My First Car and the Prang


It’s quite amazing how closely my life and the life of Eddie Blackwell, who wrote the last tale, duplicated each other. Not only did we clash on opposite sides in the 1954 Leeds Red Triangle under 17s football cup final but we were both conscripted into National Service in the late 1950s early 1960 we both learned to drive in the army and both got our own first own car in 1962.
I want to tell you about my first car but first about the ‘prang I had while learning to drive in the army

We national service personnel worked alongside career regulars. I believe my regular colleagues were disadvantaged in comparison to normal civilians. In the army, it is so easy to fall foul of authority. A mistake committed even in an off duty period could result in a NCO being ‘busted’ down, which contrasts sharply with civilian life where a transgression committed outside the workplace does not normally instigate disciplinary action at work. An instance of how easy it was to transgress happened to me while at Detmold: I managed to find myself on three charges at the same time. The first charge was for innocently wandering across a football pitch, which was evidently out of bounds. The second was after being pulled for having my hair too long and the third for having a ‘prang’ in a one ton truck while under driving instruction. On the face of it I looked a real villain, three charges, but what great misdemeanours had I really been guilty of? Nevertheless, it was not good policy to keep being dragged up before the OC.
The ‘prang’ though is an incident worth recording. A few of us were learning to drive in a one ton truck under the instruction of a subaltern, who like all subalterns spoke very cut glass.

It was my turn to drive and the rest of the lads who were either waiting or had already had their turn were sat in the back where they couldn’t see forward. We were driving along, on the right of course, it being Germany. The officer ordered me to turn right into a minor road where a German civilian bus was waiting to get out. Being totally inexperienced, I was going far too fast to execute this manoeuvre. I was still in third gear when I tried to turn into the side road. I can still see the horror on the faces of those Germans when they realised I was not going to make it. I gave the bus a real crack amidships. The unseeing lads in the backs cheered: ‘Hey up, Woody ‘as ‘it somat’
‘Oh hard look Wood!’ said the officer admirably keeping his composure. ‘Right Wood, reverse out.’ He was using the theory: if they prang, dust ‘em off and send ‘em up again before they lose their confidence. Unfortunately, I selected the wrong gear; instead of reverse, I selected one of the forward gears and gave the bus another crack. The lads in the back cheered again: ‘Go on Woody – give ‘em some more!’
‘I think I’d better drive back,’ sighed the officer, his good intentions going out of the window.
So, I was on a charge for the driving offence: as they put it, ‘For causing damage to a War Department vehicle and a German civilian bus’. I was marched under guard to the OC’s office. ‘Left-right-left-right,’ screamed a sergeant, it was all very formal, normally he was an alright guy but he’d turned into monster for the day. ‘Left-turn-right turn, beret-off-left-turn, A-T-T-E-N-T-I-O-N!’ They had me so confused by all the shouting that I finished up with my backside to the OC. (Captain Juniper) ‘Oh turn him round, sergeant,’ said the OC. in exasperation, whereupon the sergeant took me by the shoulders and turned me through 180 degrees. As far as I can remember, I only received a balling out and never heard anything more about the other two charges at all.
So the result was I didn’t actually pass my driving test in the army. But I had put that right by 1962 when I passed my test in civilian life and got my first car.

My First Car
It was a Friday lunch time in 1962 and clutching my new driving licence I was dropped off by Dad outside Magnetic Motors in Water lane, there to pick up my very first car. It was a 1959, beige coloured, Ford Popular 100E three years old and cost me the £165 that I had managed to save up from my meagre army pays. It was standing there bright and shiny amongst all the other cars in the showroom. I asked the salesman to manoeuvre it out for me as I was afraid of scratching it, not to mention the other cars. He parked it across Water Lane, shook my hand and wishing me the best of luck departed. I sat in the driver’s seat, twiddled the wheel a bit and looked across to the passenger’s seat; for the first time I saw there was no one sitting there – it was all a bit scary!

drove gingerly back to McLaren’s Fabrications where I was employed at the time; I was as proud as Punch and eager to hit the open road but it was still only Friday lunch time there was the afternoon to get through first. I worked with my dad at the time and Dad’s mate was a guy called Cliff; he was a grand guy – the firm’s mechanic. He came over to take a look at the car standing there, still all bright and shiny and he said, ‘Well, it looks a million dollars.’
I had to park it overnight in our back street and in those days even in a back street a car had to have lights. Now, if you were to leave a car overnight with even the sidelights on the battery would be as flat as a pancake in the morning, so people had various devices to show a light. Some obtained road-mender’s lamps and placed them in the road alongside the car. I had a spare battery, which I positioned in the boot and ran a line to a tiny little light that fitted onto the top of the driver window and showed red at the back and white at the front. Well, as ‘Sod’s law’ would have it on that very first Friday night that I had the car we had one of the worst gales I can recall before or since. I lay in my little back bedroom hearing slates being blown off the house roofs and crashing down into the street all night long, crash after crash; all I could think about was my poor little car. In the morning there was a huge gash where a slate had sliced into the car roof.
The following night, Saturday, I proudly took my mates out for the night – we went to Harrogate and I was relieved when I managed to get the vehicle home without further damage. After the slate fiasco Dad had managed to negotiate with a neighbour to allow me to leave the car overnights in his large unused garden. This would save me from falling slates and absolve the need to put on any lights at all. Unfortunately, while attempting to manoeuvre the car into his garden the front wheel fell down a huge unseen hole and crumpled the front mudguard. I had to get Dad up to extract me from the hole as I was making an even greater mess of the car in my efforts to pull clear.
I drove it to work on the following Monday morning; Cliff the mechanic took another look at it – now with its gashed roof and crumpled mudguard. ‘Well.’ he said, ‘It looked a million dollars on Friday – but I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it now!’
The winter of 1962/63 was a bad ‘un; one Friday night (4th January 1963) I parked the car in the centre of Leeds and went dancing with my mate to the Majestic Ballroom. I met Brenda that night and gave her a lift home we got stuck in the snow on a hill between Harehills Road and Harehills Lane. The very first night we met. Brenda had to push me out of a snowdrift in her high heeled shoes – we never looked back and had our golden wedding in 2018

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11 Responses to “My First Car and the Prang”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    It sounds funny these days, Peter, in the retrospect of time, but I’ll bet it was quite frightening to be charged with damaging Government property. I wonder, do we all remember our first prang? That is, assuming that we have all had prangs: perhaps there is one of us out there who has never had one, though I doubt it. My first prang was in the bosses car. He had gone interstate for a two day business trip, and my instruction was to take this big old Austin in for its service. On backing it out of the workshop I was too diligent watching the rear and swung too hard putting a dent into the front mudguard area. I dashed it to the panel beaters and got it beaten out and the undercoat on before I had to go and pick up the boss at the airport. I thought I was going to be sacked, and certainly wasn’t popular, but by a couple of years later I was the general manager of the company with no more prangs to my credit. Thanks for your reminiscences of those days, one of the most enjoyable things in life is to share the adventures and life stories of others, I spend a lot of my time back in those good old days.

  2. Eric Says:

    Shame about the early days damage to your first car , it must have been frustrating.
    I always enjoy yarns about armed forces escapades. As you say , the most trivial events could attract the Sword of Damocles . A friend of mine claims he was a witness to a fellow squaddie being charged with gambling. The evidence given against him was that the officer “had heard the chink of money & the words ” you jammy barsteward”” . Hilarious , if true

    My first car was a Ford Anglia , the one with the re-entrant rear window. We were travelling back through York & just outside the Railway Station, the rear exhaust/silencer dropped off leaving the car making an awful racket . I had to drive home to Leeds with the car sounding like a Formula 1 machine and attracting a lot attention
    I see you’ve change the tale’s heading. I was left wondering how you would manage to prang a cat !

  3. John Holloway \(Stronsay\) Says:

    Thanks Peter – another fascinating yarn –just a few years before ‘my time’ in East Leeds. John Holloway – former Copperfield-ite

  4. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Unbelievable Pete yet another coincidence, I had my first prang whilst learning to drive in the Army. It was the day before my test and we were driving through a village called Street, it’s situated in Somerset near Glastonbury, I was stationed at Yeovil, and this was the route taken by the Civilian Instructors who new the driving test would be conducted in this area. It’s a busy little village with very narrow roads, and cars parked on each side of the road didn’t help, I was driving a 3 ton Bedford Truck, crash gearbox, double your cluch to change gear. We were proceeding along the main road and a Lady was kindly lent over her car on my side of the road having a conversation with another Lady on the pavement pushing a pram, coming the other way was a large bread van, there was no way I could get through with the lady stood in the road so I stopped, well the bread van came through and clipped my drivers side wing mirror, my Instructor went absolutely potty, he jumped out of the cab and ran over to the van which had also stopped, exchanged names and insurances, then proceeded to tell me that there was no way I’d ever pass my Driving Test etc. etc. The damage was a broken wing mirror, in those days they were rigidly held. After He’d calmed down I pointed out to him that we were actually stationary at the time the of
    collision, and that the bread van had collided with us not us with the bread van, I think it was this point that avoided me being put on a charge. The following day I passed my driving test 1st June 1960. I used to enjoy driving but it’s not the same these days if I do 700 miles a year that’s a lot, during my working days I’d drive a minimum of 700 miles a week.

  5. peterwwood Says:

    Double de clutch, Eddie, there’s a phrase to be feared from the past. They don’t know they’re born today. You had to: clutch in shift out of gear, let the clutch out then back in again to shift into gear. It was so complicated especially if you were shifting down from third into second.
    But do you remember the Austin Champs? They were like Jeeps, They had a Rolls Royce engine, no crash gear box just five forward gears, pull a lever and you had five reverse gears. They were amphibious and had a winch to pull you out of mud. Everybody liked to drive them but you couldn’t poss your test in one or even be instructed in one that was too easy. Funny how you remember things – the indicator switch was a huge yellow thing in the centre of the dash.
    I don’t like driving now either Eddie, I’m scared to drive in the city centre.

  6. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Your right Pete modern vehicles are much easier to drive, we’ll soon have a car that drives itself. I remember the Austin Champs we had several in the motor pool at the Camp I was stationed. I thought they were good to drive very reliable, 80 hp Rolls Royce engine lucky if you could get 15 mpg, seem to remember they also had a hand operated accelerator that could be engaged, and four wheel drive. I did a spell at Boscombe Down, which was about 50 miles away from our Camp, and I used to travel it daily in a Champ, I recall the yellow indicator switch but I had to remember to turn it off it didn’t work automatically after you’d made your turn. I think the original Champ model was made by Wolseley and called the Mudlark, but Austin won the MOD contract to produce it for the Army.
    The first car I owned was a Black Ford Consul with Red Leather trim a bench seat in the front as well as the back, column gear change, three forward gears plus reverse and a trigger hand brake lever, 1500 cc straight four engine, fantastic to work on, very few special tools required. Today I lift the bonnet look down, and call the garage, no way can you work on a modern car without a tool kit made specially for that model, even the screw heads are specials.
    I know our National Service days were a bind at the time, and as Eric says the “Sword of Damocles” was never very far away, but I look back on those days with some affection. You were as fit as you were ever going to be, you could do a Guard Duty and be on parade the following morning, work all day and be fully recovered after a good nights sleep, you’d got plenty of mates because we were all in the same boat, and the grub wasn’t too bad, I’d go back tomorrow….but I’m afraid I wouldn’t pass the medical now…

  7. Edward Blackwell. Says:

    You mention the Majestic Ballroom Pete, where you met Brenda, a very historic building, built in 1921/22 from Leeds Fireclay Terra-Cotta, produced at there Burmantofts Works in Torre Road. My Granddad worked there at that time and hand made a lot of the materials used to build the structure, in particular he made the balustrades and cornices on the upper part of the facade. He would relate to me in great detail how proud he was of that achievement which had withstood the vigour’s of time. The building was gutted by a fire in 2014, the original roof was burnt down and most of the internals destroyed but the fabric of the building being Terra-Cotta fired to 1350 degrees centigrade during manufacture remained undamaged, renovations were started in 2018 to convert it into Offices, and there was some talk that Channel 4 would establish there Head Office there, don’t know if that occurred.

  8. Eric Says:

    I learned to drive with a crash gearbox & the double de-clutching procedure . But my first car had a part synchromesh gear change .
    If I remember correctly , first gear was “crash” & the other two were synchromeshed but thinking about the logic of that, I’m not sure if it wasn’t the other way around.
    You’re right Eddie, you can’t even change a light bulb on many a modern car, let alone work on the engine , adjusting the tappet settings etc. There’s so little room, you can’t even get your hand in let alone DIY tools.

  9. Edward Blackwell. Says:

    Eric I seem to remember first gear in my Consul was a crash gear and the other two synchromesh, I think your right the way you’ve described it….
    I’ve been trying to think where you would have got stuck between Harehills Road and Harehills Lane in the snow Pete, was it on Ashley Road ? By the way belated congratulations to Brenda and yourself on your Golden Wedding, that’s quite an achievement in this day and age, we’ve still a few to go before we get there…

  10. peterwwood Says:

    Hi Eddie,
    I have had to look at a street map but I think it was either one of the ‘Conway’s’ or the ‘Ashton’s’. It was steep at cobbled at the time.

  11. Edward Blackwell. Says:

    I know where you were now Pete, I lived in a flat on Roundhay Road for a couple of years, mid to late 60’s and you could see up those old cobbled streets almost to Harehills Lane, they were steep as I recall, and could be quite treacherous in winter. Well done to Brenda for pushing you out in her high heeled shoes, you were a lucky man to have such a caring person with you.

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