Monday, 3 January 2011

Goin' back to my Rootes

In the dim and distant past of the late 1980s for many of my peers motorcycling was something you did because you needed to get to work, rather than a lifestyle choice or something you do for fun.
I’m not knocking anyone who rides their bike day-in-day-out today, all power to your elbows. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
It just seems to me that back then that was how it was.
First of all you did it because you had to, then you came to love the whole edgy, ragged exhilaration of trusting your life to two quarter square inches of rubber at some stupid velocity, and you just kept doing it.

However there often came a time in a young motorcyclist’s life when he or she thought that this two-wheeled nonsense is all lots of fun and all very well, but in reality, it’s cold out, there’s ice on the roads, you need to do a week’s shopping and wouldn’t it be nicer if you just went and bought a car?

always ensure you are protected against the unexpected

This often coincided, in the old days at least, with the approach of the patter of tiny feet. This also resulted in the sad decay of a once prized motorcycle in a garden shed and the wistful wearing of a leather jacket as a fashion statement rather than a necessity.
But in my case, the acquisition of a proper driving licence came with the arrival of my new and rather short-lived career as a mechanic.
When my course finished it was clear that not many garages would give a job to a mechanic who couldn’t drive, so I took six lessons and passed first time.
Of course seven years avoiding the maddened Volvo drivers of the South West on a motorcycle had given me a head start, as had hacking the ill-handling Reliant around.
I did have access to a motorcar as well – My girlfriend of the time had also recently passed her test and we had just bought a 15-year-old Hillman Avenger estate for £200.
Hey that looks just like the sort of place an Avenger owner would live in

Our Avenger was a blue, and missing it's front bumper following some unfortunate shunt.
The Avenger is one of the great forgotten British motorcars of the 1970s. It was good and solid, tougher than its equivalent Ford Cortina, easily as hard as the slightly smaller Ford Escort, didn’t rust like a Vauxhall Victor and wasn’t filled with obscure and frankly stupid design ideas like the Morris Marina – which was little more than a fancy body on a Morris Minor.
Another thing that came in quite handy was that the training centre had two avenger engines to train us on. after six months working on those I knew the motor backwards.
The interior, black plastic and black vinyl, was a little East European, but it chugged along nicely, and was big enough to move house in.
I recall changing the clutch in the rain, lying on my back under the car while raising the gearbox into position with my knees, while holding the casing bolts in my mouth and slotting them into place as dirty rainwater trickled down my back. Happy days.
The Avenger doubled as band transport, campervan and removal vehicle.
It was big enough inside to take the carcasses of two motorcycles at once and the thing bimbled along becoming more and more decrepit, until it was struck on the rear end at some force by drunken madman who wrecked one corner after hitting it at some speed before hurtling off into the distance trailing bits of taillight glass.
There was no way it would get through another MoT, and the coup de grace came when someone tried to steal it and smashed the steering column in the process.
So it was off to the scrapyard.

Its cars like the Avenger which make me wonder just how far technology has improved our lot.
The Avenger was pretty easy to look after, solid and dependable. |That chunky old 1600cc engine with its pushrods and single carb chucked out more than enough power – it would barrel along at 80, and do 36mpg. It handled pretty well, and the rear wheel drive meant it shrugged off snow and mud.
Its hatchback incarnation the Talbot Sunbeam showed a clean pair of heels to much more modern equivalents on the competition circuit.

Buy a small estate today and it'll do about the same to the gallon much more expensively. Ok they’re nicer to sit in, But I do wistfully wander periodically through ebay and see if I can find one of these old gems.