Friday, 23 April 2010

Cars on the road

Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, Humber; Austin, Morris, MG, Wolseley, Riley, Rover, Triumph - the names of British cars that drove around on the streets where I lived. Defunct brands, just memories other than those few still kept going by classic car enthusiasts. Today, the only brands from those years to have survived are Vauxhall and Ford, Jaguar and Land Rover, both owned by an Indian company, Mini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley by the Germans and the only other mass producers of cars in Britain today are Japanese car makers - Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

(Out of interest - only the USA can boast so many defunct car brands as Once Great Britain)

When I was a small boy, the sound of a car driving down Croft Gardens would have me rushing to the front window to see what it was. Parked along Croft Gardens were cars like the Vauxhall Victor estate, the Ford Anglia, Ford Popular, Hillman Minx, Austin Cambridge, and my father's Morris 1100.

Posh cars were rare; old cars (they didn't last as long in those days) were rarer (there was a Lea-Francis parked on Oaklands Road, between Cumberland Road and my school).

Number plates: In 1963, the system was changed giving a letter suffix denoting year of production ('A' for 1963, 'B' for 1964, 'C' for 1965 and so on). Until 1972 ('K' reg) when the reflective plates came out - white at the front, yellow at the back as to this day), number plates were white on black. From 1963: three letters, three numbers, one letter, for year.

My father's first car was a Morris Minor 1000 four-door saloon. In Smoke Grey, with red seats. Registration number: 23 RMU. In 1964, he replaced it with a Morris 1100 four-door saloon, in Dove Grey, with red seats. Registration number: EKX 604B.

Popular small family cars in those days cost around ₤600 - ₤650 (including purchase tax*), which was around one-third of the average annual salary after tax. In today's terms, one-third of an average salary is around ₤8,000. So let's compare what you'd get for four month's work:
* Purchase Tax was what the UK had before joining the European Economic Community (as the EU was known at that time). It was replaced of course by VAT.

Many thanks to my brother Marek for presenting me with two excellent books - British Saloon Cars of the Early Sixties and British Saloon Cars of the Fifties, both by Michael Allen. The books take me right back there!


Stefan Kubiak said...

"Today, the only brands from those years to have survived are Vauxhall and Ford. Rover and MG have gone; Jaguar and Land Rover are both owned by an Indian company, Mini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley by the Germans and the only other mass production of cars in Britain today is of Japanese brands - Toyota, Nissan and Honda"

Michael, Vauxhall belongs to General Motors and its models are nothing else but German Opels now. Ford has always been American.

Michael Dembinski said...

Stefan - I knew this back then! GM has owned Vauxhall since the 1920s. Incidentally, interesting to see the family resemblance between Opels and Vauxhalls, British and German Fords.

Compare a 1960s Opel Kadett and Vauxhall Viva, and you'll see styling elements of the '60s Chevy Nova. Similarly, the Ford Taunus 17M and Ford Corsair take their inspiration from the Thunderbird of the same era.

Globalisation was creeping forward slowly. Today, as you say, there's no difference between a Vauxhall or an Opel, a German or British Ford. Which is a shame.

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

Remember the Humber Super Snipe? Rich smell of leather and metal inside; a sleek, menacing beast streaking down country lanes. My English uncle (Uncle Bob, would you believe it?) picked us up in one at the docks in Hull, where the Baltic Rover ended its journey from Gdynia. My first car ride in England! He was a noted motorbike racer, he, his Norton, the sidecar with brave, faithful Tiny huddled inside, many times champion on the Isle of Man annual horror of mud, blood and glory. That day, on the road to Bridlington, Yorkshire, he slammed his foot down on the pedal and the gleaming black Super Snipe swept past startled Morrises, Austins, and Vauxhalls at what I recorded to be 90 mph. At the time, I did not mention this statistic to my parents, who were cringing in the back seat, their facial features stretching towards their ears -- like astronauts exiting the planet Earth.