More Driving Mad

I recently paid a visit to Brighouse. A small town in the former Heavy Woollen District of West Yorkshire, Brighouse is on the eastern slopes of the Pennines. Being situated where it is, the town is separated from Leeds by a number of downward slopes. It is a lovely town with some beautiful Victorian buildings which remind the observer of affluent times gone by. My over-riding memories of Brighouse relate to neither affluence or beauty.

I was dispatched along with BP to collect a car which was broken down and needed the expertise of our Renault Main Dealership. We collected the Renault 750 from the local Renault dealership and commenced to attach it to the back of our Commer pickup with a rope. We had a journey of about fifteen miles which would have taken about thirty to forty-five minutes….

Nowadays, if you are going to tow a vehicle in a professional manner, you attach the two vehicles by means of a strong metal bar or, even more preferably, you would use an A-Frame or a vehicle transporter trailer. The solid bar method ensures the gap between towing and towed vehicles is maintained safely – particularly important since the one at the rear will almost certainly have compromised braking efficiency if the engine is not running. All the braking is done by the towing vehicles and the person controlling the towed vehicle simply concentrates on steering, not in itself always as simple as it sounds, but generally the towed vehicle is dragged along in the direction dictated by the towing vehicle.

BP was the senior member of our team of two so he pulled rank and was to drive the pickup whilst I was to command the rearguard! Now it is important to recognise the difference between modern day vehicles and the Renault. There was no power steering or brakes even if the engine was running, which it wasn’t. The brakes were not designed for high performance and power steering was not required for such a lightweight vehicle. We attached a rope and the nightmare began!

Being towed by rope requires a completely different strategy to a bar. The ‘driver’ of the towed vehicle has the job of keeping the tow-rope tight. If the rope is not tight, the towed vehicle freewheels towards the towing vehicle every time a gear change is made or the brake is pressed. The consequence of this is a resounding jerk every time the slack is taken up. If the rope is not strong enough, a break occurs; if the attachment site is not strong enough, a lump of bodywork is ripped off one or other of the vehicles. If these calamities are  avoided, there is a neck jarring shock transferred to the towed ‘driver’. So I was employed keeping the rope reasonably taut negotiating the hills down towards Leeds. Every junction, every bend, if I say so myself, I was quite good at it.

It did not take long though to realise that as time went on, I was having to press the brake harder to achieve the same retardation performance. Not only that but we were actually travelling faster as we progressed along our route.

I began to get a bit worried and pressed the horn hoping that BP might stop so that I could communicate my fears. I do not remember whether the horn worked or not but it had no effect on BP. The rest of the journey can best be described from my privileged position as careering. The runaway Renault came down the track and she did not blow! The brakes had gone into a complete fade, a comparatively common problem at the time if brake linings were allowed to get too hot.

About a mile from our garage, I had used up all the prayers and expletives I knew but the climax was about to unfold. On the Whitehall Road in Leeds is a public house called The Dragon. Close to The Dragon is a notorious S-Bend, generally referred to as The Dragon Bend. Approaching the bend, BP decided to overtake a vehicle that was impeding his high-speed progress. Now there was not really a safe opportunity for BP to overtake and get round the bend with the certainty of no vehicle approaching from the other direction. He made it and I had no alternative but to make it too. I went into the first bend alongside the vehicle that had so desperately threatened to delay BP from his lunch. There was no point in me attempting to do otherwise. If it had been a Formula 1 move, I would have been summoned before the stewards and punished with a multi-place grid penalty.

I, obviously, also made it round the second bend though The details are lost in a blur and the rest of the journey was relatively sedate.

When we pulled into the garage yard and stopped, I sat in the car gathering my thoughts, allowing my heart rate to return to normal until BP came to the drivers door of the Renault. I politely asked what he had been playing at. ‘I had forgotten you were there ‘ was his reply. So he was absolutely oblivious to any problems I had and could not even remember the manoeuvre at The Dragon bend!

Fifteen miles felt more like fifty and the half to three quarters relates to lifetimes not hours.

I had never had a journey like it before or since.