1946 Vauxhall 12 (internet)
Dad bought it in 1954 when I was a year old and it was of British manufacture, though the steering wheel was on the left hand side so it must have been made for export. He was the third or fourth owner, and none had been of the ‘careful’ variety, so it had seen better days. Its maximum speed was 60 km per hour, and my sister remembers Dad with his foot to the floor doing 58, and Mum shouting querulously at him to slow down his 'breakneck speed'.
However there were parts you couldn’t get, particularly those responsible for keeping it going. Your only hope was to contact some Anglo-Argentine friend who worked at the Blue Star Line shipping company offices in town, and get him - through his contacts - to get one of the stewards on board a passenger ship to bring a part with him on his next trip, and then you waited for six months. In fact it was well known that the stewards supplemented their income by bringing Scotch whisky, British tobacco and chocolate over with them to sell to the people anxious for imported luxury goods who would be waiting at the quayside of the Buenos Aires docks.
The old Vauxhall’s engine was started by means of a button behind the steering wheel which was temperamental in the mild and damp winters and during the summer thunderstorms of Buenos Aires. When it refused to cooperate you had to hunt for the starting handle which fitted into a slot outside the car above the front bumper, and turn it energetically until it sparked into life. The muttering of oaths and curses throughout this procedure was essential.
My sister still remembers the embarrassment she felt as a six year old when they stopped at a set of traffic lights on Montes de Oca Avenue. When the lights turned to green the car stalled, and our mother had to brave angry drivers sitting on their horns while she climbed out of the car in her faux fur coat and high heels, hunted for the starting handle and yanked it round in fury until it coughed back to life, while my sister glanced around her fearfully in case she saw anyone they knew.
This was the car which, during my early days at boarding school when I was five, took us up and down the many hours of sticky, muddy track - otherwise known as the main road - on the first and last day of term, when we felt we were setting out into the unknown at the mercy of both the weather and drivers in other more powerful cars which would have to haul us out. On one occasion even a car transporter loaded with new farm vehicles stopped to help. We were hoisted onto the top level and while our parents shared the cabin with the driver, we travelled on the top in swaying, towering splendour, seeing the land from a very different perspective and feeling terribly important.
This was the car in which my parents were earnestly discussing their impecunious existence, unaware that little-pitchers-have-big-ears until my five-year old sister piped up tearfully offering the contents of her piggy bank.
Hoover washing machine, 1950's. Internet picture
She rang The Buenos Aires Herald, the English language newspaper where in his free time my father would go to submit his report on the latest cricket match under the pseudonym “Cover Point” – but he had not been in that evening. There was no point in ringing the police, since they were known to take bribes and could be relied upon to show little interest, and she did not feel she could contact any of his friends in view of the late hour.
By 1 a.m. the carpet was worn out and her frenzy had turned to fury, so when he walked through the door beaming all over his face half an hour later he was lucky she didn’t greet him with the meat cleaver.
“Look darling!” he exclaimed “Look what I’ve got. I’ve been so lucky. The Argentina Star is in port, Dougie rang to tell me today so I went down there after work, and guess what – the pistons for the Vauxhall have arrived! Isn’t it wonderful? So I stayed and had a drink or two with them and….”
His voice trailed off as she burst into tears as he stood there with packages in his arms and a nonplussed look on his face.
By his reckoning ‘a drink or two’ was the least he could do to thank them for their trouble, he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about…