Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The legend of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

My uncle Tom (Dad's eldest brother) passed away last year. He was a colourful interesting character and I've fond memories of him when I was a kid. He was the only businessman of the family at the time and ran pubs in the UK and later a supermarket in Ireland. In 1963 he and his wife came back from England for the summer with an impressive big Ford Consul car. My tongue was hanging out looking at this fine big car. Very few around us had cars at all and certainly nothing this size. Here's a link showing the model of Consul which Uncle Tom had.

One sunny day Uncle Tom and his wife took my Mum, Dad and I out for a long drive in the lovely big white Consul. It felt like we were royalty. We went to Dublin Airport and stopped in the countryside at the end of the runway. We had a picnic and waited for planes to take off and land.
After all the excitement of witnessing two aircraft take-offs in an hour (how different today), we got back into the presidential car. However our feelings of grandeur soon evaporated. The car would not start! Much under-the-bonnet inspection ensued by my Dad and Tom but nothing could be done.

Uncle Tom was sensibly a member of the Automobile Association. So he could phone them for assistance of course. Eh, that's if he could get to a phone. The only mobile phones in 1963 were in science fiction movies. So Tom attempted to thumb a lift to get to a phonebox. Cars passed by for awhile but then we noticed a bubble car approaching. Ah, the wonderful and enigmatic little bubble car, explanation diversion needed....

The Bubble Car was a tiny 3 wheeled and 3 seater car made by Heinkel - and actually assembled in Dundalk. Here's a site with photos of bubble cars. You entered the car through a single door - the entire front of the car was a door! There were two cramped side-by side seats in the front and a very tight single seat in the back - due to the teardrop shape of the car it was very narrow at the rear. The contraption was powered by a tiny engine of less than 200cc at the very back which drove the single rear wheel. It was like a lawn mower on steroids. The Bubble Car was popular for about 10 years from 1955-1965 and then was stopped for a combination of being dangerous in an accident and also losing market share to sensible and much bigger compact cars like the still famous Austin Mini.

Uncle Tom scanned the bubble car approaching with trepidation. I could hear faint murmurs from him like " Sweet Jaysus, don't let it stop, please don't let it stop!"

The bubble car stopped.

The front of the tiny car unfolded and somewhat appropriately there emerged a small skinny weed of a man. Uncle Tom's large hulking frame was a huge contrast. The little man listened to Uncle Tom and offered him a lift.

Very gingerly big Tom attempted entry to the bubble car. We all sniggered. I recall wondering if Uncle Tom weighed more than the car. The skinny man then sat beside him and was squashed against the side of the car by Uncle Tom's shoulders. This was getting funnier by the second. The last straw was watching the car drive away leaning precariously over to the side where Tom sat. We were in tears laughing by now. My mother got a bad cramp in her stomach from laughter and had to be helped to sit down. Eventually when Tom returned my Dad had to physically pull him from the bubble car. More uncontrolled laughter.

The AA were soon on the scene, fixed the Ford Consul and Uncle Tom was then back at the helm of a car that fitted him well.

There are other stories I could tell about Uncle Tom which were fun. When my own kids were small they used to enjoy me telling some of the tales at bedtime. But the favourite request was always..."Dad, tell us the story again of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car!"

9 comments:

missmellifluous said...

Now I am laughing and wanting more Uncle Tom stories too! The pictures are great! How funny...

John of Dublin said...

Thanks missmellifluous!

I've a few memories of strong connections which Uncle Tom had with Santa Claus when I was very young. I might get around to that some time.

-Ann said...

The bubble car looks so cute. Thanks for a good laugh.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Ann. Yes, many did like the bubble car, it was certainly unusual. It was quite popular for awhile but really too cramped and too dangerous in a crash, no protection.

Cailleach said...

What a great laugh! I knew what you were on about straight away, living in the town of the bubble car and having seen one in the local museum. I laughed too!

John of Dublin said...

Hi Cailleach. Thanks.

Bubble Car in Dundalk museum? That's good, it's a car that needs to be remembered, it sure is a strange vehicle!

missmellifluous said...

Totally unrelated to bubble cars and Uncle Tom, I hear that Dublin is experiencing a major heat wave! I only wish you could send some heat down this way!

Omaniblog said...

Oh yes please! I've had enough of Jeeves. I see a film of Uncle Tom coming... More soon... and well told.

John of Dublin said...

Hi Omani, thanks. I'd say it's more like a Laurel and Hardy slapstick piece - and you can image which of them Uncle Tom was!