Gold Dust or Terminal Rust?

My first car was a 1952 A40 Austin Somerset. I didn’t have a clue, but did have a new licence and 40. It seemed large, comfy and the owner drove me around the block to show me what a splendid vehicle it was. You could say I learnt to drive in that car. Due to feeble brakes, and a lack of syncromesh, I discovered the art of double declutch gear changing, closely followed by heel and toe if I wanted to stop as well. The yearly test was fairly relaxed in those days. Even so, such was the decrepit state of the thing that the mechanic advised me to be very careful if I insisted on driving it home.

After its inevitable demise I obtained a rather fetching metallic blue MGZA, again for the princely sum of about 50. It had a problem with the steering which I later found was a small rubber joint half way down the column. That fixed, it drove quite well. Certainly a performance leap over the A40! Which, of course, was not particularly difficult. The ZA met its demise against a concrete fence post, caused by excess enthusiasm and copious mud on the road. The post made solid contact against the nearside rear wing, which was double unfortunate as that was where the fuel pump was attached. I was towed home by a fine chap in a Ford 100E. A task so far beyond reasonable expectations it probably led to the subsequent expiration of the Ford’s engine. If you are still out there John, my gratitude and condolences.

I was quite taken by the ZA so, going by the adage of the “devil you know”, looked for another. I found a ZB near by, its only distinguishing point from the ZA being a chrome strip which went straight along the front wing instead of following around the wheel arch. Other than that it seemed identical, but what a difference. The ZA may have felt good after the “jelly on a spring” A40, but the ZB gave me a first inkling into what a difference overall condition could make. The ZB was tight, steered beautifully and was smooth and precise. But a bit slow. At least no quicker than the ZA that I could detect security bollards.

As experience is gained, so one’s expectations change. What was a big, fast car seems to morph into something a bit dull. Besides a friend had bought a Sunbeam Rapier which not only seemed able to out accelerate the ZB, but had other new toys to play with such as overdrive! Time for a change. From somewhere I acquired a lightly customised Hillman Minx. It had been stripped of its chrome, had the rear door handles removed and was lowered, with fat (for their time) wheels and the obligatory twin choke Weber. Finished off with quarter bumpers, it looked quite neat (for a Hillman Minx). The drummer in a local band took a fancy to it and offered me 100 (plus a leather waistcoat). I was tempted because for a few weeks I had regularly been pressing my nose against the window of a local car dealer’s showroom.

Lurking at the back, ignored and seemingly unwanted was a Tornado Talisman. Interesting! A pretty little fibreglass coupe, humorously considered a 2 + 2. The Talisman is what was known in those days as a Component Car, as were early Lotus / TVR’s / Rochdales / Ginetta / Elva’s and many more specialist manufacturers. The difference between Component Cars and the later Kit Cars is that the former were available as a collection of all new bits. No scrambling around in scrap yards required!

The other big difference was that most of the component cars were a considerable improvement on the bland offerings of the main manufacturers. I’d bought a copy of J. H. Haynes “Component Cars” so was well aware of what a Tornado Talisman was, which is ironic in a way because what I bought was not a Talisman at all! By a combination of persistence, and just being a pest, I was eventually allowed to buy it for 100. It was probably worth it for them to keep their showroom windows clear of spotty oiks, and I got to keep the waistcoat!

The ride home was enlightening. Not only because of the mind numbing noise, but also the sheer performance of the thing. I also discovered that the redundant switch on the dash was connected to an overdrive! Which was mighty strange when it was supposedly powered by a 1500cc Ford engine. Subsequent investigation revealed a great, cast iron, lump of a Triumph TR4 engine, complete with twin DCOE Weber carbs and a set of individual exhaust pipes that could have doubled for gutter down pipes. Decades later I discovered that my supposed Talisman was actually a Tornado Thunderbolt with a Talisman body grafted on. Not just any old Thunderbolt but a Tornado Team race car. 130+bhp, stump pulling torque, effectively 7 speed gearbox and a weight of around 1500lbs. Happy days!

It was last seen, years later, gathering dust in an open barn in deepest Essex. 89FBL, where are you now? Still, eventually, I tired of the noise and low ‘teens fuel consumption. Besides which girls had, strangely, not the slightest interest in comparisons between different makes of carburetor. Or, indeed, a desire to be rattled about like a ride in a tumble drier. So it was the car or girls. One of them had to go.