Ted Connolly remembers roadside repairs to stricken Rovers…
It is a fact that certain cars will always be associated with certain people. The most obvious – and most famous – is the Aston Martin DB5, driven by James Bond in Goldfinger. I recall when the film was released in 1964, watching it at the local fleapit and being enthralled by Bond’s various antics, his ability to successfully fight just about anybody, drink vast quantities of alcohol without any noticeable effect and cavort around athletically with sundry ladies.
But it was the Aston that did it – all sorts of gadgets including an in-dash screen that told him exactly where he was and where he was heading. This was mind-blowing to us kids (today, we call it a sat-nav) and as for the ejector seat, wow, what a way to get rid of unwanted guests.
There are plenty more, of course – the Sweeney would never have been the same without the Consul 3000 GT and S-Type Jags that always crashed, with the boot-lid flying open, Princess Anne and her Reliant Scimitars, Harry Potter and his Anglia 105E… although I belong to an exclusive club of people who have politely, but firmly declined to ever watch any of the films and still believe that Hogwarts is a medical condition suffered by pigs. Del Boy Trotter and his Reliant Supervan, Herbie the Beetle (OK, not a person, but the VeeDub will forever more be associated with the film The Love Bug) and so on.
On a far subtler note, and this refers to an era which younger readers will not be so familiar with, the Rover P5 was for years the car of choice by Government ministers, particularly the Prime versions. Read almost any feature about this Rover and it will mention the fact that Harold Wilson had it as his chauffeur-driven limousine. Whether he actually wanted to run around in a P5 is a matter of conjecture, because it may well have been that he had no choice. Even the PM’s powers are limited.
Nevertheless, he always seemed pretty serene getting in and out of the glossy immaculate, black version that so often appeared on our television screens. And he must have liked it a fair bit because his Rover was fitted with a special ashtray for his pipe. Wilson’s pipe-smoking would, today, be regarded as outrageously politically-incorrect. Back in the day, it was totally acceptable, although Wilson obviously had absolutely no regard for how much he might have gassed-out his chauffeur.
As an aside, it is said that the Queen drove a Rover P5 as personal transport and still loves the cars to this day. Imagine buying it from Buck House all those years ago and the logbook stating: One previous owner – The Queen.
Anyhow, I’ve always preferred the 3-litre version because although the later P5B with Buick V8 engine had loads more gee-up and looked the part with extra chrome, a sleeker roofline and Rostyle wheels, the original version was, well, more gentlemanly and understated. I’ve had plenty of experience with the 3-litre and the chief reporter on my first paper had one with black roof and bonnet and grey bottom half.
They did rust and I carried a fair few bodges on the wheelarches and also serviced it a few times. He let me take it home and, apart from the fact that I slid around in the front seat, it was a treasure to drive and I felt a bit classy.
The paper’s news editor was quite a big fan of cars and he owned a Farina MG Magnette (which I also worked on). He was very much influenced by the chief reporter and, armed with one of the latest weapons on the market – a new-fangled credit card – he bought a 3-litre. It was, I think, Juniper Green, and appeared to be in sound order. His first action was to fill it up (thanks to the credit card), cram as many office occupants in as possible and take us for a ride. Wonderful.
He was a real, old-school, gnarled journalist and spent a fair bit of his spare time working for the papers in Fleet Street (now, long since gone, of course). Indeed, he also spent a fair bit of his time on the local paper, phoning through stories to The Street, which bore no resemblance to the facts. I will always recall his advice: “Bend a story as much as you like, just make sure it doesn’t snap.” Priceless.
One evening, quite late, I got a call from him, saying he’d broken down in London and asking whether I could help out. At the time, I had a Sunbeam Rapier and boot full of tools and always reckoned to drive anywhere and at any time, such was the optimistic fecklessness of youth.
About two hours later I located him, stranded by the wayside. It was obviously an ignition problem and after 20 minutes or so, and waggling the distributor to and fro, the engine started. However, the exhaust manifold quickly glowed red hot, so the timing was way out. I adjusted it as best I could and told him to get in and drive – do not stop for anything.
I followed him home and, honestly, almost crashed because I was laughing so much. He went straight across junctions, pulled out on to busy roundabouts, forced oncoming cars out of the way, all of this accompanied by much horn-blowing – honestly, I have never seen anything like it. I could imagine him in the cab, cursing and swearing at other road-users for having the audacity to get in his way.
He got home eventually and although the Rover was still in need of attention, at least he was back on familiar territory. The next day, he did three things – rang the local garage to arrange a proper repair, advertised the Rover for sale in the paper and ceremoniously and publicly cut up his credit card with a pair of scissors. He has long since gone, as has the Rover and, of course, the credit card – but the memory is still there and I’ll always associate the P5 with him.