In September 1979, I started at a teacher training college. Looking back, I’m still not 100 per cent sure why I did this, though a major consideration was that having messed up one of my A levels, I wasn’t sufficiently qualified to do a straight degree course, but I was qualified to do a Teacher’s Certificate course, and this included the possibility of transfer to a degree course after the first year.
With the benefit of hindsight it was the wrong choice for me, and looking back I can say that, try as I might, I found it really hard to build up any great enthusiasm for the course or college. Cars were still my passion. Anyway, Tuesdays were officially school visit day, which basically meant that we visited schools for observation on a few days, otherwise we were supposed to study. College was just outside Watford, and I soon discovered that what was then Britain’s biggest car auction – British Car Auctions at Enfield – was a short drive away. It had a sale on Tuesdays, too.
You know exactly what’s coming next; on the very first study day, I hot-footed it across to Enfield. It was amazing; up to that point the only auctions I’d ever visited were Heathfield and Eastbourne in East Sussex. Heathfield’s staple-diet then was ex post-office vans along with an assortment of general trade tat. Eastbourne’s speciality was ex-fleet cars from local companies; typically three or four years old, and with a typical throughput of around 100 cars per week.
Enfield though was in a completely different league; cars everywhere, hundreds to be sold on the one day, and two auction rings running at once; one for the cheapies, the other for the later ex-fleet stuff. I was also surprised by the lack of opportunity for inspection – at Heathfield cars were left with keys in the ignition, so buyers could actually start them up. At Enfield though everything was locked up, and my innocent request at the key office to ‘borrow the keys’ to a 1972 Austin Maxi that looked interesting was very firmly rejected! The only chance to look inside a car, let alone hear it running, was when it was driven into the ring.
As well as the Maxi, a few other cars stick in the mind from that sale. One was a lovely-looking 1967 Morris Oxford in black. This was before these cars were in any way considered collectable, and my personal interest in the Farina range was still a couple of years off, but even so, that car definitely made an impression. At the time though it was just an old car, albeit one in very nice condition, and sold, if I remember correctly for £230. That seems cheap now, but in 1979, before the classic movement as we know it had really started, it was strong auction money; typical going rate in the local paper was ‘up for £295, accept £270’, and to fetch more, one had to be really, really exceptional.
Immediately afterwards, an extremely scruffy white 1972 Morris Marina drove in, complete with flat front tyres. It was, the auctioneer informed us, “direct from Smiths Industries”, who, he pointed out “no-one can possibly accuse of getting maximum use out of their vehicles”. Bidding ended at £250; at that time I wasn’t sufficiently ‘auction savvy’ to know if it was a genuine sale or not, but I do definitely recall that it was almost exactly the same price as the Oxford.
The main throughput that day seemed to be Avengers, including a large batch of blue estates, some of which looked very shabby indeed given that they were only two or three years old, albeit with mileages of 80,000-100,000. There were also a lot of post-1976 ‘face-lifted’ Marinas; again with high mileage and almost all saloons. These generally looked to be in much better shape than the Avengers. Curiously, I don’t recall seeing many Fords at that particular sale, though that’s quite possibly because I wasn’t then massively interested in Blue Oval products; I’d not been able to buy from the Ford dealer in Hastings, so had little idea on pricing. There also didn’t seem to be much foreign stuff around.
As I say, I was much more interested in cars than learning to teach. We had student grants in those days, but having worked in the past, and with all the added expenses of living away from home, I felt that I needed a bit more cash. So the inevitable happened, and I started doing a bit of trading again. From the student halls of residence.