I am always very impressed by the sheer amount of genuine interest there is in Portugal. I have always appreciated the range of different cars that can be seen on the Portuguese clássicos scene. Often, a very different set of cars to what would be deemed UK staples.
Life long fascination
One of my favourite subjects is classic cars. I suppose my life-long fascination with motor cars comes from being the son of a Ford dealer who plied his trade during the 60’s and 70’s.
My father was proprietor of an authorised Ford dealership. He also had a used car section from where he sold other makes such as Vauxhall, BMC, Jaguar and many others besides. So I learned to appreciate lots of makes at a very early age.
Because we lived in a rural location, small panel vans and pick-ups were always in high demand. Commercial vehicles were always good sellers and provided a lucrative side-line to my father's passenger car sales business. So, I have some very fond recollections of all manner of classic vehicles.
There was seldom a dull moment at my father's garage with all sorts of interesting motors from Morgans, blower Bentleys, Jaguars and wafting Rolls-Royce models limping in with various mechanical ailments as tourists from Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and far beyond arrived into Wales. Keeping all those people on the road was a full time job for the workshop.
During the late 60’s and 70’s, life for a garage kid was pretty good. The car sales business was closed every Sunday with only the forecourt remaining open selling car accessories, fuel, oils, paraffin, sweets, magazines and newspapers until 1:30 pm. This was rural Wales in the 60’s and 70’s, so the Sabbath was much revered and all 'respectable' people downed tools on Sundays! Even mowing the lawn (especially with a noisy petrol mower) was verily frowned upon. Even the local pubs were closed - by law.
But for me, Sunday was a great day. I often liked to help my father prepare cars for the showroom. This was always done on the sly, hidden away in an enclosed yard behind the garage building where no one could witness such sacrilegious Sunday toil taking place on the Lord's 'day of rest'. Back in the day, new cars were covered in some kind of horrible gunge (transportation wax) which helped protect them from the very worst of the elements when they were stored in outdoor compounds. This stuff took a fair bit of getting off!
My father used to shine-up a couple of cars ready for showroom display and Sunday was the best day to do it. It was often a Cortina MK1 or an Anglia we tackled but we had the occasional Zephyr, Zodiac or Consul to prep up too.
After all the cleaning came the real treat. I would get to pop the trade plates onto one of the new cars and we'd head off for a Sunday jaunt, racking up a bit of 'delivery mileage'. We'd only go 10 miles or so but it was always great fun for a small boy to go off and do something THAT cool with his beloved Dad. And the cars were great too. I can almost smell that new car smell right now, as I write. I remember being mesmerized by those beautiful, shiny new cars which were often finished in wonderful pastel shades with matching PVC interiors. Even the steering wheels matched. The interiors were so light and airy. Little did I realise that these cars would one day become icons.
So, understandably, classic cars have always been about nostalgia for me. The sights, the sounds and even the smells I encounter at classic car shows take me right back to those wonderful halcyon days. The classic car "wow" factor comes from deep within whenever I see a car that reminds me of those magical childhood days. Nostalgia is a comforting warmth that comes from the heart. Iconic cars simply provide the catalyst to get it all flowing. They tap into an innermost record that chronicles so many personal landmarks.
One classic car that still floats my boat is the Austin 1100/1300 (ADO16). Originally produced by the British Motor Corporation the ADO16 underpinned a whole range of small BMC cars (later to become British Leyland).
These cars first saw the light of day in 1962 and swiftly became Britain's best-selling motor cars. The ADO16 was marketed under various make and model variations ranging from MG, Wolseley to a miniature Rolls Royce-like variant produced by Vanden Plas. Princess Vanden Plas variants featured wood veneers, Wilton carpets, plush leather seats, extra chrome and rear folding picnic tables. However, the standard Austin and Morris 1100/1300s were the most prolific of all the ADO16 variants.
I suspect my personal fondness for these lovely little family cars comes from my grandmother's car buying habits. She bought herself a brand new one every 12 months when the new registration plates came out. Sounds a bit decadent? Well, perhaps so. But I remember the annual swap used to cost her around £100 per year. Not surprising considering her used examples had barely been run in or seen much by way of wear. They'd usually only have covered around 4,000 miles or so and had been kept out of the harshest rigorous of the elements by being kept in a nicely heated garage.
I'm sure you can just imagine my sheer delight when (in my 50’s), I managed to acquire a beautiful, mint condition Austin 1300GT. This was the car I always wished my Grandmother had bought so she could instantly morph into a 1970s Super-Gran!
The 13GT was a slightly sportier incarnation of the Austin/Morris 1300 featuring a cammier, twin SU variation of the venerable 1275cc A-Series engine. Those little devils could shift and they really had a fabulous bit of grunt too! They were really great fun to drive.
The ADO16 was Alec Isagonis' manifestation of a 'stretched' Mini, featuring 4 door practicality, spaciousness as well as uncanny comfort levels due to the addition of the fabled hydrolastic suspension system (2 door variants and an estate were also available). These cars really were little masterpieces in their own right. A success story measurable by their remarkable and enduring popularity.
But alas, for my dear old Gran, the love affair ended when our local BL dealer turned up on our driveway in 1974 with the illustrious Austin 1300's replacement. The much-maligned, square steering-wheeled Austin Allegro. My old Gran was untainted by all the BL-bashing but, try as the salesman might, she simply could not be convinced that a bulbous 'baby poo yellow' (Harvest Gold) car with a square (Quartic) steering wheel actually represented 'progress'. Plus, and perhaps more to the point, her £100 trade in bill suddenly surged to £150. I reckon that was the real deal-breaker.