Not surprisingly, as soon as he was allowed to drive, Mike acquired his first motorized vehicle, a motorbike. It was on this bike that he had his first serious accident, in which he fractured his pelvis. Harold Dawes tells the story: “We were very keen on motor-bikes … Mike had a bike slightly before I had, I think it was a New Imperial. It was a nice old bike, of course everybody had old bikes in those days … I remember him telling me afterwards that he’d lied terribly to the family about the circumstances under which the accident happened … what he had omitted to tell his parents was that he was driving along adjusting the carburettor at the time, reaching underneath with his hands”.
After this his parents decided that it would be safer to get him travelling by car rather than on a motorbike. He needed transport anyway to get from his home in the Warwickshire countryside to the Rootes factory at Ryton-on-Dunsmore. One of Mike’s early cars was a 1929 12/50 Ducks Back Alvis. It offered him a very good training in car repair work – it was always breaking down and his long-suffering parents frequently had to go and “rescue” him in the depths of the Warwickshire countryside. In 1952 his father gave him a new MG TD sports car as a twenty-first birthday present.
His next car was a left-hand drive export Sunbeam Alpine, which he bought through his connections at work. Tim Fry had interesting memories of this car: “I can remember him buying the left-hand drive Sunbeam Alpine which he then proceeded to convert by stages into a right-hand drive Sunbeam Alpine, whilst he was still using it. At one stage you had to carry a passenger because the clutch pedal was on one side and the brake was on the other. Then it went through a phase when it had two steering wheels, one on each side. I can still vividly remember we were driving through Coventry, I was in the passenger seat and Michael was driving it. His steering wheel was connected, mine wasn’t. We drew up at a policeman on point duty. He waved us on, Michael and I both turned our steering wheels rapidly in opposite directions, and the policeman took one look of alarm and then ran for it.”
1956 was the time of Suez and petrol rationing; in order to get as many miles as possible out of what petrol was available Mike bought a Ford Prefect, which he subsequently modified to make it go faster. One of his fuel economy techniques was never to put his foot on the brake which meant that you more or less had to pass whatever car loomed up in front of you; Annabel can remember some hair-raising drives to school as a teenager in the passenger seat.