Your first cars: Autocar readers share their stories

Your first cars: Autocar readers share their stories



A Morris Minor van, Triumph Herald, Citroën C2V and a Renault 14 - our latest competition winners tell us all about their first cars

A few weeks ago, editor-in chief Steve Cropley told the tale of his first car. Then he set a challenge: tell us about your first car, in exactly 300 words, send to us with some pictures and the best entries will be published online.

Well, the results are all in. We've selected some of the best, which we'll publish over the next few weeks. Here are the latest few for you to enjoy. 

*Marc Hanson - Renault 14*

In the ’80s, when we rode bikes but aspired to drive cars rather than vice versa, the cars we desired oozed freedom, beauty and power. I knew a student’s budget wouldn’t stretch to beauty, let alone power, but hoped any working car would at least offer me freedom.

For my first car, I was confined to looking in the unfashionable end of the market. There I chanced upon a Renault 14, a rare car even then. Of Rubenesque proportions, it was, bizarrely, marketed in France as ‘The Pear’. To me, however, it looked like a metallic whale leaping free from a tarmacadam ocean of conformity. It was different, so I bought it.

Widely regarded as one of the worst cars Renault ever produced, the 14 wasn’t a sales success. I found mine supremely comfortable, however, and its peppy 1.2-litre engine would embarrass any number of gutless Ford Fiestas. A spacious car, it transported me and my friends to Rhyl for summer sun and to Madchester for nights at the Haçienda. And to me, arriving at a B&B in Snowdon with a girlfriend felt like arriving at the Café de Paris in an Aston Martin.

In five years of ownership, I learnt a little about servicing and a lot about plastic filler. But she ran faultlessly and passed every MOT. When she was back-ended on the M1, the culprit’s insurers reimbursed the purchase price even though the damage was so minor that it needed no repair. No car has ever owed me less. In the end, sadly, the rust became terminal and she was scrapped.

In the years since, I have owned many cars, some beautiful, some powerful and some both, but none has recaptured that youthful feeling of freedom given to me by my metallic whale.

*Lee Thickett - Citroën 2CV6*

There came a time in our lives when the holiday luggage-carrying capability of our BMW R90/6 motorcycle was outstripped by our needs as two budding naturalists carrying optical equipment and all-weather gear as well as suitable clothing for walking into a hotel restaurant in the evening.

What we needed was a car I could maintain if required, so we looked around for a car with a flat-twin engine – and there it was, a Citroën 2CV6, looking like no other car on the road. It was quirky, instantly loveable and, despite the shortage of power or even synchromesh on first gear, such fun to drive.

It cornered with surprising tenacity and, with the windows of both front doors open but not fastened up, it leaned with such huge enthusiasm that those windows flapped with delight – and so did we.

Despite its modest power, this slice of French pragmatism carried us and our luggage to the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, North Uist in the Western Isles and Orkney too. It chugged determinedly up Scottish byroads and its curiously sophisticated suspension floated with great aplomb over what are known as Land Rover tracks today.

Back home, it was a commuting car that every other driver on the road seemed happy to let out of side roads or flash their lights to allow a right turn.

What was it like to drive? Fun with a capital F. There was the gear lever that emerged like a walking-stick from the ‘dashboard’, one had to get used to keeping the ‘accelerator’ pushed down to the floor and, to maintain momentum, planning ahead became an art form.

Of all the cars that have called our property home, the one we would have back in an instant is WRB 186S, and its name was Snoopy.

*Tony Donnelly - 1967 Morris Minor van*

Sometimes, you just feel sorry for a car. In this case, it was a hand-painted-yellow 1967 Morris Minor van. Really a child of the 1940s, it was already a classic by the time it fell into my hands in 1982.

Initially a General Post Office van, it had endured years of abuse before being sold to a friend and then becoming my first 'car' just before my 17th birthday. Our first escapade together was the 200-mile drive home on L-plates, avoiding motorways where I could and letting a friend drive where I couldn't.

We made it eventually, and I drove the van whenever I could. We enjoyed many adventures: breaking down and having to push it a mile back home, hitting the porch at my parents home and shattering the glass... That went down well! Trying to impress my Dad by reversing up close to the garage but actually smashing into it. Squeezing two motorbikes into the back. Drifting wide on a bend with a wagon coming the other way, lights blazing and my 17-year-old passenger terrified.

It was during a college break with a young ‘qualified’ driver in the passenger seat and a friend in the loadbay that it all went horribly wrong. Driving too quickly around a bend, I managed to lose control as the front suspension collapsed. The van rolled over and, after much banging and crashing, all fell eerily silent. The lad in the loadbay had wound up on the road, remarkably unharmed, the qualified driver was dangling from his seatbelt and I was still clinging to the steering wheel. Did I think that I could recover the situation? Somehow we all escaped. We managed to limp the Moggie home.

Two weeks later, I passed my driving test and bought a Ford Cortina!

*Alan Forrest - Triumph Herald*

The wheel arches were stuffed with filler and the outriggers were full of holes. The carpets were soggy and the sills were pretty crusty. I didn’t care: I was 16 and I loved my Triumph Herald.

I remember the lady in her 90s who sold it to me saying: “I hope it serves you as well as it served me”. And it did, more or less. The only times it let me down were pretty much my own fault. I had always wanted a convertible but couldn’t find or afford one. I was doing A-levels and my only income was £2.35-per-hour part-time work as a waiter in a café.

However, I discovered that the Herald’s roof was held on with only seven bolts, so I made my own convertible by just undoing them, lying on the back seat and kicking upwards to break the seals. It was a bit ungainly, though, and needed a couple of pals to help lift the roof off whenever I wanted to drive anywhere with the top down.

Sadly, the doors didn’t fit terribly well after that and occasionally opened themselves on roundabouts or when crossing the Forth Road Bridge, where the joins in the road seemed to cause a resonance in the suspension that prompted doors to pop open.

The crossply tyres made amusing squealing noises rather easily, which made it feel (and handle) like one of those cars in old films, where they have to saw back and forth on the steering. Never dangerously, though, because 38bhp made it impossible to spin the back wheels even on damp grass.

When I graduated, I sold it to the bloke who ran the Indian round the corner for about £600 and a tikka bhuna. Wish I hadn’t, especially since the DVLA reckons its final tax was in 2004. Presumably dead. RIP.

*Gareth Williams - 1962 Morris Minor*

Twenty years ago, as the world woke to the new millennium, car design began a retro revival with Volkswagen’s New Beetle cutting a curvy dash through the UK and BMW’s proposed replacement for the original Mini close behind. Alec Issigonis’ masterpiece of packaging and functional minimalism remained a popular first-car choice, but its timeless style felt too contemporary, too modern. So it was that I traded my driving instructor’s Vauxhall Corsa B for Issigonis’ original design: a Morris Minor.

Behind the wheel of my 1962 Moggy, it was clear that I would have to relearn many of my instructor’s maxims. Not least “gears are for going, brakes are for slowing”, the latter part of which, considering the non-servo-assisted single-circuit hydraulic drums of the Minor, was best ignored.

With the 1098cc A-series engine producing 48bhp, a degree of planning was required for a 0-60mph sprint (if it can be called such at 30sec), and the legal motorway limit was an ear-punishing experience. However, a low-powered car with simple controls and mechanics taught me to read the road, to anticipate far farther ahead than I had previously and how to extract every last ounce of performance from a car that, at 38 years old, was already a museum piece. In short, it taught me how to truly drive.

Having upgraded to newer hatchbacks, sports cars and ubiquitous SUVs, the skills I learnt in my formative driving years continue to serve me well on today’s roads. As for most people, the past 20 years has brought its ups and downs, but whenever I want to recapture the lost innocence of 18, my Morris waits in the garage. With a pull of the starter to awaken the venerable A-series, I’m 18 again and ready to drive.

*Jem Godfrey - Peugeot 206*

X917 ELD. It’s odd, really: I struggle to remember my own phone number most days, but I’ll never forget X917 ELD, the numberplate of my first car.

I memorised it quickly one sunny morning in Chiswick as I gazed at the acceptably priced, used Peugeot 206 before me. Paperwork completed and hands duly shaken, my heart skipped a beat as I adjusted the rear-view mirror for the very first time. I had wheels!

Of course, it was entirely unremarkable as a car and a proper dirty old diesel from back when diesels sounded like tractors, but I adored it. When I got married, our honeymoon was a week-long road trip from London to Oswestry, North Wales, Cornwall and Bath, all courtesy of that Pininfarina-designed little marvel. It brought my newborn home, moved us to Sussex and once drove me to a now-defunct recording studio in Surrey to write a terrible song with identikit pop band Liberty X (long story).

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The clutch gave up in spectacular auditory style as I arrived at a hotel one weekend. As the tow truck arrived, completely randomly, the actor Pete Postlethwaite walked up to me, took one listen to the appalling racket and said “Aah, think that’s boogered,” before disappearing into the hotel. The only four words we ever shared.

In the end, we chopped the Peugeot in for a Ford S-Max. When the dealer went to assess the car, he came back and said: “You do realise there’s mould growing on the dashboard?”. We’d hoped he wouldn’t notice. Mercifully, he took it anyway and said it was going to embark upon a new life driving his girlfriend to and from the station, presumably mould-free. That was that, and I never saw it again.

*Christopher Walker Brown - Triumph TR7*

Real-wheel drive, a 3500cc V8, 1200kg, pop-up headlights and a manual gearbox. Bertie came to me from a garage clear-out; apparently, the owner wanted to convert the space into an office and in the process needed a Triumph TR7 evicted from the premises. The logical way of disposing of the TR7 was to offload it onto a 16-year-old boy for pocket change.

What that 16-year-old boy didn’t know at the time was that this particular vehicle had spent some time at Grinnall motor works (the same company that went on to build the weird three-wheeled Scorpion of the mid-1990s), and the good chaps at said tuning company felt the 2.0-litre four-pot was a little wheezy for the application and that a lightly tuned Rover 3.5-litre V8 would be an entirely more satisfactory method of locomotion.

Upon a few weeks light reconditioning, a crash course in the art of persuading 25-year-old Lucas electrics to perform for the MOT man and a very necessary brake replacement, Bertie was on the Queen’s highway.

To be brutally honest, Bertie wasn’t a good car. The seats benefitted from being frequently drenched in rainwater from the crudely fitting vinyl sunroof. The pop-up headlights enjoyed flopping down while I was driving at night. The colossal torque of the tuned V8 coupled with rear tyres that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Fiat Panda didn’t lead to a relaxed drive. Just 17mpg was achievable – with a tailwind.

But – and this is a large but – a raw, uncatalysed, 200hp, Euro 0 V8, breathing through twin carburettors and blowing through an exhaust system modelled on a length of scaffold pole was… was... enough for my mother to buy a used Smart Fortwo for me to pootle around in. Still have it!

*Bob Senior - Mini Cooper S*

My first wheels were white, on a hyper-blue Mini Cooper S with the obligatory matching white roof. Adorned with the RAF roundels on the roof and mirror-caps, he was christened Buster.

He insisted we make longer journeys out of short ones, taking the scenic route at any opportunity and seeking out deserted, well-sighted roundabouts: all the better to finesse the lift-off oversteer that defined the biddable handling.

I was also struck by the tremendous enthusiasm among owners of oncoming Minis flashing each other like tail-wagging spaniels out for a walk, straining at the leash. And the reason for the strain? That 1600cc supercharged motor, popping and banging on the overrun with the torquey throttle that made the chassis so usable on a British B-road.

I imagined those roundels on the mirrors appeared to other motorists' as the twin guns of a Spitfire would appear to the pilot of a Messerschmitt. More than a few times, Buster and I would find ourselves in an impromptu convoy, Italian Job style, each overtaking motorway traffic in barnstorming fashion. Such camaraderie made every journey a pleasure, in the know with those fellow owners, all revelling in the sheer joie-de-vivre of the machine.

So we travelled north regularly, frequently departing in the early hours for unnecessary detours through the Strines in the Peak District (bumpy), Hardknott Pass in the Lakes from the quieter western side (steep, the better to exploit the rorty engine) and the rollercoaster A68 through the Scottish Borders, where those roundels came in handy to warn other low-flying craft.

A good friend of mine misses his faithful spaniel of many years and grows wistful when we meet a similar dog when out running the fells. When I see a pert first-generation Cooper S darting down a B-road, I feel the same.

*Roderick Ramage - 1932 Morris Minor two-seater*

St Cuthbert gave his name to my mother’s first car. Twenty-five years later, in winter 1957, a friend from home, John, and I, both students, bought a reputedly reliable 1932 Morris Minor two-seater for £32 (about £780 today). My mother recognised it as the same model as her first car, so naturally it inherited the name Cuthbert.

Our first ‘overhaul’ on Cuthbert was to decoke the head under the streetlight outside our digs. During the Easter holiday, we occupied his father’s well-equipped garage, including an ML6, on which John made bushes and the like. He also fabricated a linkage to move the central accelerator pedal to the right, while I made new seats and floorboards, ‘derusted’ with orthophosphoric acid and painted the body. The only professional work was reboring the cylinders and relining the brake shoes.

A year later, with his girlfriend wanting greater comfort, John bought a post-war Minor saloon, and Cuthbert became mine. Once, on the M6, I dozed off and awoke when Cuthbert was stopped by something solid beyond the hard shoulder. That summer, my father decided on a continental motor tour, but instead of his Daimler Century, he suggested Cuthbert and my mother’s Mini Countryman, so that my sister and I could return early to our studies.

In Germany people would turn and wave, the Swiss were offended by this scruffy old car defiling their neat and tidy country and the French were indifferent, because scruffy old cars were still commonplace there.

For five years, Cuthbert was as reliable as advertised, albeit needing constant care and maintenance. When I started to earn enough to realise my ambition for a top speed above 50mph, I cast off Cuthbert for an old Morgan Plus 4. Nevertheless, you remember your first car as you remember your first love.

*Gareth Brearley - 1992 Subaru Legacy GT estate*

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps my first car was best appreciated with lids pressed closed.

We’ll start with the bits that leave a lasting impression on me, even now. The deep burble from the slightly larger-than-standard exhaust, fed by a DOHC 2.0-litre engine pushing a nearly otherworldly 200bhp when new. The prominent whoosh of the aftermarket turbo (allegedly from an Evo…although in hindsight this seems unlikely), which meant that on every gravel road I used the AWD system to the best of its and my ability to channel my inner Richard Burns and Colin McRae, knocking precious tenths off the drive. Moments of driving freedom that, more than a decade later, I still haven’t truly been able to relive.

Some balance: at least one front wing was the wrong colour, there were the tell-tale signs of an impending rust apocalypse and the four-speed auto was at best dimwitted and at worst dangerous, particularly when combined with a turbo lag measured in hours and a ferocity that I still believe matches the Ferrari F40 (I’m open to offers to test this).

And there were other problems, chiefly that starting it was a two-person job: one on the ignition and the other holding the corroding terminals to the battery.

But none of its remembered faults stop me spending hours deep in the internet looking for its brothers. The 1992 Subaru Legacy GT estate was the car that gave me the freedom, while living on the other side of the world, to explore and grow up. It taught me the basics of car ownership and much about being an adult.

It also fuelled an enduring obsession with fast estates; every time I start my current incarnation, a Mercedes-AMG C63, I think back to the tatty Legacy awkwardly named ‘The Beast’.

*John McKillop - 1966 Riley 4/72*

I was 19. I had just dropped out of college and started work alternately driving a Ford Transit and in a shop, ‘selling’ or delivering furniture as required. My friends had variously, a Mini van, a Vauxhall Viva HB or nothing, and I had very restricted use of the family Fiat.

I had a general interest in all things motoring but no special attraction to the beast that became my first car. I don’t know how it came to be considered; maybe it was just in the small ads the week I decided I had to get mobile. But the man selling it drove round to the back of the shop, and I remember seeing it from the window and feeling like it had to be.

It was from 1966, a Riley 4/72 in two-tone blue with much chrome. This was 1978, so the car was 12 years old and, as with most of the era, carrying lots of rust. However, the paint job, the pale blue leather seats, the wooden dashboard and the sheer presence convinced me to part with £150 of the £165 being asked.

My mate managed a car spares shop and serviced it in his lunch hour, and I became familiar with fibreglass patching, sanding blocks and paint tins. I even remember risking my life by borrowing and deploying a spring compressor, so I must have changed some shock absorbers.

I had ‘The Tank’ for more than a year and loved it, before selling it for £135. So, £15 depreciation – never mind the repairs and 20mpg. It did all sorts: front and back seat use, up to Scotland on holiday with an exhaust lost on the motorway on the way back. I felt privileged and a bit different. As with the flares and the waistline, it won’t have survived, more’s the pity.

*Richard Chandler - Volkswagen Beetle*

How do you look cool for £25 and drive a car that won’t break down? At 18, I reckoned I’d cracked it.

Needing to travel to college at term’s beginning and end, I also wanted something that was reasonably refined and fun to drive. A cousin returning from a period living in Belgium couldn’t sell her left-hand-drive Volkswagen Beetle, 10 years old but powered(!) by an engine with only 40,000 miles under its belt. I bid and got it.

Back in the 1970s, cars received a current year’s numberplate when reregistered in the UK, so after an illegal period driving around with what I thought were cool, certainly different, small, red-on-white Belgian plates, I brought the car right up to date, it becoming a P-reg, just like brand new ones.

It goes without saying that, being a 1200cc Beetle, it was slow and handled badly, but as anyone with a Citroën 2CV will tell you, half the fun is maintaining momentum – and who can drive flat out these days?

A rarely mentioned advantage of the rear-mounted engine is that when the back seat is loaded to the roof with bedding, engine noise virtually disappears and it becomes a reasonably refined long-distance car.

Unless it’s wet and hilly, that is. There was a hole in the floor, just behind a front wheel, so in the rain it slowly filled with water, which poured into the heater outlets when I was going up steep hills and returned as a huge puff of steam, immediately obliterating visibility.

On the other hand, I did win a student car rally in it; I was the only competitor to make it across a flooded ford one night, bow wave pushing up to the windscreen, all thanks to the semi-sealed engine compartment.


*Steve Cropley's first car story *

*How I fell in love with cars: Colin Goodwin *

*Simply the best: the top cars owned by the Autocar team*

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