Petrol head rules road

Bill Lawless
Bill Lawless

I am unashamedly a petrolhead.

In fact, I make Clarkson and his mates look like a card-carrying member of the Ramblers Association.

The big difference is they get to test 200mph supercars while yours sincerely in his days as a motoring correspondent wallowed round bends in Ford Cortinas, Austin A35s and even, on one forgettable occasion, a Standard 10.

This was because no editor worth his salt would risk me offending a good advertiser with anything more potent than a Reliant Regal.

Occasionally, however, something with more oomph slipped through the net and I found myself piloting a TR2 or an MGA to my ineffable bliss.

One car that I got my big sweaty hands on was a German NSU flyer designated the TTSS. Like all nasty German machinery it was known by manufacturer’s numbers – Messerschmidt 109, Junkers 88, Focke Wulfe 190 etc.

It was based on a very sedate little saloon called the Prinz that wouldn’t pull the skin off a brockwurst, but the TTSS was the German answer to the Mini Cooper S.

Lift the lid and there was one highly-tuned motor absolutely bristling with carburettors. (two twin-choke Webers for the cognoscenti) and it went like schhh-you-know-what off a hot chromed shovel.

Early one Sunday morning in deepest Kent, me semi-sideways round a corner en route to a race meeting at Brands Hatch, I encountered a vintage Rolls Royce with a coat-of-arms on the door coming the other way.

It motored majestically over a grass verge to avoid a collision.

I have deeply regretted this incident for many years, your grace, and I do sincerely hope that her ladyship was not too badly discommoded.

Occasionally, the advertisement manager would pull out his finger and do a deal with the local motorcycle dealers.

No problem with me here, because I was a good customer to them all. But slightly more embarrassing was when Ducati entrusted me with a £20,000 racing 250 at a test day at Brands Hatch in the mid-60s.

Anyway, to cut a long, sad story short, I stuffed the bike into the bank at Paddock Bend.

The team of Italian technicians rushed to the scene and collected parts of the bike and bore them tenderly back to the pits. completely ignoring me.

They left me to the St John’s Ambulance brigade. Members were somewhat concerned at sorting out my 20 stone – I was a bonny lad in those days. Can’t say I blame them.

One final impression of my road-testing days: I was doing a ‘funny’ feature involving a new £100,000 Bentley.

In the passenger seat was the managing director of the garage in whose plush premises the big Benters normally lived until it was sold.

He was a worried, frightened man and kept shrinking in the calfskin seat as if by narrowing himself he could widen the gap I was aiming the car through.

The sober-suited gentleman crossing the road whom I frightened almost unto death by a three-second burst on the Bentley’s mellifluous klaxon just happened to be the manager of the bank which handled my pitiful finances.

Bet you he went bananas when he recovered from the shock at being blasted by a Benters driven by the biggest pauper on his books.