A stop-start trip down memory lane... to days of old bangers!

In his weekly column Trevor Laffan recalls what cars were like in the 70s
A stop-start trip down memory lane... to days of old bangers!

FINE VINTAGE: An old Morris Minor outside Crawford School of Art in Emmet Place, Cork, in 1966

BACK in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, not too many of us had cars. We walked everywhere and getting a taxi was always the last thing on our minds.

We probably didn’t have enough money to pay for one anyway and the few bob we did have, would have been earmarked for a pint.

A buddy of mine had a Vespa scooter. I can’t remember what he paid for it but whatever it cost, it was too much. Somebody saw him coming.

We spent more time pushing the thing around the town than we did riding it. It got to the stage where I would regularly refuse a ride home on it because it was easier to walk.

For some reason that is lost on me now, we decided to take the Vespa to Ballyferriter, beyond Dingle in West Kerry, one time. I can’t remember what time we set out, but I do know that it was about 2am by the time we got there.

It was pre-mobile phone days so there were some people waiting for us who were beginning to get a little concerned.

For a lot of the journey, there were sparks flying out of the back of the scooter and these became more noticeable as it got dark. It was also making some strange noises, almost like it was breaking wind.

The Vespa struggled to go uphill and we knew we were in trouble when it began to have difficulty going downhill too.

When we reached the outskirts of Dingle, it had a massive heart attack and died. We reminisced briefly about the good times we had with it and then promptly threw it in the ditch.

We decided to hitch-hike the rest of the way, but unfortunately for us, it was gone midnight and traffic was non-existent, so we ended up walking the remainder of the journey.

It was around 2am by the time we got there, completely wrecked, cold and tired.

My friend graduated to four wheels after that and invested in a Morris Minor. He must have bought it from the same guy who sold him the scooter. This thing broke down so often that we carried a lump of timber in the boot to prop up the bonnet while we rendered first aid to the engine.

Cars were very basic in those days. Heating was flimsy at best so, as a rule, you generally needed to wear as much clothing in the car as you would if you were out walking.

The cars were draughty and noisy as well because insulation was scarce, and if you had a radio that meant you had money.

In all honesty, that Morris Minor was only a small step above a wheelbarrow.

For some reason, it always seemed to pack up during the hours of darkness when there was little chance of getting help from a passing motorist.

One time we were about two miles from home when the fan belt disintegrated. We walked home and robbed a pair of gran’s tights and trudged all the way back to where the car was, where we manufactured a temporary fan belt from the tights and managed to get the car home.

On another occasion, we went to Dungarvan. In hindsight, taking the Morris Minor on an enormous trip like that was asking for trouble.

On the way back home, in the dark of course, the rain came down, so, naturally, the windscreen wipers failed.

As we were going through Midleton, the car’s exhaust completely detached itself from the underneath of the car and landed on the main street. The noise from the vehicle was enough to disturb people sleeping in Youghal. We eventually got the car home and that was that.

My friend’s next car was a Morris 1100 and I did my driving test in it and that was another experience. The car I had lined up for the test became unavailable at the last minute, so I was in dire need of a replacement.

Looking back on it, I had a cheek turning up for the test in the Morris, but I had youth on my side back then and it didn’t worry me too much, although the car had a few defects.

For starters, the front passenger seat was broken and was sitting on the floor. To counteract that, we put some concrete blocks under it and covered the whole thing with a car rug.

The gear stick was about two feet long and it constantly vibrated and moved from side to side, and it could hurt your knee if it gave you a slap, which it regularly did. Every now and then it would dip as if it was trying to escape through the floor.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was either take a chance with this car or cancel the test, so I decided to go ahead.

On the day of the test, the examiner came out to the car with me and walked around it. I think the road tax may have been out of date and I seem to remember him mentioning something about the condition of one or two of the tyres.

Things took a turn for the worse when he sat in beside me and announced: “I shouldn’t even be getting into this car.”

That didn’t do too much to inspire confidence, which was sadly lacking already. I fired up the engine and started to move off when the gear stick began its war dance, moving violently from side to side and then dipping, which the examiner obviously found a bit distracting because we were no sooner out the gap onto the road, when he told me to turn around.

Surprisingly, I had failed.

On the positive side, he never complained about his seat.

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