My First Car: How a 1948 Vauxhall Wyvern saloon called Samantha hooked up with King Harold
PUBLISHED: 08:06 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:06 04 July 2018
John Pollak tells of his motoring pleasure, and scrapes, in Samantha, a 1948 Vauxhall Wyvern, and how she helped King Harold on a college rag week stunt.
I left home in 1965, aged 18, to start a student apprenticeship course with English Electric at Stafford and decided to invest in a car.
With a mixture of pride and trepidation, I handed over £25 to a third-year apprentice for a 1948 Vauxhall Wyvern – a four-door saloon with four-cylinder engine, three-speed column change gearbox, valve radio, heater and leather seats – which I called ‘Samantha’.
The front doors were rear hinged so if anyone tried to get out while moving, even slowly, the wind caught the door and dragged them out.
A queue of apprentices offered their bus money for a lift to the works or college – I could cram four in the front bench seat and six in the back.
The money allowed me to always have a full tank of fuel to travel at the weekends with friends to night clubs, dance halls and parties.
With all the mileage, much time was spent servicing the car and visiting the local scrapyard for replacement parts – rear axle, rear springs, gearbox and clutch. I learned, with the help of a workshop manual, how to tackle the repairs –a valuable and steep learning curve.
In 1966 Samantha and I were dragooned to take part in the tech college Rag Week. Marking the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, where King Harold got an arrow in the eye, a group of us decided to push an effigy of Harold on a trolley 240 miles from Hastings to Stafford, collecting money. The Wyvern was ideal for carrying one of the four relay pushing teams, with its bench seats for sleeping and capacious boot for all the paraphernalia. Samantha was decked out in posters advertising the push and Rag Week events.
Samantha performed perfectly apart from a broken cable leaving the speedometer needle on zero. We had a stove and kettle with a whistle so attached the whistle on the bonnet. With a car travelling in front at 30mph, and my very musical ear, I determined the whistle’s pitch was roughly F sharp at 30mph, middle C at 25mph, B flat at 35mph, inaudible to my ear above 55mph. Now calibrated, it became my audible speedo for several months.
Samantha’s last hurrah was a reunion summer holiday in Devon with an old sixth-form friend and new college friend. On the way back, a very hot and dusty day, Chris donned motorcycle goggles, masked his face with his red speckled handkerchief, pulled his denim ‘Donovan’ hat over his goggles and put his head out of the window. Ray and I did the same - we looked like wild-west gangsters.
In Frome, a policeman holding up traffic hurled himself over the bonnet while letting rip a shrill blast on his whistle. Truncheon in hand, he shouted for us to get out and put our hands in the air.
A shopper blurted out “It’s Harry Roberts, run, they’ve got Harry Roberts!” - the name on everyone’s lips since the fatal shooting of three policemen at Shepherd’s Bush a few days earlier.
Forty minutes later, after an exceedingly embarrassing interrogation involving phone calls to our parents for proof of identity, we were unceremoniously sent on our way.
A few weeks later, back in Stafford, Samantha suffered a front end collision when I failed to notice the van ahead had slowed. The damage was enough to guarantee failing the next MOT.
The sale of parts plus scrap value totalled £20 so I lost £5 over 30,000 miles of motoring pleasure.
Tell people about your first set of wheels – email your memories with a picture to email@example.com or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.