It was a clear and crisp October afternoon and my Standard 8 Henry had been with me in Scotland for almost 3 weeks since I’d made his purchase. For the majority of this time, Henry had hidden in our garage opposite our home. Meanwhile, our faithful Fiat Cinquecento - friend of many years - had sat outside in the street car park – temporarily ousted to make room for the Standard 8 which had just been brought home from the southern outskirts of Birmingham.
Many curious relatives had poked their heads around the creaking garage door to see if our tale of a recent 400-mile adventure in a 1957 classic was true and to their delight they found an apple-green vehicle reminiscent of their own young adult lives looking back at them. My parents had visited and had been taken along the back-roads that lead out from Glenrothes towards Fife Airport. Lying on the edge of town, the nearby airport seemed a suitable venue to aim for in a bid to give them an idea of what their daughter had been hoping for when only weeks ago, she’d announced plans to empty out her savings in a bid to make one of several long term dreams come true.
As my dad had climbed out of the backseat, he looked surprisingly proud of my choice in car. Curious, I quizzed him on his thoughts to which he replied:
“I learned to drive in a Vanguard. It belonged to your granddad. Funny you should choose a Standard car too.”
I’d had no idea. A few days after being told this and having managed to secure a garage of my own from the local council, I now stood outside my rental lock-up and looked in at Henry who was parked inside. I thought hard but no memory of my granddad would come. This didn’t come as a surprise for I’d never been able to recall what he looked like or the somewhat gruff nature that my dad remembers. I met and was held by my granddad only once, just a few days after I was born. We lost him to cancer shortly after. It was an intriguing thought to think that so many years later another Standard was in the family and with that I decided Henry had to come out of hiding that day and get out into the fresh air before the winter weather moved in. The crisp nature of the afternoon suggested it wouldn’t be long before the frosts arrived.
In the three weeks Henry had been with me I had found myself having to patiently wait. In addition to the reasonable sum of £1200 with which I’d bought Henry, I had also paid a further £150 for suitable car insurance through the AA. Suitable in that it had served to cover Henry’s journey from Alvechurch (the town in which I’d made my purchase) and my fully licensed partner Chris, but completely unsuitable in that it lacked my own name.
The insurance companies had stipulated a minimum age of 25 years for taking out classic insurance. Being 24 when I had travelled down and bought Henry, I found myself unable to get cover as a driver of the car. To avoid any confusion I should also mention that I was only on a provisional license at the time but this had not appeared to concern the insurers, it was only a matter of being the right age.
Three weeks after Henry’s successful arrival in Scotland, I still found myself unable to be covered by the insurance I’d bought for my own car. Given this, Chris had done our initial test drive when we’d viewed Henry in Alvechurch as well as the many miles back home. It was easy to feel that the momentum and excitement of buying my first car had been forced to an abrupt end having found out that I’d have to wait over a month before being able to drive my Standard for the very first time as a 25 year old.
At the garage door I sighed but realizing it was the end of October that afternoon, I remembered my 25th birthday was just under a fortnight away. Perhaps I could remain optimistic until then. In the meantime, if we were to make the most of the cool October sunshine, I’d have to ask Chris to take Henry & I out.
Chris agreed and suggested a short trip up into North Fife. Having already ventured south the previous week to North Queensferry to get a photograph of Henry for the Standard club (see previous feature – Coolest Car on Campus), heading north seemed like a good idea and so after fixing a picnic and flask, we headed out.
Kilmany is a small fermtoun located alongside the A92, 3 miles north of Cupar. In March 1936, this humble farming community became the birthplace of legendary F1 driver Jim Clark. Formula 1 champion of both 1963 & 1965, Clark is frequently perceived to have delivered some of the smoothest driving seen within his generation of professional racing drivers. Closer to home, Clark won the 1964 British Touring Car Championship in his Lotus Cortina. His winning drive in a ex-Bruce Halford Lister Jaguar on 11th July 1959 at Falkirk’s Bo’ness Hill Climb, located a mere 48 miles south of Kilmany, was believed to be the drive that inspired Colin Chapman to offer Clark his initial Formula 1 contract. Whilst participating in a Formula 2 race meeting, it is suspected that a rear tire deflation caused Clark’s fatal Hockenheim accident on 7th April 1968. Clark continues to be remembered at The Jim Clark Room in the border town of Duns and is honoured within Kilmany by a memorial sculpture.
Having enjoyed a challenge along the twists of an unnamed country road between Foodieash and Kilmany, it was Clark’s memorial sculpture that we found ourselves pulling up alongside with Henry. The leaves lying on the nearby grass appeared burnished in shades of amber and bronze as autumn appeared to surround us as we drank tea from our flask inside our 1957 Standard.
As we had entered Kilmany, we’d driven in under a chunky old railway bridge. Curious to see if the now unused line still remained, we left Henry with Jim and walked back along the road towards the bridge. Cutting through prickly hedges, we found ourselves on a flat grassy walkway, likely the remnants of one of Fife’s many railway lines lost in the sixties. We followed this stretch for a mile or so, catching glimpses here and there of the fields bordering Kilmany. Passing by a broken wooden stile, we came out onto a dead end. The walkway just simply stopped. In front of us, tall grasses stood in shades of chestnut, green and amber as the moon rose amongst hazy pink clouds. It was only about 4 in the afternoon but the sun was slipping from the sky. Soon it would be dark. A blackbird called out as we turned round.
We returned to Henry just as the chill of a winter’s night settled upon the street. Henry lit up the scattering of cottages with his headlights as we slowly made our way along the narrow Kilmany streets. Jim, ever watchful, saw us disappear into the dark and off home.
The below feature was written and published by the Standard Motor Club upon my return to Scotland with Henry. Having joined the Standard Motor Club and then having excitedly announced my ownership of a Standard 8, I was asked to send in a photograph of me with my newly-purchased car. This photograph led onto the club asking me to write an article or two on life with Henry, likely thanks to curiosity as to why a 24-year old had purchased a car from 1957. The resulting article became another article, became an online column, became featured in a national newspaper, became the beginning of my motoring journalism career. This is where Henry & I all started ...
Standard 8 finds a new enthusiastic owner - the coolest car on campus, by some margin! By Phil Homer, Vice Chairman, Standard Motor Club (October 2009).
When it comes to discerning owners, Gillian Carmoodie is up amongst the best!
This student from St. Andrews University went about things in exactly the right way, and is a model for how a classic car should be bought.
First, she joined the Standard Motor Club. The she joined our internet forum and already having decided she wanted a Standard 8 or 10, asked for advice on how to get a good car. The advice was immediate, volumous and helpful so she soon knew how to buy the best car for her budget.
So, in a short while she made a trip to Birmingham, where she met Henry, the pretty apple-green Standard 8 photographed above. Together they made the long journey back to Scotland.
In her words: "I'm delighted to tell you that our weekend was a success and that I'm now the proud owner of a Standard 8. I adore my new car & am astonished that a car from 1957 was able to transport both myself and my partner a distance of approx. 400 miles between Birmingham and our home in Scotland without so much of a complaint or problem. I'm very happy."
A little later: "One week into Standard 8 ownership & I'm still smiling! Today my partner Chris & I drove Henry along Fife's coast, heading towards the beautiful North Queensferry. After your request for a picture of Henry & I, I decided that one of the nicest places around where we live would be under the grand old Forth Railway Bridge. The Forth Railway Bridge is somewhat vintage (currently 119 years old) and a superb engineering feat. So too is my Henry so I thought they would look good together & I hope you agree.
Most people I've told about Henry don't know what he is but people are very curious and encouraging. I've found I can't leave Henry for any time at all before people stand around him and ask me what he is. On our way up to Scotland last weekend, many bikers gave us the thumbs up as they passed us. I'm told approval from motorcyclists is a very cool thing indeed. I'm absolutely delighted with Henry and plan to look after him as best as I can. He is in need of a little cosmetic work on his paintwork and interior but mechanically he is absolutely sound."
Well done you, what a great story and a superb photo! You now have the SMC award for the coolest car on campus! I hope Top Gear see it that way! Gillian has agreed to send me updates to her story as her ownership progresses. I have asked for the low points as well as these highs. Come back and see how they are getting on together.
“Henry – your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to safely deliver your new owner across a distance of some 400 miles to remote Scotland. This mission may, at times, seem perilously loaded with impatient motorists who have forgotten the Standard name & the pride with which we blessed each and every one of our vehicles as they left us at Coventry but remember, there is little that your 1957 wheels will not have seen before. We have every faith in you – good luck 995 UXP.”
It was a damp morning as I pushed back the curtains of our upper-floor Travelodge window. Bleary-eyed, I looked down into the car park with the feeling that no car could surely be waiting for me out in the drizzle. Had I really bought a Standard 8 yesterday? The haze of sleep was content to convince me that I’d been dreaming but to my delight I spotted the apple-green of my new friend out in the car park and I couldn’t have been happier.
In the evening light of the day before, I’d bought a Standard 8 called Henry in the small village of Alvechurch. From the southern outskirts of Birmingham and in the dark, Henry had brought two very content but weary passengers up the motorway to Darwen services, north of Manchester, where we’d rested for the night.
I’ve never been known for my eagerness for the mornings but today, with a Standard 8 waiting in the car park outside, I was soon ready for adventure in unparalleled measure.
After picking up a few supplies for our journey, Chris & I set out. Henry had a good number of miles ahead. We were keen to get out on the road early but we were also feeling slightly anxious for the previous night’s journey had not been without its dramas in the dark.
Following Henry’s purchase, we had decided to eat in a small Alvechurch inn. This had given us a much needed chance to re-fuel and to reflect on my new found car ownership. For quite some time, our contentedness kept us at our restaurant table as we discussed the day in detail and gazed out to the little 1957 Standard 8 illuminated under a canopy of orange lamplight.
It was a great feeling to leave the restaurant and cross the car park to climb into a classic. However as we’d went to leave, we’d noticed the headlamps were failing when dipped. We tried to fix the problem but our repairs only worked as far as getting one light on full beam to work and as the last of the evening light slipped away, the problem began to upset other drivers as the sole working headlamp shone alone and too brightly. Understandably, other drivers became somewhat irritated when we passed by or sat behind them for too long and so getting up the initial stretch of motorway became a matter of regular service station stops to try to coax the dipped headlamps into working and trying to keep a reasonable distance away from the other traffic.
But the headlamp hadn’t been our only concern – large trucks had proved somewhat unsettling too. Our first stretch of motorway had a reasonable incline to it and this had noticeably limited Henry’s speed, keeping him firmly tucked into the left-hand lane. Most trucks are speed-limited but more often than not, their limit was more than what Henry was managing that night. Unfortunately their limit did not seem sufficient enough for them to pass until either the road flattened out or went downhill. Perhaps being unaware of our classic’s limited capabilities upon the slope, the larger lorries often got unsettlingly close behind. A couple of times that night, several trucks went to pass us as a group and when this had happened we couldn’t help but feel quite small and vulnerable as we'd made our way through the darkness.
Leaving Darwen and joining the early morning traffic, the M6 didn’t appear too daunting. Henry sounded as clear and healthy as he'd done the night before and soon enough we began to relax whilst travelling with him.
We were most likely the slowest travelers on the M6 that morning but our initial awareness of how often we were being passed was soon replaced with an amusing awareness of how much curiosity we seemed to be stirring amongst our fellow M6 travellers. Many cars gave us a cheerful toot of the horn and a wave of hello. It seemed most folks were really pleased to see a classic car out on the road.
The reactions from others kept Chris & I in busy conversation. We both knew that Henry was a fairly unusual car to see but this didn’t stop us from feeling quite surprised at the amount of friendly response coming our way.
By the time we spotted signs for the junctions at Blackpool, we’d settled into making our journey and Chris began telling me about a visit to Blackpool Zoo he’d made as a kid. Whether it was the story about the zoo or a misleading sign, Chris accidentally took the turn for Blackpool and we found ourselves off the motorway. As with most sliproads, it didn’t take long for our route to become cluttered with roundabouts and sideroads and so I consulted an AA map bought the night before to help us find our way back to the M6.
“It doesn’t look like we can get back on the motorway from here – I think the next place we can get back onto the M6 is up at junction 33. It’s a bit away …”
I counted up the inches and worked out the distance from the scale on the map.
“Yes, you mainly just have to follow this road straight north. There’s a junction near a place called Catterall but mainly we’ll just be running alongside the M6 for a bit before we can join … in around … mmm … 16 miles or so.”
Chris looked at me with a frown that spoke of disbelief. I casually shrugged my shoulders – there was nothing to do but to simply follow Lancashire’s twists and turns until the M6 reappeared. I thought it would actually be rather nice to get a bit of scenery away from the motorway and I was right. We drove amongst a patchwork of green and yellow agriculture and through a couple of small villages, a few of the locals giving us a wave as we went by. As I directed Chris past the junction at Catterall, I noticed the frown had disappeared and he now seemed to be quite enjoying himself.
“Actually, this is great. I thought Henry was relatively interesting to drive on the motorway but this is better. He kinda rolls through the corners in a nice way and he feels really good” said Chris.
“Yep, it’s turning out to be a nice day and we’re driving through some English countryside in a classic car – I’d say that’s pretty good too” I replied.
We re-joined the motorway and made plans to stop at Tebay services, a regular haunt of ours. Back in 2007, Chris had bought himself a rally-prepared Daihatsu Cuore in Northampton and on our way back we had discovered the delight that Tebay services are. You can enjoy a cup of tea whilst watching the ducks swim by on the pond just outside the café windows.
Having emptied out my finances completely with Henry’s purchase, we decided we couldn’t afford service station eating and so we sat outside in Henry with a picnic and flask of tea instead.
We didn’t remain unnoticed for long as we enjoyed our picnic. An older couple, enjoying a picnic of their own, seemed to keep looking over in our direction. A quick glance, a bit of discussion, another quick glance, a piece of cake, yet more discussion. They seemed to be debating what kind of car we had. Meanwhile we consulted our map once again, planning crossing the border into Scotland and where else we might stop for fuel and further tea.
A soft tap came on the driver’s window. It was the older gentleman from across the car park. Chris rolled down the window.
“This is a Standard that you’ve got here?”
I couldn’t really see the man who was asking. He was too close to the car.
“Yes, a Standard 8 – from 1957. We just bought him yesterday, down near Birmingham.” I replied to the voice outside.
The voice became a face as the gentleman bent down to look in the window across at me. His eyes scanned the dashboard and he appeared satisfied with what he saw.
“I just had to come over and ask … to be sure. I used to work for the Standard Motor Company … many years ago. It’s nice to see one out on the road. My wife & I haven’t seen one for quite a long while. Where are you headed?”
“We’re headed for Scotland. We live just above Edinburgh, by about 60 miles” said Chris.
“That’s a long journey”
“Yes, we’ve come all the way up from Alvechurch. Gillian has wanted to buy one of these for a few years so when we heard of this 8 for sale within budget we went for it. We haven’t really had any problems other than a faulty headlamp. I think we’ll need to look at the wiring to the bulb when we get back.”
The gentleman nodded. “We live in Wales which is quite far off from here but we like being out on the road so it’s quite normal for us to be this far off from home. Your Standard looks to be in fine condition. I do hope you look after it. I think we built them well back then. This one seems to be doing well.”
By now, the gentleman’s wife had joined us and she began taking some pictures of Henry.
“You must come and stay with us if you’re ever down in Wales” she said.
“Yes, we could put you up and the Standard could sit out on our drive” the gentleman added.
“As long as I could take some pictures of the Standard of course!” she said, handing us a card with their contact details on it.
“Keep in touch and have a safe journey back” and with that they headed off, waving from their car as they went.
Chris & I were pleased to have spoken to them. The mix of toots and waves on the motorway and now an offer of accommodation made us realise that we had a car with us that was generating an impressive amount of nostalgia and kindly affection. At our next stop in Abington, not far beyond the Scottish border, this again proved to be true as another older gentleman came over to Henry, making enquiries and taking a better look.
“I used to have one of these” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he looked Henry’s bodywork over. He looked over the interior from my passenger window.
“Just as I remember …” he said nodding.
“You have beautiful eyes you know” he said to me and with that Henry’s charms were now more than obvious. I smiled, wished him well and we headed off again.
As we continued up into Scotland, the scenery was changing noticeably. To me, as you travel north along the M6 (becoming the A74 beyond Gretna Green) it appears to be quite obvious that you’re entering Scotland. At this point, the familiar rugged hillsides of Scotland come into view and this gives a different character even to the generally plain motorway stretches.
In the rear-view mirror, we could see that a large group of motorcycles would soon be catching up with us. The bikes were very varied. Some were classic, others were new and all were loud. Many of the bikers looked over at us and gave us the thumbs up as they passed. I’m told this is something to be proud of as there aren’t many cars that get such warm approval from bikers.
We continued to stick with the A74 towards Glasgow, passing Kirkmuirhill, Larkhall & Hamilton on route before then selecting the A80 for Kincardine. As we did so, the ignition light came on. All seemed to be fine with Henry but the light remained stubbornly on. As we entered Glasgow, the motorway narrowed and we found ourselves in a single lane queue as we passed the roadside maintenance. Henry had to start and stop regularly as we were held up in the queue and our concern over the red light by IGN on the dash grew. With this and no hard shoulder to pull over onto, I got out of the passenger side and climbed into the back, reaching behind me to get the handbook out from the boot. The handbook detailed a few possible causes but we needed an opportunity to stop out-with the single lane traffic. After several concerning miles, we were finally able to pull in at a garage at Kincardine Bridge. Chris found a loose HT lead and re-attached it. With that, the IGN light went off and we set off gingerly on the home stretch.
Weariness had crept in during the hold-ups at Glasgow and we accidentally took a turn which sent us off on the long way home via Clackmannshire. Henry wound his way along the A91 via Alva, Tillicoultry and Dollar before finally entering Fife via Kinross. It was dark again by the time we pulled up in our street. Pleased to have made it back, complete with a classic, we snuck Henry into our garage and admired him from the doorway. It was easy to believe he wasn’t really there when we put the light out.
Henry had made it to his new home in Scotland. I felt very proud that he’d had so few problems given the distance we’d asked him to travel. Not only had it been a special experience to be in a car from 1957, it had also been fantastic to see the affection that people hold for classic cars. As we locked the garage, I thought of all the people who had tooted on the motorway, the locals who had waved to us as we’d passed through the Lancashire villages, the thumbs up from the motorcycle club and I smiled. Henry’s journey may not have been one of Bond-mission proportions but he had at least travelled to Scotland with love.
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Amongst a huddle of vintage rusted vehicles, in the sleepy village of Alvechurch, Henry & I found one another. I could feel my excitement as I greeted him with a curious gaze. Could he really become my very first car?
Having just arrived from a similarly quiet Markinch, I was aware that the day’s rail trip from Scotland had been a long journey to now find fault in the Standard I’d come to view.
In some ways, my journey into Standard motoring had already been going on for some time - certainly beyond the train hours to Alvechurch. Around two years prior, I had my first encounter with a Standard car upon the forecourt of a car-sales garage in Dunfermline, Fife. My partner Chris & I had been driving past the town’s Pittencrieff Park when I'd spotted an unusual looking car that I’d never seen before. It was an immaculate cream 1950’s classic complete with leather seats, original handbook and what looked like a silver, dashboard-mounted fire extinguisher. I thought it was delightful in every way. After curiously peering through the windows for quite some time, I reluctantly had to leave this pretty little car upon the forecourt, not knowing what kind of car it was but knowing that I liked it very much and that I hoped to find out more.
Now I listened to the intriguing wail given out by our electric Birmingham to Alvechurch train as it pulled out from each new station on route to meet Henry. As I listened, I attempted to absorb some last minute ‘car-buying tips’ from partner Chris. After all, I hadn’t bought or even viewed a car for sale before. However, I was keen to make sure that if I did make what seemed like yet another significant step into my young adulthood, I was at least going to do it partially correct.
Henry is a 1957, apple-green Standard 8 and he was being sold by Wendy, who had driven Henry for some time now but her heart had begun to yearn after an Austin A35 in place of her Standard. Two years after having seen the mystery car in Dunfermline, which had since been identified by a motoring friend as a Standard 10, and me having been intrigued ever since, I arrived at Wendy’s in the hope I could buy my very first car, and a similar Standard at that.
Henry did not disappoint and for this I was most relieved. I didn’t know any other 24 year old and fairly strapped-for-cash student, who had embarked on a 400-mile rail trip to view a car more than twice their age. Come to think about it, when viewing Henry, I didn’t know anyone who owned a classic. In the few weeks before my journey to Alvechurch, I’d got to know a couple of forum members on the Standard Motor Club website - their comments proving both helpful and encouraging - but otherwise I was a beginner in the classic car world.
As we’d made our way to Alvechurch, I couldn’t help but wonder what a potential mess I could be getting myself into if Henry turned out to be a rusted wreck at the other end of the railway line. As the train rattled through the Scottish and then the English countryside, I found myself hoping more and more that all would be well & that Henry was the car I’d been so keenly looking for.
I needn’t have worried. Henry was in wonderful condition. The material that lined the roof had seen better and somewhat brighter days but other than that, stepping inside was just like stepping straight into the 1950’s. On the exterior, Henry had a couple of scrapes to his paintwork but overall he looked good. Upon firing up his 803cc engine, Henry seemed to be mechanically sound and ready to go. With that Chris, Wendy and her partner, and me bundled ourselves into the waiting Standard 8 and off we all went for a test drive.
I didn’t drive Henry that day. Instead, I asked Chris to do all the test-driving. When viewing Henry, not only was I buying what might be considered an unconventional car for someone of my age, I might have been said to be doing things the wrong way round. I had applied for a provisional and I knew that it was on its way to me, but upon viewing Henry, the license had not yet arrived. Keen as I was to try Henry before I splurged my carefully saved cash, I found myself unable to do so. Instead I based my decision upon my impressions from the passenger seat and within minutes, I just knew that I loved Standard motoring!
Our test drive around Alvechurch was only brief so a full review of Henry was not possible at that point. However, I was satisfied that he drove soundly and reliably. Henry's engine had started up well and sounded clear and healthy. Meanwhile, years of watching car buying shows (yet never having the car to buy!) had taught me that when the moment finally came to make my own purchase, I ought to ensure that I press as many buttons as possible and check that all the little things work too. The presenters who had instructed me in car buying for so long would have been proud as the headlights, window wipers, horn and in-car heater were all tried out, one after the other. As with all else, all was well and so came time for a decision.
I looked at Henry and I knew I just had to go with my instinct for when I’ve looked back in retrospect, I’ve often found my best decisions were those taken on gut feeling. Perhaps buying a 1957 car wouldn’t be much of a parent-thrilling decision – parents who would likely hope daughter’s car would have seatbelts & airbags. Perhaps it might be too ridiculous a prospect for the insurance companies to cover me whilst I was simultaneously being a 24 year old student, a learner driver & a classic car owner.
Perhaps ... perhaps it was just right. I realised that Henry had a bit of history behind him and I knew that I wouldn’t be the first to shake hands over his bonnet as I told Wendy I’d be delighted to buy him. With that began a classic’s trip to Scotland. All I could hope for was that I would make a welcome new addition to this 1957 Standard 8’s story.
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