Love-hate relationship with Ford Popular – new-found freedom and old technolgy

PUBLISHED: 20:44 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 20:44 01 August 2017

Dave Barnard pictured in 1968 with his 1957 Ford Popular. Picture: supplied

Dave Barnard pictured in 1968 with his 1957 Ford Popular. Picture: supplied


Dave Barnard took to the road in a 1957 Ford Popular but with his new-found independence came the need to learn the art of motoring maintenance.

My first car was a 1957 ‘sit-up-and-beg’ Ford Popular.

I had owned a Honda C50 motorbike at 16 but wanted to join my elder brothers in car ownership as soon as I reached 17. My 1968 diary shows I paid £30 for the 11-year-old ‘Pop’. Car tax was £25 and third-party insurance £19 11 shillings and sixpence.

So began a love-hate relationship with the Ford – loved it as my first car but hated the 1930s’ technology.

The 1,172cc side-valve engine didn’t produce much power. The Girling drum brakes all round were operated by rods – no hydraulics – and required regular adjustment.

My brother’s advice on maintenance and repairs was invaluable. A ‘grease-gun’ was an essential piece of kit.

Still, I was on the road – whenever I could get my brother’s fiancée, Jackie, to sit in the passenger seat. Jackie had passed her test and I was still a learner. We would follow the driving test routes around Gravesend and Northfleet.

The picture shows my Popular not long after I bought it. I have just removed the ‘semaphore’ indicators, also known as ‘trafficators’, and fitted modern flashing indicators. Shortly after this I added Ford go-faster stripes.

I took driving lessons in a new Vauxhall Viva, a world away from my old Ford Popular. After 10 lessons, I passed the test on July 4, 1968. My independence had arrived and my Pop was now in daily use. I used it to commute and take mates out evenings to cinema, discos, ice skating etc.

Now going further afield, I soon realised the car’s vintage limitations. The Pop had only three forward gears, any speed over 50mph could be ‘exciting’. The worm and peg steering had lots of play. Any bump in the road at speed could result in the car heading in an unexpected direction.

The dashboard instruments were illuminated in a lovely shade of blue/green which helped confirm the headlights were actually on – they were not too bright with a six-volt battery dynamo system.

The windscreen wipers were not electric. Under the bonnet there was a black vacuum tank which, connected to the engine inlet manifold, provided suction power for the windscreen wipers. With the engine just idling the wipers would zip back and forth at quite a rate with odd sucking noises emanating. However, when the engine was pressed going uphill the vacuum was lost and the wipers would slow. Halfway up a steep hill in the pouring rain they would stop altogether.

By November 1968 my mileage had increased to 1,000 a month. This included trips to the girlfriend in Welling and a night out on Fridays to Streatham ice rink in London with chips at Sydenham on the way home. On Saturday morning, I would check the oil level and it would always be on the ‘e’ of the word ‘danger’ before topping up.

I struggled on through the harsh winter of 1968-69 with no heater – there wasn’t one. After some close calls, in icy weather on the skinny 17in wheels, I realised the Pop was far from safe in those conditions.

In February 1969, the girlfriend decided to change her boyfriend and that was that – the Pop had to go. With a short-term loan from Dad I bought a 1955 Austin Cambridge A40.

It was two years older than the Popular but a joy in comparison. It came with a fitted heater, leather bench seat, column gear change and the previous owner had installed the latest gadget – windscreen washers! Bliss.

I suppose one thing in the Pop’s favour was it never actually let me down. In the cold weather if the engine failed to start I could always resort to the starting handle.

Happy days.

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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