Friday, April 20, 2007

The PREFECT First Car

Remember your first car?

I suppose everyone does. This includes a guy in England. On a forum called, Author’s Hangout, that person, a talented English writer who uses the handle, Oggbashan, (friends call him, Og) told of his first few autos.

IMHO, his account was funny, well-written, universal and yet unique. With his permission, I’m posting it here among my Bilge complete with the original English spellings and usage.

Anyone wishing to contact Og, especially agents, editors and/or publishers anxious to add terms such as rich and published to his list of credentials, can let me know. After a suitable period of, “Why not me?” lamentation, I promise to pass the messages alone, honest.

Bayou Bill


Ford Prefect E493a

Unfortunately the previous owner had modified the dashboard for an aluminium engine-turned slab with recessed instruments. The dashboard lighting only showed the recesses, not the instruments, so reading the instruments after dark required the use of a torch.

The Ford windscreen wipers worked on a vacuum from the engine's manifold. When accelerating or climbing a hill the wipers would slow down and stop. When descending a hill or decelerating, the wipers would whip across the screen maniacally.

The jack points were in the floor in front of the driver and passenger seats, through holes covered with discs of plywood. Driving through water would displace the plywood discs and send a jet of muddy water at the occupants' crotches. An easy way to turn a potential partner into a furious harridan..

The 6 volt lighting system was poor. Driving after dark, particularly in rain, was difficult. The opening windscreen leaked. The demisting system was two electic heating elements attached to the windscreen with rubber suckers. They cleared two tiny arcs of screen that the driver and passenger could peer through. They also used so much power that they drained the battery. I could use the headlights or the demisters, but not both at once.

That car was wrecked by my friend whom I was teaching to drive. He didn't need teaching HOW to drive, he needed teaching HOW TO PASS the driving test.

He failed three times for exceeding the speed limit during the test.

We were practising three point turns. He had completed two slowly but successfully then said "This is ridiculous. I'd do it like this..."

He attempted a handbrake turn but didn't make it. The car crashed sideways into a concrete light standard, breaking off the top, which crashed on to our car's bonnet (US=Hood) breaking the mechanical linkage from accelerator to carburettor. We crawled away on the choke and round a corner where I tied a piece of string to some of the linkage. I drove home pulling that piece of string.

My next car, a 1950 Morris Oxford type MO, was more civilised. It had instruments I could read in the dark, a sealed drip-free windscreen, electric windscreen wipers that worked steadily, 12 volt headlights that actually lit up the road and (bliss!) a heater and demister.

Later, I bought another Ford Prefect E493a. However, the previous owner had been in an accident and had twisted the chassis. Of course he didn't tell me that! The back axle was out of alignment and would break half-shafts every six weeks or so. Scrap yards supplied replacement half-shafts but I was getting tired of the work.

One Friday night I was in my local Public House with my friends. Most of them wanted to go to the next town for an Indian meal. I was tired because I had just spent several hours replacing half-shafts. Another friend was moaning about his car that drank oil. In our drunken state we were arguing which of us had the worst car. Eventually someone else suggested that we should swap cars and see for ourselves. We did, there and then. We drove away (this was before drink drive legislation and when cars were MUCH SLOWER than they are now).

In the dark I was aware of oil fumes and a suspicious mist in my rear view mirror. The next day I looked over my new acquisition. It had two 5-gallon oil cans in the boot (US=trunk). I needed to put one (Imperial) gallon in the engine to bring the oil level to normal. I drove the car to the local shops, stopping at a red traffic light. When the light turned green and I pulled away, the road behind me disappeared in a massive cloud of blue, smelly oil fumes that rose to the windows above the shop fronts.

As the engine warmed up the cloud became persistent and obscured any view behind me except in a strong cross wind. I drove to the nearest car accessory shop and described the symptoms. When the car mechanics had stopped laughing they suggested an evil compound called Krause Bond that was supposed to fill the gaps in the worn cylinder bores, and a set of 'hotter' plugs. I followed the instructions for the Krause Bond to the letter. The cloud was reduced to about half its previous density but was still a hazard to traffic. I fitted the hotter plugs. The engine fired slightly more evenly but the cloud persisted.

I drove that car for three weeks before scrapping it. I had improved the OIL consumption from 30 miles per gallon to 50 miles per gallon. I thought I had lost out on the exchange until I was told that my friend had broken my new half-shaft on the way home from the pub on that Friday night. I had been driving with cautious movements of the clutch. He had let in the clutch sharply, and Bang! - a broken half-shaft.

We remained friends but we wouldn't buy a car from each other...


ps: I liked Ford Prefects. Within their limitations they were a good car. It was unfortunate that my first two were poor specimens. The vacuum operated windscreen wipers had a vacuum tank that would reduce the effect of engine speed but not for a prolonged hill climb, nor an extended overtaking manoeuvre. The remedy was to release the accelerator for a couple of seconds then floor it again.

The "upright" Ford Popular E103 that followed the Prefect was a stripped economy model. The Popular didn't have the vacuum tank and the single windscreen wiper was even more erratic.

My last Ford Prefect was a beautiful example, low mileage, one owner but the garage that sold it to me "didn't have the paperwork to hand." On my first drive the girlfriend who is now my wife was the passenger. Within a couple of miles the top radiator hose burst. I patched it up, drove back to my parents' house, fitted a replacement top hose, and still took the girlfriend out for a meal that evening.

Working on the Prefect was so easy. I 'owned' it for about three weeks before they admitted they had claimed it from the previous owner for non-payment of bills and they didn't have the paperwork at all. I had to return it as technically the garage had stolen it. Six months later when the legal niceties had been completed I had another car and the Ford Prefect was sold at auction.


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