Family cars part 1

My dad was never a big car enthusiast. I’ve written before about the ‘family car’ being a Vauxhall Viva HA, although in fairness my parent’s one was a ‘deluxe 90’ version, which presumably was slightly less asthmatic than the standard model, but I’d guess still cornered like a hippo on roller skates. I have two vague memories of it: my parents buying it new from Great Western Motors in Station Road Reading (now Revolution bar), and of my father returning home from work in it one day probably a year later, with both the bonnet and bootlid tied down with twine, and the Viva looking, if it were possible, even uglier than before, having been rear-ended and then pushed into the car in front. Whilst it then disappeared from our lives, GRD 290D seems to have lived on until 1993.

I wasn’t technically-minded enough aged 5 to appreciate the charms of a blue Renault Dauphine that (temporarily) replaced the Viva in my parent’s affections, but as far as I can recall it swiftly went back to the supplying dealer as it was very rusty. Very ugly in my opinion, although the number plate swinging down to reveal the spare wheel was mildly interesting in a James Bond sort of way.

Next up came a Mark 2 Cortina 1600 Super, and, whilst not a 1600E, at least it wasn’t a vehicle that a car-mad small boy was embarrassed to be seen in. However, soon after, the ‘big end’ went (according to my father, who I doubt knew what that meant. To be fair, neither did I at the time, but I did have youth on my side). So that bit the dust as well.

My mother had always liked entering competitions, and those where if you supplied a witty slogan or something were quite popular in the 1960’s, and some new piece of furniture or gadget would often turn up at our house, she having won it. Anyway, in 1968 she won a brand new Austin 1100 2-door, as you can see at the top of the page, with me adorning the bonnet. RUD 89G was in the family for many years as my mother’s car. Memories of being wedged in the back on a family camping trip to Spain, with a massive box of spares from the AA for ‘everything the motorist might need’ taking up most of the space not already taken by the tent, food (none of that ‘foreign stuff’) still linger. DVLA have no record of RUD 89G so I suspect, like most of these, it rusted into oblivion many years ago.

You can see from my father’s expression in the photo that, although not interested in cars, he was less than enamoured with the little 1100, so it was about this time that we became upwardly mobile as a two-car suburban family, with the acquisition of a gold Hillman Minx.

Apart from the headlights, I’m not sure what the difference was between the Minx and the Hillman Hunter, but I’d imagine the Minx was the poverty spec model. However, ours was the 1725cc model (as proudly announced on the bootlid) with a massive 61bhp. I quite liked the Minx because of it’s busy dashboard – there always seemed to be a lot going on.

Apart from my dad’s friend James and his E-type (covered in a previous post), I think most of my mate’s fathers had similarly ‘sensible’ taste in cars. With one exception. My mate Steve’s dad had a maroon XJ6 Series 1.

He also wore a sheepskin coat, smoked cigars, had a glamourous wife, and allegedly had been a racing driver. All very rakish. Mind you I’m pretty sure his XJ6 was the 2.8 model not the 4.2, so he didn’t get everything right. However, travelling in the XJ6 (even though I was sick in it once, but that’s another story) cemented a love of these big beasts that continues to this day – especially the Series 1 models with the classic dash.

If I a) can be bothered and b) find the time, next time I’ll delve into my father’s company car years, and examine the hierarchy of L, XL, and GXL badges in the car park of a 70’s catering company. Compelling stuff.