Those men about my age usually started, like me, on a motor bike. In those days our world was full of famous names such as Triumph, BSA, Francis Barnett, Vellocette and such like. My first bike was a BSA Bantam, a beautiful bike to start with, one that could be repair (almost) with a big hammer and a screwdriver, we’d never heard of timing and the points could be set by eye. But what did all that matter, with the wind in your hair (no crash helmets required) and the rush of speed, 50mph was far fast enough for most of us. However, one mate of mine was always tinkering to try to get more and more speed. He would ride with his nose on the handle bars (he’d seen them doing that on the TV) and as he cornered he would lean the bike and stick out his knee (he’d also seen them do that on the TV)
The Doncaster By pass (A1M) had just opened and with little traffic on the road (compared with today’s numbers) the road ahead was clear and straight and as a gang we often bombed up and down it just for fun. We then got the news that this mate of mine had had an accident on that stretch of road and was now in Doncaster infirmary in a pretty bad way. Naturally we all went to see him.
It was something like straight out of a ‘Carry On’ film! There he was on the bed bandaged from head to toe with one arm held up on a mettle support and one leg raised with a series of wires and weights. His face, though badly bruised beamed when he saw us and when we had settled around his bed he murmured those immortal words – “I got it up to 65”.
In time I progressed from that Bantam and eventually settled down to a Honda CB 500. They were comfortable machines with that 5th gear that dropped the revs so you could cruise at 70 or above with ease. My ex wife and I travelled all over the place in the lap of luxury. To protect us from the wind we had a full fairing and to keep my passenger safe and comfy a padded back box with two arm rest that were hinged into the back box and two panniers that supported the back of her legs. We even had an intercom system long before they were a common feature. We’d striped an old kiddie’s telephone and fitted the parts in our helmets with a wire between. It worked lovely and on long journeys I have on occasion heard gentle snoring from the pillion. My biking career ended one bitter winter’s day when we pulled up after a fairly long drive and she, in an almost pleading voice said “Could we get something with a heater please”.
I located the nearest Reliant dealer 12 miles away along a B road. B road it might have been but it was busy with heavy traffic including Lorries and caravans etc. I went along with my beloved 500 and did a straight swap for a Regal 21E. The owner of the garage asked me if I had ever driven a Reliant before and as I answered in the negative he said he’d give me a quick lesson, With him driving we went out of the garage to the left, left at the next junction, left again and back to the garage. In that short time he talked about football, the garage trade, motor bikes and the weather – not one word about gears, indicators, lights or anything remotely helpful.
I pulled out onto the road in first gear and that’s where it stayed all the way up to the junction with the B road, revving like mad with me trying desperately to think about where I’d see him switch the indicators on. I found it and even found the brake and clutch by the time I got to the junction. With a very very safe gap I pulled out slipped awkwardly into second and then third. I had both windows wide open so I could feel the wind but couldn’t take my eyes off the road to see what speed I was going. Eventually as my heart started beating at a near normal rate I managed a glimpse in the rear view mirror. It seemed as if the whole world was following. At that point I decided to pull into a lay-by and review my options.
I could, I thought, take the car back and swap back to my lovely CB then go home and explain to the wife and probably buy her some warmer thermals. I could, of course, put a match to this insidious machine and walk home, or I could master the technique of driving it properly. I decided on the latter option and practised in the lay-by changing gear and indicating, locating accelerator, clutch and brake. When I was ready I set off with a new confidence and soon found I was in 4th gear a doing a steady 45mph, and believe me that was fast enough.
Within weeks it was as if I had never driven anything else and that car served us well for quite a few years before we changed it for a Robin.
Time passed, divorce came about (nothing to do with the Reliants) and eventually I found myself away from Reliants and driving ‘proper’ cars. When I met my present wife I had an Austin Princess and she had a Honda Accord automatic, both cars were due for M.O.T. and both would fail miserably so we sat down at the kitchen table to decide just what single car would we like. Now my wife had got no idea about my Reliant background, the subject had never come up, but as we sat and talked she said,” You will probably think this a bit stupid, but I’ve always fancied one of those little three wheelers!”
And so the scene was set and since then we have had a standard Robin, A Jubilee Robin and now I have 3 Rialto’s and would I ever like to go back to ‘proper’ cars – not if my wife has anything to say about it!