Petrol Head by Marc Allum
I’ve owned some interesting old cars over the years. My favourite – a 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville – was a 7 litre monster that greedily burnt huge quantities of fuel on its occasional weekend forays to the supermarket, where it just as greedily occupied four ordinary parking spaces! Trips into central London often degenerated into a frenzy of interested onlookers and blocked-up Soho streets peppered with a frequent barrage of requests to borrow it for weddings...it was great fun.
That’s what I like about this business. The diversity of the many fields it touches upon has allowed me many interesting experiences, particularly in the world of automobiles. I think I started quite young. Perhaps being male helped but with my father’s ‘that’s right son’ encouragement I could often be found helping him to fill in the rusty old holes on his Ford Pops and Alvis’. My father had a small salary when I was a child and his shallow pockets only allowed for a succession of what were already vintage vehicles at the time, but they were invaluable in building many of the fond mechanical memories of my youth. That practical upbringing gave me a good grounding when it came to owning cars and I was never scared to change a head gasket or weld up an exhaust. Alas, those days are generally gone as most of the cars I have latterly owned void the warranty if you go near them, they don’t even have dipsticks! I hanker for those days when cars were much easier to work on and had starting handles!
So, it is with great fondness and nostalgia that I can look back and reminisce about some of my oily exploits. Perhaps one of my favourite early stories was the purchase of a small silvered car mascot in the form of a stylised owl. It was by a famous sculptor called Alfredo Biagini and for the speculative outlay of 50 pence at a local car bootsale, it went on to realise £1,500 at Sotheby’s. That was a long time ago, but it fired my enthusiasm and over the decades I have been lucky enough to handle more than my fair share of beautiful Lalique car mascots and automobilia. It’s a boy thing I suppose, and the markets continue to generate multi-million pounds stories of rare barn finds and rusty rarities; one wonders where they still keep coming from!
So what are my favourite mechanical memories? Well, I’ve driven a 1920s Fordson petrol/parrafin tractor, I’ve driven multi-fuel tanks and military vehicles, and I even owned a 1957 Bedford RL in drab olive. (I demolished a few bollards with that one!) I’ve sped along in various sports cars, too numerous to mention, driven a number of mighty American muscle cars and even pottered around in a humble Austin A35 – a robust and reliable little car, yet it’s vehicles associated with iconic films and stars that have always most enamoured me. Call me shameless, but when the opportunity has arisen, I’ve always been fast in coming forward when the possibility of sitting in an interesting vehicle has proffered itself. From Del Boy’s famous smoke-belching Reliant Robin to a very good rendition of the Back to The Future DeLorean, I’ve tried a few but what was my favourite? If I had to name one for sheer kitsch nostalgia and classic comic ‘Kapow!’ it would have to be the Batmobile. In fact, there were four made for the original series and given that several were needed for filming and promotional purposes, it’s not uncommon to find that such vehicles are not unique. However, I did get to sit in a real one.....and ‘Holy Hallucination’, it’s an experience I will never forget. Value - £1 million!