Just because you grow up in certain locations with certain limitations doesn't mean you can't express yourself. Despite a lack of funds, Gillian managed to use her 1957 Standard Eight to graduate from university
I grew up on a council estate. My parents earned a modest income and, therefore, my position on society’s ladder appeared to be determined before I was born. Travelling in various cars owned by my father during his working life, all of which carried manufacturer badges most people scoffed at, I picked up on a truth at a very young age – a car could open up new horizons regardless of marque snobbery.
My firm belief is that ownership of a car, no matter how it is perceived in society or how limited your personal circumstances are, can greatly enhance your life. If you temporarily disregard the concept of desirability in the present time, and consider the ideal that a car is a means by which you can reach almost anywhere you choose, even a simple machine opens up extraordinary possibilities.
Imagine how exciting and novel an automobile must have been back in pre-war times. We’ve forgotten how special a car really is. It’s mostly just the means to get to work, and how we fetch our groceries, and that occurs to me as being somewhat sad. Upon achieving my driver's licence, I vowed never to take my wheels for granted.
A year after first hitting the road, I completed my university studies. However, there was a minor complication to rounding off my adult education in the predicted fashion – I couldn’t afford to graduate.
It’s hard to express the disappointment felt when having to formally decline my invitation to the graduation ceremony. My university days had proven enormously uplifting and inspiring. They had given me a good work ethic but meantime they had also destroyed my finances. I was determined that my degree certificate would not arrive through the postbox alongside lashings of junk mail and household bills.
Instead, I would turn to the one resource I had at my disposal, my cherished everyday vehicle – the forever-present Apple Green 1957 Standard 8.
In the days that followed, I made alternative arrangements with the university. In Edinburgh I purchased a vintage dress for a few pounds. I packed a picnic hamper and drove my Standard 8 up to the university to collect my degree.
I wasn’t showing off, I simply wanted my graduation to be special. My classic car helped me do that. I was determined that a lack of finance was not going to deny me any less special an occasion. Many of those who graduated formally at the ceremony later told me they wish they’d done something similar instead – I can only take that as a compliment. That resolution not to be limited in life began when I started driving my classic car; and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Some three years ago, I decided to drive from Scotland to Pendine Sands, Wales and back in my Standard – a distance of some 1200 miles. Many of my acquaintances thought this a charming yet impossible challenge. The idea came during a difficult stretch of my youth. Time was marching on, and suffocated by the stresses of modern life, I yearned for an adventure.
Potential problems included fuel costs, chaotic motorways on route, my health and the sheer age of my car. People said I was certain to have an accident, or breakdown somewhere, and it was probably best I discard the idea given that I could also barely afford the trip. However, the more people told me it couldn’t be done, the more I wanted to prove everyone wrong.
Once the clock had rolled forward some 48 hours, their warnings rang true. Myself, and the Standard, were not in a good way. Oil cascaded across the tarmac. The 803cc engine had lost power – and a piston. I was in trouble.
Gillian's series will continue later in the month.