Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Ford, and father and son

The recent announcement about bringing in private contractors to try and deal with the chronic backlog in driver testing reminded me of my own first car driving licence.

There was none of that kind of thing then. There were no driving tests, no provisional licences. You went into the local council office, paid out £1, and there you were, street legal.

I'd been driving an autocycle to school for a couple of years already, and prior to that had ridden a bicycle five miles each way every day to school, so I was well used to traffic.

And about a month before my eligible birthday, Dad had bought a new Ford Consul De Luxe. This would be the first car I'd drive, and for all of those four weeks I'd take every opportunity to sit in it and practice changing gear, using the clutch, switching my feet from accelerator to brake and back. All without even starting the engine.

I'll never forget that car. Powder blue (couldn't find a picture of one, so forgive the versions in the contemporary ads here), red vinyl bench seats front and back, three-speed column shift, ZW 6258 registration. It was modern looking, with those wrap-around rear windows and pointed tail fins, and a fuel filler concealed behind the flip-down rear number plate so it wouldn't disturb the lines of the car. And a 1703cc engine.

(Given what I do for a living these days, as an automotive journalist, it was in hindsight prophetic that I was even then so very interested in the details of a car.)

Anyway, the birthday dawned, we drove into Naas to the council office, and the licence was acquired. Once clear of the town itself on the way home, Dad stopped the car and we switched places.

I fired up the engine, pulled the lever into first — a slight crunch, as there was no synchromesh on that bottom cog — and checked the mirror. Then, indicator flashing, I pulled out onto the road.

What a feeling! I can still feel the awesome sense of power that was under that big bonnet ahead of me. Compared to the little 50cc Berini I'd been driving, this was magic.

A little nerve-wracking, too, the first few times I met other cars coming towards me and wondering if I had enough room to keep going on my side. But magic mostly.

We took the long way home, then finally I got back to Kilcullen and parked the car.

I switched off the engine and pulled out the key, then turned to hand it to Dad.

He shook his head. "Keep it. From here on, you're doing the driving."

And indeed, for the time that I remained at home over the next couple of years, I literally drove Dad everywhere he wanted to go. To meetings with his friends in Newbridge or Naas or Kildare, to Dublin to the shops or the market.

All the time I was learning more and more about driving. Learning more about Dad, too. Much of the time while I was growing up, he was very busy minding the business, and though he was a great Dad, I didn't get much chance to know him outside of that. But in those couple of years when I was effectively his chauffeur if he wanted to go anywhere, we got to know each other much better.

It was that same car brought us on our first, and last, long road trip together.

He wanted to go to Kildare, seven miles away, to talk over something with Herbie Chapman, a motor dealer friend.

I drove him, of course. But Herbie wasn't there. It's a long story from here, but the short version is that we ended up in Cork that night. And got home eight days later after having driven around the south and west coasts of Ireland, from Cork City to Clifden in Conneamara.

In every place we stopped, he knew somebody, usually a publican or hotelier. I've written about part of this before, and no doubt I'll write about other bits again.

Later that month I went to University. And when I came back some years later to work in the family business, it was all different.

Not wrong. Just, as it must be when people keep growing, different. As were the cars we were driving by then.

But that first one, the Consul, is the one in which we were together, father and son, for the important time.

It is maybe why, ever since, and even though these days I drive every kind and class of car on the road, I've always had a soft spot for Fords.

1 comment:

Chet said...

Hey, nice story, nice memories!

I'm sure every one of us have similar car-related memories. Memories of one's first car, learning to drive, etc.

Would that make a good anthology of car stories?