DRIVING tests – or the lack of them, thanks to the pandemic – are in the news this week.

It prompted Times Past regular Dan Harris to get in touch with two fantastic tales about his own attempt to get a driving licence back in the 1950s.

They are bound to strike a chord with our readers – as are our photos from the days of Rootes car factory at Linwood and its Hillman Imps and Minxes. Please get in touch to share your memories too, we’d love to hear them.

“I was on the home stretch of my driving test, and had just been instructed by the examiner to turn right at the Beresford Hotel and head down Elmbank Street to his office,” recalls Dan, who now lives in East Kilbride.

Dan in 1955

Dan in 1955

“There was a problem. I had to get behind tram cars but there were no traffic lights at this junction back then.”

He adds: “There was a well-meaning but bossy uniformed Corporation tram worker on the pavement. His job was to use a long metal lever to position the points at the junction to allow trams to turn right or go straight on.

“I couldn’t run over him, so I had to wait for him to adjust the points. Unfortunately for me, by the time he had finished that task, I couldn’t get round the corner into Berkeley Street, because of oncoming traffic, including trams.

“He stuck his head inside my lowered window. In those days the examiner could instruct you to use hand signals, or mechanical signals which were operated by the flick of a lever.

Driving tests are in the news

Driving tests are in the news

“I had been instructed to use hand signals, so my window was down. The points adjuster stuck his head through the window space and said, ‘listen son, just go up to the next junction and you will get round nae bother.’

Dan sighs.

“I was driving a School of Motoring car, which was clearly visible, so knowing that I would fail my test if I followed his advice, I quietly said to him (while nodding towards the examiner), that it was essential that I went round THIS corner,” he explains.

“He immediately took the huff, rushed back to the pavement and shouted, ‘right smart Alec, let’s see you get roon’ the corner.’”

By this point, a big queue of trams had built up behind poor Dan, along with cars and buses stretching back to Charing Cross.

“The tram drivers were clanging their annoyance, the cars were tooting their horns – it was so stressful and I thought I’d definitely failed,” he groans.

Inside the Rootes factory where Hillman Imps and Minxes were made. Pic Herald and Times

Inside the Rootes factory where Hillman Imps and Minxes were made. Pic Herald and Times

Eventually Dan got round the corner – and the examiner told him he had passed his test.

“When I got out of the car I stood for at least fifteen minutes in a state of shock,” says Dan. “I think it must have been on account of the remarkable calmness I had exhibited outwardly.

“Inwardly, I was a mental wreck.”

Dan wonders if other Glasgow Times readers remember that for a spell in 1956, some learner drivers were allowed on the road without having passed their test.

“I know, because I was one of them,” he says. “It was during the Suez Crisis, and provided you had applied to take your test, you were allowed to drive.

“It meant I could drive from my house in Maryhill to Cathcart five days per week to go to work at G&J Weir.

“I had an old used, 1935 tin box - a Hillman Minx which I bought for £25.”

A Hillman Minx, like the one Dan used to drive.

A Hillman Minx, like the one Dan used to drive.

He smiles: “It had no passenger seat when I bought it. My wife Marion sat on an upturned wooden fruit box. I was allowed to drive it with the one proviso of displaying L plates at the front and rear of the car.

“I drove happily for the duration of the Crisis which was short lived. When I went for my test I paid for a one hour driving lesson immediately before the test itself, plus the use of a Morris Minor car, owned by the Driving School.

“We went immediately to the Test Centre Office, after the lesson. As my tutor was leaving the car, he turned to me and said: ‘Oh, by the way, sometimes the petrol pump sticks. If that happens, use the spanner under your seat and go out and hit the petrol pump lightly. That will start the petrol flowing.’

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“Yes, you have guessed right.

“The examiner got me to stop the car on a hill and switch off the engine. I was then instructed to drive the car over the hill. I switched on, and nothing happened. I reached under my seat and pulled out the spanner. The examiner thought I was going to hit him. I explained the instructions I had been given. He scoffed and told me to change seats with him.

“He got into the driving seat, switched on and the car started first time….”

Share your learning to drive stories and driving test nightmares with Times Past. Get in touch with your photos and memories.