“I want a motorbike”
“You’re not having a motorbike”
“But I want a motorbike”
“You’re not having a motorbike”
“You can’t stop me, I’ll just buy one with my own money”
“You’re not having a motorbike”
Usually he let me learn by my mistakes but there was some underlying reason why my father would not let me bring a motorbike anywhere near the house back in the summer of 1975, I’d been working for a year, was 18 years of age, was taking driving lessons for a car licence but back in those halcyon days of youth you could ride a motorbike on a car provisional licence, we trusted kids in those days you see, yeah lots of them rode their bikes into brick walls at 70mph, but still…
Including two that I sort of knew, a tree not a brick wall, killed them both, anyway…
So a few days after that conversation he came in from his night out playing billiards and woke me up,
“How about I buy you a car ?” he said
“Erm, alright then” I replied
Next morning I had to ask him again, “Did you wake me up last night and offer to buy me a car ?”
“Yes” he replied, “but you’re not having a motorbike”
“OK”, seemed like the best deal ever.
Austin 1300 Vanden Plas, 1968 registered, already eight years old when I got it but with one careful lady owner and not many miles on the clock at all, or so Peter Perfect told me and my dad as we stood in his driveway staring at this old ladies car for sale at £300, cash, no cheques, cash, in low denomination used notes, yes, this was another one of my dads famous “slightly dodgy” deals that he specialised in.
“Peter Perfect does old cars up” he told me, “and he’s got a beauty at the moment, one careful lady owner, low mileage, beautiful plumage gov’nor, a good runner, no rust, £300, I’ll buy it from my bonus and you can owe me it for the rest of your life, but no motorbikes”
“Wait a minute” I said, “Peter Perfect – is that really his name ?”
“Yes” replied my father, “he goes to the Con Club, plays snooker with me, does up old cars in his spare time”
“And his real name is Peter Perfect ?”
I didn’t believe him then and I still don’t believe him now, but still, it was a nice car, beautiful plumage – oh yes it was an old ladies car of that there could be no doubt, was definitely a product of a driveway somewhere up Alwoodley way and was only used on a Saturday to go to the synagogue and maybe an afternoons expedition to the kosher shops on Moortown corner, but still, it was a free car and who needed a motorbike anyway ?
Vanden Plas had been the coach builders for Rolls Royce and Bentley for decades and maybe because times were hard in the 1960s for luxury car makers but for some inexplicable reason they struck a deal with Austin to take their Austin 1300 model, a plain, dowdy box shaped 1960s British made pile of junk that still used the Austin engine that had been invented in the 1930s, and fitted it with a Rolls Royce style radiator, driving spotlamps that could freeze a deer in its tracks and fancy wheel hubs, then ripped out the whole interior and refitted it in a style befitting the sort of old lady who does not drive but prefers to sit in the back sipping cocktails while a uniformed lacky does the driving bit.
My new car came with leather reclining seats, not electric reclining seats for they were a thing still of science fiction, but each seat had a little chrome handle you could wind to make it recline, I was impressed I can tell you. It also had a complete mahogany dashboard, so much mahogany went into my car that five Amazon tribes were rehomed in Sao Paulo during the clearances, just for my car.
It had a switch panel to the left of the steering wheel with so many switches on it that I never discovered what some of them did, a Boeing 747 pilot once sat in the drivers seat of my car and proclaimed, “Man I don’t know how you learn all this stuff, what does this one do ?”
In the back of the car the back seat was deep and luxurious leather, it really smelled of leather, deep, soft, cracked leather, no seat belts of course for in the 1970s we scorned such things, but the crowning glory in the back of the car was the cocktail cabinet and the two two drop down walnut wood cocktail trays – I was 17 years old for gods sake and I was driving around in an old ladies car which was sold to my father by a bloke who went by the name of Peter Perfect.
One month later a message came down from Peter Perfect, “He wants his car back” my father relayed the message one night after another snooker session, “Says his wife really liked that car and she’d like it back”
“I thought you’d bought it off him”
“Yes I did, £300 I paid for it and you still owe me”
“Well if he sold it to you he can’t ask for it back can he ?”
“Well no, but listen to this, he wants to swap it for another car”
“What other car ?”
And then my father described the car that Peter Perfect had just finished tarting up and I was hooked.
For Peter Perfect was willing to do a straight swap for a 1968 Triumph Vitesse, in white, with red leather seats, and best of all, it was a soft top convertible.
“Vitesse” is French for speed and the small Triumph was well named for it had a 2.0L six cylinder engine in an era when four cylinders was deemed to be the absolute limit of practical car engineering, the Triumph Vitesse had a top speed somewhere close to the sort of speed that Donald Campbell had killed himself at, it was a convertible, have I mentioned it was a convertible, and the long hot summer of 1975 still stretched before us, how much of a bird magnet would a soft top Triumph 2.0L six cylinder red leather Vitesse-mobile be compared to an old womans car with a cocktail cabinet in the back ?
“Can we go see it now?” I asked barely disguising the drool from my lips.
So we did, and it was as beautiful a car as Peter Perfect had described, in fact he didn’t need to describe it and as he walked down the drive towards us I was already handing him the keys to my old ladies car, and my dad was sold too, “Looks fantastic” he said to Peter Perfect…
And here is where the story should have ended, here is where I should be telling you that we swapped keys and log books and I drove off into the sunset in my white six cylinder soft top bird puller and lived happily ever after and that I still have that car under a tarpaulin in a lock up garage somewhere for I still covet it and its now worth a six figure sum instead of a straight swap for an old ladies car.
But instead Peter fookin Perfect had to go into his car salesman patter didn’t he ? We were already convinced, we didn’t need convincing that this was a superb car and the deal of the century, he never needed to say all of those things and if he had never started to say all of those things then he never would have said the fatal words that brought the shutters down on my deal of the century and sealed my fate to driving around in an old ladies car for many more years…
“It goes like a bomb Frank” he told my father, “Two litre six cylinders, I’ve tuned it up special like, got 120mph out of it on the M1 the other day”
“He’ll bloody kill himself in THAT” shouted my father at the poor bewildered Peter Perfect who could only stand and watch as my father turned on his heels and stormed off back to the old ladies car that we’d arrived in, “Come on” he shouted at me, “you’re not having that bloody death trap”.
It was like the motorbike all over again.