NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Pensioner reunited with vintage car after 60 years

Bert in the Humber Image copyright Robin Wills

An 83-year-old man has been reunited with a vintage car he drove in the 1950s, after its current owner tracked him down.

Bert Davidson, from Hopeman, near Elgin, had not seen his 1929 Humber since he sold it nearly 60 years ago.

But a few years ago he was contacted by Robin Wills - whose father had owned the saloon car in the 1960s and 70s - who had tracked it down to America.

Mr Wills has since restored the dilapidated car to its former glory.

After towing it up to Elgin from his home in Brancepath, County Durham, Mr Davidson once again got a chance to sit behind the wheel.

"I had a run around the block in it. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip," Mr Davidson told the BBC News website.

"It was a grand motor car and he's done a magnificent job restoring it. The paintwork is in its original colours. The interior is all original. He tried to get me to drive it - but I said 'I'd better not!'"

Image copyright National Library of Scotland
Image caption Bert Davidson after winning his class in the 1959 Kildrummy Rally

Mr Davidson had first come across the car at an old coachbuilders in Elgin while working at his father's garage following his National Service in 1954.

It was under a dustsheet and he asked the owner if he could buy it.

"He said 'No laddie, I'm not selling it'," Mr Davidson said. "I asked him again eight weeks later. This went on for two years. Eventually he said I could have it and he asked how much I had in my pocket. I got it for £15 which was a bargain."

Mr Davidson restored the car and in 1959 entered it in the Kildrummy Rally, where vehicles travelled from Kildrummy to Aberdeen. He won the vintage class.

"I was the only kilted competitor," he said.

Eventually, Mr Davidson's father sold his garage and he had nowhere to keep the car so it had to go.

"I sold the car to a man from RAF Kinloss or Lossiemouth for £185," Mr Davidson recalled. "I watched him drive away and put it completely out of my mind. That was the last I saw of it until Robin got in touch 55-60 years later.

"I was very surprised when he got in touch and I am delighted that I'm going to see the car again."

Image copyright Robin Wills
Image caption Top right and left, the car when Mr Wills' father (pictured) owned it. Bottom right and left the car when it was in America

Mr Wills' father bought the car in about 1965 but sold it to a Newcastle car dealer in 1974, when Mr Wills was aged four.

The next time Mr Wills saw it, it was when it appeared in the opening credits of the 1976 Likely Lads film.

"It's unique because it has an owl on the front, on the top of the radiator," he said. "So I knew it was the same car."

Mr Wills' research, which took two years, revealed that the car was later bought by a man who took it to America and it had crossed the Atlantic four times.

It was also owned by the man's brother, Lotus designer Martin Waide.

However, after its engine blew up in 1979 it was never driven again until Mr Wills brought it back to its former glory.

"I used to talk to my dad about the car in my teenage years as I had fond memories of it," he said. "I was delighted and astounded to find it. When I got it back the first thing I did was to open the door, shut my eyes and took a whiff.

"It has the original interior. It hasn't been touched in 98 years. The smell was astounding. It was as if I had been transported back to 1974."

The Humber had some plaques inside it relating to the Kildrummy Rally.

Image copyright Robin Wills
Image caption Clockwise from top left, Robin Wills with Martin Waide in America, the car being restored and the finished product

Mr Wills carried out an internet search and found footage of the rally, which included Mr Davidson and the car, on the National Library of Scotland's Moving Image Archive.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "It was as if someone had walked on my grave. It was an incredible experience."

He then managed to track Mr Davidson down.

"The sense of excitement in his voice was unbelievable," Mr Wills said. "I think he was as excited as I was."

Image copyright Northern Scot
Image caption Bert Davidson said he was delighted at seeing his car again

The two men discovered they had more in common than the Humber - they also shared the same birthday.

For Mr Davidson's 80th, Mr Wills sent him the car's original front number plate which the pensioner had made.

"I thought that was great," Mr Davidson said.


The 1929 Humber saloon

Image copyright Robin Wills
  • Described by Mr Wills as a "real driving experience"
  • Has a 9 horse power engine
  • It has a top speed of 45-50mph
  • Its accelerator is the middle pedal
  • It has a "crash-type transmission" where the gears "collide" and gear changes have to be timed with the engine revs
  • The brake pedal only operates the front brakes with the handbrake operating the rear brakes
  • It has a combination ignition system controlled by a lever on the steering wheel

Image copyright Robin Wills
Image caption Bert, his wife Mary, Robin, son Harry wife Anna met up near Elgin

The journey to northern Scotland with the car on Saturday was wet at times, forcing Mr Wills to make an emergency stop to buy brass polish.

"I had to buff up the brasswork. I wanted it to look its best for Bert," he said.

"It's been an amazing experience. I feel a bit like Doctor Who, travelling back to meet characters from the past."

The Humber's owners, past and present, exchanged gifts - a photo album of the car and a bottle of whisky from Mr Davidson's home town of Elgin.