SEP 12th 2015

Thank Frankel it's, er, Saturday – Growing up in the back seat of a Rolls‑Royce

You have to be careful where you say these things and to whom, because if you tell most people that your childhood playground was the back seat of a large, bright yellow Rolls-Royce, they could be forgiven for thinking you were born with not so much a silver spoon in your mouth, as the Downton Abbey cutlery drawer.

But it’s true, at least in part. This was the late 1960s, going into the early 1970s, and as anyone old enough to remember such times will tell you, old Rollers weren’t exactly valuable. On the contrary: my father bought the car in the summer of 1967 and if you look through the classifieds of Motor Sport from that era, you will find the going rate for a well used 1931 Rolls-Royce 20/25 Park Ward saloon was about £600 or, put another way, quite a lot less than the price of a second-hand MGB.

Revival Live

He bought it because he thought it was funny, the MPV had yet to be invented and he needed the seats. Technically it had seven if you include the two jump seats in the back but as it became far and away the most popular school run car in the neighbourhood, he’d often disgorge up to ten tiny children at the school gates. Indeed it was christened the school bus and to this day when it crops up in conversation between me and my brothers, it is never referred to as anything else.

It became our playroom, I think, when building work ruled out use of the garden, so me and my mates just larked about in the back of the bus instead, building Meccano, flinging Dinky toys through its lambs wool carpets and, of course, sitting behind its vast Bakelite wheel and pretending to drive.

Indeed, I enjoyed driving it far more than my father who soon realised he’d made a terrible mistake. The car was desperately slow – 50mph was a rare and real achievement – and we refused to go anywhere in anything else, not because we wanted to be paraded around in a Rolls-Royce for I am quite sure I had no idea what a Rolls-Royce was, but because we just loved its looks, its smell, its space and the entirely bogus sense of strength and safety it exuded.

‘My memory of that holiday is being stuck at the side of the road while my father found ever more inventive ways of sourcing Dunlop Fort inner tubes in Brittany and the Loire’

Sadly, we overplayed our hand. One summer, we insisted we took the school bus for our annual drive through France, instead of whatever nice, interesting family saloon – an Alfetta probably – was also at our disposal. Unfortunately by now this was 1976 which some of you will remember was a touch on the warm side. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the engine that couldn’t cope nor, so far as I recall, the occupants. It was the tyres or, specifically, their inner tubes.

I can’t remember the exact details and no-one who could is left alive to tell, but my memory of that holiday is being stuck at the side of the road while my father found ever more inventive ways of sourcing Dunlop Fort inner tubes in Brittany and the Loire. Eventually, some bright spark realised there was a truck tyre tube that would fit and the problem went away, but then we took it to the beach and returned to find the car had turned red. Upon closer inspection it turned out the car had become cloaked in a wrap of several million ladybirds, all inexplicably drawn towards it yellow paintwork. I feel faintly phobic about them to this day.

So we limped slowly home and the school bus got sold after 10 years’ valiant service. I’d love to know what happened to it and if it has survived, but as I have just one picture of it with your intrepid writer perched atop its radiator and know it only by its Jersey registration (J864), I expect I never will. But if this car rings any bells with any of you, all clues to its current whereabouts would be gratefully received.

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