Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Once, when I was young, we had a succession of spectacular vintage cars, not because my mother was a collector, but because old cars were all she could afford! The first was a much-loved 'sit-up-and-beg' little Austin7, made in the 1930s, driven in the early 60s and costing us the grand sum of £13, saved up in pennies in a jar. It may have been elderly, but it was reliable and economical, and often left more modern cars behind, climbing the hill from central Canterbury to St Edmund's School, near the present University, where my mother was the Headmaster's secretary. Where the sprawling University of Kent now rules was then rolling farmland, giving a stupendous view of the city below. Eventually, that little treasure succumbed to age and was replaced by another elderly, but classy, vehicle. We had a magnificent Riley mini-limousine, I recall - which we managed to leave standing on my little sister's foot, I recall, while attempting to get it started when the battery was dead. We didn't notice, but after a few moments of standing gasping (it was a VERY heavy car) a little voice piped up "Please can we push it a bit further?" 'Why, Lou?' "It's on my foot." Such a brave, self controlled little girl. That one ceased its working life when my stepfather drove it into a lamp-post, and the abused engine fell out.
I had thought little about this remarkable series of grand vehicles recently, until, walking along the river side on Monday, I spotted a sadly decaying car in one of the fields that the path passes through. I immediately felt tears spring to my eyes, and my stomach lurch, could it be? Yes, it was one of the most special of that series of memorable vehicles, a Jowett Javelin. The Jowett was solid as a mountain, sleekly stylish, with its swept back lines, and kitted out with lustrous leather seats and glowing walnut woodwork. Travelling in it, I felt like a film star, and was proud to turn up at my boarding school (where there was some considerable status/style competition) in such a grand car - ok, it wasn't modern, like most of the other parents had, but it was clearly an aristocratic vehicle! It was such an unusual car, that, even in those days, there was a club for Jowett owners, to which we belonged, and through which we met some charming people.
Jowett made a small range of cars, but each design was special, and as well as the Javelin, there was a sports car, the Jupiter, the design of which can now be seen as the fore runner of most of the sports cars that petrol heads now aspire to. Like the Javelin, the lines were sleek and spoke of speed even when the car was stationary, It, too, was solidly made, with leather upholstery and gleaming wooden fittings. It was a 2 seater, with a rumble seat in the boot, and a classic luggage rack on top of the boot. Our friend had a red one, kept in immaculate, polished condition, and he was the perfect owner for it, being young, handsome (a bit like Tab Hunter) and charming - he was the embodiment of a young girl's dream! He made the end of my schooldays a triumph - rather than leaving me to catch the train as usual, he came down to Brighton in the Jupiter, posed out front where all the girls could see, and swept me into his arms when I appeared! He handed me gallantly into the passenger seat , then heaved my trunk on to his shoulder, fixed it to the luggage rack, sprang into the driving seat and drove off with one arm round my shoulders. For a lonely, buck-toothed and socially crippled teenage girl, it was a dream come true!
Seeing this poor, disintegrating Javelin in the field brought it all back - what a big hearted, understanding hero that young man was. I'm ashamed to say I don't remember his name, which shows I'm not fight to kiss his feet, but he gave me a heck of an example to try and follow.