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Memoirs of an ICE Age motorist

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AS THE mad campaign to force us into electric vehicles gathers pace, I’ve been reminiscing about how internal combustion engine (ICE) cars have helped me along life’s road over the past half-century or so. I suspect many other oldies dismayed by the Net Zero driving diktat will be doing the same.  

So, having topped up the tank of the Getley Memorymobile with several gallons of nostalgia, I’ll crank the starting handle and you can join me on a tour of my antediluvian autos – all of which were bought secondhand.  

Neither of my parents could drive, so the first car in our family was a black Morris Minor that my elder brother acquired around 1965. It was a forlorn old thing, but when he parked it outside our house, it set net curtains a-twitching. No one had a car in our impoverished urban back street, where milk, bread and coal were still delivered by horse and cart. ‘Hmm,’ the nosey neighbours doubtless muttered, ‘the Getleys must have come up on the pools.’  

I was too young to drive the Minor, but got many a lift in it and was determined to acquire my own set of wheels as soon as possible. Alas, being perennially cash-strapped, I had to start out on two wheels, not four. In 1967, I scraped together £15 from a holiday job and bought a Honda 50 motorbike. It had seen better days, but it was a fantastic feeling to have my own transport after a lifetime of walking or catching buses.  

I even rode the Honda to school, where other lads arriving by pedal cycle looked on, goggle-eyed with envy, as I drew up alongside the bike sheds. However, after I dismantled and reassembled the top end of the engine one day (for no good reason other than I liked tinkering with it), I forgot to put back the small rubber oil seal rings. Next time I rode the bike, it seized.  

It was back to Shanks’s pony until 1969, when I started work and was able to afford another used Honda 50. Then in 1971 the battered old Austin Mini belonging to my girlfriend (now my wife) rumbled on to the scene. It needed lots of TLC. I regularly bled the worryingly spongy brakes (Lockheed Universal Disc and Drum Brake Fluid still flows through my veins). And when the Mini failed the MoT because of a rust-rotted rear subframe – which would have cost an unaffordable £40 for a garage to replace – I swotted up the workshop manual, took a week off work, and managed to shoehorn in a new one myself. Cars tended to be crumblier back then and I also spent many a happy hour filling the holes in the bodywork with Isopon.  

The Mini held together after we married, but was finally allowed to rust in peace in 1974, when we sold it for scrap to some gipsies. By then, we had bought a 1966 Austin 1100 from my sister. It was reliable and comfortable, and the only major job I did on it was changing the rubber U-joints.  

The 1100 served us well until rust doomed it in 1975 and so we moved on to a 1972 Skoda S100L, the car which even today has me waking up in a cold sweat at 3am shouting: ‘What else can go wrong with this bloody heap of junk!’  

I bought it because it was cheap, but soon learned that the lousy reputation of the Skoda marque at that time was all too justified. The troubles I had with it are too long to list. I still have flashbacks about squatting on the kitchen floor in 1978, clutching the cylinder head as I replaced a broken valve because I couldn’t afford the £50 the garage wanted to fix it. Forty-five years on, I’ve still got Chemico Fine and Coarse Valve-Grinding Paste under my fingernails.  

We limped on with the Skoda until 1979, when a petrol leak started a small fire while I was fiddling in the engine compartment. It was quickly extinguished and the car was driveable (I should have let it burn and got the insurance money), but the dynamo was damaged and it finally died on the motorway at dead of night. The Skoda’s next stop was the scrapyard – a blessed release for us both.  

Short of money, I returned temporarily to two wheels, buying a Honda CG125 motorbike. But mercifully a few months later a colleague sold me his 1968 Ford Cortina for £100. It’s hard to describe the sheer bliss of a nice warm car after being constantly frozen and soaked in the saddle.  

From there, we progressed to a 1975 Ford Escort and later to a 1981 Ford Cortina,then a Metro and two Ford Sierras. In the second of these, a 1992 model, I clocked up 280,000 miles commuting from the North to London. I changed the oil and filter, along with the points, every 5,000 miles. And although I got through several clutches, that Sierra served me splendidly overall. In the end, the valve stems went and in 2005 I sadly sold the car for scrap for £25.  

There followed a brief flirtation with a Peugeot 206 before in 2007 I bought a 2000 Peugeot 406 LX, of which I have the fondest memories.The 406 was excellent in every way. First, it was diesel, doing umpteen miles per gallon. Second, it had power steering. Third, it had air conditioning. Hallelujah! No more sweatbox journeys, or being deafened by wind noise from having to keep a window open.  

Inexplicably, after I retired in 2009 I traded the 406 in for a Citroën Xara Picasso. To this day, I don’t know why – the Citroën was bland, boring and awkward to drive. So in 2012 I part-exchanged it for my present car, a petrol-powered 2010 Toyota Avensis that had 11,000 miles on the clock.  

After 11 years of almost trouble-free motoring, it has just clocked up 100,000 miles. And now, to play my small part in defying the Government’s insane electric vehicle plans, I’m putting it into the garage for a mega-service.  

Hopefully its engine will then be good for another 100,000 miles and another decade. That will take us to 2033, three years after the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars is scheduled to start. Even then, if I haven’t been consigned to the Great Scrapyard in the Sky, I’ll try to keep the Toyota going.  

So there we have it – 14 cars, three motorbikes and a lot of memories. None were classics or collectors’ items, or even very exciting. They were just run-of-the-mill motors. But each in its own way gave me and my family mobility, convenience and freedom, mostly at a moderate cost. I can’t see that happening if electric vehicles are thrust upon us. A lot of folk will simply be priced off the road and those who can afford them will be having counselling for range anxiety.  

But who knows? Hopefully, before 2030 common sense might at last prevail and the government will realise that Net Zero is a dangerous delusion when faced with the reality of our energy needs. In that case, the whole crackpot idea of ‘electric vehicles only’ will thankfully be as dead as a discharged lithium-ion battery. And, with spark plugs sparking, fuel combusting and pistons pulsating, we pensioner petrolheads might still be merrily motoring along.  

Footnote: If I’d held on to my old cars that were made before 1979, I’d be quids in now – because they’d be exempt from Sadiq Khan’s hated £12.50 a day ULEZ charge in London. Apparently, canny motorists in the capital are snapping up any such jalopies that are still running because they’re classed as ‘historic vehicles’. To add to the irony, a lot of them are old smokeboxes, much more polluting than later vehicles. That being the case, I take back everything I said about my 1972 Skoda. If it somehow evaded the scrapheap, it’s welcome back in my garage any time.  

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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