How I Beat Modern Life With A 1957 Classic Car

Our weekend writer believes there’s much to be learned from driving a 1950s car on modern roads. In the first of a new series, Gillian explains why buying this 1957 Standard 8 changed her life for the better...

Back when I was a mere 24 years of age, nobody could have predicted that I’d purchase a 1957 Standard 8 in place of a modern car. Ten years ago, even I would have guffawed at such a plan. The concept that a 26bhp black-and-white family saloon would cart me around wouldn't normally have been entertained.

Instead, priorities at such a young age remained my university exams and figuring out plans for the future. What on earth I was going to do with my life when said studies closed in two years time? However, that all changed when one day I was driven past a car dealership in Dunfermline, Scotland. I begged my friend to go back, for I had clocked a classic car that was sitting on the forecourt. Both mind and heart were transfixed.

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My friend obligated and we turned around to look at the unusual vehicle that had caught my attention. It was a strange scenario – the dealership sold second-hand cars that were mostly 4-5 years old but among them was a curved saloon with perfectly circular headlamps, a chrome bumper and noticeably narrow tyres.

It was like the opening to Stephen King's Christine, yet with bagpipes and rain. I’d been immediately drawn to this car, even though I couldn’t explain exactly why. I liked how different it appeared amongst the other vehicles on offer. It made me feel strangely nostalgic, as though I had actually lived through the 1950s.

We scrutinised the bodywork but couldn’t find a single badge on the car that identified its manufacturer or model. Inside there were stubby leather seats, a series of silver pull out knobs in the central dash section and, sadly, a price I couldn’t afford.

As it was a Saturday, the dealership was closed and no one was around to answer any queries. So we left. A few weeks later, when we drove by again, the car had disappeared and I still had no clue as to what it had been. My heart sank.

Fast forward a few months, and I was staying in Northamptonshire with a retired friend who’d spent most of his life either helping out at or participating in British car rallies. He was intrigued by this mystery ‘classic car’ and asked me for a description.

I obligated and going on what I said, he guessed I must have either seen an Austin A35 or, less likely but possible, a Standard 8. He fetched some old magazines and, like identifying someone in a police line-up, I recognised the Standard straight away with a keen ‘that’s the one’. He smiled and said that he would try to help me find just such a car. I was thrilled!

It didn’t take long before I was on a train to the outskirts of Birmingham to view a Standard 8, thanks to my knowledgeable friend’s promised search. I met with the owner - a lady who had decided to live on a canal boat and now struggled to keep her 8 located nearby, hence the sale.

I asked for an unusual test that involved being driven through her home village of Alvechurch in the 8. I made up some excuse for not getting behind the wheel but the truth was I did not yet have a driving license and was too embarrassed to say. She looked a little puzzled but was more than happy when I bought the car after my short journey in the passenger seat.

Upon the Standard’s arrival back home, thanks to another friend’s efforts to drive me and the car over 400 miles north to Scotland, it was immediately clear I’d purchased an unusual vehicle. Some of my older neighbours came out to inspect the ‘new’ motor in the street and told me tales when their dad had driven one ‘back in the day’. Friends came round, laughed a little and asked me if I’d been drunk when I’d bought the car. Their friendly banter suggested they were somewhat bemused by my choice in vehicle.

I excitedly invited my parents around to my home so that they could see their daughter’s first car. To my disappointment, the sight of the Standard, now residing in a garage, did not overly thrill them. They asked me where the seatbelts, the crumple zones and the airbags were. All I could do was shrug my shoulders.

They enquired as to why I’d chosen something lacking ABS or even disc brakes. I said I liked the car. It was from the 1950s and it made my heart sing, was that not enough? It had four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel – how different was it from any other car? They asked what would happen in an accident. I said I would ‘go happy’. They shook their heads and departed. I sighed.

My choice in motorcar seemed to be causing unexpected ripples, both good and bad. I stood in the garage doorway and looked at my first car, barely lit under an inadequate bulb. Despite some uncertainty, I decided there and then that I was going to stick with the classic that was now in its 52nd year and looking back at me.

Some safety features could be added in and there were no wine bottles lying around to explain my purchase. I’d long admired people who did things differently, and despite being rather a hesitant person myself, for the first time I stubbornly decided I was perfectly entitled to make my own choices. I would start with my classic car.

Gillian's series on beating life with a classic car continues next week.

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