaking any. The result was incredibly flexible and rugged suspension, with the ground clearance suitable for a ploughed field. Citroen have been arguably the masters of car suspension ever since.

  12. The livery I remember is the British Rail Coffee and Cream. I would have been passing that station in around 1958 to 1960 I guess.

    I would imagine the short wheel-base, three-wheel layout (probably with a massive lock, although I’m guessing at that) with the rounded nose gave them a great deal of maneuverability in the tight confines of a railway yard. Add to that the flexibility (both physical and operational) of an articulated vehicle with detachable trailer, and it was probably pretty much the perfect vehicle for the demands of the time.

  13. Damn! You got me all fussed about the Isetta.

    It could be your neighbour had an ISO Isetta. That was the original. ISO designed the body and it had a 2 stroke engine. The engine I believe was designed by them and it was interesting insofar as it was a split piston design. Very expensive to produce and part of the reason ISO got into severe financial difficulties.

    BMW bought the whole thing off ISO, tidied it up and put a 250cc 4 stroke engine into it. The motor was in fact from their R25 motorcycle, with a fan and cooling shroud added. Later the swept volume was increased to 300cc’s.

    Now it could be that the Lambretta importers brought the ISO’s into the UK, hence the connection, or it could be the owner used a scooter shop for routine maintenance.

    However there’s another possibility. The Lambretta importer was the UK agent for another bubble car, the Heinkel. That has a very similar design with entrance through the front facing door, however it only had a 175cc motor – from their scooter – in the back. It too was 4 stroke.

    During the early 60’s Heinkel licensed their car for assembly in the UK. I believe it was to get round all the import restrictions springing at the time. So they came over in kit form with final assembly and a few things like battery, light bulbs and such sourced in Britain to enable it comply with the “by value” minimum to avoid hefty tarrifs. They were still LHD, but they were badged as Trojan. That was the one I bought and got rid off in one 72 hour period.

    Like yourself, I looked at 3 wheelers because I did not have a car license in the UK at the time – and was on a severe budget. Reliants were far too serious for me, yes they could shift and they were quite conventional inside. Was surprised how long that firm lasted – up until 2000. There were quite advanced plans at one stage to produce an electric version, but it seems the firm is “Reliant is instead to import four-wheeled vans from French manufacturer Ligier and Italian-based Piaggio, which also makes Vespa scooters.”

    But that must have fallen through, because Piaggio flog them direct to the public, including their iconic Ape.

    However you may not be aware of the fact they have re-started production of the Peel. Should you have a spare £14,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy a brand spanking new Peel P50 or Trident with petrol or electric motors. The motor is a 50cc Honda jobbie and speed is 45 kph. And you’ll be the centre of attention anywhere. Guaranteed. Though not for the right reasons!

    On the other hand, another 20 grand’ll get you a bloody good car – the Morgan 3 wheeler.

    Must say I was tempted, but they have no form of weather protection at all and no plans to bring out a hard top version. But boy, if you want to be noticed, this’ll get it in spades.

    Your mention of the Scarabs reminded me of yet another commercial vehicle I used to see all over the place in my youth.

    And would you believe, my “scratch an itch” scooter is an Aprilia Scarabeo 100 2T. New old stock, built in 2000, bought in 2004 and still going strong for those days when I just HAVE to blow out some cobwebs.

  14. Sorry SS, your post went to the sin bin because of the number of links. I hadn’t even noticed, but Grandad came across it just now as he was doing his housekeeping in the sites he oversees.

    Talking about the little Piaggio truck reminds me of a similar vehicle made by a Chinese company (the name evades me now) which I saw quite a few of in Thailand. Unremarkable vehicles except for the blatant rip-off grille, which is quite amusing given the disparity between the original and the wannabe.


  15. That’s fine; knew I’d gone over the two link limit, but what the heck.

    There’s only one iconic Ape and that’s the one with 3 wheels and a 50cc motor.

    These are perfect for deliveries in the old parts of Italian towns that were never intended for vehicles. It’s also the real reason why the Fiat 500 took off the way it did.