My Life in Cars
Updated: Mar 17
By Dr Paul Walker
YouTube video: Helen Mirren | Interview & Lap | Top Gear
A Life in Churches swops songs for places of worship as a way of telling a life story. Swopping churches for cars occurred to The Hub watching celebrities like Helen Mirren tell Jeremy Clarkson stories of their first motors on The Top Gear sofa.
The Hub's father-out-law, regular Wellbeing contributor Dr Paul Walker, game to show a lighter side to his character, sent the car section of his memoirs. Published for the first time, on The Hub. He says: "I would not classify myself as a car freak but I have to admit cars have been a continuing interest from boyhood when my father purchased his first car in 1947."
Scroll on after the blog for a bonus playlist of music to drive cars to.
Hillman Minx: I and II
Picture: A 1936 promotional image for a Hillman Minx Saloon /
Easter 1947 Papa bought a1936 Hillman Minx FKO 603. I recall arriving home in Ramsgate on a sunny day in April from a holiday break in Nuneaton to find a black car in our garage at The Lanes, London Road. To a young boy of six to have a car at a time when they were a rarity and no other boy at school had one was exciting.
I spent many hours just sitting in the car, in the driving seat, pretending to drive it. It had red leather seats but then I think all cars in that era were similarly accoutred. Having acquired this treasure, in the next months we went for rides to neighbouring seaside resorts and inland to places like Wickhambreux. Papa would also sometimes take us to school in his car. It took us north to Whitley Bay and on to Papa's family in Darlington.
Papa ordered another Hillman Minx from the local Hillman dealer in Ramsgate in the early 50s. He had to wait five years for delivery such was life in post war austerity Britain.
This car was blue with lots of chromium plate and had a 10 horsepower engine like the 1936 model. To be fair, I do not remember much about this car. It functioned adequately, if not spectacularly and took us to and from Nuneaton on several occasions and on holidays to Aberdaron and Windermere in 1952, Ireland in 1953, and Torquay in 1954.
Picture: A 1952 Triumph Renown Mk. II TDC "a rare beast and quite handsome"
/ Credit: www.historics.co.uk
Our next car was much more interesting, a grey/fawn Triumph Renown. Quite a rare beast and quite handsome, and more stylish than its small sister the Triumph Mayflower. This Papa got secondhand. It has a particular significance for me because it took us on holiday to Germany in 1956. A good advert I thought for British motor engineering.
Following my 17th birthday, during the summer of 1958 I learned to drive on the Triumph. Papa took me out for an hour or so several evenings per week to teach me the rudiments. Thereafter, I would drive the family on outings to lakes Semer Water to practice my newly learnt skills.
The Germany holiday impressed me greatly that my father was willing to venture on such a long trip with no relief driver and with no previous experience of driving abroad. The car drew admiring looks too!
The car took us on my last holiday with the parents, our visit to Killarney in Ireland in August 1959 when I drove in the McGillicuddy Reeks.
Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire: I
Picture: The Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire on the road "an even more handsome car"
/ Credit: classicandsportscar.com
In 1959/60 Papa acquired an even more handsome car, the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. This he acquired secondhand, recommended I think by Bill Mayes, Ramsgate’s Transport Manager. Papa was very proud of the Armstrong. As I was, though now I was at university I had other things on my mind and I was only able to drive the car from time to time.
In fact, I do not think it was a good buy as Papa had to spend a lot of money to keep it operational. He soon exchanged it for the more humble, albeit this time a new, Hillman. I remember driving the Hillman in Birmingham in the summer of 1968 when I had just passed my test. We then visited the grandparents by train in Darlington for a week's holiday.
Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire: II
Picture: An Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire in the late 50s / Credit: www.coventrytelegraph.net
Now for the cars I owned and drove. The first was my own Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire acquired from Bob Logan Edwards in Birmingham for all of £50. Bob offered the car for sale when I worked for him at the Birmingham General Hospital from January to July 1968. I acquired the car one Saturday morning that September after our holiday in Darlington.
The car was quite old, probably the same vintage as the secondhand model bought by Papa in 1959/60. It had a faulty exhaust requiring a new silencer from the Armstrong Siddeley factory in Coventry and asking the downstairs dental student at 8 Augustus Road, Edgbaston to fit it. Then it was ready to drive. This I did but not very much.
In autumn 1968 I drive the family to Priors Marston on a Sunday morning to spend the day with Keith Young and his delightful, attractive wife. Another trip was to the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital at Oswestry with Antony Griew accompanying. The car also acted as the general transport for our move from Augustus Road to Belle Walk, Mosley in November 1968.
Thereafter, I do not think I used the car much at all. I certainly never had it serviced or MOT’d! It languished in the garage at 2E Belle Walk gradually deteriorating. It was in a fairly advanced state of dilapidation with a wonky front nearside door when I got it. Less than a year after I had purchased it the garage in Dudley I bought my next car from took it away for scrap.
Jaguar Mark II
Picture: A grey Jaguar Mark II a "peerless car" / Credit: pinterest.co.uk
My next car? Nothing less than a beautiful grey Jaguar Mark II with 3.4 litres under the bonnet. I decided to buy a new car in the summer of 1969 but lacked the funds. I went to Lloyds Bank at Ivy Bush, Edgbaston and arranged a loan. Armed with this I went to a garage in Dudley Port. The salesman could see I was green and smitten with the Jaguar - who wouldn't be? I found myself the proud owner of this peerless car driving home along the Wolverhampton Road experiencing some difficulty in changing gear!
The car was grey with red leather upholstery, a walnut fascia and overdrive operated by a button. It certainly went well when I first got it and one of its first long trips was taking the family on holiday to Darlington in August 1969 for a long weekend. The journey was eventful for a heavy downpour near Doncaster causing an accident involving cars driving too fast for the conditions.
Picture: The Mark II's origins, the Jaguar XK120 "What a wonderful car!"
/ Credit: bonhams.com
My parents, particularly my mother, did not approve of me having such a luxury car. After all Papa had never had a Jaguar, I was still not earning a lot and had three children to support. I took the parents for a ride and a drink to Romaldkirk, recalling a similar trip ten years earlier and seeing the Mark II’s progenitor, the XK120. What a wonderful car! I coasted on the hills back to Maryvale to conserve petrol as the car was heavy on fuel and I was hardly wealthy. Confirming for my parents I should not have bought it!
Later that same year I took the car on a long drive to East Anglia to see my wife Barbara's brother Michael and his wife Brenda at Tydd Gote near Wisbech. As it was a long weekend outing, my elder daughters Kate and Victoria must have been taken out of school on the Friday. I travelled through Wisbech for the first time and was impressed by the Brink. I traversed small lanes behind Wisbech to find Tydd Gote. Michael was impressed by the car which I was keen to show off to him and his brother Lawrence who joined us with his wife June and their baby Jacqueline on the Sunday.
Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R
Picture: The 1964 Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R fit for "a dowager duchess"
/ Credit: pinterest.com
I used £600 from a retrospective claim to the Birmingham Regional Health Board for subsistence for a Diploma in Social Medicine in Edinburgh to fund my next car. I spent a pleasant Saturday morning in the winter of 1971/72 looking at used cars in garages in our part of Birmingham.
On my way home I saw "the buy of the week" in a garage in Stratford Road, Moseley. A black 4 litre Vanden Plas. I had read about this unique car comprising an enlarged Austin Cambridge type body with coachwork lines and a super Rolls Royce engine designed for the military Austin Champ vehicle. The article suggested the car was interesting and value for money.
Delighted, I negotiated a price for my Jaguar and three days later returned home with the car. The Vanden Plas was a comfortable, upmarket car with leather seats, walnut fascia and an automatic gearbox. Barbara said she felt like a dowager duchess travelling in it.
I used the car occasionally for work at Arthur Thomson House, once taking several members of the Southern Area Team to a meeting in Hereford on a foggy, cold day and skidding on the way.
In the spring of 1972 I drove to view my new job in Wolverhampton and to and from the city when I started a Deputy Medical Officer of Health post in June. I drove to our holiday in the Lakes District at a Scandinavian style cottage near Ambleside. It was a joy to drive on a long holiday although I burnt out the disc brakes coming down the pass on the way back from Seascale. Requiring a disc brake change in a garage in Ambleside.
Back in Birmingham I crashed into an Allied Carpets Transit Van when it crossed a halt line at a crossroads in the Selly Oak area. I was bruised on the knee but otherwise unhurt. But the car required a lot of repair work. I was loaned a green Triumph Herald - an interesting car. After a week I got my car back with a brand new near side wing!
Picture: "A great motoring disaster" the Austin 1800 / Credit: retromotor.co.uk
Not surprisingly in due course I bought a new car, a white second hand Austin 1800, the ideal family car but my first down market steed!
I left the Vanden Plas parked at the back of the prefab offices of the Health Department which were vacated in March 1974 to new nearby premises. I forgot about it until May 1974 when I was now working as the DCP to North Staffordshire Health District in Stoke on Trent. A Round Table colleague asked me if he could have my old car which was being vandalised. I agreed in return for a bottle of whisky! I did not even like whisky but I was glad to be shot of the car.
The Austin 1800 was a strictly functional car but it lasted while I lived and worked in Stoke-on-Trent and most of the time in Wakefield. Its great virtue was it had room for the kids who were getting bigger by this time. We took it to Piddinghoe in Sussex on holiday in 1974, to Hawes in 1975 and to Tivetshall St Margarets in East Anglia.
It took us to Wakefield and commuted me from Wakefield to our new home in Alsager in Cheshire every weekend for six or seven weeks in the spring of 1976. In the end I had difficulty with second gear. I just could not get it, so had to change from first to third in a single move. This was not fatal but caused difficulties when going up hills. By the autumn of 1976 I started thinking about a change.
Picture: The Wolsley 6 "a luxurious Austin 1800 with a 2L engine"
/ Credit: www.wolsleyownersclub.com
At first I was keen to get a Rover 3 litre and was put onto a specialist garage by Dr Jean Hayes one of my consultant in public health colleagues. Without avail, so I opted for an army green Wolsley 6 from a garage in Wakefield. Essentially another Austin 1800 with more luxurious fittings and a two litre engine.
I had the car for nine years til the summer of 1985. I drove less than 10,000 miles in the Wolsley because I did not need it for work at North East Thames Regional Health Authority. Commuting instead from Epping by tube on the Central line to Bayswater. Our longest car trips were annual holidays to Bournemouth, Brighton, Torquay and regular trips to Duxford to see the aged parents.
Towards the end of its life I became worried about the Wolseley rusting a lot. So much so when we went on holiday to Bournemouth in 1984 I sent the girls ahead by train whilst Barbara and I drove and met the girls at the other end.
When I left the NE Thames RHA and went to work at Frenchay Health Authority I would drive to Woodford on a Monday morning to catch an early tube to Paddington and the train to Bristol. I never drove to Bristol preferring to hire a Mini the weekend I took Barbara there to look at houses.
I sold the Wolseley for £30 to a man who acquired old wrecks for stock car racing in a village near Epping.
Picture: The Volvo 264 "a comfortable automatic with a 2.6 litre engine"
/ Credit: pinterest.co.uk
I purchased my first Volvo, a bottle green 264 saloon obtained using an interest free loan from the health authority. I got the car from a garage in Bedminster specialising in ex-fleet Volvos and other quality cars.
The 264 was a comfortable automatic with a 2.6 litre engine. This car was my trusty companion during an eventful period as District General Manager of Frenchay Health Authority. I serviced it regularly at a garage on Frenchay Common. I used the Volvo to drive to and from Norwich in the early days after moving to work in Norwich from April 1989. I had a Crown car for official use when I was in Norwich for the week.
I had a side on crash with a car on the way into Bristol from the M4/M5 junction. I had driven back to Bristol from Norwich on a bright and sunny summer’s evening in 1989 and was tired after the long journey and a long work-filled week. Coming down the hill on a dual carriageway by the now roundabout into the Regional Shopping Centre I had a glancing blow against a car suddenly turn into the road from a pub.
The only obvious damage was to the nearside chrome trim, part of it had been bent from its rivets and was sticking out a bit. Disappointing but it could have been much worse.
Volvo 760 Turbo Intercooler
Picture: The Volvo 760 Turbo Intercooler had a "real kick from its Turbo charger"
/ Credit: www.pinterest.co.uk
Late summer of 1989 I upgraded to a more modern Volvo. I bought a nice black 760 Turbo Intercooler with red leather trim from the same dealer in Bedminster. It had a real kick from its Turbo charger. This car served me very well for the next four years driving to and from Bristol to Norwich. Except for a brief clanking brake problem. It was serviced regularly at a specialist Volvo garage on the Norwich Ring Road using cheaper surrogate parts. Called Rickarls and owned by Rick and Carl!
During my Norwich period I also had use of two Crown Cars, a red Austin Metro and a red Ford Fiesta. Both were nice little cars especially the Fiesta. I had to give up the Metro after an accident en route to Oxford. The Fiesta had an eventful history including a break-in in Norwich in December 1990, an attempted steal from my front drive in 1991 and a skid on an icy road in east Norwich later in 1991.
Driving the Fiesta, I had the disconcerting experience of the electrics cutting out at full speed from Cambridge to Norwich with a large lorry on my tail. It could have been nasty had I not been able to drive into a farm gateway as the engine cut out allowing the lorry to pass by harmlessly.
Ford Sierra Cosworth
Picture: A white Ford Sierra Cosworth "I was amazed at the response"
/ Credit: www.fastcar.co.uk
I still had the trusty black Volvo 760 when I retired in 1993 and started a year at the Medical College in Cardiff. However, inexplicably now, I had my mind set on something sporty and fast. I looked at a Toyota Supra in Norwich and got as far as having a test drive. I played with the idea of getting a Vauxhall Calibra but plumped for a Ford Sierra Cosworth from the Ford main dealer in Bristol.
A boy racer if ever there was one and not a patch on my Volvo which I surrendered in part exchange. It was white and very fast. To disguise its nature, I removed the spoiler and Cosworth badge. But knowledgeable boy and man racers knew its true identity from its stance, wheels and front wind spoiler.
The next day I drove Barbara to East Anglia to see old haunts and to have lunch with Barbara's brother Lawrence Bliss and his wife and June. I was amazed at the response the first time I put my foot down on the accelerator. Lawrence was suitably impressed. I did not know then that he was quite interested in cars, like his brother Michael. Some years later Lawrence bought got a VW Corrado, another boy racer car.
My Cosworth mileage was limited. Apart from regular trips to Cardiff, most journeys were around Bristol including going to and from Bishopsworth as a City councillor. The day after I was elected the lads from Sea Mills attempted to steal the car from my front drive but were disturbed and frightened off. On another occasion miscreants in Withywood tried bending back the nearside front door! But the car went down well with the youngsters in Bishopsworth and no doubt gained me a few votes come Polling Day.
Subaru Impreza Saloon
Picture: The Subaru Saloon "a pleasure to drive" / Credit: www.parkers.co.uk
After four years the Cosworth was becoming noisy and needed an expensive new exhaust manifold. On Don Smith’s recommendation I purchased a Subaru 2 litre turbo saloon minus its rear spoiler. Subaru was a UK newcomer, but it was a nice car with a similar power to the Cosworth while less ostentatious and with four wheel drive.
The car served me well for two years and was a pleasure to drive. Varmints from Hartcliffe broke into it when it was parked outside Hartcliffe Library. I was at a meeting of the Harticliffe Advisory Service, of which I was Honarary Treasurer. We were scheduled to travel to Bath for a meal with my old college pal Terry Marsh and his wife Cynthia. We had to travel by taxi. Autoglass mended the window the next day while I was at work at Bronllys.
Apart from the four wheel drive the Subaru's flat four engine was its unusual feature. Seemingly, a cylinder configuration favoured by the Porsche. Annoyingly, the sun roof leaked in heavy rain. The car took us on holiday to Aigrefeuille near La Rochelle and to Pontpierre near St Arvold in Lorraine.
Lexus 400: I and II
Picture: A Lexus 400 "a nice motor to own and drive" / Credit: carbids.com
In 2000 I went up market to a Lexus 400. I was no longer a City councillor and was working part time for Dyfed Powys Health Authority. My financial position was much improved and sufficient to allow me to upgrade considerably.
I bought the car from the main Lexus Dealer at Pioneer Park in Bristol. A grey model of which I was inordinately proud. A nice motor to own and drive. It took me effortlessly across the Bristol Channel to work in Bronllys and Carmarthen and took us on holiday to Bordeaux and Plougenoual without problems. It was serviced every 10,000 miles at the Lexus Dealers.
For some reason two years later I upgraded to a more modern Lexus 400. The new car had four forward gears rather than three and satellite navigation. But strangely I did not like it as much as the first Lexus 400. I was cajoled into buying by Simon the sales man and I should have resisted. There was nothing wrong with the car but somehow it was not as obviously a quality car as my first one. Then I got a bee in my bonnet about a 4x4 because everyone had one in rural Powys and Ceredigion where I worked.
Toyota Landcruiser 3
Picture: A maroon Toyota Landcruiser 3 "one could see over the hedges"
/ Credit: parker.co.uk
After two years with my second Lexus 400 I went back to the main Lexus/Toyota dealer in Pioneer Park and swapped it for a Landcruiser 3. A short wheelbase diesel built like a tank and maroon in colour. I thought of getting a RAV 4 but after a test drive there was no contest. I acquired the Toyota and became king of the road. A nice vehicle, so high off the ground one could see over hedges and almost talk to HGV drivers on the move. Some poke too! I learned to like diesels for their reliability and poke. But they were noisy especially when cold.
I would have stuck with Toyota had it not been for Barbara’s accident in April 2005. She could not climb up into the vehicle with her bad leg. She had found it quite difficult before her injury but impossible after it.
A new conundrum for me. To find a car with maximum room in the front passenger seat to allow Barbara to gain access and egress without too much difficulty. I thought the answer might be an MPV such as an Espace. But their large rear passenger space was bought at the price of much less room up front.
Mercedes Benz CL500 AMA 450 R
Picture: Mercedes Benz CL500 "a dream to drive with power aplenty"
/ Credit: carsandbids.com
I fixed on the Mercedes Benz CL series, the Coupe version of the big MB S series. Lexus do not do a Coupe version of their 400 or 300 series and BMW coupes did not appeal. I found a beige CL500 AMA 450 R in Cirencester and part exchanged with the Toyota for no money transfer on the day of the infamous London bombings – 7th July 2005.
I enjoyed having the Merc. Barbara could get in and out of the front seat without too much difficulty. It was a dream to drive with power aplenty when needed. Sadly it was a bit shabby when I acquired it – split seams in the leather front seat, a few rusty areas and some of the electric gizmos did not work. By the time I sold it in May 2009 it was a good deal shabbier because I had not spent much time in cleaning it. The service at the local garage was becoming noticeably more expensive.
The last service in May 2008 cost about £1500! Albeit including two new tyres. Another gripe was I could not use it to listen to the French language Europe 1 radio station on 182 metres LW. As I had with the Toyota. My French vocabulary and pronunciation declined during the four years I owned the car. My Cousin Joe advised me to go to a car radio specialist but I did not follow his advice.
On balance the Mercedes was a nice luxury car, the most up market car I will ever own. Good to drive but heavy on the petrol.
Chrysler Grand Voyager
Picture: A Chrysler Grand Voyager / Credit: www.autoevolution.com
I exchanged the Merc for a Chrysler Grand Voyager on 14th May 2009. A year or two before my retirement in September 2005 I had decided to purchase a Bentley 8 – the poor man’s Bentley. I found a Bentley garage in Cheltenham and I talked to Bentley owner Alan Axford at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth. But I decided the Bentley would not suit Barbara's needs and of course there is no coupe version of the car. So my ambition to drive a Bentley before I die has yet to materialise.
Picture: Unrequited Love - The Bentley 8 "the poor man's Bentley"
/ Credit: www.pinterest.co.uk
And what about the cars that I would have liked to have had apart from the Bentley? Very few actually. The large version of the Austin 1800 with the 3 litre engine, we had one at the Birmingham Regional Health Board. Not considered very reliable, so probably good I didn’t have one. A Mazda R9 with the Wankel rotary engine. The Toyota Supra, of course, which I test drove in Norwich. The Vauxhall Carlton Lotus. The Volkswagen Phaeton, the VW Passat W8.
Music To Drive To
YouTube video: Bullitt (1968) - San Francisco Car Chase Scene
A playlist for this car journey of a lifetime? The Hub has compiled an across the decades playlist of music to drive to. Starting with The Top Gear theme tune and taking in some 60s greats.
Music from movies with two of the great car chases in film history is included from Bullitt starring Steve McQueen and The French Connection starring Gene Hackman. Look closely in Bullitt and the bottle green VW Beetle appears more often than expected. Stunt driver Bill Hickman performed in both movies, piloting the black Dodge Charger that duels with Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
YouTube video: Gene Autry - Easter Parade
(Gene Autry's Melody Ranch Radio Show, April 1947)
Other tracks echo notes from Dr Walker's car stories. Such as bonus song, Gene Autry's version of Easter Parade from 1947 in the video above, not included in the playlist. And finally... a stirring finale from the movie Gladiator, a favourite playlist of Dr Walker's long drives from Bristol to rural mid-Wales. You can listen to the playlist by clicking on the link below.