Cars I have owned – 1970 Bond Bug 700ES

A return to a theme I haven’t explored since I wrote about my beloved Ford Popular 100E – another tale of… cars I have owned!


Many and varied were the jokes made (mainly in the 1980s) about quirky British car manufacturer Reliant. For those unfamiliar with this now sadly deceased marque, their stock in trade was twofold – they made a plush grand tourer called the Scimitar, endorsed by no less a personage than Princess Anne; and they made small three-wheeled cars that were the reason for all the jokes. Continue reading “Cars I have owned – 1970 Bond Bug 700ES”

A Mini Adventure – keeping it real with the original

What’s it like living with a 60s motoring icon that’s only 12 years old?


Having finally got a permanent job, my usual first instinct kicked in – not having to worry so much about money, I was going to buy another car. With my hobby of liking quirky cars, particularly older ones, it was obviously not going to be a sensible, practical one.

Continue reading “A Mini Adventure – keeping it real with the original”

Go to…Ludicrous Speed!


So, The Guardian have got themselves all agitated about Transport Secretary Philip ‘Mr Slimy’ Hammond’s proposal to raise the national speed limit to 80 mph, in this editorial, this article about speed safety and this article about environmental damage. And do you know what? Despite being a person of normally strong views, both a Guardian reader and a Top Gear fan, it’s an issue I find hard to care about either way.

On one hand, it’s true that the national speed limit was set at a time when most people’s cars would struggle to exceed 60mph. Nearly 50 years of advancement in automotive technology means that today, most cars can exceed 70mph routinely, and with far greater safety than cars travelling at 55 in the 60s. Would you feel safer to do a nice, modest 50mph in this:


Or an admittedly naughty 90mph in this:


I’ll grant, you shouldn’t be speeding in either. But if the limit was raised to 80 mph and you had a crash at that speed in the Mini, I think you can safely say you’ll stand a better chance of walking away from it than a 50mph crash in the Austin 1100 – well below the 70mph that was already the national speed limit when it was built. So the safety argument, for me, doesn’t really hold water.

On the other hand, the argument about fuel profligacy does – a bit. With fossil fuel dwindling rapidly, to the extent that wars are fought over it, it does seem illogical to tacitly condone driving at speeds that cause cars to consume far more of it. Fuel economy in a modern car is leagues ahead of one from the 60s. But it’s still true that the faster you go – and the higher your engine revs – the more fuel you will consume. In the case of a 10mph increase in the speed limit, with a modern car, it is possible that the increased fuel usage will be so negligible as to make little difference. Whether you support it depends on whether you believe any increase in fuel usage, however infinitesimal, is acceptable.

There are, of course, engineering solutions to that problem. Better chosen gear ratios is the most obvious, though the most sensible would be a more thorough approach to developing alternative fuels. I totally agree with the principle of making motoring more efficient rather than trying to stop it altogether, but until we come up with a realistic alternative to fossil fuel, it’s still ultimately an unsustainable activity. More efficient vehicles do postpone its inevitable end, but affordable and convenient public transport would postpone it still further. Not to mention making congestion far lighter for the inevitable people who still insist on driving. Ultimately though, the ideal would be to try and lower the amount of cars – and freight – on the roads.

A good start would be a decent rail network with financial incentives for companies to use it for freight. The sheer volume of large trucks on the road contributes vastly to both congestion and fuel usage. If this worked, profits from it could be used to subsidise passenger fares – right now, it’s always cheaper for two people to drive to a destination than buy train tickets. Even if they’re driving a 4 litre Jeep that does 15 miles to the gallon. 
This would require massive investment in a decent public transport infrastructure, which in the short term would haemorrhage money. It’s the only sensible thing to do, but even if any politician had the guts to try it, I’ve no idea where they’d get the money from at this point. The private sector is unlikely to front up the money and the government simply can’t. So, making the current activity more efficient is probably the best solution we have right now.

Given all of that, I think that a 10mph rise in the speed limit comes off as a trivial, political, vote chasing move that ultimately makes very little difference to anything. So trivial in fact that I find it hard to care enough to support or oppose it. But if Mr Hammond must try to buy votes by allowing speed crazy Clarkson wannabes to tailgate me in their BMWs with impunity, so be it. I don’t think it will make much difference either to accident rates or to fuel usage. The one thing I’d ask is that it starts getting actually enforced – not by revenue generating speed cameras, but by actual, real human police officers who can make human judgements.

There’s the obvious fact that motorists slow down for speed cameras then speed right back up again once past them; average speed cameras help somewhat, but still have the basic flaw that, if you drive at 50 for half the distance between them, you can then drive at 90 for the rest without incurring any penalties. Two officers with a radar gun, placed at random times and random places, is a far better approach – and allows for human judgement about cases that aren’t clear cut, for example accelerating out of the way of a hazard. And speeding may be symptomatic of a driver in no fit state to drive anyway. A police officer would recognise this and stop the driver from going any further, potentially preventing accidents; a speed camera would merely issue them with a penalty after the fact.

But of course, we can’t have real policemen any more, because they cost too much. If The Guardian’s columnists are genuinely worried about reducing accidents, they might want to start with that.  As to the 10mph increase in the speed limit, it’s a storm in a political teacup whose effect on the real world will be hard to even notice.

Ten “improvements” commonly made to old cars

I like lists.

I also like cars, particularly old ones which are a bit sporty or weird. The trouble is, by the time they’ve reached a sensible price, i.e. less than a grand, they’ve often been in the hands of what can only be termed ‘boy racers’, who have a somewhat skewed idea of what can improve a vehicle beyond its original design specifications. Done well, with care, skill and money, these can be real improvements. But at the sub thousand pound level, they almost never are. Here, for your edification and caution, are a list of “improvements” you really should avoid:

1. The ‘big bore’ exhaust. Yes, all Subaru Impreza WRX rally cars come with a wide bore exhaust to improve throughflow and performance. No, attaching one to a Nissan Sunny 1.1L will not have the same effect.

2. The ‘sports’ steering wheel. Old cars, particularly front wheel drive ones, often have rather heavy steering, particularly when not blessed with power assistance. This is why they have steering wheels of a diameter sufficient to pilot the Queen Mary. Obviously, then, it’s not the best idea in the world to fit a sporty steering wheel with the diameter of a tea plate. This will render any kind of steering effectively impossible to anyone with arm muscles slightly smaller than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

3. The stiffened suspension handling kit. Most sporty cars – Golf GTIs, Astra GTEs etc – have fairly stiff suspension to begin with. Fitting a cheap ‘handling kit’ will not make them go round corners any faster. What it will do is render an already bumpy ride uncomfortable beyond all imagining.

4. The suspension lowering kit. Because nothing looks cooler than scraping your exhaust off at the first speed hump you encounter.

5. The aftermarket spoiler kit. All the disadvantages of the above, plus the aesthetic beauty of hideously moulded bits of plastic badly attached with rivets, ill-sanded filler and touch up paint that blends into the original colour like Samuel L Jackson at a Klan gathering.

6. The rear spoiler. A gargantuan device shaped to look like a whale’s tail, most often bolted somewhere onto the rear of the car where it can have absolutely no effect in countering wind resistance but will make rearward vision impossible.

7. Ill-fitting and mismatched bucket seats. Trust me, Alec Issigonis  never intended the Morris Minor to be fitted with these. And the racing harnesses will look a bit silly in a car that rarely exceeds 75 mph.

8. The novelty gearknob. Actually, Volkswagen have only themselves to blame for this one, with their oh-so-amusing golfball shaped attachment to the gearstick on Golf GTIs. Like all of the aftermarket tat, this may look good (although it usually doesn’t), but its chief effect is to cause severe bruising of the hand after driving, say, five miles.

9. Gigantic chromed alloy wheels that leave room for a tyre with a profile of less than an inch. Yes, your car is old. Yes, it probably needs a respray. What better way to throw this into sharp relief than by fitting the most ridiculously reflective wheels that you can find? For added discomfort, the cushion of air provided by the low profile tyres will be so tiny as to render the effects of the suspension nonexistent.

10. The furry dice. Actually, these have been around for so long that they’ve transcended embarrassment to have an air of retro kitsch to them. If you can just find some way of convincing your friends that they’re only attached ‘ironically’…

Cars What I Have Known No. 1: 1960 Ford Popular 100E

Thus far in my blog writing, I’ve not touched upon my other great passion from films and TV. This, as any who know me will be aware, is cars. Mostly very very old cars. It’s a subject on which I could bore for my country, so I suggest those of you who are baffled by the existence of words like “trunnion” should maybe skip this one…

Still here? Good. I thought it might be nice to do a few things about some of the more interesting of the forty-odd vehicles I have known, and I’m starting with Pop, the 1960 Ford Popular I managed to own twice over in the mid-90s.

First off, the history bit. Concentrate…

The 100E version of Ford’s cheapo Popular model was introduced in 1953 to replace the 1930s styled device you might be familiar with from Monty Python’s “Mr and Mrs Brian Norris’s Ford Popular” sketch. Actually, the old one was sold alongside the new for six years, and the 100E was badged initially as an Anglia. Then when Ford introduced its dazzlingly modern “New Anglia” in 1959 (now known as “the Harry Potter car(TM)”, the Popular name was passed on to the 100E.

Styled to resemble a smaller version of the company’s big Zephyr saloon, the Pop probably looked very modern in the heady days of the 50s. Unfortunately, this impression was instantly dispelled when you opened the bonnet, and saw the familiar sight of Ford’s wheezy 1172cc sidevalve engine, a powerhouse designed in the days of Moses. This incredible gizmo managed to turn out an amazing 36 bhp, enough to propel you to speeds of, ooh, 60mph or so, providing you had enough road in which to achieve this. In fact, despite its sharp suit, the 100E’s mechanical bits were nearly all ancient, coming straight off the previous model. The exception was the now-familiar MacPherson strut front suspension, new then but now no stranger to welders everywhere.

So how did I come to own one? Well, I’d been driving for a few years, and much to my gearhead friends’ bafflement, had always preferred really old cars. Of course, they probably should have guessed that this had something to do with Jon Pertwee driving around in a vintage car in Doctor Who. I found the Pop looking lonely and forlorn in a neighbourhood car park, and was immediately besotted with it. The “Will you sell me this car?” note I left on the windscreen elicited a phone call from the owner, who, it transpired, was prepared to part with it for the meagre sum of £300. A bit of scrimping and saving later, and the Pop was mine! I climbed into it and drove proudly away. Backwards.

It should be pointed out to those used to driving sensible modern cars that they did things differently in the old days. One of the things they did differently, as I had just discovered, was gearboxes. True, the 100E did have four gears. It’s just that only three of them were for going forwards. The error made by me, and indeed everyone who ever tried driving the thing including a would-be thief, was to assume that first was where I was used to it being. How very, very wrong. That was reverse, with none of the push-it-down or lift-it-up safeguards against accidentally shifting into it.

Having worked out how to go forwards, I soon discovered the other foibles of this antique gearbox. Mainly, this had to do with the gear ratios. In a modern car, gear ratios are chosen thoughtfully, with consideration for things like engine power and modern roads. The engineers responsible for the Pop, however, appeared to have chosen ratios by throwing darts at a maths book.

You pulled away from a standstill in first, just as you might expect. What you probably didn’t expect was that first was so low-geared that it was necessary to change up as soon as you reached, say, 2mph. Then, in second, it was necessary to accelerate until the engine was shrieking for mercy before shifting up to third, at which point the engine dropped to something around idle speed. Thus, once on the move, you effectively only had two gears to choose from, and the traffic was always going at the wrong speed for either of them.

I soon discovered that while my contemporaries were searching desperately for extra power and speed from their Nissan Cherry 1100s, I had in fact purchased the slowest car in the world. Just how slow was something I never found out, because the speedo didn’t work and I never bothered trying to fix it. It must have been pretty slow though, judging by the impatient queues of cars visible in the rearview mirror whenever I drove it.

Driving the Pop was an experience. It never failed to start, even in the cold weather – unless you made the mistake of touching the throttle in the starting process, thereby flooding the carb so catastrophically that it wouldn’t go for hours. It tottered round corners dangerously on its skinny, somewhat perished crossply tyres, while you slid off its PVC economy seats, unanchored by the luxury option of seatbelts, which the original owner never specified. Friends enthused by its aged eccentricity loved this two-finger salute to the safety Nazis, though sad to say no copper ever stopped us to enquire why we weren’t wearing belts.

In the cold weather, only the rusty tin box between the seats, laughingly described as a “heater”, would prevent your breath from freezing into pretty crystalline patterns on the inside of the windscreen. But the weirdest thing of all was the wiper system. You see, on Fords of this era, the windscreen wipers were powered not by an electrical motor but by vacuum depression fed from the engine’s inlet manifold. Now, as you accelerate, this vacuum is diverted towards the cylinders as more air and fuel are sucked into the combustion chamber. The practical upshot of this is that, as you accelerate, the wipers slow to a crawl and then stop. In the unlikely event that you ever get a 100E going fast enough to overtake something in the rain, this is a point well worth remembering as the backwash from an artic pours over your stationary wiper blades.

Stories of the Pop are many and legendary (among certain people in Banbury at least). There was the time its exhaust fell in half while driving, the times it was used to jumpstart more modern, less reliable cars, the time someone tried to nick it only to reverse it into a wall… It was so good, in fact, that I owned it twice.

At the end of my first go at owning it, my then manager at Tesco’s, a young rake called Alfie Giannaula, bought it for his girlfriend, convinced she would be utterly charmed by its chubby, chrome-laden cuteness. She, perhaps sensibly, declared that she wasn’t going anywhere in this dangerous relic, while Alfie quite happily drove it around himself for a few months. Then its MOT ran out, and he parked it on his drive and just let it sit there.

Seeing the old thing once again forlorn and abandoned, I found I wanted it back. So a deal was struck with Alfie involving fifty quid and an old video recorder, and once again the Pop was mine.

Amazingly, it went through an MOT test with no failures, though I’ll refrain from mentioning which Banbury garage failed to notice its dangerously cracked crossply tyres. Happy together again, the Pop and I shared many adventures, like driving very slowly to London and back, over the next year or so.

Eventually, though, my car mania was getting out of control. By this point I also owned a Triumph Spitfire and a Ford Capri, and something had to go. Sad to say, it was the Pop. I advertised the old dear in Practical Classics, and a feller came round and bought it the very next week for £400, £100 more than I paid for it in the first place. As I sadly waved the old thing goodbye, I was amused to see its new owner immediately try to pull away in reverse…