Recollections of a "Cyclops" in the family
My late father was a haulage contractor and during the late 1940s and early fifties he was running a 1938 Triumph Dolomite 2-litre. When I was about fourteen, I remember the Triumph developing a series of serious engine faults and he mentioned one day that he was thinking of buying an Austin A40 Somerset from a firm for whom we did some contract work. The disapproving look on my face must have told him something, so during the Suez fuel crisis of 1956 when large cars became considerably cheaper, a shiny black Rover 75 appeared on our drive. Father had seen it from the cab of the lorry when driving past the forecourt of Holders of Congresbury, Somerset and made a decision on the spot. I arrived at school next day and excitedly announced to a schoolfriend that my father had just bought a Rover 75. This announcement caused a stir and soon spread around the class so I realised that this must be a car with some prestige, (it would be called "street cred." these days) and from then on took a great interest in it.
GHR 501 had been owned new by Anna Valley Motors of Salisbury hence the Wiltshire registration. It had then passed to a Mr Cuff of Frome before Holders sold it to my father. I cannot remember the mileage but it had done quite a few in its five or so years. It had a number of special features, not least the impressive chrome mascot adorning the bonnet which was an unclothed and really buxom young lady with her hair blowing in the wind, not too dissimilar to the famous Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy. I can remember the village rector passing comment one day. " I like your mascot Jim" he told my father with a knowing smile. The Rover also had chrome wheel trims and chrome headlight surrounds; I never ever saw these on any other similar Rover. Someone had fitted a chrome badge-bar, an angular chromed brass one rather than the round bar which was common in the fifties.
My father soon became
adept at the steering column gearchange which eventually became so worn
with age that first and reverse gears were difficult to select correctly.
He usually drove the car with the freewheel in the free position. Inside
the car, was a smell of leather and carpet and it had the quaint rectangular
instruments with an HMV radio in the centre panel. The handbrake was just
a vertical shiny rod on the right. A slide-out tray contained the full
tool kit and a button on the dash when pressed, told the oil level on the
fuel gauge. The small boot contained the spare wheel which limited the
space and the boot was supposed to be lit by a small bulb operated by a
mercury tilt switch; I do not recall it ever working. The petrol flap could
be locked by a small lever in the corner of the boot. An annoying feature
was the trafficators which my father managed to break with great regularity
by leaving one out while stopping at the kerbside to post a letter for
example or to let someone out of the back door, thus breaking it off with
his shoulder as he got out. I had many trips to Joe Lucas, Bristol to get
replacements! We had some trouble with the springs on the door locks breaking
and I recall having to enter by the other door because the broken door
was secured by string around the door pillars while we waited for new locks.
For some reason the chassis number always stuck in my mind 043000077 and I realised that since it had been first registered soon after the P4 model's announcement at the Motor Show of 1949, it was very early indeed. I have since discovered that it was one of the first hundred 'pre-production' publicity models of P4 and must have gone to Anna Valley as a showroom model. A number of modifications were done to the early cars. My father drove with two friends to a conference in Folkestone and passing through Maidstone, the car jammed in second gear. Fortunately he found a Rover agent who quickly sorted it out, telling him that it had missed a recall modification to the linkage. Later on, the local agent Windmill & Lewis of Clifton, Bristol, removed the panhard rod from the rear axle saying that it was a modification recommended by the factory.
As it became my job to clean the Rover to earn some pocket money, I noticed that the front grille had been repainted and there were other hole positions in the supports for the slats. I had always wondered about this and subsequently learned that the early Cyclops had more bars. This was one factory modification which had been carried out in an attempt to help the radiator cooling.
From an early age, I
was allowed to get the car from the garage ready for my father if he was
using it for the evening. Sometimes this involved moving one or maybe two
of the sometimes fully laden lorries as well. We lived in a quiet lane
and the only traffic was to a couple of bungalows further along. I managed
to learn to reverse it further and further along the lane to "get it straight",eventually
so far that I could attempt a gearchange - or even two! By the time I was
legally able to drive however, I had learnt to easily manoevre the lorries
and turning the Rover became simple stuff. The day of my seventeenth birthday
dawned; I had my provisional licence, the L plates were on the car all
ready - and father went down with 'flu!! I do not recall being too frustrated
but one of our drivers, Wilf Parsons, sensed that I must be disappointed
and he approached my mother saying "The lad is dying to get on the road,
is there anything you need from the post office down in the village as
I am happy to ride in the car with him just to give him his first drive".
From then on while 'learning', I drove many hundreds of miles in the various
Albion Chieftains, eventually taking my test in Clifton, Bristol in the
Rover. During the test I recall the examiner enquiring "What is the cubic
capacity of this vehicle" ( '2103cc Sir!') and "Is your freewheel in the
fixed or the free position?" ( 'Free - shall I put it in fixed?') Was he
another Rover enthusiast I wonder? I built up plenty of driving experience
in Bristol with the lorries and on shopping trips with my mother who always
said she felt confident riding with me. After passing my test it soon became
my duty to collect the spares for the lorries in Bristol or take the drivers
to wherever the lorries were parked up for the night - possibly Avonmouth
and on one such occasion I was allowed to use the Rover to go on to school
afterwards. I parked it in a side street near the girls' building and during
the day overheard a master being told that "one of our sixth formers parked
a large black car in the side road, put on his cap and disappeared into
school". I kept quiet and after school drove away smartly before anyone
Sometime, much later
on, a former schoolfriend had embarked on an engineering sandwich course
and, having always admired GHR 501, as soon as he was able, bought a later
1952 model Cyclops fairly cheaply but in an 'army' green. He ran it on
a shoestring and one day I pointed out that the rear door locks were childproof,
a feature not so common in those days. The lever was in the shut face of
the doors. Some months later the Rover was sold, a wedding was announced
and he pointed out to me that the rear of the car was not quite so childproof
as I had made out!
My father used the Rover
each week to go with friends to the football matches in Bristol and one
Saturday I met them limping home with the side of the car very badly damaged.
Luckily none of the five passengers were too shaken but the rear door and
wing were mangled. Windmill and Lewis soon had it repaired however but
the Ford Consul Mk 1 which had collided with it in a local lane, was written
off. It did duty on occasion as a wedding car for various cousins and,
possibly as an inducement to get me to attend the ceremonies, I was commissioned
as chauffeur, this was great fun - even cleaning the confetti out afterwards.
I often used to take the delivery or collection notes to a driver who kept his lorry at home and en route had to pass the house of a girl friend. This was fine as long as father did not need the car that evening but in those early days of the mini-skirt, girls often complained that the leather seats were cold to the skin! By now I had purchased my first car, the ubiquitous Austin Seven box saloon of 1932. Eventually, despite keeping the Rover's freewheel in the 'fixed' position to help, the hydro-mechanical brakes on the Rover grew steadily worse. There were many adjustments to them by Windmill and Lewis, Bristol's main Rover agent. The side valve tappets sounded louder and louder and were impossible to quieten, and the car suffered from oil fumes which made my mother feel queasy. In about 1962, my father decided it's time had come. This decision was encouraged by me after a trip to Bristol when a policeman on point duty saw me coming down the hill, pointed, then signalled me to stop, turning away as he did so. In normal circumstances from 30 mph there would have been no problem but by literally standing on the pedal I managed to come to rest with the "flying lady" underneath his outstretched arm. I returned home and said I would drive my Austin Seven in future, the brakes were better!! I must have made a good point because soon the Rover was sold and my father acquired a 1961 Rover 80 which had only one owner from new. This had servo assisted disc brakes and they were totally superb after the hydro-mechanical system on the 75. I tried to keep the mascot but father insisted it was sold with the car.
©Eric Brain for
Rover P4 Driverís Guild, August 2001
Added to Webpage Dec 2004 ( but only fully successfully! Sept 2005)