Lost Loves Triumph Herald
To car people there's no such thing as a spare garage, because if there's even the tiniest piece of land onto which we can put a classic, that's exactly what we do. But my parents weren't car people back in the eighties when I was 15, so they did have an unused garage – and my mum's friend Alistair had his eye on it. Alistair lived in Cheltenham where parking was at a premium, and when the winter hit, he persuaded my mum to garage his (t)rusty Triumph for him.
Lost Loves Triumph Herald
I still remember Alistair bringing over his Herald, and showing me how the whole front end flipped forward to provide easy access to the oily bits. I was entranced by it (I got out even less then, than I do now), and I resolved to buy a Herald of my own sooner rather than later.
As luck would have it, within a few months of encountering Alistair and his magnificent Herald (there's a book franchise in there somewhere), I ended up working for a neighbour for a while. At the end of my stint he decided that instead of paying me in cash he would buy me something that I really wanted. I don't think he was expecting me to tell him that I fancied a Triumph Herald. True to his word I was given my Herald, albeit not the 12/50 that I really wanted. When shopping for my Triumph I had found a 12/50, complete with sliding cloth sunroof, but even as a completely inexperienced 16-year old I could see that it was rotten and overpriced. So instead I settled on a 1200 saloon that looked great – but turned out to feature more filler than metal, and the chassis was so badly corroded that there was no alternative to replacing it. Ah well…
I was given the Herald for my 16th birthday, and over the next three years I completely stripped it and rebuilt it. The car returned to the road as I turned 19, in May 1990; I still remember insuring it for the first time, on a classic policy, coughing up a hefty £567 to cover it as my only car. And that's exactly what it was; my sole means of transport for the next two years.
Within a few months of getting the Herald back on the road I moved away from home with my work, and the Herald would be thrashed up and down the M5 on a regular basis. I'd fitted a Herald 1300 engine for a bit more pep, but even with an overdrive gearbox this wasn't a car for long motorway drives. I remember heading back from a day at Santa Pod once, and having to slipstream artics on the M6 in hideously windy conditions, in a bid to exceed 50mph. I think some of the Herald's 60 or so horses were lame.
What I had really wanted all along was a Vitesse convertible, but I couldn't afford to buy or insure one, so I'd settled for the next best thing. In spring 1992 I took the Herald off the road for a short time, to fit twin carbs in an attempt to make the car more relaxing to drive over long distances; the only difference that it made was to boost low-speed flexibility, albeit marginally. However, I also took the opportunity to fit a sound system that I could hear when I drove above 40mph; my multi-amp, multispeaker hi-fi was the bee knees.
Although the Herald saloon and convertible use different rear tubs, on the former it's possible to unbolt the roof and use it in open-topped form; such is the joy of having a separate chassis. My insurer was fine with me doing this and during the summer I'd whizz about with no weather protection aside from a full tonneau that clipped over any seats that weren't being used.
One warm evening in June 1992, just a few weeks after returning the Herald to the road after its recent titivation, I was enjoying a fabulous roof-off night drive back into Weston-super- Mare. Life was good as I cruised topless, listening to something ultra-cool such as Culture Beat or Haddaway on my Pioneer cassette system. And then it happened. As I crested a brow in the road an Escort Mk1 was coming straight for me, on my side of the road, attempting an overtake. Neither of us had time to avoid a collision, and both cars were destroyed in the head-on crash. We were both doing a bit over 50mph and had no time to react, but even with a closing speed of around 100mph the Herald looked after me magnificently.
It was 1992 and I was 21; my 30-year old Triumph that I'd toiled over for the past five years – and which had only just been finished – was beyond repair. The guy in the Escort was 19 and his freshly rebuilt car wasn't much newer than mine. I clambered out of my Herald to stand by the side of the road – just in time to see an 18-year old local guy plough into my Triumph in his Vauxhall Viva HA. It was as though someone had set up a banger race on the main road into Weston, open only to young drivers. I always wonder if I'd still have that Herald had it not been trashed all those years ago. With the insurance money I bought the drophead Vitesse that I really wanted, and I then spent the next four years restoring it. Three decades on I still have it, although it was recently restored for the second time. Here's hoping that it doesn't suffer the same fate as my Herald.