Classic car fan John Harris has shared his motoring history with us as this week’s Me and My Motors
At present I have two classics – a 1953/55 Morgan Plus Four 2.2l Roadster and a 1962 Austin Seven Mini “Minus”
I was given the Morgan in 1969 by my brother. He had bought it in Swansea in 1963 for £60 and, after a tidy up and respray, used it every day. By then it was in a pretty sad state and no longer really road worthy. I laid it up at my employer’s for 18 months inside and six months outside under a lime tree which did it no good apart from protecting the electrics by covering them in sap!
I got it home and started rebuilding it about late 1971. It led a hard life, used every day for work then weekends for run-outs and some mild competition. It required another complete ground up rebuild in 1981 to replace the chassis which had not been as sound as I thought at the time of the first rebuild. It was in regular use again including towing a trailer stuffed with camping gear and later a smallish caravan for trips to shows and also to France, particularly down to Le Mans for the 24 HRs Du Mans endurance race. This meant another complete rebuild in 2008. It hasn’t been in use as much as I’d like since then because of health problems, mainly back, caused, I think, by 50 odd years grovelling under and bouncing around in old cars!
I bought the Mini about 1974-ish as a temporary runabout while I was, for a short while, without transport.
What is your dream car?
A 1934 Alvis Speed Twenty Roadster – the one that got away. In the early 1960s, on the way up to Perivale in London to look at a car we stopped in High Wycombe to telephone the seller to tell him we were running late. Stepping out of the box , I noticed an interesting car in a showroom opposite – it was a 1934 Alvis Speed Twenty Roadster with the later upgrades. It was in very good condition and I was assured by the proprieter that it was fully roadworthy would be a good buy. Except that is, the price, £150 exactly. I had £100 in my pocket and he refused to budge. So, regretfully we went on our way. We all make mistakes in life. This was one of my dafter errors but we all learn someday.
What other cars have you owned and which is your favourite?
A schoolfriend who was the RAF had bought his CO’s car a few months before, maintained by the RAF from new and in absolutely immaculate condition. It was a 1953 Riley 2,5l RMF Chassis sports saloon. I happily paid my friend, who was being posted abroad, the £130 he asked for it and set off in the relative freedom of 1960s motoring.
In 1964 I was looking for a replacement for the Riley and spotted a 1954 Jaguar XK 120 3.4 ltr. Drop Head Coupe in Exchange and Mart, rang the seller who gave me an encouraging description and a price of £90. The car was everything the buyer had described. Apart from a blow in the exhaust, a tatty hood and a missing spare which brought the sale price down to £70, and a good test drive, we agreed it would be money well spent. This was the car I bought instead of my dream car.
I used the XK constantly from ’65 right through until the end of 1974 by which time I laid it up.
What do you think a car says about its driver?
I think that looking back at the cars I’ve owned and the many other cars I’ve driven, that performance has always been a prerequisite. Growing up in an age of speed records, land sea and air, being broken all around with school masters who had flown Hurricanes and Spitfires only a very few years before and were still willing to recount their tall tales, all us small boys were impregnated from youth with the urge to go faster and faster. I think style is also important and there are some really fast but ugly vehicles out there which I would never contemplate.
I think my choices also have a high degree of style, even beauty for some of them. Even now I don’t feel that at my advanced years I should consign myself to a Ford Pop or modern equivalent.
What do you think you’ll get next?
I’m very happy with what I’ve got at present in the way of classics. There are more than enough events to keep me and my wife happy and they both promise many hours of happy fettling in my garage for as long as I think I’ll be able.
I consigned my last modern vehicle, a 17-year-old 2.5l Jaguar to a local dismantler at the end of last year but covid has limited my search for a replacement to date. It will be something comfortable, 2+ ltr, automatic from the older prestige range made just before the electronics and gimmicks rendered them impractical. It needs to handle well, be responsive, not too large and to take on 250-mile plus journeys without breaking the bank or my back.
What does your family think of your passion for cars?
Fortunately my wife Kate has always had similar requirements from her motor cars as I. She has been insured to drive all my cars and feels common ownership of them, including driving all of them at some time or other.
What is the farthest you have driven?
The longest in total was about 2,400 miles from Newport to Vienna over four days out and five days return, averaging 300 miles a day going down and 240 a day returning (overheating probs). There were also about another 600 or so on trips out at our overnight stops and off road visits during the day.
Do you go to car shows?
Frequently. The Tredegar Park show was one not to be missed but, sadly, is now defunct. Abergavenny is another good show, Monmouth, Berkeley Castle and others further afield including Beaulieu, Goodwood and Blenheim Palace.
Would you ever go electric?
At my age, no! There is insufficient infrasrtructure to supply the few electric cars on the road at present.
Modern petrol engines now have life expectancies of more than 200,000 miles if properly maintained and are getting ever more energy out of each gallon of petrol as they are further developed. Why throw this away so that we can export the global heating problem to elsewhere, another continent even and then pat ourselves on the shoulder and tell ourselves what a wonderful job we’re doing!
What’s your favourite road to drive on?
My ideal road is a flowing A/B road through the glorious English/Welsh/Scottish countryside on a sunny spring or autumn day. I’ve come across lots over the years.