The First Car That Nearly Was

Dan Seals sings a song called “My Old Yellow Car”, his first car, the car he wishes that he still owned, his grandad gave it to him after he’d finished with it, a Detroit monster of a car that smelled of old cigars and he pines for its return with his memories of being a young kid with your own car while singing of himself now driving a Mercedes with a bar and TV and someone else to drive it for you, he wants the old yellow car.

My memory of the most excellent car of my youth is that car I was never allowed to have, I almost had it, came within one stupid comment of owning it, if only Peter Perfect had kept his mouth shut at that vital “hand over the keys” moment…

When I was 17 I wanted a motorbike but my father would not hear of it so in order to divert my attention he bought me an old Austin 1300 from a bloke called Peter Perfect (real name) at his club, a bloke who “did up” cars and sold them on for cash.

The Austin 1300 was ok but in reality it was a bit of an old ladies car and so when my father came home one night and told me that Peter Perfect was wondering if we’d give him the Austin 1300 back in exchange for his latest “doing up” car then I was interested.

I was even more interested, tongue hanging out sort of interested when my father told me that the car that Peter Perfect wanted to swap was a Triumph Vitesse, the sporty convertible version of the Triumph Herald.

A convertible, in white with red leather seats and a 6 cylinder 2 litre engine rammed into the smallest car that the Triumph factory made at that time, how could a 17 year old resist, I wouldn’t be able to resist such a car even now if it was offered in swaps for the one I’ve got.

Mind, I have to put on record here, it was probably a death trap for a 17 year old, not just for the rather obvious reason that a 6 cylinder 2 litre engine in such a small car could make it accelerate faster than a recently launched Space Shuttle, but also for the fact that disc brakes were a thing of fantasy for car makers at that time, seat belts were fitted but not compulsory to wear so no-one did, and a convertible was made simply by sawing the roof off a standard car and not bothering with such safety things as extra body stiffening, a windscreen that could support the weight of an overturned car, or a roll bar at all, a kid of 17 could easily kill himself in a car like that, easily.

In fact one of our friends did at such a tender age, in a different Triumph.

My father and I stood in Peter Perfects driveway admiring the Triumph, I could tell that he was smitten too and there was also a hint of “this car is worth far more than £300, I could make some money out of this car” and I could see that he was just about to say “Ok, we’ll swap”, I stood there with my tongue hanging out, itching to get my hands on the keys, this car was mine, surely ?

And then Peter Perfect made a fatal mistake, if only he had kept his mouth shut at that point then my life would have been different and I’d have become the proud owner of a very rare white Triumph Vitesse convertible with red leather seats and enough power under the bonnet to launch the bloody thing into space, but then Peter Perfect had to go and spoil things.

“I took it on a drive down the M1 to Wakefield yesterday Frank” he told my almost decided father, “We got it up to 95mph and it was still good for some more”

“HOW FAST” my father yelled in alarm

“Aye, 95” repeated Peter Perfect unaware of the change in attitude from my father, “and my foot wasn’t even halfway to the floor yet”

“We’re going home” my father said.

That was that, no Triumph Vitesse for me, he didn’t trust me to own a car that could drive at such unbelievable speed for in those days the 70mph speed limit on the M1 was a speed to still be dreamed of rather than achieved with ease, my petrolhead days were over even before they’d begun.

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