Friday, 28 January 2011

The Toughest Motorcycle In The World: Part One

 So, I'm out of work and shit out of luck.

Only one thing to do in these circs, hit the phone and try and dig myself out of this mess.
I spent a far from merry day calling every single parcel company I could think of. 
I begged and blagged, trying to get just a couple of days behind the wheel of someone elses truck. 
I knew that If I could get that break, my family would eat. 
Being a multi-drop parcels driver is an art. Its not trucking, but something else entirely. If you can steer with your knees, read a map, eat a burger and smoke a fag at the same time and have an innate sense of direction and can read a road (a skill biking teaches you) put in 12 hour days plus, then you can be a multidropper. Good ones are hard to come by.
I phoned TNT, City Link, Tuffnells, Nightfreight, Interlink, Parceline, Carryfast, Fed Ex and a dozen independents but was knocked back every time. There's a recession on. Parcel deliveries are down.
Everybody is hanging onto their jobs like grim death. (sound familiar?). 
Last of all I called Parcelforce.
Parcelforce, the parcels wing of Her Majesty's Royal Mail, never needed drivers.
The waiting list for what was back then a good, solid job for life with a pension from the Post Office was a mile long. 
It took interviews, aptitude tests and marriage to the managers ugly sister.

"Hello, is that Parcelforce Pontypridd?"
"Yes, can I help you?"
"I wondered if you were recruiting drivers?"
"Have you done it before?"
"Yeah, for about five years, I..."
"Can you come in tomorrow?"
"For an interview? what time?
"No, come in a six a.m. with your licence. Do you know Cardiff?"
"Yeah, er..."
"Great, see you then."

I turned up the following day and along with eight other blokes, found we had been the beneficiaries of an entire parcel depot's dishonesty.
What had happened was that the drivers in the depot had all been fiddling their parcels manifests, writing down that they were delivering more parcels than they had been, and getting a bonus for this non-work. 
Investigators had come in the day I phoned up and fired all but two - who hadn't been fired because they hadn't been at work when the manifests were checked, and who were walking around looking very nervous.
They gave me the keys to a Leyland 7.5 tonner. I cleared the days parcels by 1pm and came back for a second load.
Gord bless yer, yer majesty.
We were saved. £170 a week, plus bonus. 

The rusty Fiat Panda was on its last legs, though . 
The MOT was about to run out and I needed wheels, good ones, and fast. I put a month in, bought some grub, took two weeks wages, and started looking for a motorcycle.
And that was when I bought the toughest motorcycle in the world.

It's a sought-after title one would assume, and one would also expect it to be held by some overweight behemoth from BMW or Harley Davidson.  
But in my entirely biased opinion that title belongs to a mass-produced, 250cc four stroke parallel twin produced by Honda in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in their tens of thousands.  
And I'm biased because it was a Honda Superdream that kept a roof over our heads, heat in the radiators and food in the larder for two long cold winters, and one wet summer.
I hold the Arts Council, Kevin Costner and Whitney  Houston 100 per cent responsible for teaching me this.   
I had already owned a Honda Dream,  and this time I bought an  example of its upgraded model, a CB250NB Superdream, in black.
This 250cc motorcycle was incredibly  popular in the early 80s and  there were hundreds of them still running.
I paid £300 for one in pretty good nick, and it came with the decaying carcase of another to  be cannibalised for spares as required.
Well its not exactly a pre-unit Bonnie, Sporster or a 916, I admit. But bear with me...

Neat little bike, passable handling, moderately rapid if you threw it about – certainly quick enough for valley roads.
It wasn’t going to be raced, It was going to be blatted through Ogmore Vale, Tonyrefail, Llantrisant and Treforest each morning at stupid o’clock, and blatted back again in the early evening. It would do just fine… For six weeks…   

I should explain that I was stuck up at the top of a Welsh mining valley and it was a 25-mile ride to the Parcelforce depot every morning.  
The valley was stuck in a time warp, round about 1968. It really was the sort of place where you could leave your back door open without getting burgled, your car outside without locking it up, and there were more communists living there per head than there were in Leningrad during the Great Patriotic War.   
Then the Arts Council  arrived.
They splashed half a million converting a workman’s hall three doors down from me to a spanking    new arts centre, which was run by Bristol trendies. They would put on community plays and paint murals about how “terrible it is now the mines have gone”.
This was not an opinion that the former miners, who had paid off their miniscule mortgages with their redundancy payments really agreed with, as they were happily living “on the sick” with vibration whitefinger and what was euphemistically called  the “cough”, which was killing quite a lot of them, quite slowly.  
As my neighbour Tudor once said: “You wouldn’t get me underground again for a million pounds.”    

The Arts Council also opened a cinema in the hall – and the first film they showed was The  Bodyguard, with Mr Costner and Miss Houston.  
bunch of arse

The cinema was the only one at the time between Swansea and Cardiff and the opening night queues of local young scallies were huge.   
And I woke up the following  morning to find that some little cineaste bastard had decided to ride off on my Superdream after the show.    

But this was far from being the end of the story of Me and My Superdream. In fact, it was just beginning

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Going down fighting

Despite the broken Iveco I was still in there.  I scored two great new contracts - one delivering plastic tanks that took up loads of room, and one delivering trailer axles and parts which were heavy as hell.
So to complement my “fleet” I needed my own 7.5 tonner, like the one I'd given up when I ditched the big contract. And where I'd been paying a grand a month to rent one this time I was sensible, and paid another of my customers two grand for one they had which was surplus to requirements.
This second-hand Ford Cargo had seen a few years, but had been regularly serviced and only used once a week. Its ownership taught me a valuable lesson.

30 years in production, Backbone of the haulage industry for 15, and the only picture of a Cargo I could find was an Austrian one...

That lesson was “don’t be cheeky to civil servants”.
Shortly after I bought it the truck went into a BRS garage for its first service and while there the Department of Transport came visiting.
I was having a coffee while the BRS mechanics took the wheels off the truck and found the brakes needed an overhaul.
“This vehicle is unroadworthy,” said the civil servant.
“Of course it isn’t roadworthy,” said I. “It’s got no wheels on it.” The DoT man scowled humourlessly and slapped a prohibition notice on the truck so I couldn’t drive it away. I had to spend £1,000 to get it released, the truck was out of action for a fortnight, and I got fined £900 and had my operator’s licence curtailed. Ooops.

I picked up more work - including a huge account with a car parts company, and thats where it started to go wobbly.
People ordering plastic tanks don't mind a day wait. People who want car parts want them now, if not sooner. At the same time the network was collapsing, I  was owed a fortune and stuff just wasn't getting where it was needed on time.
Then I was thrown an apparent lifeline. A major parcels network offered me a deal. They would pay me £2,000 a week,  and my two drivers and I and my three trucks could work. I'd hand them my contracts.
They'd pay me every month, regular as clockwork. I could buy my fuel off them.
It offered a desperately needed breathing space.

Only catch was, the Cargo was too old, and I'd need a newer truck. 

I sold the Cargo for a profit, and bought a second truck, this time an AWD – or as it was otherwise known, a Bedford. The truck was a year old, but the design was ancient and more than a little agricultural – still, it did its job well.

An AWD. Mine had a box on the back

I spent a year hacking round West Wales, going to places like Crymych, Maenclochog, and Pontrhydfendegaid (pronounced, according to the great P J O'Rourke:  "huh?").
It was lots of fun. I saw the sea a lot, gave lifts to farm workers and students and burned out hippies searching for the fabled lost stash of Operation Julie.
I was hit head on by a Ford Capri while driving a rented VW Transporter and ended up in court, accused of dangerous driving. I fought it - on the grounds that I'd  been going too fast, but that so had she. And at least the parcels I was delivering were legitimately carried unlike the ones she had in the back of the Capri. The magistrates listened, and remarkably found me not guilty, giving the police a stiff ticking off as well.

But things just weren't working out. The eight grand a month turned out to be £6,000 once the depot manager had shaved off some highly dubious penalty payments that he invented for this and for that.
£2000 a month would have cleared the debt I had. six grand had me treading water. The vans were knackered and needed replacing. Money I was owed never materialised. Companies that owed me money folded up their tents and stole off into the night, only to be reborn days later.
Ripoff Express Ltd would become Ripoff Express 1991 Ltd with the same vehicles and staff but owned mysteriously by the previous owners sister.

One of my drivers, a mate who had come to work for me, badgered me to make him a partner. I refused, for his own good. I knew there was nothing but debt to partner in.

Then Norman Lamont kicked me in the bollocks on Black Wednesday .
A week later I called my bank manager from a call box near Llandovery and asked my bank to authorise a cash withdrawal from my my bank to pay that weeks wages and was told that my operating overdraft had been cancelled because of the prevailing financial conditions. I told them all this meant was I'd never be able to pay it off. They cared not.
I was screwed.
But all was not lost. The Iveco and the battered Citroen would be repossesed. The only people I owed money to was banks, finance companies and the tax man.

One thing I did have a reputation for was reliability, honesty and hard work.

It looked like I would rejoin the ranks of the unemployed.
My erstwhile partner came up with a proposal where he would  take over the now £1,500 a week contract, and he would hire a couple of Renault Masters at £500 a month each.
The AWD was covered by unemployment insurance and I'd lend it to him.That gave him a potential income of five grand. More than enough to pay him, my other driver and he'd give me a few quid to work on the side, helping his set up his operation and driving.

Eight weeks later and the whole thing had gone to shit.
He'd ignored everything I'd told him, ripped off half the parcel companies contracts, struck out on his own with another very dodgy network and was running up a massive debt. Something I'd slogged away at for three years had been ruined by a chancer.
I washed my hands of the thing.
Months later the finance company came to repossesss my AWD only to find he claimed it had been stolen.
In fact he'd sold it.
As a final insult the DHSS contacted me shortly after we had parted company to tell me they knew I'd been working on the side and they cut my benefits.

The informant? His wife.

I had, in the parlance, been done up like a kipper.

So I'm busted flat, £60,000 in debt, with a partner and a kid to support, no job, no money, no benefits and the only crumb of comfort is that negative equity had hit, so our house was worth less than we'd paid for it, so even if I was bankrupt, they couldn't take the place.

There was only one thing that could save me.

 The Toughest Motorcycle In The World.

Friday, 21 January 2011


The Outcasts from voodoo village on Vimeo.

25 years ago I would have treated these guys, or guys quite like them with considerable respect. Through the filter of that quarter century they have an honesty and a ragged glory that is sorely missed.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


A website celebrating the Scotch egg? what's not to like?

four quid fifty for a Scotch Egg? Who do the think they are? Leigh Delamere Services?

I've always considered a mars bar, paper cup of Coffee Nation brown water and a Ginsters scotch egg to be the early morning replacement for the truckstop full english for the motorway trucker since all the transport cafe's closed.

All hail the scotch egg!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Whats white and doesn't go?

So having ditched the massive contract of zero profit I had to get another vehicle to cover my two distribution areas.
I wanted a panel van, cos they're easier to drive and I needed a big one to trunk parcels from Birmingham.
I had a shortish wheelbase Iveco 35-10 on hire, and made the fateful decision to buy its bigger brother, the 45-10 Turbo Daily.
It was a decision my fledgling business would never recover from.
I bought it from a big Ford dealers. It cost £15,000, £5,000 off the new price, and  the payments were £400 a month - £300 less than it cost me rent one.
It was a one-year old ex-demonstrator with 25,000 miles on the clock. I knew these vans. They weren't Mercs, but they were pretty good.
And I'd had it three weeks when one of the injectors fractured and spat the end into the engine, destroying it completely.
No problem, you might think. I've had it three weeks. Surely the sale of goods act protected me?
Not according to the salesman. They said I'd mistreated it, and refused to pay for a repair. I had it towed to my nearest ford dealership. And there it sat, for the next six months. I argued with the dealer. I argued with Iveco Ford Trucks. And all the while I was paying for a truck I couldn't use, and paying £700 a months to rent the replacement. I wanted the dealer to pay for the rental, and repair the truck. They refused. Ford agreed with me, after pressure from my local dealer. But the sellers were having none of it. Eventually, after six months, the dealer agreed to pay £2,000 for a replacement engine. But I'd have to pay the truck rental. Ford agreed with them. By now the impact of a £8,000 in extra charges had all but crippled the business.
I caved in.

In the meantime, I'd picked up a bunch of small but profitable contracts I was servicing with my cheap as chips Freight Rover.
But its advancing years were starting to show and its age didn't quite fit the image the network was trying to portray.
So I flogged it. For twice what I'd paid for it. More than once it crossed my mind that I should have gone into the second hand truck business.

Using the cash as a deposit I bought a newish Citroen C25 van. The comparison between the Iveco and the Citroen could not have been more marked. It was an incredible vehicle, which was driven well and truly into the ground over the next two years. It was small outside and huge inside,

I and my team of fairly useless drivers put 170,000 miles on it round Cardiff, Swansea and later West Wales, it never broke down, and by the time I'd finished with it in 1992 there wasn’t a panel on the van that hadn’t been damaged. I was driven over into and through things. It had been rolled twice, at speed, but it still ran, despite enduring 40,000 mile servicing intervals (though it was driven so hard we got through brake pads every 8,000 miles) and did 50mpg. Never missed a beat.
I ran the company from the cab of that little Citroen, with a mobile phone the size of a cornflake packet that I had to drive to the tops of hills to use.

(Part two in a short while. It's a lengthy tale)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Bio-degradable motor-cars

As the Haulage industry got more than a little wobbly, other pressing issues were coming to a head.
It has to be said Sainsbury’s were getting more than a little miffed that I was popping down to their supermarket in a 7.5 tonne lorry for the weekly shop.
And as well as the truck taking up four parking spaces, the missus was six months pregnant and was having trouble getting in and out, and there are no baby seat mountings in a lorry cab.
So a motorcar was most definitely needed – and looking at the state of the bank account, it would be a cheap one at that.
I settled on a fairly ancient Mitsubishi Colt Lancer, which I had seen in a garage in Haverfordwest.
The Lancer must be one of the great "World Cars" as it's also been the Dodge/Plymouth Colt, Chrysler Valiant Lancer, Chrysler Lancer, Eagle Summit, Hindustan Lancer, Soueast Lioncel, Mitsubishi Carisma, Mitsubishi Mirage and Lancer Fortis and the Proton Saga.
Cor, eh?

It was cheap at £300 and the dealer promised that he would provide a 12-month MoT and tax it for six months too.
When he said “provide” he didn’t mean he was actually intending to put it through an MoT test, he meant he would just write one out, as I soon discovered.
The penny was starting to drop on the drive home as after a few miles on bumpy west Wales roads the car bounced around like a hyperactive gerbil. The rear shock absorbers were shot to hell.
Then I went shopping in it and popped the bags of tins into the boot, where, with a crunching sound, one of the bags went through the floor.

 "Oh Christ, you've bought a Proton"

This was not a motor car, it was a collection of rust, held together with paint.
That being said, the interior was spotless, the engine was sound, and I was quite partial to the little Japanese car’s collection of gadgets and flashing lights.
Besides, Haverfordwest was a good 100 miles away and I could not be bothered to drive it back and argue the toss with the garage.
I fixed the boot issue with a sheet of quarter inch plywood and managed to fix a new shock absorber to one side at the back, but didn’t dare touch the other side in case the rusty mounting crumbled into dust.
The Lancer did its job efficiently and I kept it till the “MoT” ran out when an old bloke needing a set of doors for his own rust bucket offered me £50 for it.
The £50 went on that well-known jewel of a motorcar, an Austin Allegro 1300. Much has been written about the Allegro, little of it complimentary, and all pretty much true.

" tell you what, guv, how about we put all the ones we know will start at the front"

Mine was “bracken” in colour. This is a shade of brown similar to the contents of a baby’s nappy.
It had an MoT and tax, and was £50 because it had blown a head gasket. The oil was the colour of cold coffee because it had been contaminated by water.
I drained the oil, whipped off the cylinder head, slapped in a new head gasket – after cleaning the rust from the inside of the engine – and it was ready to go.
Unfortunately the previous owner had been running it for some time with a blown head gasket, and just kept topping up the radiator.
The water, mixed with the oil, did not make the best lubricant in the world, and the oil pressure warning light would stay on until I reached 20 mph.
It smoked like Bob Marley. I even got pulled by the local constabulary, because of the high level of pollution the Allegro produced.
In the end I just gave up on this dreadful little motor car. It never actually died, or broke down, but it was so horrible to drive that going by bus was a more attractive proposition.
It sat outside my house for a while and I eventually called up a scrapyard who were offering £20 for any old car.
The wrecker truck turned up and the driver loaded it onto the back. When I asked for my £20 the driver just laughed and said “For an Allegro, Butt? you gotta be joking.” I had to admit, he had a point and I was glad to see the back of it.

The Allegro was replaced with something even cheaper, but nowhere near as nasty – a Fiat Panda. The Panda cost £25.
Originally the neighbour selling it wanted £50, but when we opened the passenger door it fell off the hinges, so she settled for £25.
A spare door from the scrapyard costing a tenner was procured. The Panda was almost as rusty as the Colt, and you didn’t dare poke the bodywork in case your finger went through.
Mind you, it was a lively little runner, and enormous fun to drive.
twenty five quid? you were robbed mate...

Apart from the rotting body, the only other fault was a disconcerting tendency for the petrol to freeze on cold mornings.
When this happened I would pop the bonnet, whip off the air filter, unscrew the fuel feed, extract the internal in-line filter, wipe off the ice that had formed round it, blow it through and slap it back in, reconnect the fuel-line and filter and I was good to go. Four minutes was the record. I think the local filling station was taking water into its fuel tanks.
Then the MoT ran out on this too and once again wheels were needed.
But it was the start of a particular affection for Fiats and complemented my adoration of things Italian.

Monday, 10 January 2011

meep meep

I know I shouldn't but I’d really like an electric motorcycle. 
I’ve got a 45 mile round trip to work every day – its all on country lanes so I can’t get up too much speed, and it currently costs me about a fiver every day to get in and out in car or on bike.

30mph? fzattttt

I want something with a bit of class, like a Brammo Empulse.

I think it looks the business, and certainly seems to go pretty well.

So why is it I can get £5,000 of taxpayers money off an electric car which would struggle to get me in and out, but I can’t get anything off a Brammo which would take me twice as far?
It does seem a bit daft that electric bike design seems to be strongest in the US, where distances are greater, but ridiculed over here, where journeys of less than 100 miles are the norm.
I wouldn’t be using the Brammo exclusively of course – I’ve got my 750ss for real motorcycling over a distance, but the idea of  whirring silently to work for a few pennies a mile certainly appeals. Especially as I could plug it in and charge it at work at my bosses expense.

Any chance of a long term test bike, chaps? 

I love the name as well. Sounds like an offshoot of the Acme Corporation.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

"I've driven every kind of rig thats ever been made..."

So, back to the tales of the road.
It's the late 80s economic miracle.
If you haven't bought a house, if you haven't started your own business, well, you are nothing. This is the time for chancers.


I was working by this point out of the parcel company's South Wales depot, and looking to buy a house in the valleys. Been promoted to depot manager, (Which essentially just meant longer hours for an extra thirty quid a week,) Me and the missus signed up to a mortgage on a Valleys terrace, which was great, cos we'd never have afforded a house in Bristol. And two days after we move in my bosses tell me they're selling up in Wales. Gulp.

Wales was full of opportunity once the mines closed

But all's not lost, because to be fair to them, they are honourable men.
They offer me the business, for a pittance. Contracts, franchise, the whole shebang for a couple of thousand.
Of course I'll need start up capital, vehicles, etc, but they give me the cushiest patch, with (apparently) the best contracts.

But where can I find start up capital?

Well, watch while we play "find the lady"... And you should not try to use this method of raising finance. Its very naughty indeed .

First to my bank to borrow £2,000 to "buy a car".
Then a chat with my soon to be ex-boss, where we create a splendid work of fiction dressed up as a business plan.
Then off to the Welsh Development Agency who at that point are handing out money like confetti to anyone who'll start a business in the Valleys, depressed as they are because someone closed all the coal mines.
I've got my £2,000, so they give me a development grant of £2,000 and a promise of a development loan once I'm ready.
So its off to a different bank.
I've got £4,000 start up capital, so they give me a £4,000 business overdraft free for 12 months.
Now back to the WDA, who, as I have now got £8,000, give me a low interest loan of £6,000 re-payable over 10 years.
So I've now got £14,000, all  unsecured, and I had no assets anyway, apart from a Moto-Morini 350 and a half chopped BSA A65.

Most of this cash gets swallowed up in start up costs, and there's no money for vehicles, so its off to a new local hire company, who rent me a virtually brand new Mercedes 814 curtainsider lorry. This is gorgeous - and stupidly cheap. The rental is less than it would cost to buy one. What I don't know is that the rental company is trying to crush all local opposition, by offering vans and trucks at stupid prices.

"Give me 40 acres, and I'll turn this truck around..."

Lovely truck, the 814, easy to drive, comfy, fast and built on a ten-tonners chassis, so that if you did have to put that little extra on it, it didn't show.
I did drive it through the Forest of Dean on back roads with quite a lot of weight on board a few times after being warned the Department of Transport were waiting at the weighbridge at Ross on Wye.

My apparently profitable contracts promise an turnover of £12,000 a month, and there's plenty of other money to be made. Can't fail, right?
So I become the newest part of a fifty company parcel delivery network.
And the first of the fifty goes bust seven days later.

Still, no matter. I put in 18 hour days on the road, breaking every rule in the book, and the missus does the paperwork and drives as well.

The end of the first month comes. Off go the invoices. I wait a month, and there are no big payments.
I contact my big customers. "Oh," they say "we only pay on 90 days. We can pay earlier, but we'll want a 15 per cent discount."

Ah. I hadn't been told this. So I'm going to have to wait four months for the first payment, and buy fuel, and rent the truck in the meantime. Good job I didn't spend all that £14,000, eh? Just most of it.
Then the neighbouring member of the network goes bust.
This isn't so bad, actually. With a hole in the network I get offered his area. I can't afford it, but the other 48 companies cant afford a hole. Telephone calls are made, faxes despatched. A few invoices are paid on time for the first and last time. A grand is raised. I go down the truck auctions and buy a Freight Rover former bread van for £800.
I think they made Freight Rovers out of bits of old Battleships. They had the turning circle of HMS Hood and could be more easily driven through things than round them. Robust is one word for them. Sluggish is another.


Parcels are hauled round Swansea in this van by a neighbour who needs a job on a "self-employed" basis.
We're getting by.
The first big cheques come in. We're rolling. A couple more network members go bust. A couple join. My accounts say I'm making more money delivering than collecting. But it's quite difficult getting anyone to actually pay me on time.

Then one day I sit down with a sheet of paper and do a little maths. My biggest contract takes £8,000 a month. But, I'm paying the rest of the network £7,200 to deliver it all. And then there's renting the Merc. And fuelling it. ah. The contract is costing me £1,000 a month to service.
This is foolish. I ask them for more money. They refuse. I ditch the contract. My bank manager is appalled, and can't quite understand why I'd give up an £100,000 a year contract...
I keep going, with the Sherpa and a rented Iveco 45-10 to service the profitable contracts.
The overdraft grows.
More people go bust, owing me money.
Things start to bite, recession-wise.
Thatcherism withers on the vine.
There's a baby on the way.
Winter approaches.

It's all going to horribly wrong.

You can tell, can't you....

Friday, 7 January 2011

"Send 6p for 24 page catalogue" Part 2

Some more ads. Later on I shall see what I can find from the eighties...

"No sir, you definitely won't look like a tit"

Twelve quid twelve shillings? thats nearly a fortnights wages!

Get slugged yerself, pal

real class never goes out of style. ok, so maybe not the Virginian. or the breeches.

Advertising a moped by telling how easy it is to wheelie? good lord...

loving the pipe

I'll take all three, mate

utterly foolproof.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

"Send 6p for 24 page catalogue"

Rummaging around in the bottom of boxes, looking for old photographs for this thing I found three old copies of Motor Cycle Scooter and Three Wheel Mechanics which I found originally in the attic of a house in the South Wales valleys about 15 years ago.
I love these old mags for the articles about how to tune your Lambretta or exploded diagrams of the Norton ES2 engine, and for the adverts, which rarely get a look in online.

Anyway for the bikers coming on here, here are a small selection of what I'm babbling about.
I'll post some more another time. Let me know if you want to read any of the articles on the cover...

click on the pics to enlarge the image

I'll take a pair of those swept back pipes and a sports dolphin please

Well that's done amazing things for that Royal Enfield 250

one for the Ducatisti

Not sure I'd survive riding that for 24 hours...

mmm I'll take a jacket in yellow and some blue leather trousers
Hell's Angels patch anyone? remember your punctuation, though

This wouldn't look out of place today. but Square exhaust pipes?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Ford Econoline

Nancy Griffith - often too winsome, but she nails this one. Had more chins back then as well

Show some backbone

it really was - all the other vans on the market were antiques by comparison. Check the silver Ford Sierra. Can you imagine an ad agency today showing one of its clients own broken down vehicles in an advert? Ballsy.

Insert "sic Transit" joke here....

I had the Post Office to thank for putting the Mother’s Pride on the table from 1989 to 1996 – in more ways than one.
In 1989 the Management of the Post Office and the Union of Communication Workers were involved in one of their usual spats and busy throwing their toys at each other.

This lead to a six-week freeze on the delivery of parcels and a massive expansion in the number of small haulage outfits delivering parcels to all and sundry.
The strike went on for just long enough for the Post Office’s customers to believe that the private sector could do the job faster and cheaper.
Admittedly this was because the private sector could pay people less and had a slightly more laissez faire approach to drivers hours regulations and transporting hazardous goods but no matter, eh?
Shortly after the strike ended a mate told me that the company he was working for was expanding rapidly as a result and needed new drivers – the fact that I had driven nothing bigger than a Hillman Avenger and had only had my licence for a year was of no consequence.
And they were paying considerably more than the garage I was working at.
So I decided in the twisted sort of self-justification that comes with a potential 50 per cent rise in salary that as the the strike was over it wasn't really scabbing, whacked my resignation on the boss’s table and my days of staring at the underside of Renaults were over.
I have to say he didn’t seem that sad to see me go – and the way he encouraged me to leave that very day rather than work out my notice spoke volumes.
So the next Monday I turned out at 6am in a cold and wet yard in South Gloucestershire.
They gave me a tenner to buy a street map, a bundle of delivery notes, the keys to a Ford Transit and told me to get on with it.
This was a company that definitely a believer in on-the-job training.
It was their way of weeding out the inadequate. Many new drivers would come back to the depot at lunchtime with just a handful of parcels delivered and walk out. A few more would come back at 7pm with half a van full and be told not to bother coming back.
I came back with three parcels out of 40 that evening. And that was the start of my career in light haulage.
I was lucky that this company had bosses who actually drove their own vehicles, rather than had accountants running the show.
That meant that they chose vehicles that were good to drive rather than cheap to buy – and that meant Transits.

Bloody marvellous

At the time the new wedge-shaped Transits were miles ahead of the competition – they were fast and tough  and even without power steering they drove like a car.
They were quiet enough for the driver to actually carry out a conversation with someone else in the vehicle and reliable as hell.
It took the rest of the manufacturers years to catch up – it wasn’t until 2000 that I found a van that came close to being as good as the Transit, and it took Mercedes to make it.
The only fault with the Transit was the van’s internal height. After ten minutes in the back, the five foot high roof had you scuttling round the warehouse  muttering “Ethmarelda”.
Ford used to market this as a bonus – they initially claimed that the reason for the low roof was deliberate and it was so the van could go under low barriers.
Actually the real reason was dafter. The Ford designers had spent years on the van, and had come up with one version that would have a seven foot high body. This looked like a fine vehicle and they took the design to the Ford factory in Southampton which had been kitted out with a new production line for their sparkling new vehicle.
The managers loved it. The engineers loved it. But the union representative was not impressed. He told the management that the van would not be built in Southampton.
Management instantly assumed that the union was being bolshie but the shop steward took them down to the production line.
He pointed out that the paint rig, which would be used for the Transit was only six feet tall and had been designed for use on the Ford Cortina. The tall vans would not go through it. Oh, yes, and it had been constructed out of reinforced concrete and was an integral part of the factory. Knock it down, and they would have to built a whole new factory.
Hence the low roof on the van. Later on Ford did get their high roof, by the radical expdient of taking the newly built vans outside, and pop riveting a fibreglass roof on.
The company I was working for also ran a number of Ford Cargo seven and a half tonners, which were good, but not as good as their single Mercedes 814.
This vehicle was so highly prized by its regular driver that he would take it home every night, just to make sure that no-one else got their hands on it.
After three days on the job they gave me was an enormous Iveco 60-14 van which had the internal length of a bowling alley.
An Iveco 60-10. Unweildy.

They had the vehicle on loan from a dealership.
I’m not sure how they explained away the enormous dent I put in the back doors while backing it into the loading bay of an army base “somewhere in Wiltshire”.
They also bought a small fleet of Iveco 45-10 vans which I liked a lot – something I was to regret later.
And they had two Citroen C15 vans which were used to distribute expensive medical equipment.
These were great little vehicles. They had masses of space in the back, went like dingbats with a top whack of 100mph, and did 60-80 mpg. I could get in a C15 at 5am and be on the loading bay of a hospital in Ipswich by 9am.
I enjoyed the job enormously. For someone who likes to be on their own it's an occupation that's hard to beat.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I bought the company. Well, almost.

Monday, 3 January 2011

One owner, very little use...

Nine hundred quid? They're having a laugh, right?

Standing up to any amount of punishment

Top Gear? pshaw...

Click pic for video of a proper 60s road test.


Goin' back to my Rootes

In the dim and distant past of the late 1980s for many of my peers motorcycling was something you did because you needed to get to work, rather than a lifestyle choice or something you do for fun.
I’m not knocking anyone who rides their bike day-in-day-out today, all power to your elbows. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
It just seems to me that back then that was how it was.
First of all you did it because you had to, then you came to love the whole edgy, ragged exhilaration of trusting your life to two quarter square inches of rubber at some stupid velocity, and you just kept doing it.

However there often came a time in a young motorcyclist’s life when he or she thought that this two-wheeled nonsense is all lots of fun and all very well, but in reality, it’s cold out, there’s ice on the roads, you need to do a week’s shopping and wouldn’t it be nicer if you just went and bought a car?

always ensure you are protected against the unexpected

This often coincided, in the old days at least, with the approach of the patter of tiny feet. This also resulted in the sad decay of a once prized motorcycle in a garden shed and the wistful wearing of a leather jacket as a fashion statement rather than a necessity.
But in my case, the acquisition of a proper driving licence came with the arrival of my new and rather short-lived career as a mechanic.
When my course finished it was clear that not many garages would give a job to a mechanic who couldn’t drive, so I took six lessons and passed first time.
Of course seven years avoiding the maddened Volvo drivers of the South West on a motorcycle had given me a head start, as had hacking the ill-handling Reliant around.
I did have access to a motorcar as well – My girlfriend of the time had also recently passed her test and we had just bought a 15-year-old Hillman Avenger estate for £200.
Hey that looks just like the sort of place an Avenger owner would live in

Our Avenger was a blue, and missing it's front bumper following some unfortunate shunt.
The Avenger is one of the great forgotten British motorcars of the 1970s. It was good and solid, tougher than its equivalent Ford Cortina, easily as hard as the slightly smaller Ford Escort, didn’t rust like a Vauxhall Victor and wasn’t filled with obscure and frankly stupid design ideas like the Morris Marina – which was little more than a fancy body on a Morris Minor.
Another thing that came in quite handy was that the training centre had two avenger engines to train us on. after six months working on those I knew the motor backwards.
The interior, black plastic and black vinyl, was a little East European, but it chugged along nicely, and was big enough to move house in.
I recall changing the clutch in the rain, lying on my back under the car while raising the gearbox into position with my knees, while holding the casing bolts in my mouth and slotting them into place as dirty rainwater trickled down my back. Happy days.
The Avenger doubled as band transport, campervan and removal vehicle.
It was big enough inside to take the carcasses of two motorcycles at once and the thing bimbled along becoming more and more decrepit, until it was struck on the rear end at some force by drunken madman who wrecked one corner after hitting it at some speed before hurtling off into the distance trailing bits of taillight glass.
There was no way it would get through another MoT, and the coup de grace came when someone tried to steal it and smashed the steering column in the process.
So it was off to the scrapyard.

Its cars like the Avenger which make me wonder just how far technology has improved our lot.
The Avenger was pretty easy to look after, solid and dependable. |That chunky old 1600cc engine with its pushrods and single carb chucked out more than enough power – it would barrel along at 80, and do 36mpg. It handled pretty well, and the rear wheel drive meant it shrugged off snow and mud.
Its hatchback incarnation the Talbot Sunbeam showed a clean pair of heels to much more modern equivalents on the competition circuit.

Buy a small estate today and it'll do about the same to the gallon much more expensively. Ok they’re nicer to sit in, But I do wistfully wander periodically through ebay and see if I can find one of these old gems.

"More headroom than a Rolls Royce"

I found this while rummaging for a picture of a Honda Express...