“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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