PC 111 Driving Around

The other evening I was driving back from a day with my daughter – actually a rather rare occurrence, not because I don’t love her to bits but because it’s over 70 miles away. The idea of dropping in for a cuppa isn’t a practical one – that’s not to say I don’t want to and wouldn’t if we lived closer just that we don’t! I have a choice of many different routes, as you would expect in a part of the country as crowded as the south east of England. The motorways M23/M25/A3 all have good dual (or more) carriageways and if the traffic flows it’s a doddle – if it doesn’t it’s just boring, and the M25 has a rather unfortunate reputation as the world’s largest car park!

Another option is going in a more direct way, along country roads. I used to drive on some of these roads when I was at university, as home was 18 miles north of here and university north of Swindon. In those days the traffic was lighter than today and being young and carefree I wanted to get from A to B as quickly as possible, wanting to be in ‘the right gear at the right time’, overtaking and sneaking into small spaces! But because I was a sort-of responsible adult, as responsible as I have ever been, it gradually became important to me that I drove well. I had passed the fairly rudimentary mandatory Driving Test in a Morris Minor 1000.


But that was 1964 and I wanted to check I could drive well!! So in 1970 I took the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) test in Swindon – a 90 minute exacting assessment of one’s driving – in my old Sunbeam Alpine; its registration number was SMO 420H if you are interested! Swindon, a Wiltshire city, had a mixture of residential streets, 1960’s brutal city centre architecture and the most roundabouts of any UK city at the time. At some point during the test, the assessor said: “Can you pull over here!” And when I had parked along the curb….” We have just past an alleyway. Would you reverse into it ….. centrally?” Well, the Sunbeam was 5 feet (1.52m) wide and the alleyway …… probably no more than 7ft (2.14m). Exacting huh!

Sunbeam Alpine convertible

I liked the freedom of owning a car, of being able to go somewhere whenever I wanted and still do. Driving was fun and exhilarating. Turn the clock forward to today and those same roads are more congested, and now there’s a local speed limit which varies between 40 and 50 miles per hour. Frankly, with the additional traffic it’s nay impossible to go faster than that and you can forget any idea of overtaking a slow moving car. If you actually succeed, all you do is end up behind the next slow moving car. Takes a great deal of will power to just relax and ‘go with the flow’.

In my Army days, I had always believed that I had to be able to do what I asked my soldiers to do. So in Germany I often jumped into the driving seat of the M109, a self-propelled medium artillery howitzer, at the end of some training and drove back to barracks.


A M109

My ability to drive a vehicle steered by its tracks is still recognised on my UK Driving Licence – Group H. And although I occasionally I drove a lorry for fun, I was lazy and didn’t get my HGV licence, otherwise you might have seen me at the wheel of an articulated lorry on the M25!!

After university I was posted back to my regiment in Germany and was able to take advantage of the tax free allowances. I ordered a new MGB GT through the local garage that serviced my car. They were agents for Mercedes and Lancia …..  and I fell in love with a little red Lancia Fulvia with cream upholstery which was displayed in their showroom!! So I cancelled the MGB GT, which was going to cost £1258 and ordered a red Lancia for an extra £53. Months later I took the train from Paderborn in Germany to Turin in Italy to collect it from the factory.

Lancia Fulvia

This was my second Lancia, in blue. Note the Institute of Advanced Motorist badge!

You will know I love coincidences! Well, in 1982 I took over command of an air defence battery just north of Salisbury in Wiltshire. The Royal Artillery history is preserved by the ‘battle honours’ of its batteries – a Battery being a sub-unit of some 120 soldiers. For instance I had served in 132 Medium Battery (The Bengal Rocket Troop) the latter reflecting the development of rudimentary rockets in India in the C19th. My Air Defence battery was known as Lloyd’s Company – after William Lloyd who had put together some guns to support Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Its number, an arcane designation no one really understood as they were not sequential in terms of seniority, was 43. So its title was 43 Air Defence Battery (Lloyd’s Company) Royal Artillery and it was equipped with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). My Honda Accord was bought in Swindon and its number plate, completely coincidentally, was SAM43S!


SAM 43 S

And come to think of it, I still smile when I remember Sergeant Cooke, my MT (Motor Transport) Sergeant and his driving test. The battery was down on Dartmoor for a fortnight’s training. Part of the training was all about driving, for instance testing the soldier’s ability to reverse a Landrover and trailer. He also wanted them to line up 50m away and drive the nearside wheels between two 4m long parallel planks, which he placed about 5cms more than a tyre width apart; a little light amusement! “Come on Sir! Have a go!” Well, never one to resist a challenge …… the result took the smile off his face!!

Coincidentally a neighbour five houses down here in Albany Villas Hove owns a Sunbeam Alpine (Tiger variant) and a Lancia Fulvia (Integrale) – now that’s weird.

A little nostalgia never hurt anyone and I hope you may reminisce on cars you’ve owned as a result of this PC.

Richard 3rd December 2017

PS Cars I have owned:

Volkswagen Variant (Left hand drive)

Sunbeam Alpine Convertible (SMO 420H)

Lancia Fulvia (Red)

Lancia Fulvia (Blue)

Honda Accord (SAM 43S)

Volkswagen Beetle (KBA 51K)

Vauxhall Astra

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

Saab Vecta 93 Convertible

4 thoughts on “PC 111 Driving Around

  1. I do often reminise about the cars I’ve owned, what they’ve meant to me, where they took me and fun I had with them all for very different reasons.


    1. – And we were concerned about your chosen route from Whitianga across the Coromandel Range to the Firth of Thames in January ! Also the extra mileage getting from Hawkes Bay to Tauranga via Gisborne a few years back. Good one Richard.
      Peter and Gwenda


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