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The era before roll on – roll off

Posted by on January 22, 2015

I have previously written a blog about my father’s love affair with cars and in particular the Jowett Javelin which I remember well.  One reader helpfully pointed out that it seemed to be left-hand drive and another added that buying it in Germany around 1952 had probably avoided the punitive purchase tax on new cars bought in Britain at that time.  It all adds up. I recently rediscovered a picture of it which, going by the notice on the gantry, was taken in a Dutch or Belgian port. We would have been travelling to or from Germany.

The Jowett Javelin in transit between Germany and Britain about 1953

The Jowett Javelin in transit between Germany and Britain about 1953

Was it still the practice to empty fuel tanks and disconnect batteries while the car was in the ship’s hold?  In any case getting cars on and off vessels in this way was expensive, time-consuming and risky.  I imagine my father standing around nervously as he took this picture.  And the operation was labour intensive from the number of men on the quayside.  The roof-rack is well loaded.  The number plate is a curiosity and different from the one on photos of the car taken in Germany.  However I have now learnt that the prefix Q indicated a foreign car imported temporarily and the Q series was apparently issued by the RAC.   Despite trying hard I cannot read the ship’s name from the life-buoy on its railings.

The Second World War had greatly accelerated the transport of cars, trains and other vehicles by driving on and off ships but the first commercial car ro-ro (roll on-roll-off) service across the English Channel only began from Dover in 1953.  Vehicle transport across the Channel quickly increased tenfold after that.



2 Responses to The era before roll on – roll off

  1. Susie Gutch

    I very much enjoyed reading about your family’s Jowett Javelin and seeing the photo of it being lifted by crane. My father also loved cars and used to tell me all about them and their comic and curious names [ such as Armstrong Siddeley] now mostly disappeared. He would take me to watch the London to Brighton race when all the old cars would rattle past near where we lived in Banstead in Surrey, during the early 50s. I loved the old names -the Darraques and de Dion Boutons etc. Our first family car was a 2 door model Y Ford [black, of course.] It had only 3 forward gears, and my father taught my mother to drive on it. I think quite a lot of double-de-clutching was involved. I suppose the thing was cars were a luxury – not to be taken for granted as they are for most of us today. And I remember having to learn how to use a starting handle – now there’s a lost art!

  2. Diana Devlin

    Seeing the first part of the heading for this item, I thought I was going to be reading about ladies’ corsets, as I have vivid memories of ‘roll-ons’ to keep the tummy under control!

    I remember some of the humbler cars – my aunt had a Morris 8, and one time when it broke down, the garage man said ‘The Big End has gone’ which sounded to 8-year-old me like a catastrophe of epic proportions! My stepfather had an even smaller car, an Austin 7, which finally gave up about half a mile from home, and the two of us pushed it back to the house, and he went out and bought the famous Morris Minor, which seemed incredibly modern and trendy at the time.

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