THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
No doubt where most of them are today
Brought about by a story of vintage buses and then remembering all those years of four on the floor,
the mind wandered into its archives and came up with all the many vehicles I’ve owned over the years
and they will now be divided into the following categories of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
Due to the passage of time over my 47 years of motoring behind the wheel many of the pictures of my then “pride and joys” can’t be found so suitable “google replicas” of said vehicles have been used to suppliment the text.
Having achieved the ripe old age of 17 my first car is sourced and given the once over by Father who
is a Ministry of Transport Driving Examiner ……. it is a 1944 ex Royal Mail Morris 8 Van. “L” plates are
affixed and Dad takes me through all the delights of car mechanics including how to start this beast,
wheel changing, and what to carry onboard at all times. Starting is an art and requires lifting the right
side engine panel and priming the carb. Now round the front and insert the starting handle, and with
proper placement of thumb and hand one almighty swing and a little over 1200cc’s would burst into
life. It did have a floor starter but the knob had come off leaving just a rod which would go through the
sole of your shoe, so hand cranking was the norm. It did the job, I passed my test, and other than
evening pleasures I used it a few times to take the Greeves to a trial or two because I could ! Where
does this one go in the categories? Difficult, it has to be Good as it was my first, but looking at it now
it really is pigging Ugly !
The Ex Royal Mail Morris 8 van from 1944 ! ….. but “IT” was my first
The year changes to 1964 and I’m due to start RAF Officer training on March 2nd so parents decide I
need something a little more upmarket and I now become the owner of a Ford Prefect through one of Father’s friends in the Barham Motorcycle Club. This one serves me well all through Officer training
but coming down the M5 it throws a big end and has to be towed home. Eddie the garage owner says
he will fit a recon 105E engine at no charge and I’m back on the road in no time. Some time later and
now a commissioned Officer I’m home again before setting off for Flying Training and its a Friday
night out with the boys. Many pints later one of my friends Charlie starts throwing up and I say I’ll take
him home. As we round a bend on the road home from Ramsgate I meet someone with his
headlights on full so I give him a “flash” at which point he gives me everything he’s got which is
something akin to full stadium lights at Wembley ! We depart the road, I see the left front wheel come
off and then some trees coming……….. next thing I remember is my arms across my face………. and
then who knows…… then feeling very wet, and looking up I see the red and green lights on the dash
for the oil and ignition…… not good!
The Ford Prefect, mine was in cream and pale green
Standing on the main road dripping wet I remember Charlie and go back and swim out to the wreck
and drag him out. We get home via the hospital and the following day I have to get parents to take me
back to the scene. On arrival the crane is lifting whats left of my pride and joy from the dyke…… its not
a pretty sight! Front left wheel missing, hood through the windscreen, roof squashed flat on the
passenger side, rear seat in the front, and the engine fan chopped through the radiator !!
Well never mind, shit happens, so the wreck is now deposited in the driveway, Father salvages
everything of use, including the new engine, and Mother digs an enormous hole and some time later
she burries it. So this one started in the Good, went Bad when the engine blew and finished up
decidedly Ugly thanks to yours truly.
As I’m now in gainful employment another beast is purchased in the form of a Ford Thames Van.
This is a two tone ex Butcher’s van with pale blue over black and costs the princely sum of 50 pounds.
Father fits the new engine and I remove countless meat skewers that are everywhere including many
that were in the seats and kept coming to the surface at some very unexpected moments ! Never
mind the Van went like the clappers with the new motor and once again I could zip cross country and
have my trials bike in the back. As I remember it was fantastic on left hand bends. For 50 quid this
was in the Good class.
The replacement Butcher’s Van, the Ford Thames
Training moves on and a dumb decision is made to buy a big Ford Zodiac with bench seat, column
change. etc and this should be a real chick magnet and be perhaps more fitting for an Officer than
the Butcher’s van. The salesman pointed out that my Ford Lotus Thames looked a little odd and
measured the wheelbase …. and sure enough it was 2 inches shorter on the left side as the rear
spring had been mounted arse backwards on that side. Well that accounted for the dazzling left hand
Did I really drive that thing? The Ford Zodiac 20miles/pint
The Zodiac was not much better and only did 20 miles to the pint so I was forever stopping and
pouring oil into the beast. It was so bad that getting away from the lights would be like a Naval
destroyer laying smoke and many motorists had their headlamps on full to drive through the clouds.
Overall this one was in the Bad category !
My standard get away from the traffic lights in the Zodiac
With flying training coming to an end the Zodiac thing is traded for another Ford in the shape of the
Consul Capri. If this doesn’t do it nothing will. A sort of “Coupe” thing with an enormous boot that
would take all my uniforms, greatcoat and raincoat flat and still had room for luggage along the sides.
It was a pleasure to drive, had loads of power and was relatively new. Mine was creamy white with a
blue roof and I have some pictures of the real thing somewhere. Only dumb memory of this one was
going home to Kent after a 4 month session holding at RAF Shawbury. Getting to the other side of
London and now on home turf and the M2 I noticed the fuel guage was reading empty. I knew this
wasn’t correct as I had refilled only 50 miles ago but I had noticed that sometimes the guage wouldn’t register on start up but would kick into gear if the ignition was switched off and on.
Yes, here it comes ……. doing 70 on the motorway with supercar still in gear the ignition is switched
off and on, the bump start fires up the motor and all the unburnt fuel recently pumped into the exhaust.
Net result one thundering great explosion, the night sky is lit up and the silencer is split wide open! ….
but the fuel guage now works. Overall rating Good, very Good !!! Grade A Magnet.
The Ford Consul Capri chick magnet
Posing before departure from RAF Shawbury
With my conversion to the Canberra bomber complete I’m off to sunny Cyprus on my first tour and the
year is 1966. Once again I’m car-less so time to consider the options. I know I’m allowed to buy a duty
free car in Cyprus but I must have it a full year overseas and then a further two years back in the UK to
avoid all the taxes. So what will it be ?
Initially I didn’t need a car so I opted for a nice Yamaha 250 twin road bike and kept this for about a
year and then as a lady friend was acquired some evening transport was required so a “stop gap”
cheapo car was found in the shape of the Hillman Imp. Engine in the back, no transmission tunnel
but 4 on the floor with something akin to a Harley Davidson shifter device. Clunky, noisey and gutless
so another for the Bad category and some would also say Ugly.
My first year Cyprus transport
The Hillman Heap
With about 18 months to go to end of tour date I’m looking at 3 cars on my shopping list, namely, the Triumph TR 4/5 IRS, the MGB in British Racing Green with wire wheels and the Alfa Guiletta which is
very popular on the Squadron.
The Triumph looks great but drives like a pig and seems to wallow all over the place on the rather
undulating roads…… pity as they made it in purple. At the MGB shop they tell me prices will be going
up when I need to order one but they do have one in BRG but it has a 1000 miles on it and its their demonstrator. It doesn’t have the wire wheels but at the discounted price its a dam good deal at 695
It drives like a tractor with the massive steering wheel but its MINE all MINE ! Remove the middle
silencer box and it actually sounds like a sports car and as the advert says “I’m enjoying the bucket
seated summer of my sports car youth”. Shortly after my purchase we are told all 4 Canberra
Squadrons will leave Cyprus 3 months early so I’m very pleased I bought it when I did.
Hill climbing the “B” with the Limassol Motor Club
Driving tests too!
My tour like nearly all the other 120 Officers of Strike Wing comes to an end and now the problem of
getting it home seems pretty unlikely as everybody else wants their car shipped home by the RAF.
Normally about 10 cars a month go back to the UK on empty freighter C130s for a small fee, and
another to those loading and prepping it. I duly apply and I’m 34 on the waiting list so my chances
appear to be zero. Plan B is to go to Italy on a ship and then drive across Europe and make the
Calais-Dover ferry. Tickets are booked and then the day before we should have sailed I’m called and
told if I can get the car to air movements by 0900 it will ship that day on the tailgate of a Belfast. Tickets
are cancelled, the car is delivered, and lucky me gets on a VC10 flight the next morning. We arrive in
RAF Brize Norton about 2 hours after the car had been unloaded and after a load of pleading and
promises with the local customs officer I can take the car after reoiling and filling up coolant and
sorting out battery etc.
I keep the car for over 3 years and despite the then Mrs Down wrapping it around the gatepost I fitted
a new door, drilled a hole in my thumb fitting it and had the beauty resprayed metallic purple. I still
have the marks on my thumb ! Overall rating Good.
The MGB gets traded for the same that I paid for it and I now have a Scimitar GT with another 3 liter
engine from Ford but a little breathing to give it a true GT feel. I think I had just won a pair of Lucas
Siver Sabre and Silver Lance spot and driving lamps from a Christmas draw and I then spent an entire evening in the Motor Club’s workshop trying to drill two holes through the massive bumper ….. can’t remember how many drill bits I went through but it took nearly 4 hours to get the lamps on.
The next day I had to drive up to Ministry of Defence for a motorcycle meeting and of course it came
on to drizzle all the way. At some stage I came up to a set of roadworks and stopped behind a Mini
Minor. The road works were controlled by a man with a stop go sign and no sooner had we both set
off when our flag man turns the sign round…….. the woman in front of me sees this in her peripheral
vision and steps on her brakes…. the Scimitar is accelerating when I see her lights come on and one application of the 11 inch discs locks up the wheels and I glide into her rear….. at which point the Mini
Minor takes off disintegrating as it goes……. the back window pops out, light clusters shatter, the fuel
tank drops down taking the exhaust with it and finally the little boot lid drops off in the road. For my
trouble both of my newly acquired lights are now shattered in their covers and I have a hair line crack
in the fiber glass!
The Scimitar departs as I’m informed WE will be needing a “family car”in the not too distant future.
Overall rating Good from me, family car = Bad !
A lot of muscle behind the “Great White” front end of the Scimitar GT
Next up my first Triumph in the shape of the 2.5 PI in a cherry red color. Another pleasure to drive,
pretty punchy with the fuel injection and very comfortable. Another 3 year car. Rating Good.
My 2.5 PI Triumph
With a divorce looming on the horizon and a change of base the Triumph is exchanged on an impulse purchase for the Alpha Romeo 2600 Sprint. Gorgeous to look at with stunning plush white leather and another metallic purple finish… very distinctive.
However, like most things Italian it was tempramental and on many wet mornings I found myself
walking to work as it refused to start in the damp conditions. Come back at lunchtime when the fog
had burnt off and it would start first go.
Then there was the day when I found myself starring in a very bad Hollywood car chase scene on the
M1. I’m driving down to Heathrow in my new toy to pick up lady friend and all is going well and I’m
thinking how little throttle pressure I’m applying as we seem to be accelerating on an uphill stretch.
Take foot off throttle, car keeps accelerating, so check the three levers for the cruise control and put
them all in the off position. Still accelerating and coming close to the top of the hill I decide to depress
the clutch and I’m expecting the revs to fall down to about 700 rpm but as the foot goes down there is
an orgasmic howl from the engine and the rev counter rockets into the red !!!! we are now on a
downslope and in heavy traffic in all three lanes and I’m rapidly approaching 100 in the purple rocket
and I have the horn on constant, headlights flashing, and a whole load of fast and erractic lane
changing…… with some adventures onto the hard shoulder and others weaving through gaps that
suddenly opened up when I thought a crash was inevitable….. finally at about 120 mph I find myself
in the clear and start aiming for the hard shoulder with a lot of braking but I I’m not slowing much so
turn off the ignition at which point the steering locks but at least I can slow down and as fortune had
it I’m pointing at a good angle for the hard shoulder. A whole load of checking under the hood for all
the linkages for the 3 in line carbs revealed nothing, no carpet fouling of the pedal, no hesitation or
rough spots in the throttle cable……… complete mystery, gingerly start the beast and try a few throttle openings…… all normal and the rest of the drive there and back was completed without incident.
However, the embarassment of walking to work and this incident persuaded me it was time to
change to something more reliable. Rating Bad, very Bad !
Good looks but bad manners from the Alpha 2600 Sprint
At a local Datsun dealership there is their new model the 180B SSS demonstrator so that becomes
the new duty vehicle and is indeed very reliable, quite sporty and well equipped . 2 years of happy
motoring and then on marriage number 2 it departs as it is beginning to rust through round the wheel
arches and lower sills. Rating, what was Good became Ugly.
The 180B SSS
Now 1976 and I’m a first time home owner so not going anywhere so the rust bucket Datsun
becomes a dark blue Mini. What can you say about a Mini. Good on fuel and good for short distance
work commutes. Other than that …. charmless!
1977 and a change is made to the small Volvo 343. Built like a tank and with similar handling I quickly
get tired of it and buy a gorgeous dark green Scimitar GTE. What was I thinking? Man, its Ugly!
Don’t ask, I can only assume I bought it for a joke …. the Volvo 343
The Scimitar is really nice and I can’t remember many problems with it other than being fiber glass it
didn’t let out any moisture and always felt damp when you got in it during the winter. Adequate for one
small child but with the arrival of number 2 it had to go. My rating as a sports car would be Good, but
as a family car, Bad.
Happy motoring in the BRG Scimitar GTE
Now I need something for 2 child seats and a boot big enough to take all their junk and the answer
is the MkII Triumph 2500 PI. This was an auto and a first for me I really enjoyed the car and its
effortless driving. Some time into its stay with me little rust bubbles developped all around the wheel
arches and they were all cut out and replaced and resprayed. Within 2 years they were back ! As a car
I thought it was Good and as a people carrier excellent and I was very pleased I owned it as I broke
my left leg so I was still able to drive. The rust was another matter and depressed me no end so Bad
in that department.
The MkII Triumph 2.5 PI rust bucket
A financial windfall and the Triumph is replaced by one of the best looking (in my opinion) cars of the decade …. the Audi GT. The kids are big enough to get in it and when they are not then I can play!
Another two tone blue affair with red pin striping. What a car ! Of course there were a couple of
problems, the first being the speed at which it went through front tires. With drive,steer, and braking
you were through a front set in about 7000 miles. The other annoyance was the onboard comp which sometimes would not engage the auto choke and made cold starting a nightmare on damp foggy Lincolnshire mornings. I really loved this car so it has to be up there in best of breed and despite the
tire issue I rate it as Good.
What a fabulous car! ….. the Audi GT
A move of the household to southern England means that I am now the long distance commuter with
a 200 mile drive to RAF Coningsby at o’dark thirty every Monday morning and then the same mind
numbing journey on Friday night. Sadly the Audi departs and a nearly new Renault 5 Turbo replaces it.
This thing has blistering performance and is definitely for the boy racer and the solo traveller. It did
have a tendency to overheat on the M25 or Greater Outer London Car Park but other than that was a lot
of fun and way up there in the pleasure category of Good. However, being French it was in the Ugly box
It was fast and fun, the Renault 5 Turbo…… but French and Ugly
My one and only NEW car in the UK was the Toyota Supra which I ended up keeping for about 7 years. Outstanding in every department, great fun to drive, exceedingly comfortable and reliable, and in my
mind a real looker ……. GOOD……..VERY GOOD !
My one and only NEW UK car….. and a GREAT choice
Flying for British Aerospace in Saudi Arabia opens up a special car opportunity for the household as
they own British Leyland. Aircrew are allowed a NEW car EVERY 4 MONTHS at some very silly low
lease prices. Only rules are don’t put more than 5000 miles on it. When you pick up the first one order
the next and so on. Believe it or not I had immense problems convincing the “then wife” that this was a
good deal….. whats not to like ? a NEW car EVERY 4 months and all YOU do is drive it !!! so she had
new Rovers, MGs and whatever else she wanted but dropped me in it by not collecting the new ones
on time!!! I never could understand that ……… if somebody told me there was a BRAND NEW CAR
waiting for me I would be there in a shot!
One of “her” many free “4 monthers”
That wraps up all my motoring fun sitting in the right hand seat so in the next article we will explore the mysteries of what happens when someone puts the steering wheel in the passenger’s side ?
OK so what did you lot drive ?????