In 1960, when motoring for the masses was still in its infancy, I was a car-besotted 10-year-old. I liked the hand-smoothed gloss of fine coachwork, the rough heat of a flint-spiked tyre, and even the eye-smarting chemicals of cheap uncured plastic dashboards. I liked everything about them. I liked everything about the people who liked them.
My family home in north London suburbia was on a minor road, at the lower end of a hill. The driver of a vehicle approaching from below would need to double declutch in order to tackle the climb. The consequent shift in engine note was the signal to grab my copy of The Observer’s Book of Automobiles, run to a window at the front of the house and watch the rare creature pass. On the dust-jacket it says, ‘From the concise descriptions the observer will be able to distinguish immediately any new car seen on the road today.’ The perfect volume, and it came in at a pocket-money-friendly 5 shillings.
As the vehicle met the gradient it would slow and strain on the first part of the climb. This was the ideal opportunity to make a mental note of its line and trim, the curve of its panels, the sweep and dip of its arches, the maker’s badge – and to check them against the volume’s 238 monochrome photographs, 88 line sketches and 55 maker’s badges. Incidentally, it was around this time that the spine of my copy took on an acute lean.
If you’re thinking it all sounds a little extreme – you’re right. I was a desperately lonely child. Cars were my elsewhere, my place of safety. My mother was a full-time housewife, no doubt wrestling with The Problem with No Name as she prepared yet another shopping list; my father barely spoke more than three words a day to me, and gave the impression that a pipe of good tobacco and a newspaper were infinitely preferable to the company of his only child. I ached for things to be different. Other than learning to drive in the Army, my father had never shown any inter
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in