Austin A30 put me on the road to freedom and airwaves

Allan Papworth's Austin A30 all kitted out as a 'radio car'. Picture: Allan Papworth

Allan Papworth's Austin A30 all kitted out as a 'radio car'. Picture: Allan Papworth

Allan Papworth

An Austin A30 not only put radio enthusiast Allan Papworth on the road to freedom but on the air as well.

I was 19 and working at Pye in Cambridge when I achieved freedom – my first car, the Austin A30, registration PCE 190.

I was a student apprentice, working in Cambridge and studying at Cambridge Tech – now Anglia Ruskin University. Before getting the car I relied on the Pye bus to pick me up from home every day. Now I was my own boss, I could come and go whenever I wanted!

For the princely sum of £50 I purchased a 1956 A30 from the local garage – quite a lot of money considering I was paid £6 per week.

It was a very basic car by today’s standards... 803cc engine, semaphore-type indicators, no seat belts and no radio.

I soon solved the problem of a radio. Being a radio amateur, I fitted it out with two sets of equipment – they drained so much power that I burned out the dynamo. I had a VHF antenna on the front and an HF antenna on the back.

Within two weeks of getting my licence, and the car, I drove all the way to South Wales to operate radio equipment from remote locations. Trips to London, to the radio shops, were now possible. Even today, when driving down the A1 near Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, I think of the first time I made that major trip in my little car.

I was a mad keen radio amateur in those days. For me it wasn’t girls – it was love of radios. I am still a radio amateur but not as mad about it as I was in the 1960 and 70s. I did eventually get married – my wife is a radio amateur as well.

That car hated the cold weather. I didn’t have a garage so it was parked on the verge in front of my parents’ house. The carburettor frequently froze in the winter, I used to tie a woollen scarf around it to try and stop the freezing.

One Friday I was driving back from work and it was snowing and freezing so much that the car kept stopping. So I ended up pulling in to a farm in Horningsea, near Cambridge, and asking if I could spend the night in the car in their barn. They kindly offered me a bed on the sofa for the night.

But she was a faithful chariot and we made several more long-distance trip for radio activity. This photo shows the A30 loaded up for a trip to the Malvern Hills for yet another radio contest.

When the time came to put it up for sale I even made a profit, unusual for second hand cars. That £75 went towards buying an Austin Cambridge. The start of my life with large saloon cars.

When my mates were buying sports cars I had a Ford Zephyr, then a Humber and later Rovers. But that’s another story!

When I first rented a car in America, the company asked me what type of car I wanted. My reply was a saloon. Their answer was “Sorry, we don’t have cars with bars in them”. A saloon car is called a sedan in America.

Tell us about your first car – email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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