Motoring: My Worst Car - John Brunning's Ford Thames Van

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The Independent Online
I was touring with Mungo Jerry in 1972 and we needed a van. Ahhh, now I remember why we bought a 1964 Ford Thames van for pounds 90: there was lots of room in the back for all the gear. Other than that, this vehicle did not have a great deal going for it, mainly because it had a 1,500cc diesel engine, a three-speed gear change on the steering column and no heater.

Now, that was a major problem. In winter the only way to reduce the chances of frostbite was to make use of the van's engine, which was actually inside the cab, underneath a huge metal cover. The prime spot for passengers was to sit right on top of it. I was never that lucky because our roadie didn't drive, as I was the only one with the proper insurance.

Unfortunately the rubber seal around the metal engine cover had perished, which let in all sorts of nasty diesel fumes. During winter that stink was made worse by the half a can of cold start that we had to spray on the engine to persuade it into life. I only need a quick whiff of that spray and it takes me straight back to those days.

Despite the smell, lack of heat and any other creature comforts, we made the best of it by decorating the interior with colourful contemporary posters featuring Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan and David Bowie. It brightened up the living accommodation no end and even helped to sound-proof us from the outside world. However, it didn't make the van any more comfortable, because we still had to sleep on top of all the equipment.

To be fair, the van was pretty reliable, although at one point the engine had to be rebuilt, which cost a good few hundred pounds. Then there was the time when our mechanically disinclined roadie claimed to have fitted new wheel bearings but had in fact spannered them up so tightly that it welded the wheel to the axle. We still made the gig, because the promoter rescued us in his Volvo estate. He collected the equipment from the van and generally ferried us about, which was luxury.

Then there was the time when we were touring American air bases in Germany, and the bracket holding the dynamo broke. The soldiers rescued us and said go and have some beer and burgers while we fix it, which restored my faith in Uncle Sam.

I don't know what happened to the van. I have feeling it got abandoned in a lay by somewhere. Then, like everyone else in the music business we bought a Ford Transit.

John Brunning can be heard on weekdays on Classic FM presenting 'Newsnight' and 'Smooth Classics', between 6.30pm and 9pm. He was talking to James Ruppert.