A contemporary monthly has been running a series called “Went The Day Badly”, about disasters or near disasters remembered by the road testers. I do not have many such memories but there was one such day, which was to result in humorous undertones, that may be worth recalling.
It happened back in 1971, when I was doing a long-duration road assessment for MOTOR SPORT of the excellent Ford Escort Mexico. The Press departments of the bigger car companies used to lend us cars for quite long spells in those happy times and this Mexico was of considerable appeal to me, as the next in line of a number of impressive GT-style Escorts I had approved of previously. It so happened that I got up one morning at around 6 am and set off in it for the London offices from my Welsh hideout.
Work completed, I commenced the 180 mile return journey that evening, stopping some way before Hereford to ring my wife and remind her that I had eaten little but a sandwich since breakfast and was looking forward to a late dinner, only to discover that she had gone to bed and hot food was unlikely. This made me a bit cross and I speeded up, against the low rays of the setting sun and with an odd misty atmosphere hampering my vision. Along the Roman Road that bypasses Hereford town I pressed on, in the willing Mexico, and became conscious of something motoring fast on my left-hand side. “Ah,” I speculated, “Someone is enjoying themselves, in that field!”
But it wasn’t in the field behind the hedge. It was a van full of TV sets, on the nearside main road of a fast approaching crossroads. I realised this at the last split second, as they say in racing, locked over to take the impact on the left front wing, and we collided with an almighty explosive bang. Bits of the Ford flew off, including the bonnet, the tyres burst, and I had some difficulty in forcing open the driver’s door and emerging. In my defence was the fact that at that time this crossroads was difficult to see, the Give Way sign obscured by overhanging foliage, and the lane opposite giving the impression of an unbroken road in front of one.
I felt fine, except that the index finger of my right hand, caught in the whiplash of the steering wheel, was at an angle to my hand. I expected the driver of the vehicle I had collided with to come up and offer to knock me down. Instead, he asked if I was alright, said he was, and miraculously drove away. By this time people were emerging from their houses, telling me that there were frequent accidents at this ill-signposted minor junction, enquiring whether I wanted a chair to sit on and a brandy (I didn’t) and informing me that an ambulance and the police had been sent for.
Oh dear! There was the Mexico in the middle of the crossroads, and a yellow Ford Escort “racer” is not the best of cars to display in such a situation. When the police Panda car arrived the occupants wanted to know what I had hit, as there was no other vehicle to be seen. The ambulance chaps wanted me to lie in the back of their big white “bloodwagon”. This I refused to do. I realised afterwards that they thought I was concussed and that it was better to humour me! So up in the cab I got and we went off to Hereford General, narrowly missing a Morris Eight at the very first roundabout. It seemed the only thing to do, as I knew of no public transport for the 40 miles home and clearly the Mexico was unusable.
The Indian doctor was superb, snapping the finger back into place while distracting me by talking, telling the young nurse present not to faint, as the patient hadn’t. After that, I asked if the hospital porter could get me a taxi. “Taxi?” the Sister said, “No taxi will do an 80 mile round trip at nearly midnight.” “Well,” I answered, “Perhaps an hotel or b & b?” “Better idea,” she responded, “You look a bit pale (no real food all day and I was still clutching a heavy 1911 BARC records book I could not afford to lose) so you had better stay the night.” I was shown to a bed and screens were put around it. This made me suspicious, until, after I had rung home, a four course meal was wheeled in! The nurse with this splendid NHS dinner informed me, “If the other occupants of the ward saw this, they would get very cross; they complain enough as it is!”
Without, I was being discussed: “Motor accident, screens, he must be very bad, poor fellow…!”
Next morning I decided I had better go to the police station and report. I arrived there, still clutching that valuable BARC record book, and said that I had had this accident, the evening before.
“Couldn’t have,” said the Duty Officer, “No motor crash reported.” I was anxious to tell Ford’s where the Mexico’s remains had been taken, but that was all I got. “Where have you come from?” I was asked. “The hospital.” “Which hospital?” the officer asked hastily. I suppose he thought I was probably an escaped mental patient. (No comments by my friends, please!) I explained further, and asked for advice about getting home. “Nothing really, but try the bus station.”
Without much hope, that is where I went, now feeling a bit the worse for wear, (that heavy NHS dinner), still firmly clutching the record book. But my luck was in. I was told that a “Mystery Tour” was about to start, and that it went through my village; if I promised not to tell the other passengers, I could board it. “But,” the bus station lady said, “It’s pretty expensive.” “How much?” “Fifteen shillings.” So I bundled in and when I saw eventually the back lane to my house, called on the driver to stop. As I trudged away, resolutely clutching . . . I noticed the coach was still stationary. I fear they thought it was the call-of-nature, and that that Mystery Tour must have been rather late in resuming its course. My wife was quite unconcerned and sitting in a deck chair in the sun when I finally arrived.
There are three sequels.
1) I heard afterwards that, almost to the moment when I was having my accident, Jenks had run his E type Jaguar gently into the back of a bus in Paris, dazzled by the same low rays of the sun and the oddly opaque light that evening!
2) When I eventually went to find the crashed Ford Mexico, at Henlys in Hereford, I was told it was rolled up into a metalball and that the unfortunate driver could never have survived. (I was then anti-seat belt but perhaps the rally-type seat had saved me?). The Ford people, bless ’em, had the Mexico like new in about three weeks and offered it to me again as proof of this. I accepted, but practically got out at every crossroads while I was driving it. Imagine having to phone and say “You know that Mexico you have just rebuilt….”
And 3) In spite of my many letters of complaint and photographs shown in my defence in Court, the obscured signs and high hedges at that crossroads remained in situ for a very long time indeed. Only in recent times has it become a traffic-lighted junction, and further along the route two very “difficult” junctions remain virtually unchanged. That day went badly, but it was all in the day’s work. WB.