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Motor Mouth articles 2013

Time travel in a classic Rover

My driver: Brian Chant and his Rover in which we travelled.

My driver: Brian Chant and his Rover in which we travelled.

I STARTED the New Year with a journey back in time – a passenger in a beautiful classic car as it made its way around the roads and lanes of Dorset and Somerset on the annual Sturminster Newton New Year’s Day run.

My ‘chauffeur’ was Brian Chant, owner of the Stalbridge-based DVCA classic car auction business, and we were aboard his gleaming, black 1948 Rover 75 four-light sports saloon.

Regular readers may remember that a year or so back, I wrote about Brian’s purchase of the Rover, chosen as it was very similar to the one in which he had passed his driving test in 1961.

Quite apart from its built-in charisma, the car has quite a celebrity pedigree as it is the actual one that was driven by actor Michael Kitchen’s character in the hit TV series ‘Foyles War’, and it still bears the original registration number HAC 199.

The 64-year-old Rover survived the series pretty much unscathed, although Brian, who also runs the Unicorn Motor Company body repair specialists in Stalbridge, had to carry out some maintenance and other improvements, mainly cosmetic.

Climbing into the leather front passenger seat at the start of our participation in the New Year procession transported me back to my childhood when most cars on Britain’s roads felt and smelt like that.

The steering wheel was twice the size of the largest dinner plate; the beechwood dash positively shone as the winter sun made a brilliant, if rare, appearance; there was a clock with proper hands instead of a digital read-out, and a choke for cold starts.

The windows and the sun roof were operated by hand but probably the strangest feeling of all was travelling without seat-belts, something I have not done since the clunk-click laws came into effect 30 years ago.

The old Rover’s 2,100cc engine was throaty and strong, whizzing us along at a good rate and taking the West Country hills in its elegant stride. With only four forward gears, however, it often seemed to be crying out for a fifth that wasn’t there, despite the driver’s occasional instinctive efforts to select it!

All along the 35-mile route, the spirit of classic motoring was in evidence as people waved and smiled or pointed cameras at the cars zipping past. That same friendliness had been much in evidence back at the car park in Stur where the vehicles had gathered to be admired before the start.

Nostalgia had given 2013 a flying start and I was left with the belief that most of these much-loved old vehicles will be around to see many more new years than plenty of the cars pouring off factory production lines today.

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