JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUNBEAM TALBOT
It was a nondescript Friday afternoon in March 1959. Following a throat infection, I had been kept off school for a few days and in an attempt to obtain some fresh air my mother had suggested I accompany my father to Stourbridge where he had some brief but important business to attend to. So there I was sitting quietly in my father’s beloved Sunbeam Talbot in Lower High Street. The model my father frequently reminded me that had won the Monte Carlo Rally some four years previously and indeed had finished second the year before when driven by the intrepid racing driver Stirling Moss. How I wished our car had been the very one that had received all the accolades but having said that I may have been guilty of a little play ground boasting and claimed that indeed it was and Uncle Stirling was a close friend of the family. Incidentally Moss ‘Sunbeam turned up at ‘The Antiques Road show’ two years ago and was valued by the expert at £55000; approximately six times greater than a car that had not been driven by the great man.
Sadly our car, although being equipped with beautiful leather interior, was somewhat lacking in the body work department. It was a subtle shade of blue which was regretfully rather patchy no doubt due to the liberal application of ‘Windolene’, a product my mother was convinced was capable of cleaning every polished surface known to man.
I glanced out of the side window and remember seeing an old 246 bus from Brierley Hill make its way slowly up Lower High Street. A seemingly endless stream of boys wearing the familiar Grammar School uniform of green blazers and school boy caps, worn with varying degrees of self consciousness, flowed noisily past the car.
My fingers reached down to the ash tray set in the middle of the transmission tunnel. I flicked it open just as I had done so many times before when I had been experiencing child hood boredom. The bright chrome top and the gold interior fascinated me although the remains of the odd ‘Senior Service ‘cigarette was not so appealing. After what felt like a lifetime playing with the sprung lid of the ashtray my father eventually returned.
The years rapidly passed. The boy grew into a man. Marriage, fatherhood and old age slotted inevitably into place until I reached the point where, ‘All my Future lay behind me.’ I had developed a passion for the past. I was beginning to yearn for the old days, old mentalities, old customs and perhaps the most unobtainable of all the old characters that occupied that distant scene.
I decided that to assist my mental passage to those times of half a century ago I should obtain a suitable mode of transport. There was only one car which fitted the bill- the beautiful old Sunbeam.
Although I had been driving cars for over forty years I had very little interest or knowledge of the bits that were hidden under the bonnet. After all I wanted to drive and own an old car not spend endless hours lying underneath it. I therefore needed a car that had been owned and fastidiously maintained by its previous owners. The one I purchased was in fact the one I saw first in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The car was quite magnificent but I had no yard stick to compare it with. I therefore travelled to Manchester in the North and Somerset in the South to look at examples of this classic marquee. One indeed had been advertised as the best in the world but sadly was not up to the standard of 1098 F the Sunbeam in High Wycombe.
Geoff Leekes, the owner, had nurtured the car for twenty five years. He had bestowed upon it many hours of his time and many thousand pounds of his money. The previous owner Frank Woodgate a bank manager from Surrey had bought it from new in 1957 and had been an equally diligent owner-recording every service and repair in a small buff coloured notebook.
In fifty five years, ‘Effie’ as she has now been christened by my wife, has covered only 28000 miles, but I have not only acquired a beautiful car but also a not insignificant responsibility to ensure it is passed on to the next owner in at least as good a condition as when I acquired it.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of overwhelming nostalgia and joy as I sit in the car. The delightful smell of ’old car’ an almost indefinable mixture of leather, oil, petrol and a touch of damp is impossible to replicate.
The names of these old car manufacturers and their models roll off the tongue in almost Betjeman like fashion. Who can fail to be stirred by such memory evoking names as the Jowett Jupiter, Singer Le Mans, Nash Metropolitan, Austin Chummy or Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire? Such names are only lyrically equalled by the names of the quintessential English towns and villages where we display these splendid vehicles. Perhaps A E Houseman would be proud of;- Peopleton, Fladbury and Ludlow, Arley, Bishops Castle and Welland, Pershore, Malvern and Quatt.
The Sunbeam has without doubt brought me considerable joy. I have met some delightful people who have enjoyed reminiscing about the car and its contemporary models. I have attended shows in quite beautiful settings and become an avid analyst of weather forecasts in an attempt to spare the Sunbeam the ignominy of getting wet.
Perhaps however I can prevail upon the reader for a little longer and present a few anecdotes which have bought a wry smile to my face on every occasion I recall them.
This summer the car was entered in a small classic car show at Fladbury, a most appealing village on the banks of the Avon just outside Evesham. The cars were being positioned in the High Street and some in the driveways of the imposing residences near the village green. I was directed to the drive of ‘The Manor’ along with half a dozen or so fellow enthusiasts. The tyres crunched comfortingly on the gravel on the in and out drive of this Georgian dwelling. Having parked I set up my deck chair and glanced around at the other cars neatly set out next to the Sunbeam. With the impressive Manor House as a back drop, a magnificent M G TF, a rare Jowett Javelin and a dignified Rolls Royce looked stunning on that sunny morning.
Slowly the owners of the other cars strolled into the High Street to sample the fine refreshments on offer, listen to the local brass band and admire the rhythmical contortions of the Morris Men. It would be difficult to imagine a more typically English scene. I was left alone with this bevy of beautiful historic vehicles. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a delicate yet rather shabbily dressed lady of advancing years approaching. She was talking in a clipped upper class accent to her only companion an unremarkable dog, who, like her ,had perhaps enjoyed a more comfortable and privileged lifestyle in the past. Despite the lady inviting comments about the cars from her canine companion, not surprisingly, she received no response but this in no way deterred her from continuing with this one sided conversation. She paused as she reached the Sunbeam and addressed me ‘Young man’ she said. Now despite my advancing years I am still extremely susceptible to flattery and here was a lady who despite my balding head and thickening waist line still considered me to be in the first flush of youth. She had my undivided attention and I doffed my Panama and replied ‘Good Morning’
The lady waved her walking stick, first at the Manor House and then the line of vehicles ‘Could I just say young man what a beautiful house you have here and your collection of cars are truly magnificent’
I was faced with a moral dilemma; should I point out her error and explain that I only owned one of the cars and had only been granted a short term licence to sit outside the front door of this stately home. This would surely cause untold embarrassment to her. Alternatively I could continue with this case of mistaken identity and enjoy a few minutes of admiration from this lady who obviously belonged to a class several grades higher than that to which I believed I belonged.
Fortunately the lady was obviously not used to, and perhaps not remotely interested in, receiving replies to her comments and continued down the line of cars before I could formulate my reply.
There lies just west of the Black Country a village which has been popular with visitors for many generations. It was once connected to the industrial conurbation by a tram way but now people are transported by cars. Once a year it holds a Country Fayre and thousands attend. The High Street is closed, there is a grand parade and a multitude of stalls and in the words of that much admired music hall entertainer Stanley Holloway ‘Old ale and sandwiches too’ I think you get the picture I am attempting to paint.
A few years ago the organising committee decided a collection of classic cars would add a certain dignity to the proceedings. The local classic car club was approached and several members joined in the fun.
A leading member of the club having sat by his vehicle for an hour or two decided he would like to stretch his legs and view the activities in the High Street a few hundred yards away. On his return he was astounded to find a family had taken occupation of his beloved car and were enjoying lunch in the comfortable surroundings of the historic vehicle. Mother was handing out the Scotch eggs, father had opened a can of lager and the two children in the back were about to open a couple of cans of coke whilst at the same time devouring a packet of crisps.
The owner, having briefly considered and then dismissed the possibility that he was a victim of Candid Camera suggested that the family gather up their belongings and find an alternative location to enjoy their lunch. The family were reluctant to leave the warm luxury of the car. They pointed out that a chill wind had got up and enquired why on earth had these cars been brought if not to offer shelter to the visiting members of the public.
I am pleased to report, that following the departure of the diners, no lasting damage was done to the car and after the removal of the odd crisp the interior of the vehicle was returned to its pristine state.
My final tale relates to an incident which took place two summers ago when I, along with the Sunbeam, were gathered at a small show in Mary Steven’s Park; that fine enclosed area of formal gardens, together with tennis courts, bowling green and lake given to the people of Stourbridge by the town’s greatest philanthropist Ernest Stevens.
I noticed a rather stout gentleman making his way, somewhat hesitantly along the row of cars pausing occasionally to exchange a few words with the owners. He stopped at the front of the Sunbeam took a step back and shook his head slowly ‘Blimey’ he exclaimed ‘This do half tek me back’
‘Really’ I replied’ did you own one in the past’?
I detected the man’s eyes had misted over slightly; he pushed his cap towards the back of his head and turned towards me. ‘Well mate it’s like this; when I was a young lad of about ten years old I had a friend whose father was a newsagent in Amblecote and he owned one of these Sunbeams. Every Sunday morning in the summer, when we had finished delivering the newspapers we would clean the car and if we made a good job of it we were taken out for a ride:- Bromyard Downs, Kinver, Clent and sometimes a trip up the cliff railway at Bridgnorth. Those were the days, coppers on point duty, AA patrol men saluting their members as they drove by and no road rage’.
I nodded in agreement. ‘Well’ I replied ‘that young friend of yours, the newsagent’s son was me!”
My old friend’s face was a picture. His jaw literally dropped a good inch and he stood there motionless and speechless. His dazed state was however temporary.
I recalled he had always been known by his nickname ‘Bibble’ simply because in Black Country talk a bibble in a can made a lot of noise and my friend was renowned for his incessant talking. He was now slightly stooped and had collected a few extra pounds in the ensuing years but his ability to converse was totally unimpaired. For the next half an hour Bibble proceeded to give me a detailed account of his life over the fifty years that had elapsed since we last met. Did I remember how we tied bangers to the rockets on Bonfire night, how we had tunnelled under the concrete fence at Corbett Hospital to gain free entry to the Annual Fete and how he had received a particularly bad report from school and had accidently dropped it in the ‘cut’ on the way home?
The Sunbeam had, without doubt been the catalyst which enabled both of us to be transported back to the fifties. If it had not been for that venerable old car we would have passed each other in the street, totally unaware of the others identity.
A couple of months ago my wife and I attended a sponsored walk in Dudley Castle for the Alzheimer’s Society. A few members of the Stourbridge Pre War Car Club had been invited to line up their vehicles at the finish line. A very talented local group whose members were of a similar vintage to me were belting out the hits of The Shadows and the Hollies. I glanced to both my right and left to see my fellow car club members playing air guitars and singing along to the music of our youth. ‘Old men, old cars and old songs’ I announced.
‘What’s wrong with that?” asked Geoff, the proud owner of a pre war Rover. ‘Nothing at all’ I replied ‘Absolutely nothing at all’
Sometimes on a grey and overcast winter afternoon I make my way into my garage and sit quietly in the old car. I am immediately transported back to Lower High Street. I lean slowly back into the comfortable leather seat and slowly flick open the ash tray. It’s 1959 and everything is here except the remains of the Senior Service.
SPWCC CAR PROFILE
Name: Ian Hankinson
Club Member for 0.1 Years DOB: 7.7.52 (Optional)
Make of car: Triumph Model: TR6 Year:1972
When did you first acquire it: July 2009
Why did you choose this car: Owner Triumphs in my youth Herald and Vitesse, about Ten years ago purchased a spitfire, always wanted a big Triumph, but could not afford a TR4a
How would you describe its condition on purchase: Good
What is its current condition? Mechanically Very Good Bodywork: Fair Paintwork: Fair
Colour: RED Is that the original colour Yes
What do you like best about ownership: Driving down the lanes on a sunny day with the hood down
What do you least like about ownership: Not being able to use the car in the winter months
What other vehicles do you have: Suzuki Grand Viagra
Why did you profile this one: My only classic car
Give a brief history of the car before your ownership:
First registered on July 1973 It has had 13 owners before me, I have MOT’s showing it spent some of its early life in Penrith and then Sussex from 1997 to 2002 it was MOT’d in Manchester the last two before I bought it were in Cheshire, where I purchased it from. I have receipts going back to 1985 for spare parts. It appeared that in 1999 it had major chassis and body work done on the car as well as new carpets and interior, I believe that this was when it was changed to wire wheels.
Give a history of the car since coming into your ownership:
I have replaced tyres, fuel injectors. Breaks, some wiring and plugs leads and coil