River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Down memory Lane - cars

January 2014


Dr Ian Nisbet

One for the blokes

This article started life as an introduction to my experiences on moving to Feltwell in 1977. However, as I set the scene, I became involved in my motor cars and the article soon filled up. The next article will start in 1977!

I started in general practice on January 1st, 1970. I joined a three doctor practice in Pound Hill, Crawley and bought a house in Copthorne, between Crawley and East Grinstead. In those days, there were no photocopiers, no computers, no electronic calculators and colour TV was just arriving, with only three channels. Termination of pregnancy was illegal. Car radios were screwed into the dashboard and the wing had to be drilled for the ariel. The first tape systems in cars needed an extra player under the dash and each tape was the size of half a house-brick. Mobile 'phones were 20 years away. I changed cars quite regularly – Ford Popular (sit up and beg) £12, Hillman Minx with 3 gear column change which was very floppy £35, Vauxhall Victor old style £45 – this took us all around Scotland, then the MOT was introduced and the man was very rude about my lovely car – something about the bottom being about to fall out of it – and demanded that I took it away as it was spoiling his premises. Next came a new look (swept down rear wings) Victor £95. This was a really modern, comfortable car which I loved and in which I took my Institute of Advanced Motorists advanced driving test – failed first time through not using the horn enough on bends. I was devastated but passed next time. Then, son Calum came along and he had a lot of paraphernalia, such as the cardboard box and wheels type pushchair, and I bought a Morris Oxford traveller (566 DGT) for £175. This amount of money was way beyond my cash capacity so it was bought on hire purchase at £7-10-00 a month (even that amount was difficult to find). I treasured that car, polished it weekly and travelled thousands of miles. We travelled to Spain for a holiday, my father and mother travelling behind in his new Cortina 1600E. My shiny car was already many years old and the tired suspension made light of all the bumpy roads (no motorways in France in those days - only signs saying “Chausee deformee) but my father was having a terrible time. The suspension on his 1600E was really hard (a sports model) and he could not travel at more than 40mph without bouncing off the road or hitting his head on the roof, so he begged me to slow down. The journey back was interesting; the clutch master cylinder started to leak in Spain  at the beginning of the journey home. In those days, car parts for British cars were not readily available on the continent, so I bought clutch fluid and had to jump out and refill the reservoir after every 5 depressions. Having arrived home, the new seal was fitted within minutes!

My local garage in Copthorne was a Fiat agency. My next car was a chocolate brown Fiat 125 Special (£220 - one up from the Fiat 124 workhorse, later replaced by the Lada). It really needed driving hard, the engine was sporty and the car travelled much too fast. For months, it suffered from a “snatching” suggesting a carburettor or high tension lead problem. We spent ages looking for the trouble until, one night, I was under the bonnet at night and saw one of the high tension leads shorting across onto the rear bulkhead; the problem was easily solved and I was up to max speed again!

A friend of mine was an estate agent. In 1970, we would drink together and could only afford about half a pint each. Over the next couple of years, his business took off and he took to selling off his Volvo estates after 3 years. So, my next car was his Volvo 145S estate (BPO995G), a really solid piece of kit. My favourite bit was the rear windscreen wiper, the first I had ever owned. On reflection, the car  was very noisy and not at all nippy, the inside was all black rubber but there was plenty of room and, when it rained, I could wash and wipe the rear window from the dashboard. Having bought an ancient caravan, I fitted a towbar to this Volvo and we headed off to France on Townsend Thoresen, my father and mother following in the Cortina 1600E and a newer caravan. Half way through France, a clattering noise started at the rear of my car, so I stopped to investigate. The towbar had come loose! Happily, my father never travelled without most of his tools, so we could put matters right. When we arrived at the caravan site, a terminal post on my car battery broke and a new battery cost me £40 (1974) and used up my entire spending money for the fortnight.

Three years later, I bought my friend's next Volvo 145 estate (DPO 952L). This was an interesting car with a petrol injection engine and a strange computer between the driver and the engine. Foot on accelerator, hang around a bit and then the car would move. Sometimes unnerving at road junctions. I had this car converted to LPG (an enormous gas tank behind the rear seats) and it went really well. However, about once a fortnight, there would be a massive explosion under the bonnet and the corrugated rubber pipe taking air into the engine would be shredded. Totally undeterred, I bought some spare pipes and replaced them when necessary. After three years, I bought a bigger caravan and, when I arrived at Feltwell in 1977, the outgoing and much-loved GP, Dr John Burgess, made some typically ascerbic comments about a new doctor arriving with a Volvo Estate and a dirty great caravan – untold luxury in Feltwell at that time.

Best wishes to you all – Ian Nisbet.

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