While elsewhere in the Summer issue of Tees Life we consider the advantages of an Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini, Harry Pearson recalls the days when motoring wasn’t always done in style…
One sunny Sunday morning in the summer of 1970, a Porsche 911 in a dazzling shade of lime green turned up in Great Ayton. The couple who were riding in it parked outside the Royal Oak and went inside for lunch.
By the time they came out again, it seemed just about the whole village had come to gawp at this remarkable German sports car.
Some had even surreptitiously touched it, as if it was some saintly relic, and would cure skin ailments or cause hair to sprout on balding heads.
All of us stared at it with awe-struck wonder – as if at some alien visitor from a distant planet. To see such manifestations of curvaceous Teutonic sexiness in North Yorkshire in those days was an extraordinary event, almost as much of a surprise as if Ursula Andress had emerged from the Leven opposite Suggitts wearing a white bikini.
Nowadays you see such cars all the time, but back then there was still a festive sense of novelty about prestige motors – they were a thing you glimpsed only in adverts, or in the pages of the catalogues for Matchbox, Corgi or Dinky toys.
The sight of a real Volvo P1800 or Aston Martin DBS created as much excitement as the appearance of the man who drove them on our TV screens (Roger Moore in The Saint and The Persuaders) gunning down a villain might have done.
After our family’s Saturday morning shopping trips to Middlesbrough, my father would often take a diversion on the drive home, just to see the electric blue Lotus Europa twin-cam special – as sleek and swinging as George Best in a polo neck dancing with Pan’s People – that was usually parked outside a council house in Brambles Farm.
If it wasn’t there, we’d feel a genuine sense of anti-climax – like those moments when the telly went on the blink just as the theme tune for Shoot! had started.
My father loved sports cars and could tell you all about them, but he never owned one. He worked for British Steel. British Steel’s biggest customer was the British motor industry.
My father had a works car and the car always had to be British. Back in the 1960s that wasn’t so bad. We had a Riley 1.5 that, with a following wind and a bit of ‘shunting’ from its passengers, could freewheel almost all the way from the car park by Captain Cook’s monument to Worthy Pearson’s newsagents.
Later, we had a Morris Oxford – built like a tank and fitted with the sort of buttonbacked leather seats that wouldn’t have been out of place in a gentlemen’s club, and a rear-engined Hillman Imp that would do impressive rally-style skids whenever it snowed. The trouble set in when we hit the seventies and Dad came home one evening in a brand new Austin Maxi. The problem wasn’t so much the car as its colour scheme.
Nowadays, motors come in a pretty dull selection of colours, but in those days the spirit of psychedelia still ruled the design departments (my mum had a Vauxhall Viva in kingfisher blue with a burnt orange stripe down the side).
Dad’s new Austin Maxi was roomy and comfortable and even – wow! – had a radio. The trouble was the paintwork was harvest gold while the seats were grass green vinyl.
It was like driving round in a puddle of dog vomit.
But at least the Maxi worked. Sadly, the same could not be said of the impressively wedge-shaped Austin Princess (burgundy with a matt vinyl roof) which grated and clunked around, making a noise like a fistfull of loose change dropped in a blender.
In the film The Full Monty one of the characters attempts to commit suicide in an Austin Princess. There wasn’t much suspense in the scene for me – I knew from bitter experience the engine would cut out.