Blasts From the Past

The slack dunes crumble under the wheels of the 1927 Galloway car as I head back to the Myreton Motor Museum at Aberlady; away from the incessant calls of the herring gulls, gannets, puffins and fulmars and the long white tails of parnassus grass that wave forlornly in the sea-cool breeze.

This particular car that I had the pleasure of driving spent all its working life in Leicester and was built alongside the Dumfries-produced Arrol-Johnston. Not many of these Galloways were made and this beautiful vehicle is one of only seven known survivors.

It was the show car of the year in 1927, held in Edinburgh and appeared as Doctor Snoddy’s car in Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, and as the police car in Three Red Herrings, which starred Ian Carmichael. Its performance is very pedestrian, but it is reliable and gets there in the end. This car, painstakingly restored to its original splendour, was taken to the Myreton Motor Museum at Aberlady and once again put on show for the benefit of visitors.

The museum was opened by Mr W. P. Dale in the summer of 1966. Since then, the collection has been expanded to become one of the largest displays of motor vehicles in Scotland.

It is pleasantly reassuring to walk round the museum as none of the exhibits are fenced off, as in many museums of this type. All that is asked is that you respect this trust and refrain from touching any of the cars or opening doors. If you must look under the bonnet, call the person on duty and he or she will open it for you.

I was determined to sit behind the wheel of a Model ‘T’ Ford van and special permission was granted after a bit of sweet-talk. The bodywork was in pristine condition and the story went that it was once owned by a baker in North Berwick until he crashed it in 1931. It was eventually rediscovered in the rear of an ironmonger’s shop in Dunbar, completely dismantled, even to the point of having every single rivet removed from the chassis.

It was loaded up into a wheelbarrow, taken away and completely rebuilt. The only parts not original, apart from the body, are the radiator, one wheel and one wing; the originals being lost after the 1931 crash.

Some people become so attached to their cars that they polish them, worship them and even give the vehicles pet names. Take the 1936 Bedford that was once owned by a dashing Scots Major, who purchased it as a chassis and had the shooting-brake body built on by a local garage man. The vehicle was used on his estate until 1973, could seat ten people very comfortably down to lunch and carry 30 boy scouts on their annual camping trip. In the latter capacity it has been over most of the roads in Scotland. It gave many years of reliable service and was affectionately known as Peggy.

However, some drivers tended to go over the top! A 1937 Wolseley was left to the museum by a Mr. W. Ward, who bought it new and used it until his death in 1972. Mr. Ward kept a very full record of every penny spent on it; oil, road tax, insurance, repairs, maintenance, even down to the cost of polishing rags and the taxi fare home the one time it let him down.

An analysis of this record reveals that it cost 6s 5d per mile to run, that’s 32p in today’s money. Petrol went from 1s 7d to 6s 11d per gallon, oil from 1 shilling and a halfpenny to 4s 5d per pint, insurance from £10 12s to £16 2s 6d, road tax £7 10s to £25. Over his total mileage of 127,971 miles, the car returned a figure of 28.52 miles to the gallon.

One of the next blasts from the past awaiting my enthusastic inspection was a Rolls of Rolls Royce fame. It has what is known as tandem seating: the passenger sits in the front on a crazy wickerwork chair, with the driver directly behind, steering with his right hand and somehow operating the gears, clutch and brake with his left. Maximum speed is around 18 m.p.h. and can be a rather frightening experience if you happen to be the passenger.

I declined the invitation to drive this beautiful machine, testifying that I damaged my hand; anyway, my eyes were wandering elsewhere. In the space of a few minutes, I was togged up by the curator and his assistant and helped behind the wheel of a 1902 Wolseley. This car was built in 1901 but not delivered to its first owner in Macclesfield until the 6th March 1902 and cost all of £225. Over the years, it has lost its original body, a replica being constructed from a catalogue illustration. It has taken part in the RAC London to Brighton rally on a number of occasions.

Not to let a chance like this slip through my fingers, I snapped on a pair of old fashioned goggles and huddled in the rain – the day had to be blighted with a teeny-weeny bit of bad luck. But one accepts these minor inconveniences as part of the joys of open air driving.

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