Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 13:40 UK

The romance of cars

An Austin A30

Forget modern cars. A cramped, dank, communal Austin A30 was the last word in automotive amour, recalls Laurie Taylor in his weekly column.

I was doing fine with Carol. When I'd first settled down beside her in the Pack of Cards coffee bar, she'd turned her back on me and talked with exaggerated enthusiasm to a blonde friend on her left.

But now she was half listening to my chat-up. "I know you really want to talk to me," I whispered in her ear.

"I know you fancy me a bit because you were looking at me earlier on. You know, you've got lovely hair. I bet you're really clever. And I love your shoes."

'Fantasies aroused'

It was a pretty blunderbuss technique, but it had worked for me in the past and seemed to have done so on this occasion as Carol turned to me and asked if I'd get two cappuccinos for her and her mate, Yvonne. "Not too much froth on mine".

This was a sort of breakthrough. Carol hadn't exactly thrown herself at my feet but once she was sipping my cappuccino I could claim some minor proprietary rights.

But this was only the first stage in what was going to be a long evening's campaign to make Carol all mine. For a start I had to do something about my mate, Vinnie.

Up to this point in my campaign he'd simply sat still next to me and gazed miserably ahead at the poster behind the counter advertising a night with The Beatles at the Cavern Club.

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He knew from the past it was better to leave the chatting up part of the evening to me and then take his chances with any of the prospects I'd lure into his orbit.

"Hey, Carol," I said as I placed the glass of coffee before her on the Formica table. "This is my mate Vinnie. Vinnie, this is Carol. And this is Yvonne. And I'm Laurie."

So far so good. But the clock on the wall behind the glass case of neon-lit doughnuts told me that the next stage was looming.

Back in the late 50s in Liverpool, 11 o'clock was the witching hour; the time when the last Corporation buses left Pier Head and anyone who was still in town after that knew they'd need to find a lift home or start walking.

This gave an absurd advantage to any man, however ill-favoured or gormless, who had a car.

Carol glanced at the clock. "'You got a car?," she said. I nodded. Yes, I had a car. "And you'll take me and Yvonne to Seaforth?" "Oh yes," I said. I didn't bother to tell her that it wasn't my car. It was in fact a communal car.

'Crashing gears'

Five of us had got so tired of being dumped by women we'd chatted up all night simply because we didn't have any transport, that we'd clubbed together and bought a bombed-out Austin A30.

It had such slack steering it was impossible to keep it within the right lane when you were driving through the Mersey tunnel.

Ford Focus
Modern cars: Sleek, steady but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi

But, of course, not all five of us - me and Vinnie and Dave and Dave's mates Big Bing and Thommo - could use the car at the same time, so we took it in turn to be a chauffeur to anyone who happened to score first.

So, now that I was making out with Carol and Vinnie was just about keeping Yvonne ticking over, we could count on Thommo who'd so far enjoyed less luck, driving us all back to Carol's place.

I remember every moment of those late night drives. Four of us packed in the back of the tiny car. Carol bouncing on my lap. Yvonne squeezed up close to Vinnie. And Thommo all alone up front.

He crashed through the gears, trying without success to keep the tyres out of the tramlines, and occasionally steered such a wild course down the middle of the street that you could have sworn we were aboard an ocean-going yacht blown by trade winds rather than encased in a self-propelled steel jalopy.

And all the time, as we bumped and ground our way along Scotland Road and then up Stanley Road, I was free to fantasise about when we finally reached Seaforth.

Since that time I've owned five different cars and never felt a moment's attachment to any of them.

I can just about appreciate their sleek lines, working gears, accurate steering, and functioning brakes, but not one has ever aroused a single fantasy comparable to that regularly elicited by the cramped, dank, knee-crippling, back breaking, pulse racing, heart stopping, trips on the backseat of that communal Austin A30.


Here is a selection of your comments.

I understand perfectly what Laurie was alluding to. My first car, a pre-war Morris 8 convertible was a hand me down from a friend of my cousin. We bought it for £6.10s.0d. (£6.50) and as I was the only one qualified to drive it, I was the one who could call the shots when we met up with girls we fancied.
Roger Fickling, Penarth

I fondly remember in the late 80s owning a battered Triumph Spitfire that I had resurrected after its near demise due to a hedge and literally rolling around in the grass. Despite an ill-fitting bonnet, hand brushed paint job, lack of reverse gear, broken starter motor, windscreen wipers worked by string and even a lack of hood, so a wet behind was guaranteed - the ladies could not get enough of it! So much so, my mates at the time bribed me with beer, and even the loan of a brand new Metro, to borrow the bird magnet. Since then only one car has had a similar effect, and that too was a topless treat with issues - a Land Rover in the late 90s, with a stereo system worth more than the car. No others have ever come close!
Andrew, At Sea Near Portsmouth

I had an Austin A30 many years ago. It had a padlocked staple and hasp on the bonnet to keep it locked. When asked why it was there I used to tell people that I was doing a secret trial for Ferrari and that there was an eight cylinder engine locked under the bonnet. Some people actually believed this!
Kentish Lad, Essex

That story brings back memories of my first car in 1973. A 356 Porsche that had a tendency to lose parts at inopportune times, say, getting back to your date's digs without the use of a towing truck.
Fuzzy, Lyons, Indiana USA

Ah yes Laurie, but maybe it was our age and lack of opportunities rather than anything to do with the cars!
John Rockley, New Milton. UK

Ahhh yes... memories. As I grew up, the fastest car we owned was a Renault 4.... then one day my older brother turned up with new Fiat Strada Twin Cam - 105hp...(!) to me it was a spaceship!
Marshal Jim Duncan, Dundee

Aah,the memories. The journey I remember was in an A35, from Henley to Walton-on-Thames. Luckily I was in the back seat, with my girlfriend (now my wife). Drink driving laws had not been invented then, but we made it home safely. It was certainly cosy, although we didn't need an excuse to get close.
George, Woking

When I first met my husband-to-be, who only had a learner's licence, his family owned a black 1958 Morris Oxford sedan which no-one in his family could drive. His father would push it out of the garage on the weekend, dust it off, and push it back in again. Then I cam along with a full driver's licence and was therefore commandeered to drive said beast on shopping jaunts or to visit the relatives until such time as my then boyfriend passed his test! No power steering, no automatic transmission, and it was a heavy car to drive! Now 50 years on and living in Canada, what is in our garage taking up a great deal of space? A 1958 bottle-green Morris Oxford traveller, which he hopes to get into running order because of the first car his family ever owned! I give up!
Christine Dawson, Vancouver, Canada

My father bought an A35 van in the late 50s. It was fantastic and he and my Mother travelled all over the country in it. I also was allowed to use it occasionally, and did most of courting my wife in it. It must have been OK as we have now been married 45 years.
David Fieldhouse, Bradford, England

My first car was an A35 and despite the necessary contortions it was a great passion wagon. Spent many a fruitful evening on Epsom Downs. Unfortunately that was 50 years ago.
Peter Gornall, Hadlow Down, East Sussex, UK

Before the distraction of girls my passions were astronomy, cars and driving and my first car was a 1955 A30 that took us to Devon, Wales and Southern Italy to the top of the road up Mount Vesuvius. Never as popular as the Morris Minor, it brought us into the motoring age and served us well. Happy days.
Aldo, Swindon, England



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