The Rambler 15/11/2002
THIS week when I was clearing some old records I came across a receipt dated 22nd December, 1936.
Twenty-two pounds ten shillings for an Austin car, IW3895, wasn't bad. And it was only five years old!
It must have been advertised in the paper. I recall that the vendor was on duty at a Corporation power station at the Lisburn Road Shaftesbury Square junction when I interviewed him, J F Ardis.
I couldn't drive, so a pal who travelled in the train with me, took the wheel. My elder brother showed me the ropes and off I went next day. I narrowly missed a tree, but my mentor grabbed the wheel in time and uttered a polite (sic) warning.
In a couple of days I set off solo to visit a friend and got there and back in one piece, but with a badly stretched hand brake cable. I had failed to release the hand brake.
In those days car brakes were operated by wire cables. A 1934 'Austin Ten', for example, was apt to lose its rear brakes if one had to apply them when the back seat was occupied by a couple of heavy weights.
I discovered that once, to my dismay, when I was descending Ivy Hill. I had to slam into bottom gear and say my prayers. I had my mother-in-law, wife and a couple of wee ones abroad. Happily, I met nothing and didn't have to pull up. (ditch).
In passing, let me explain that driving licenses cost ten bob (£½ a year). They were issued by road tax divisions of County Councils (at Crumlin Road, Belfast for County Antrim). There were no driving schools and no tests, hence I still have to take mine.
Petrol cost sixteen old pence a gallon for 'Esso', eighteen pence for 'Shell', about 14 gallons for £l. Road tax was £7-10 shilling (£7.50) and insurance was cheap say £6 p.a. for 'third party, fire and theft' cover.
When one's salary was no more than £130 pa and labourers were on, say fifteen shillings a week (£¾ths), motoring costs weren't as cheap as the figures which I have quoted might suggest cheap suits cost 35 shillings, or up to 50 shillings (20 shillings = £1). Shoes, maybe, twelve shillings.
Three months on I swapped my 1931 Austin Seven for a 1936 model which was under one year old. The trade-in set me back £68. Sam Crozier was the vendor. He was salesman at Andrews of Smithfield in Belfast.
I don't know what the road from Ivy Hill is like now, pre-war it was steep, narrow and twisted.
I got my first ride in a car circa 1928. A tourist from California who was on a visit to his grandmother, near my home, brought a T Model Ford and gave us rides. Needless to say, it did not have alloy wheels, metallic paint or any of the modern adornments, but a bit like an old iron bedstead on wheels.
Around the mid-thirties Ford launched a £100 Popular saloon, 8 HP, like the 'Morris Eight' but a lot cheaper, much more utility designed and one colour-black.
It soon gained a wide slice of the small car market