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Log of the Maken

by

David Nicolson

A tiny car hurtles down the Dover Road. As it roars past policemen, they instinctively reach to their tunic pockets for notebook and pencil, muttering: “…causing a noise in excess of the legally permitted…not fitted with adequate silencing device…clear case of misuse of …"

Long before they have read the car's number, it has gone - a half-ton of humanity and machinery zooming outrageously through town after town, the rackety engine making too much noise for conversation between driver and passenger. They are two of a kind, young men swathed in multiple layers of clothing; the September air is cold, and the open car lacks weather protection.

An oncoming bus is about to pass a limousine, but the wee black mass of noise is aimed through the narrow space by the driver. He takes time off to shout: "That's the best of Pembleton* three-wheelers. So narrow you can plunge through small gaps". “Yes" comes the bellowed reply: "and as they're triangle-shaped, you know that once the front wheels are through safe, even with a closing gap." Which is almost true.

At Folkestone the driver eases his foot up a millimetre and the speedometer creeps back from the maximum, just a fraction. The uproar warns pedestrians well in advance; they leap for safety on to the pavement. Policemen continue to try and get the elusive noisebox's number. However, the owner has thought of their evil intentions and, when he last washed the car, he left a thick layer of mud on the number plate. This makes it hard to read in all but the best light.

All this haste is justified. The relentless speed caused trouble a few miles outside Folkestone. Burning was smelt and the car was stopped. The bonnet was lifted to reveal the engine gleaming, steaming, very hot and dripping oil, but not actually on fire. Further examination of the rest of the car showed that the floorboards were steadily smouldering under the carpet. This was put out with water from a nearby garage, and the radiator filled up. Then the drive went on, flat-out, a 1934 car driven to the limit and taking it well in spite of its age; for this was in 1953.

Later, two more stops were necessary to repair ignition failures. The tools in this car are bright with constant use, but the results are above average. Mile after mile is thrust behind, as are many bigger cars. At last the passenger is dropped at Folkestone. Then on up that long, winding hill along the Dover Road, the car cornering dead-upright like the race-bred machine she is, even if the single back wheel does skid all over the country, even if it takes sheer muscle-power to turn the steering wheel. This is the essence of an enthusiast's car, uncomfortable, a trifle noisy, battered but very brave and so willing. The driver huddles in his monstrous black leather motoring coat, jammed in the tiny driving seat, enjoying every minute of the journey.

Up to now the driver has been holding the car at its maximum of sixty whenever possible, but without the weight of the passenger and his luggage speed is better. On a straight stretch of road the speedo creeps up and round till it points to "Smiths, Made in England". With a blissful smile the driver thinks: "Wonderful. Right off the clock!" Then he notices sheep wandering across the unfenced road. For sickening seconds the car hurls onwards, all brakes making no apparent difference to its progress. The driver makes an effort to change direction. The back swings in skater's arcs all over the road, one way, the other, back the first way. The driver thinks it's going to be mutton for dinner. For breakfast, lunch, tea and supper, too, if he hits that big ram. The sheep take a horrified look at the oncoming menace, slithering all ways, and decide that the butcher is kinder. They scatter and, by a series of rapid-fire miracles, the car misses all of them. Down into Dover it goes, the long winding hills taken at wild speed; then on more sedately through the town towards the docks. Bumping over the railway lines the little black monster putters and crackles, twin exhausts still rend-ing the air, till the inner harbour is reached. The driver hardly looks where he is going now. With bright-eyed eagerness he's scanning every yacht …

• With apologies to my father, it may have been a certain ‘other’ marque! Extract from “Log of the Maken" by Ian Nicolson with permission.

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