A Life In Cars

The life story of Dickie Sutherland


October  Overseas Cars

Mike Spence prestige car showroom Lotus Dealership It was just the place for a car mad South Australia to wait out the winter months.

October 1970

The Mini Van left with Mum and Dad, if a prospective buyer turns up, if not, no worries it’s adventures on the high seas for me.

The big Overseas adventure took me and my two travel buddies Graham and Dyke to French Tahiti and yes, judging by their cars One would expect, their wage scale must be higher than we first thought as the island has many cars most of late 60’s models and good percentage 1970 models, Triumphs, 4-5-6- GT6 Spitfires, Opal GT-3,  Fiat 124 Sports, 128, etc.  Peugeots 404 – 402 convertibles, Fords of all descriptions, Mercedes – Ramblers – there must be money here we thought.  Yes, my world is seen in automotive terms.

Tahiti car park


We notice many Yank Tanks in the streets as well, British cars

Chev maybe, Mustang, and yes a Hillman Hunter wagon over on the right
Cortina in the dock area
Curasoa port after the canal more big Americans

UK late 1970

We docked at South Hampton and caught the train into London, there waiting for us was Ashley. We loaded into his VW 1500 and away we went on a Cook tour of London’s highlights, Ashley style.

There’s Nelson’s column, Ashley cries as we pass by!

After a night at Ashley and Andrew’s bedsit, we headed off to find a hostel for 3 nights. After a week in London and an extended stay in the Hostel, Dyke and I returned to find Graham packing to go. Leaving us here. what! Not wanting to go home before seeing the UK and Europe Dyke and I found a bedsit to stay in while we hatched a plan of what to do! Plan 1 do a 2-week train tour of England, Wales, and Scotland, calling on relatives as we go. Plan 2 do a 2-week tour by train in Europe then catch the next boat home.

Leaving our suitcases with our friends Jim from the boat trip over, we Trained away to Bristol heading into deepest Wales. Wales is where we met the neighbors of Dykes father’s family in Pontypool before migrating. Blown away we were by their excitement to see Dyke. Next country Scotland I found an address for my grandfather’s sister in Stirling (Bridge of Allen) Isabel and her daughter’s family was just as excited to see me, wow! The format was set, the next stop was Invergordon to visit George, Grandfather’s brother, and family. We were the long-lost family they had been waiting for, “come in stay awhile”. after a few days, we set off for Thurso in the north, to visit Grandfarher’s youngest brother and family. Again we were received with all the excitement of the others we had visited. Several days later Dyke said we should find work in London for the winter and set off in March to do the European tour then back to re-tour the UK before returning home in their autumn. Each family we visited said to stay till after summer, Europe is no place to go in winter.

Mike Spence Ltd

Jim McWilliams a local UK lad, Dyke, and I met on the ship sailing to the UK, Jim suggested I look for work in Maidenhead, the cost of living would be lower than London and it’s commutable to London.  He said there is a Lotus Dealership in Maidenhead with an auto service and repair workshop.  I call, spoke to the Panelshop foreman and after an interview I securer a job there in Maiden Head.  Dyke and I found lodgings a few streets away, we would live in Maiden Head for the next two months while we weathered the English winter. 

Mike Spence, Lotus F1 and Indy driver killed at Indy. After Mike’s death, his wife Lynne kept their prestige car showroom under the name of Mike Spence Ltd which continues its trade in that pleasant English town. Outside of motorsport, Spence was a businessman like so many of his brethren were and ran Mike Spence Ltd, which incorporated Mike Spence Cars and Mike Spence Developments all operating from the same site in Reform Road, Maidenhead. Too many of today’s enthusiasts, it is simply another performance car dealer. It was just the place for a car mad South Australia to wait out the winter months.

Sunday the day before I would start the new job.  Little to do, however, Dyke and I went for a walk to check a locally advertised  Morris Minor, Forty-five pounds but needs work and rego.

Mike Spence motors a Lotus dealership, the panel shop did any work that came in the door, there I met Robin the foreman, general hand Gary, and Henk a contractor.

Henk at the time was working on two main jobs, one a Valiant VIP sedan that had been hit in the left-hand rear quarter, the work was slowed while waiting for parts from Australia.  Adelaide South Australia, where the car was built. 

Vip Valiant

The other much more interesting car was a Gull Wing Mercedes a restoration project, it was smashed up, really smashed,  not the first time either. 

The Gull Wing had been a pretty dodgy repair some time ago.  The body had quite a lot of plastic filler, supported by chicken wire.  Henk at the time was making a template of the front windscreen to assist in the making sections of the windscreen frame.  I got to know Henk well, he had quite extensive knowledge of motor bodybuilding and the industry in general telling many interesting stories.

A Gull Wing in a very similar condition to the car at Mike Spence Motors

Henk explained these Gull Wing were driven hard, and people were well off buying sports cars to drive, therefore some of these cars have been crashed, repaired, crashed again, and repaired again.

Advertising photo

The process of Checking the alignment of the body, door opening, boot opening and the fitting of panels to the openings, and headlight fit, throughout the repair sequence. Check the car on a lift and inspect the tubular chassis for repairs.  This one has had quite a bad accident and then bodged up and crashed again. 

On the way to work, nice crisp winters morning in Maidenhead

There is an emerging quite apparent obsession to buy a car from the UK while I was over there.  From a chance meeting back in Adelaide when I had a task to steam clean the underside of a Car for the Australian Customs Department.  All cars had to be cleaned to prevent the import of diseases concealed in the dirt collected on the underside of the car.  I met Ray (ASP) who had imported a 1960 MkII Jag into Australia.  Ray was I met at Lewis Brother Buses.  He had bought the Jag in the UK at a very reasonable price and shipped it back, with the intention of selling it at a profit.  Exporting a car home from the UK I believed was an opportunity to buy a car well below Adelaide prices.  I would need a car when back home and if I needed to sell it I would make some money from the trip.  Information from the Customs House of the requirements to export, and import, a car.  Import duties are as much as the car cost, that is if I paid £100 for the car the duties were £100 plus the shipping cost to get the car home.   Hmmmmm.

Maybe, the Mini Robin the foreman said he would sell us would be the way to tour?

16.1.71 Saturday  Diary

Little to do.  We checked a few cars.  I got onto an  Austin Healey 3000 MKI, damaged £ 90, no not suitable.  Non-stop rain,  TV Saturday night, rain all day, the home was a serious thought.  TV is the novelty entertainment at night.

24.1.71 Sunday Diary

Sunshine all day even, to pass the time Dyke and I went for a walk by the river, the river Thames no less, and watched with amusement the locals trying to fish.  The highlight of the walk, I sighted a Singer 9 fixed-head coupe, laying, rotting in a bloke’s backyard.  I knocked on the door, an old chap came out, I introduced myself as a Singer 9 enthusiast.  He came out into the yard, telling us some of the car’s history, it had been on the Moors, a significant event that had little meaning to me.  I felt sorry for and frustrated that this car, a rare car, would be there abandoned, almost forgotten, to rot in his back garden, what could I say a Singer 9 fixed head coupe in the Aero coupe style of the 1930s was a crying shame. 

Picture of a 1930s Aero coupe very much like the Singer in Maidenhead

25.1.71 Monday  Diary

Working on a Rover 2000 boot lid, Aluminium.  Started a Lotus Elan front guard, overtime till 7.00 p.m.  Dyke’s first day in a factory, manufacturing Triumph Stag steering columns, after this first day he is willing to stop work any time!

Lotus sports car being fibreglass construction and my jobs involved repairing accident damage, by either reconstructing the body from the damaged bits or replacement panels. 

Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan +2

Thanks to my time at the WRE Plastic section, I had a good grasp on Fibreglass processes.

Other fibreglass-bodied cars Scimitar GTE V6 Ford engine, with front end damage requiring a cut and shut from the middle of the wheel opening forward.
Grafting a one-piece complete front of a Simitar, is an interesting repair quite different from steel-bodied cars.
All photos representing the cars were found on the Internet

GT40 Ford

Monday morning there I was standing in the front doorway of the workshop, the peace of the morning was shattered by the  Roar of a V8, very LOUD, that came blasting down the street.   A GT40, painted in an awful yucky brown paint colour, the young executive type that emerged all excited from the drive, was grinning from ear to ear with the exuberance of blasting such a car about the place.  Here for repairs to the inside top side of all four mud guards (fenders), caused by the wheel rubbing against the panels when bouncing along the ruff roads.  This car was a Lemans race car that had been modified for road use with softer springing which in turn allowed the wheels to rub on the mudguards.  Wahoo hoo!

The GT40 was one of the best experiences, car wise I took away from Mike Spence Motors.  “No you can’t take it for a short drive up the street” Robin the foreman explained. 

Oh, why not I exclaimed.  Anyways I did get to shift it within the workshops. 

There I am sitting in the driver’s seat, switch this switch on and that one and that one, Wait, wait, a colleague said.


Then press that button, whirl, whirl, whirl, VAROOM.   VAROOOOM ))) right in my ear, my goodness was that loud, that vee eight rumble, the taught vibration through the seat, the car, “hurumgar, brrup, brrup, broup”, throbbing (I was throbbing with excitement, the awe of it, can I believe this?)  

That was about it, not a momentous drive through twisting country lane, but how good was that VARROOM, I was in car heaven with a smile, a smile, that is still there.

Mini Minor 850 Van green, UK, Tuesday,

I borrowed from the Forman (Robin) a Minivan and drove back to get Dyke.  Great, it stalled right out front not to move again. 

Photo Yours truly and the beaut Mini Van parked in Ray Park Avenue Maiden Head.

Saturday afternoon got the Minivan going then a  drive to Reading, Oxford, Abingdon and Henley then shopping and returning for a shower before dinner.  We used the Mini on weekends visiting nearby local towns, and friends, generally enjoying the freedom the car offered.  Indecently the Mini had a fibre-glass bonnet.

Our time with Mike Spence Motors connected me to the British motoring scene.  Back in South Australia, I had a relatively small variety of motor manufacturers in the main late models.  A Mike Spence all makes and models  British sports cars, fibre-glass sports cars.  Fun! 

Europe was waiting and we needed to travel.

Exerts from Overseas Diary.

22.3.71 Monday

The Dickie and Dyke left Colnbrook Hostel heading to Australia House on The Strand in London, to catch up with the news, read papers, and collect mail.  Dickie received a letter from Marty enquiring about their plans, he was staying in Bradford.  With plans set to head for France to start our tour of Europe, a quick trip up to Bradford by train, after meeting up with Martin he joined the European tour.  All is set to start the Grand Tour.

15.3.71 Monday

Tax office – Australia House.  Saw a Hitch-hiking book (Europe on a Shoe String) in the Windsor Station bookshop, and we purchased it to become our Guide to Europe. Thursday trip to Jim’s to get the suitcase as the packing could be completed – letters to be written. 

Monday  29. 10.71: Dickie

Looking for a car at the local auctions we saw plenty of cars, and did a bit of bidding on a Hillman Imp.  Hillman Imp! three strapping lads and their clobber, no! do not think so, anyway, it was over our budget price, control Richard, control.

Tuesday 30. 3. 71 :

Checking the local used car yards, we found an Austin A55 Countryman (station wagon) £70 should do the job.  Insurance £43, green card, Dyke joined the AA (RAA equivalent),  Tax (registration) for four months April to July £10, how easy was that.

The Austin

Tuesday 6. 5. 71: Dickie  Up at 7.00 am, no flies on me, away by 8.00 am, made South Hampton by 10.00 am before boarding the Ferry fill up with petrol, Mileage at 169 for 6.5 gallons, 26mpg.

New road rule, drive on the right and give way to the right, the big problem was roundabouts. Going the opposite way and giving way to the oncoming traffic, great fun.  First night camped at Bayeux, 3 in the tent made for 2, not such a good idea!

Tuesday 6. 4. 71 : Dickie

France, new road rule, drive on the right give way to the right, or is that left?  The big problem was roundabouts,  going the opposite way and giving way to the oncoming traffic, great fun, locals beeping us as we go wondering what’s that all about! In hindsight it took me quite some time, years, to understand why the locals were beeping us for driving around the first roundabout.

First night camped at Bayeux, 3 blokes in the tent made for 2, not such a good idea. 

Shopped at the French campsite supermarket for bread, a real laugh.  The check-out girl spoke to me in French, at the same time she was chatting to a French chap.   I was prepared to wait but she said something to me, I had no idea what and  I immediately looked up at the Ceiling as if she said a bird was flying above me, the bloke and girl cracked up laughing, as we all did. 

Wednesday 7.4.1971: Dickie Leaving Montague the next morning drove toward the frontier, on the way we encountered a rainstorm, each drop was about a pint in size, with hail thrown in for good measure.  The rain storm lasted some time, (ten minutes), and visibility was down to a few feet ahead.  Note, prior to the storm I had discovered the brake lights were not working.  Driving at a slowed pace in the storm gave cause for alarm, what if a car drove into us from behind, or if we pulled off would we be in more danger from either driving into the unknown or having a following car drive into us?  Just drive, and the storm will pass.  The storm passed, we pulled over and I tried to find the

problem.  The stoplights and horn were not working,  I replaced a blown fuse but still nothing, so with a bit of tender loving attention I got everything working, also found a  spanner left by a previous owner, in the engine bay, bonus.

Getting towards the border the petrol gauge was reading ‘E’, E for empty,  it did so for the next  40km, it was on ‘E’ and when we were nearing the frontier, we had a hill to climb, a long, and nowhere to pull off.  Dyke was packing it for 30km but we rolled into the frontier, through onto the border post.  One Spanish customs official asked if we had anything to declare “no but do you speak English?” at that he hastily waved us on.  We got petrol across the border and a sigh of relief before we drove on to San Sebastian.  The Campsite was 4km out of town, up about 1km into the mountains with great views and we were to meet some English people staying there on holiday who befriended us offering tips on Spain and the culture.

Spain France border

Sunshine, for today last few days the weather has been cloudy and wet.

Spain the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

 Burgos camp we met the Canadian Bob, we met him in San Sebastian, another Australian family and two American girls Kathy and Margaret. 

We, Martin,  chatted to the girls over a glass of wine, they were in Spain for their school holidays touring around for four weeks in the Renault R4, a brand new ‘factory hire car’. They were enjoying their experience, fun in sunny Spain and the South of France

Renault and 2 American girls are over for the Holiday

Showers all around Friday night. 

Saturday morning another Australian couple saw us playing football and came over for a chat before we headed to Salamanca.

Traveling to Segovia via a bad road, Spanish roads are not very good, (the front left guard is hanging off the car).  Other car troubles, light fuses, horn exhaust rattle, and 2 flat tyres.

Running repairs with what we had at hand

Left-hand Mudguard falling off, note the missing piece,  repairs were made with the aid of four tin can lids, hole was punched in the center to create large ‘mudguard’ style washers.  The guard had rusted through, an old previous repair poorly done, fortunately, it had been PK screwed to the inner frame and those screws were able to be reused to secure the guard with the large washers.  How good was that, my trade training with a bit of lateral thinking came in handy there.

Niece via Cannes, concrete jungles, buildings packed in with little open space.  Along the seafront really big boats and a yacht are to be seen in one marina after another.

Not Caines But Marsesles
Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo Monaco, not impressed beaches poor onwards, through Nice, streets narrow no place to park, well there is the footpath.  Stopping to take the snap and find a place to change yet another traveler’s cheque,  no problems change. The streets have a closed in, crowded feel.

Nice Streets

No, no, the guidebook says, Romans on the Right, Christians front and Centre and Lions on the left

So! Where do the Australians sit?

“on their arses off course”.

Austin in Italy
Florence the best day’s weather so far

Florence is not bad, clean, sunny campsite, hot showers and nice people, very helpful.  Germans at the camp were friendly and we had many conversations, signs, and drawings, such were the communication methods.

Street view from the Uffizi gallery.

Looking out the Uffizi gallery window at the car park

Florence, walking around seeing as much as possible for free, most galleries were free Sunday.  There were statues at every street corner almost.  Statues by great artists such as Michelangelo’s David, reproduction we believed after seeing the real David in a great hall.  How good was this carving, such detail, as if it were a cast of a live body?  The statue was 8 feet tall  We met two girls from our Fair Star, the girls we met in when in Seville. 

We met two girls from our Fair Star, the girls we met in when in Seville.  They were well and enjoying their tour of Europe.

At 10.00 we hopped the ferry back and that was Venice


We drove to Naples via the coast road, the scenery was fantastic, sighted Aqua duct just outside of Rome.

Naples what a joint, maniac motorist no signage anywhere just maniacs trying to kill themselves and all others on the road.  Pedestrians owned the road, Italians live eat sleep run drive hold conversations on the road, and roadside mechanics are ‘road-center’ mechanics

From Pompeii, we drove to Sorrento to enquire about the Blue Grotto.  The Grotto was either very expensive or we missed the boat or not yet ready for us, so we drove back to camp.

On the drive, Wednesday night we saw women standing on the side of the road near burning tires.  We had stopped to take in this bizarre site to decide which road we should take when approached by a deep-voiced female asking if we needed some help, “no were right” (in a squeeky voice).

Anyway, Thursday night we drove in and around Naples, males everywhere, some hard to look at, with voices to match.

Naples to Sorrento we were too late for the Grotto, ship had sailed, so we drove back through Naples to Rome and on to Florence. 

Traffic Bulitin: Rome and Naples peak hour traffic, which is suicidal, also no signage of the roads and the signs to the wrong road, we needed a magician to find our way out!


Naples to Florence via super highway, a good road overtaken by a Maserati, “Woosh”.

The next stop was Rijeka’s, a big place, we camped near the town, bought some supplies, and had a day lazing around.  Inspection of the car, visible sagging at the back end, and inspection revealed a rusted chassis rail at the right-hand rear spring hanger.  Collapsed but is serviceable. Our decision was to head for Vienna.

Rijeka on the way checked out the Austin body condition

Weather good

Friday 14. 5. 71: Dyke

 Up at 7.30 am sunbake for a while then moved on to Rijeka, drove around some of the areas some towns like the Spanish villages, and country hilly with tall pine trees and grass.  Babe not bad in the tourist office at present camped at Midueja back down towards Labin.  Put bathers on went down to rock pile but did not swim, Marty did.  Came back to camp I cooked some stuff for tea but was not hungry I talked for a while then bed.

Yugoslavia via the coast road is picturesque, fresh feel to the countryside, not so populated not so touristy, and a great place to stay.  The coast is rugged and most picturesque, mountains.

We camped in an outpost near Pula, wild it sure was, with pine trees smooth rocky beaches, and crystal clear water.

Beach Stones Water Clear no sand

Medueja Weather Sunny first then showers.

Saturday 15. 5. 71: Dyke

After breakfast, we sunbaked for a while then started cleaning out the car discovering the backend is shot.  Will continue until we can’t go anymore, and see what goes.  Played cards and read most of the day had tea after organizing the car then read some more then bed.

Wien Weather too much

Austria Rest Relaxation

Monday 17. 5. 71: Dyke

After getting away from the Austrian babbler, (a very enthusiastic camp manager), we drove through more good villages to Vienna where we camped in a really modern campsite 7km from the city, had lunch then drove into Vienna, just a little different from other cities with some large impressive buildings.  Saw the Spanish riding school stables for free, and walked around the streets a bit.  Drove back to camp at 5.30 pm and talked with a British couple then we looked at a beaut park at the rear of the camping area before tea, reading, and bed.

What a HOT day, the heat in South Australia was nowhere near as hot as this day in Vienna 88 degrees F, and 90% humidity, Just Too Hot.

Tuesday 18. 5. 71: (Dyke)

After a hot shower and breakfast, we talked to the British couple again then drove on the Autobahn through green rolling hills to Salzburg where we camped just outside the city.  Grey clouds coming up we decided to do some washing, went to the Laundromat and amused the locals, Returning to camp the winds blowing and dark clouds, lightning, thunder then raining just as we were having tea, stayed in the car for protection, after tea read then slept.

Salt mine tour at Salzburg. I was with the tour leader, a girl, and another bloke.  Dyke and Marty followed. Great, we had a party of Germans and three girls from the tour, great.  The mines were long dark tunnels, long slides down to the next level, which warmed your date (bum) as well.  As we progressed down through the mine, by the end of the tour three girls were good company as well. 

Tour party Salt Mines
Kathy from Ontario Canada, Dyke, Isobel from Henley Beach, Martin and Carol from Ontario
Salt Mineworkers Martin Dickie and Dyke

After the mine we were invited by the Bus-tour leader to have a roll and beer with the tour group, he said they were heading to Munich suggesting we should meet there. We then said goodbye and see-ya in Munich

Further down the Rhine while driving slowly through a town, a school student stepped of the curb without looking for the oncoming traffic, ‘us’, to avoid hitting him I stood on the brakes skidding to a halt, following a nice new taxi, he slammed into the back of us.  No bad damage to the Austin and the RH rear chassis was already Bent, however, the front of the taxi was a mess of damaged grill headlights and water spewing out…  I leaped out and yelled at the lad, (he was one of a number of English school children on an excursion, and his teacher came to the rescue),  he eventually got the picture, as he had stepped off (as if the traffic were Right-hand drive) hence not checking the correct way for Left-hand drive.

We drove to the police station with the taxi driver following and tried to explain the event to the local policeman.  The policeman let us off; it was the taxi driver’s fault anyway, not allowed to crash in the back of others. The Austin LIVES to drive another day to another country!

On a road through the Alps, we happened to encounter
Traveling along the Rhine a castle or two were sighted


Mermaid sitting in the Harbour

Washing day, car care in the afternoon, and showers.  Cards at night weather hot, clear sunny days Copenhagen nice place, we trained in toured around, war museum, fountain, Mermaid on the rocks, Tivoli (Fun Park) movie (western in English with Danish subtitles), sex shops and so on.

Dyke Dickie Martin a couple of local girls at the Tivoli

After the Tivoli we headed back to the camp in the wilderness, ’twas there we enjoyed the twilight’, late into the day, birds tweeting overhead and so forth, bliss.

And when in Europe there are always a few VWs in the way

Amsterdam visited Rembrandt’s house, and Anne Frank’s house, while we were there Marty met two girls, he knew from the Fair star. 

Martin standing in the street near Anne Frank’s house

Photos of Amsterdam streets waterway “The Venice of the North.” Yes, both cities have hundreds of canals, but that’s where the similarities end. Tourists here in Amsterdam were more in-your-face and loud Americans, telling their kids off in a louder voice and with no follow-up action.

Wednesday 9-6-71 : (Dyke)

Drove along the Super-duper to The Hague, where we saw the “Prison Gate” with instruments of torture, poor boys who “lived” there.  Also, the Post Office museum with interesting things on stamp making and others.  Then the miniature village, which was excellent.  Left The Hague and drove on to Rotterdam, where we camped, there we met Dick and Francis and baby Andrew, an English family from the Lake District.  Played snooker, and kicked a gridiron ball with American kids.

(Dyke with his kicking abilities astounded the Americans, to which Dykes replied he was only warming up).

After the exhibition on how to kick a ball, we had tea and bed at 11 pm.

Rotterdam, “dam who said there’s a Volksee”

Rotterdam was flattened during the second world war and rebuilt into a modern city from scratch.  City Parking was novel if you drive a Lamborghini.

The model village was of many historical buildings, quite good.

Wednesday 9.6.71 At the Rotterdam campsite we met an English family,

Frances, Richard and Andrew.    .

Francis, Andrew, Richard Wilson with Martin and Dyke

From the streets of Brussels, we headed for Ghent and toward the border into France

Triumph Spitfire in Brussels

Monday 13.6.1971  Up early into Paris, find a park for our trusty rusty Austin.

Austin in Paris more than once a Policeman waved his finger at this Nobel car

With the intention of taking a quick look, look at the tower, Eifel tower a must-see, then The Louver, the Mona Lisa to pay homage to the great Leonardo, stand in line, Smaller than we thought, but nice.  The Nostrum Dane was next, is Quasimodo home?  “He is out just now.”   Well time to head for the coast. 

Eifel Tower

Ray Rarr Rrarn we got out with no worries and a gross expense of 6F to use the highway and 18.50 to catch the fairy across England, at last, no more questions at customs, then drive to Worthing via Lewes

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