by Paul Sweeney
This series of articles is centred around the many and varied cars my father owned as I grew up in England.
The first instalment concerned the redoubtable Standard Vanguard and ended when Dad reluctantly sold it in order to change to a smaller, lighter car more suitable for my mother to drive. Enter the Triumph Herald.
Triumph Herald (1959 - 1971)
Light and shade; chalk and cheese. The Herald couldn't have been more different from the Vanguard. Where the Vanguard was heavy, American-influenced, lumbering and relatively large, the Herald was sporty, light, Italian-designed and stylish. Exciting, even.
The Herald proudly laid claim to having the smallest turning circle of any production car in the world at the time. More importantly, heaters were a standard fitting! Luxury indeed.
I don't recall the reason, but Dad was in a major hurry to replace the Vanguard. He couldn't find a car soon enough. Being long before the advent of the internet, the only ways to find used cars for sale were a) at car dealerships or b) classified ads in the local Paper, the Bristol Evening Post.
Dad found an ad for a Herald, made a phone call and having been given the address, he and I journeyed to an unremarkable street somewhere in Bristol one dark evening. It was raining and when we arrived, the car was parked outside the owners house in the street. We could hardly see it in the darkness until the guy moved the Herald beneath one feeble street light that cast a ghostly orange sodium glow on the car. It was pure white and before I knew it, Dad had agreed to buy.
I was surprised but excited and we soon had the car home in Patchway. The very next day I took the photograph above showing Dad sitting at the wheel outside our house in Standish Avenue. As far as I know, it's the only photograph of that car in existence.
The Herald was a 2 door saloon and considerably smaller than the preceding Vanguard. It was too small for a family of five in my opinion, but Dad's top priority was - as ever - to do the best he could for Mum. This car certainly was lighter, easier to control and had far better all-round visibility than the Vanguard (which Mum recently told me she used to call, 'The Elephant' due to its size, colour and shape).
I'm not at all sure how long Dad owned the Herald for, but my next memory of it concerns the day he packed the whole family into it and drove into Bristol. The plan was to drop the car off for its annual safety check, known in the UK as the dreaded MOT Test (NZers would call it a WOF).
We dropped the car off at Williams Automobiles and went off somewhere while the test was done. On our return, the owner of the garage welcomed us and asked us into a little waiting room where we sat nervously awaiting the news. 'I hope you have enough money for the bus fare home' he began, 'because in all conscience, I cannot allow you to go anywhere in that car. It's a death trap."
He went on to explain that the chassis was so full of rust that he expected the floor to drop out onto the road at any minute and was insistent that it was too dangerous to even drive the few miles back home. I don't remember how we did get home, but I know it wasn't in the Herald, which was rapidly despatched to the breaker's yard.
Poor Dad never really forgave himself for buying that car. In those days, the old adage 'caveat emptor' definitely applied to buying used cars. Today's used cars are relatively safe to buy, but back in the 1960s it was a jungle out there and there was every chance of throwing your money away on something totally worthless. Dad knew very well that it was definitely not a smart move to buy a car in the dark and beat himself up about it many times over the years that followed. I don't believe any of the family gave him a hard time about it, but he was always his own harshest critic.
As luck would have it and possibly a little suspiciously, Williams Automobiles just happened to have a used car for sale that had recently arrived and was about to have a newly reconditioned engine fitted.
And so, that was soon to became Dad's next car - but more of that in Part 3.