A CONTINUING PASSION
by J. Cracknell
How privileged am I?
Picture this now totally unacceptable, highly irresponsible situation. A young child in a car, no seatbelt, laying in the back staring upwards through a large, soft-edged rear window of an E-type Jaguar, roaring down the A1 towards Cambridge. It was the late 1960’s, the roads were a lot quieter then and the cars not so prevalent.
I can still remember today that sense of beauty, the noise and the smell of oil and petrol with the sweetness of just fed leather; the whole emotional connection of car and child. I was lucky – maybe at the age of 9 or 10 I didn’t realise how lucky.
The son of a motor trader, cars of all shapes and sizes were a common fixture of my life. From the mundane to the exquisite, I have been lucky to find myself sitting in them. Aston DB5, E-Types and XK’s – to the most luxurious of BMW’s and Mercedes.
I never owned any nor drove them (only in my imagination) but I cleaned them, studied them and loved every facet of their design. The outputs of people’s elaborate imaginations they were not tools they were works of art and with them they carried our hopes and aspirations.
My own classic car story started with a modest early 60’s VW Beetle, progressed to a Jensen Healey and just recently concluded with a VW Camper and Daimler Dart. I own none now but every one has a place in my heart and a story to tell.
Cars are meant to be driven not to sit in a garage out of sight and unattainable. If the engine does not purr on the open road then the life of that car is unfulfilled. Never easy to drive, nowhere near as safe as the modern-day vehicle, classic car ownership represents a challenge in every facet. Once, though, you have the bug it will never leave you.
The Daimler Dart, my last real classic (the VW Camper was my wife’s indulgence really) was a find that I stumbled on. Up until 10 years ago I really knew nothing about them. Flicking through a classic car magazine I came across a number plate being sold which started JNC – my initials. Intrigued to find out a little more – though not really intending to buy, I found the plate attached to a Daimler Dart.
I was immediately struck by its Americanised style, the fins at the rear, the gorgeous looking dipped front end and of course the heritage of a fine name. I was hooked – booked to see the car and decided that it was a pig to drive but an original to look at.
I didn’t buy that one but got home and started to look for a project. Unbeknown to me a local mechanic was also a specialist in the Dart and he introduced me to the local Essex enthusiasts one of whom had one for sale. And so, it started, I bought the car with the intention of restoring it but also using it.
The first few forays out were an issue. Its steering could only be described as challenging, a rather delayed response to where you wanted to go that involved more planning ahead than I had done for a few years. Being road-aware took on a whole new meaning, no longer looking two or three cars ahead but thinking about the next half-mile. I made a mental note to myself to get this upgraded before tragedy would ensue.
Next the brakes – soft and spongy, nothing like the razor sharp breaking experience of the 21st century. Age and construction meant that stopping power was there but correlated to the pressure one applied. At one point, I even had to use a moderate pumping action to gain bite – again, road awareness is crucial.
Driving at night was also fun if your idea of seeing more than fifteen yards ahead is a great game of do and dare, and of course the proverbial boiling over.
If you embrace the classic car life, be comfortable with long periods of awaiting recovery. I would always carry a flask of tea and an ice bun for company. The list of jobs mounted and so did the time off the road but it was worth every penny.
The stainless steel exhausts accentuated the robust, throaty purr of the engine creating an experience so memorable, so contained in my mind that my senses are reawakened by writing this. It is that summer country lane drive and its heady combination of heated oil, vapours of fuel and leather blended with just-cut fields that I really miss.
The project lasted three years, cost more than I can truly remember and resulted in a few curtailed journeys and lengthy periods off the road. My biggest tip is to get to know your local community of owners, always helpful and happy to share their advice and their networks. They help you face the greatest of challenges.
When my SP250 was running, when that 2.5 Litre engine kicked in and roared, the shivers went down my spine. I used that car at every possible moment. When I was in it I would smile and so would those with me.
Perhaps one of the most poignant memories was picking up my elderly mother-in law (now sadly no longer with us) on a bright sunny June morning. Despite her arthritis she gamely slumped into the low seat, positioned her hat and smiled.
The engine started and she chuckled, remarking how this would wake up the neighbours. For the next thirty minutes’ drive to ours she never stopped smiling, never stopped waving at those she had never met before. For that moment, in her imagination I truly believed she allowed herself to be a queen.
Cars like these can do that – they connect you to the past and embrace a history of design, freedom and innovation. Long may the passion continue.
Do you have a story to tell about a classic, vintage or veteran car, light commercial or motorbike that touched your life in a special way?
It's My Classic would love to hear about it.