The Story of the Vanden plas

So when I was 18 I passed my driving test (second time) and bringing in a monthly wage meant that I had the means to threaten my dad that I was going to buy a motorbike, over his dead body.

He came in from the club one night and woke me up, asked if I had £20 a week to pay him back for a car that he’d just bought for me for £300 and that was the deal, done, no choice, “Now forget all about a bloody motorbike” is all he said.

My first car was exactly like the one in the video above, an Austin 1300 Vanden Plas, except mine was dark blue and rusty as hell, by the time I’d had it two years the body work consisted almost entirely of chicken wire and “plastic padding”, a type of liquid plastic compound that you mixed together and had two minutes to smear all over the chicken wire before it set rock hard and you spent the next ten weeks sanding it smooth.

I know its a bit of a geeks video, someone showing off his restored Vanden Plas and to be honest if I had 1000 hours to waste on restoring a car it’d be something a bit more exciting than an old Vanden Plas, but I really liked that car, it was mine you see, all mine, mine to do with as I wished, we went everywhere that car and me, camping trips to The Lakes and countless, count them, they are countless, boozy nights out with the lads when I’d drive home with a gallon of ale inside of me and not hit many things on the way back at all and don’t look too shocked because in 1975 if you were driving at 11pm at night and not totally pissed then it was you who was the dangerous one on the roads.

As you can see in the video it had leather seats, a luxury in 1975, and they reclined, unheard of in 1975, by means of a little chrome winding handle at the side of the seat, it took about ten minutes of hard winding to get the seat to totally recline by which time you’d forgotten why you wanted to recline it in the first place. It had walnut trim, walnut everywhere, and not cheap plastic effect walnut either, it was proper walnut veneer on everything, even had two chair back walnut trays for the rear seat passengers and many is the can of beer that was quaffed from those trays which were rather quaintly called “cocktail trays” in the brochure.

And then one day I was leaving work and pulled across the road in front of a Mini which was being driven extremely quickly by a lad of my age, he having been bought his Mini on the same sort of Dads Deal that I had, his Mini ended up in the back seat of my Vanden Plas having negotiated the rear door behind my head by means of battering it down and folding it in half.

Sparky John took me to a scrap yard in his MGB GT and we spent all afternoon removing the rear door of a scrapped Austin 1100 only to find that the door was taller than his MG and wouldn’t go inside it, so he drove back home slowly while I hung out of the passenger door window holding my salvaged car door which we’d tied to the roof with the one piece of string that the scrap yard dealer had given us, when we got back home we spent ten minutes trying to fit the door onto my car only to find that while we could get all the screws in the hinges the door wouldn’t close properly because the chassis was so twisted in the crash.

I drove my car for four months with a rear door tied nearly shut with string until the MOT test was due, by that time our Ned had passed his test and I had to make a deal with him whereby we would share the car if he would pay half the bill to get it repaired professionally.

It cost me £150 as my half share to have the chassis straightened, the door fitted properly and resprayed and Ned picked it up on the eve of The Queens Silver Jubilee weekend celebrations of 1977, I was away on another lads jolly weekend, smashed in a pub in The Lakes somewhere when Ned took the car to Scarborough, drove straight into the back of a line of traffic at 50mph and wrote off three cars, mine(ours) included, I had paid £150 to get the Vanden Plas fixed up and never got to drive it once before he killed it for good.


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