I suppose that I learnt to drive on this car. Far too young to go on the public road, as a boy I’d drive it backwards and forwards on our short driveway at home.This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Daimler & Lanchester Owners’ Club newsletter “Driving Member” about 4 years ago.
It wasn’t my grandfather’s first Daimler, nor indeed his first car. There had been a Crossley and then a closed Daimler, which only lasted a year as my grandparents found that they disliked being enclosed. The Owl Car was his last car, so called because my grandparents, my father and his sister all had different native owls as their nicknames. My grandfather had a minor accident, which led to his insurance company discovering that he was 92 (in 1948) and declining to reinsure him. My father had bought his Morris 8 convertible for £100 before the war and this was increasingly inadequate for a family with three boys. It was sold, again for £100, and this sum was exchanged for my grandfather’s Daimler Light 15, BOL 938.
My father was always rather self-conscious about having such a grand car, but it did wonderful service as our family wagon. He did have some stories about the days before it became ours, when, for instance, he once found himself as a young man driving it at 90 mph through the New Forest. (My grandparents lived in Bournemouth.) We couldn’t really afford the maintenance of a complex and already ancient car and my memory is that Sundays were always spent taking it apart in our garage. We never did get it to go into reverse without much banging down of the pre-selector leaver. There was a mystery about the missing switch for something – the interior light, I think – that my father installed and the two tiny, round mirrors at the upper corners of the windscreen. The only purpose that we could think of for these was to check that the semaphore indicators were working. We also installed a wireless with a domestic extension speaker on a bell wire for the rear passengers.
In 1953 we drove to London to see the decorations for the Coronation. I remember that there were 12 of us in the car including many children. I was sitting with one of my brothers on the folded down hood, our feet amongst those on the back seat. A policeman looked up at me as we drove slowly past and called, “Are you alright up there?”
The hood was originally grey my father said, and very swanky. By my time it was black and unfortunately a repair to the tiny, rear window had made it slightly more than a third of the rear panel, so the hood never really folded down neatly again.
In 1954 my father heard that he was to go to work in Washington D C and one evening I was told that although my brothers were to go as well and attend school there I was to be left in the UK, as otherwise I’d get back just in time but unprepared for my “O” levels. After some silent thought I surprised my parents by asking, “What will happen to the car?” It couldn’t go to Washington with us of course. We had been considering replacing it and the only realistic option was a Morris Minor at £700. In the event it was replaced with an automatic, 3L., 6 cylinder, ‘55 Studebaker Champion Sedan, at $2,100 almost exactly the same price at $3 to one guinea as the Morris! The bonus for me was that I got three summer holidays travelling to the USA on Cunard liners
The Daimler was sold in 1954 to somebody else who worked at AERE Harwell. My father felt that it was unlikely that anybody would have the patience or, alternatively, the money to maintain it, but I just wonder……. Is the Owl Car still hooting somewhere?