By Rambler 22/06/2001
BUYING a car has become a highly sophisticated business. The vast array of choices presented in the 'Cars' sector of the 'Star' is mesmerising., It was far easier in pre-war days.
Brake horsepower, torque, smoothness of gearbox, ride quality, suspension and, of course, acceleration, have all been in the picture for quite some time. These and rust-proofing, long-life batteries, etc, have all been brought to a high level of perfection in the generality of models. Now, only the extras are left for salesmen to highlight.
Nowadays almost as much technology is involved in car manufacture as went into early space ships. Things like cupholders, CD players, automatic lighting, automatic-start wipers, heated seats, TV screens in the back seats for the kids, with buttons for PIay Stations and DVDs are some of the latest gimmicks. We have come a long way in 65 years. Where next?
Austin, Morris and Ford dominated the market in the early days and models were mostly distinguished by horse power - the Austin Seven, ten, twelve, sixteen, etc. And Morris had the Oxford and Cowley. Ford had the Tmodel and the Popular. (a £100-model a 'cheapie', with utilities only, definitely no frills).
Riley, Hillman, MG, Wolsey, MG, etc., Chevrolet, were select makes, with fewer owners. Probably more pricey. Dealers were correspondingly fewer. In Lisburn Stevenson of Castle Street had the Austin franchise and a near monopoly. In Belfast, Andrews of Smithfield were prominent and Coulters of Antrim Road.
Pre-war I dealt with Sam Crozier of Andrews. Freddie was the boss, but Sam had the charisma.
The history of the time needs to be mentioned as an introduction, as the car manufacturing sector was facing an upheaval which was to last for more than a decade. Days of care-free motoring were about to end. I placed an order for my first new car oblivious of forthcoming events, but a rehearsal of Sam's solicitude may interest readers.
Preparations for war commenced after Neville Chamberlain, the British PM, returned from a meeting with Hitler in September, 1938, brandishing a rolled umbrella and a piece of paper, signed by Hitler, proclaiming "Peace in our time." Hitler may have fooled Chamberlain, but the British warmachine was started up, just in case; but not fast enough, as history tells us. This Nazi machine had been roaring ahead of us for years.
But, back to Sam Crozier. Delivery dates for the newly-launched Austin Eight kept slipping, and it was not until July 11, 1939 that I got the long-awaited 'phone call. Andrews had my car ready for collection.
I was at work in Portadown and Sam had a 4pm deadline. They were closing for the July holidays! I quibbled over tax and insurance but Sam soon overcame that hurdle.
"Who are your insurers and what is your full name and address?" That given, he said, "Leave it to me."
When I reached Smithfield, ahead of 4pm, Sam had been to my insurers at Wellington Place, collected an insurance cover note, hated off to the Courthouse at Crumlin Road, and procured a tax disc. There was DZ 6725 with a full tank, ready for the road!
Then a quick look at IW 5441, my trade-in, which he had sold to me in 1937, some quick calculations, followed by a figure for the final price. A cheque for that handed over, and I was off, well ahead of Andrews' closing time. Beat that for service! (The registration for County Antrim was DZ, and the taxation office for County Antrim was Crumlin Road Courthouse).
Unhappily DZ 6725 was not a 'good buy'. Legend has it that best quality steel was diverted to munitions from 1938. Anyhow, in spite of careful running in, as was mandatory with new engines, pre-war, I needed a rebore in no time.
Two years later I lost entitlement to a ration of petrol, so I sold the vehicle. I got much more than new price, since new car manufacture had halted, but that was poor consolation.
Happily, we still had a family car and farmers qualified for a small ration of petrol. We also had coupons for a petrol-driven Ferguson tractor, hence we were not grounded completely.
Sadly, I was transferred to County Tyrone and I had to go into digs. That is a story for another day.