MY CLASSIC : TRIUMPH
I was sixteen when I was introduced to a dusty, rusty Triumph Herald 1300 with very flat tyres.
My friends were into make-up, Playstation, Wii and going to the cinema. I liked all these too but, for some reason I've never really understood, the day I saw that car, I wanted it.
My parents ran a small engineering design company. Both are cars nuts and neither would think twice about doing their own repairs, whether that was welding a chassis or just an oil change. Dad used to be a hotrod builder and rally driver and Mum... Well as I once told someone, she only has two speeds - fast and faster. So cars have always been a big part of my life.
When I announced out of the blue that I wanted the Herald that someone was trying to sell to my not terribly enthusiastic parents, they looked pretty surprised.
I think I could blame all of this as much on JK Rowling as anyone else. You see, there was that amazing flying Ford Anglia in the Harry Potter book I had read some years previously.
The Herald isn't all that much like an Anglia but, to a starry-eyed sixteen year -old, it looked close enough. I've heard of worse reasons for buying a car. You should hear some of the excuses my brother still comes up with!
My parents agreed to buy the car for me on one condition. I had to promise faithfully (swearing on my dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) that I would do the restoration myself. They would help, but I had to promise to get my hands dirty and do the bulk of the work.
I certainly got my hands dirty! That summer holiday they presented me with a Triumph Herald, gloves, a workshop manual, and told me to strip off, bag and label every component, and figure out what everything did. So I did.
My parents had set apart part of a workshop where I could get on with the job while they worked. Summer holidays under constant parental supervision isn't most teenagers' idea of fun, but it wasn't too bad! I had my first car, help whenever I needed it, and a regular supply of Coke and Maryland cookies.
Dad taught me to weld and how to drive the forklift (useful for removing body shells and engines). Mum taught me the value of labelling everything on the basis that I probably wouldn't remember what it was when the time came to put it back.
I stripped every last nut, bolt and washer off that car, the small components going into little grip-seal bags I liberated from the main workshops and the rest into a small mountain of plastic boxes.
Even my inexperienced eyes recognised that the back end of the chassis was rotten. Replacing the outriggers was an eye-opener. I don't think I'd ever given much thought before to Dad's mantra of 'measure twice, cut once', but I soon learned the value of it. If the new part didn't go on in exactly the same place as the old one, the body wouldn't fit! He supervised, I measured, measured again, made lots of notes, cut, then welded the new parts on.
Inevitably the Herald didn't get finished that summer. Back at school, four A-levels and a BTECH Diploma didn't leave a whole lot of time for car restoration, despite my good intentions.
At the time I was still trying to decide what I wanted to study at Uni. A teacher had suggested optometry but, when we went to a university open day, my mother suggested I take a look at the engineering courses too.
To cut a long story short, I probably would have been a really bad optometrist. I'm really not all that patient with people and prefer making things. I took my degree in Aerospace Engineering instead. So now when someone tells me that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work something out, I can tell them that they obviously don't need my help!
My various uni digs didn't exactly lend themselves to working on the Mafiamobile (the name's a long story), so she went into storage at my parent's house. Every summer holiday they would comment on how useful the space the Triumph would be to them ane remind me of my promise. Somehow, university and work just kept getting in the way.
Working for Rolls Royce Motor Cars was a totally different world for me. It was fascinating to see from the inside what goes into building such world-famous cars, but it wasn't where I saw myself long-term. I moved back into engineering, working as Special Projects Engineer designing bespoke production machinery.
Now ten years on from buying the Herald, I rebuild classic cars full time. I still get my hands pretty dirty.
And yes, I've finally given my parents that storage space back that they wanted. My Mafiamobile is in the workshop and the parts are being re-assembled. Only a few weeks to go now, and my first car, the car I've never driven, will be on the road at last!
Jess & the Mafiamobile
It's My Classic - the free online classic car and motorcycle magazine for people with a passion for heritage vehicles. What's your classic?