Learning to Drive in Edinburgh
It has to start with money. My school had written me off as a bad job but
fortunately my "O" levels were good enough to get me an apprenticeship with
Ferranti Ltd. My first wage was £4/7/6d and in addition to paying me they also
trained me and gave me day release to the Napier Technical College to gain
I was living at home at the time and my parents only asked 10/- for my keep so I
felt quite rich. My big sister had a friend with a non-running scooter that she
no longer wanted but she did want a record player so I built her one and she
gave me the scooter. This was a
Puch Alpine 150 and didn't need much work to get
it running although it was pretty clapped out.
At the back of my parents' house was a park where people walked their dogs and
one of those dog walkers was a car enthusiast, Mr Robert Ramage. We would often
chat as we walked and I learnt a lot from Mr Ramage. He also let me "help" him
with overhauling the engine of his XK120. He had been interested in two wheeled
transport too and had a scooter with an intermittent misfire that he was happy
to part with and very generously let me have it for £20. I eventually traced the
problem to the ignition switch and after that it ran very well. This was a
Durkopp Diana 200cc two stroke and a very much better machine than my Puch which
I sold. The Durkopp had really good acceleration and it was easy to lose your
pillion passenger off the back.
One thing that all these scooters had in common was virtually no adhesion in the
wet so if a problem appeared in front of you the brakes were useless and you had
to steer yourself out of trouble. Unfortunately I hadn't mastered this and
coming home from the Napier on a wet afternoon along the Milton Road an old guy
who was parked at the side, decided to do a U turn and hadn't seen me. Anyway I
crashed into his front wheel and went flying clean over his bonnet. I made a
good three point landing on my head and hands, bruising all my finger tips. It
was fortunate that it was raining because in good weather I tended not to wear
my crash helmet, they were not mandatory back then.
My Durkopp was a write-off and I think the old guy's car was also written off
but his insurers paid me £50 and I promptly spent this on a Heinkel Tourist.
This had a slipping clutch and I had difficulty getting new clutch springs for
it and settled for a set for the Heinkel bubble car. These were rather too
strong and made pulling in the clutch lever almost a two handed operation. I sat
my bike test on the Heinkel and all went well until the emergency stop. The
examiner told me to expect a stop and sent me round the block. When he jumped
out in front of me I managed to stop without hitting him but I stalled the
engine due to the heavy clutch lever. However, he let me off with that and I
Driving along the Seafield Road in the winter with the sleet pummeling my face
was no joy and I decided to buy an Isetta bubble car from a garage in Seafield.
This cost me £50 but selling the Heinkel covered most of that. The Isetta had
two problems. The first was that the control box didn't work correctly so I
often had to push start it. This was not straight forward, or perhaps it was,
because the door opened forwards. I was still living with my parents at this
time and they lived at the top of a hill so I would push the Isetta down the
hill and jump in before it ran me over.
The other problem with the Isetta was unpredictable. It would drive along quite
happily and then suddenly decide that it wanted to pretend to be a warship
making smoke. It did this once on my beloved Seafield Road and completely
obscured all four lanes for a couple of hundred yards. After failing to identify
the cause of the occasional smoke screen I solved it by swapping the engine.
Much fun was had.
The photos are of my Isetta outside my father's lock-up (that was behind Bell's
Garage), me on the Heinkel and Mr Ramage with his lovely
Bell's Garage (later Ferguson's
Garage) on the Milton Road
Bell's was a great big wooden clapper board shed with a balcony up a flight of
steps. There were loads of new tyres stored up there and it also gave access to
the office, a captain's chair at the desk with piles of receipts on spikes. In
the centre of the shed was a Tecalemit hydraulic car lift with a shiny single
central pillar. The compressor was constantly switching on and off. Behind the
main garage were two rows of clapper board lock-ups in addition to the ones
attached to the main building.
My father had a lock-up in the first row and lots of stuff got stored there. My
big sister bought a 1936 Morris 8 as her first car and I can remember doing lots
of brake bleeding on that. This never lasted as I wasn't bright enough to fit
new rubber seals.
On one occasion the Morris had run out of petrol, probably as a result of me
driving it around the lock-up block so much. (I was too young to drive it on the
road.) Anyway with no one to help me I thought I'd push it around to the garage
forecourt to fill up. This was up a little hill. I got it half way up the hill
pushing at the driver's door with a hand through the window to steer but I
wasn't strong enough and thought it would be easier if I could get around to the
back of the car for a better push. Unfortunately edging my way around to the
back I lost my grip and the car set off backwards down the hill with me
wondering what it might hit.
Fortunately it stopped without hitting anything but I never tried that trick
When Ferguson took over the premises he demolished the main garage and built a
new brick built garage with a glass fronted showroom facing the forecourt but
the lock-ups remained as original.
My parents eventually persuaded my sister to trade the Morris in for a 100E Ford
Prefect and I sat my car driving test in that. I had taken a couple of lessons
before hand and my instructor suggested that I display my driving skill by
double declutching into first at a suitable time. I did this successfully but
one slightly embarrassing thing was hand signals. I had been using them
throughout but then the examiner said "You can now use the trafficators." I said
I was quite happy with hand signals but he insisted. My reluctance was because
the switch in the middle of the steering wheel should have been clamped at the
foot of the column but wasn't, so each time I needed to signal I had to wind the
switch lever several times around the wheel until the internal wires gave enough
physical resistance that the switch operated. The examiner didn't comment and
fortunately I passed. The map shows the plan of Bell's Garage at number 11.
After Learning to Drive
The Isetta bubble car was fine whilst I only had a motorcycle licence but after
passing my car test I sold the Isetta and bought the worst car I ever had, a
Series II Morris Minor. Powered by a clapped out 803 cc engine it was completely
gutless but at least I could afford the insurance. It was noisy, had
uncomfortable seats that made your back ache and when you slammed the doors it
was like shutting the lid on a giant tool box that went clang! They didn't shut
if you didn't slam them. I had really wanted an A35 van but they all seemed too
pricey for me so £65 was thrown away on the Morris.
A year later I spotted a nice Hillman Minx Series II and was pleased to pay £95
for it. The Minx was a delightful quiet and comfortable car in comparison with
the Minor. The column gear change was quite slick and worked well but I really
fancied the nice little sporty floor change of the later cars and I bought an
overdrive gearbox from a Sunbeam Rapier and fitted that.
The Rapier gearbox came from a scrap yard beside Brunstane Burn. Most scrap
yards had Alsatians as guard dogs but unusually this yard had a guard horse. I
think the yard owners had some Romany blood. When I was extracting the gearbox
the horse took a dislike to me and chased me around the yard. I found this quite
scary with it rearing up on its hind legs hoping to hit me with the fronts. It
could also jump over cars quicker than I could run around them. I did eventually
manage to get my gearbox but I've always been a bit wary of horses since then. I
also fitted a thicker anti-roll bar to the Minx and it gave it quite pleasant
handling. This was in 1968 but as a boy in the 1950s I loved the tales of Peter
Harper and Raymond Baxter competing with a Sunbeam Rapier in the
Rally and I saw the Minx as a stepping stone to a Rapier.
In March 1970 I spotted a Series III Rapier for sale in North Berwick with a
price of £50. It was in
pretty good condition and needless to say I bought it
and sold the Minx. My cousin Ken was also impressed by my Rapier and when he too
bought one we became quite competitive with each other. We bought most of our
spares from scrap yards and Bernard Hunter's yard was a favourite.
I first remember Hunter's yard when it was on the seaward side of the tracks at
Seafield. They did a roaring trade in scrap tramcars and buses. Seldom was there
a visit there when they weren't burning off all the non-metallic parts of a bus
or tram. My father bought a couple of bus chrome entry hand rails to provide the
side elements for his boat trailer.
The boss had his office in the back of a large 1920s Rolls Royce but later this
disappeared and when you entered the yard someone would just appear and ask you
what you were looking for. I have fond memories of a really powerfully built
Afro-Caribbean gent, Adelipo who was very helpful when I needed a car body lifted, he
could usually move them single handed. The first time I encountered him he just
appeared swiftly from under a car and he was completely black from head to toe
and greeted me with "Wat you want sa?"
At this time I had only ever driven on crossply tyres but when Ken and I were
looking for good tyres for his Rapier we spotted a full set of Michelin X
radials at Hunters. I was somewhat sceptical but Ken bought them and fitted
them. We had often used the chicane at the west end of Seafield Road as a good
handling test and when Ken first took me through the chicane on his Michelins I
just couldn't believe the wonderful transformation. Needless to say mine got
scrap yard Michelin Xs not long after.
A year later I bought a
Series IV Alpine for £250 and sold my Rapier for £65.
Ken followed suit although his Rapier was not really sellable so we stripped
everything not required for driving it and took it for scrapping. Ken then
bought a very nice metallic blue Series II Alpine.
It wasn't a standard Rootes colour but a model car company saw my photo and
decided that they would like to
copy it complete
with registration number.
I kept my Alpine for three years. It was
nice to drive but it was a real rust
bucket and I decided to give up on steel bodies and sold it for spares or
repair. I then bought a glassfibre
Ginetta G15 for £325. This was a really
little car with good performance and totally on rails high speed cornering.
It also served as our wedding car. There was room for our daughter's carry cot behind the seats but when she out
grew the cot the Ginetta had to go. I can't remember what I got for it but I
think it was something like £480. To date this is the only every day car that
I've ever sold that is still on the road today (and used in competition).
After the Ginetta, life on the road got a bit boring. I stuck with glassfibre for
the next two but I'll sign off now although the
next vehicle does appear here.