Name Stephen Prior
Occupation Business consultant
First classic Austin Seven (still owned)
Dream classic 1935 Mercedes 500K Cabriolet B
Favourite driving tune Slightly academic in this car
Best trip Warminster to Midhurst after a 36-year gap in ownership
JUST THE THING FOR SCHOOL RUN
This is one of those stories you read of how someone got back together with their high school sweetheart, in my case, Lucy, a #1929
Austin Seven Top Hat Saloon. My brother Martin and I acquired our first Seven, Gumdrop, a ’1934 box saloon in 1973. We found it in a barn and bought it with our pocket money and Gumdrop remains my brother’s daily driver to this day. In 1974, I acquired Dandruff, a 1934 Seven two-seater that currently serves as my nephew’s regular transport.
My father, a keen motorcycling enthusiast, could never understand the attraction of our Austins, even offering to buy us a proper modern car. He was, however, sometimes given to expansive, but rather illconsidered statements. One such was made in 1974, when he was in conversation with a business associate, Sir Gerald ‘Joe’ Thorley.
The subject of Sevens came up (my father was probably bemoaning our interest in them) and Sir Joe announced that he still had his student runabout, Lucy. My father, safe in the knowledge that Sir Joe would never part with such a treasured relic of his youth, told him that if he ever wanted to sell Lucy, he would buy it for his sons. It was thus with alarm that my father received a call the following year announcing that the Austin was for sale. My father felt duty bound to pay the £750 asked and Lucy was his, much to the delight of my brother and I.
We collected the Seven from an underground London garage. Her body and upholstery had been beautifully restored, but a look under the bonnet revealed that the rebuild didn’t seem to have extended to the mechanicals. It was with trepidation that we set off into the central London traffic. As we reached the A4, the misfiring began and the car finally gave up the ghost outside a pub in Gerrards Cross.
Many hours later, Lucy, Martin and I continued the journey back to Hereford on a Bulmers Cider lorry. After a bit of fettling, Lucy became our daily driver and, when I passed my test in 1977, she was my regular transport to school and then to my gap-year job. One morning, driving to work in ’1978, a bang from the back axle announced the loss of a pinion tooth and the excuse for my father to dispose of the car, showing a healthy £1000 profit.
Attempts to track down Lucy proved unsuccessful until one day in 2010 a letter arrived at my father’s house from Lucy’s then owner, who was tracing her history via the old logbook. Located only 80 miles away, I soon visited and was briefly reunited with Lucy. Pleas to buy her back were declined but I was at least promised first refusal if she ever came on the market again, which she did in 2012 when I was properly reunited with my first true love.
The 80-mile drive home was rather more successful than our first attempt back in 1975. I found her to be more responsive and lively than I remembered (the engine had been rebuilt in the ’90s), although a sticking clutch meant that the motor had to be pulled out soon after, fortunately a simple job.
When I bought her back she retained her distinctive smell inside (’70s leathercloth), but over a few weeks of inactivity, a family of mice took up residence in the cabin and its use as a mouse lavatory has seriously, hopefully not permanently, changed the background aroma. Once again she is in regular use.
Having driven me to my final day at school in ’1977, last year she took my twins to their first day at school 38 years later; and I hope that they will be driving themselves in Lucy to their last day of school in 2029.
First day of school 2015, with the twins plus mum and dad all set for their trip in Lucy the Seven.
Spruced up after replating and repainting.
Martin makes period-style luggage trunks.
With brother Martin (left) and (inset) in 1977. “The cars have aged better!” says Stephen.