A Driving Force


Everyone has fond memories of their very first car. I am no exception.

There is something very special about the first time you get handed the set of keys which are actually keys to freedom. They unlock a magic doorway to faraway destinations that you could only dream of. Before this, you would be standing for ages, frozen in the triste winter gloom of a cold and windswept bus station, having just missed your connection by a few seconds! Then all of a sudden, once you have a car, you are transformed into a world of warmth and comfort, as the little car effortlessly lets the miles slip by. You almost get the impression that it is laughing up its sleeve as it purrs along past bus and rail stations, leaving them behind while it chuckles away to itself!

My very first car was a Fiat 500L. Although similar in appearance, it was different from today's version which is a superb wee car. My 500 was just as much fun though! The one I had was an early version. It had a very small 499cc engine which was situated at the back. When the engine was started, it sounded just like a motorbike and occasionally did some spectacular backfires when it was warming up as it only had two cylinders. I would start it up by lifting a small lever beside the handbrake. The engine would tick over fine for about a minute.

Then –


You would be treated to what sounded like an artillery shell going off!

I lived in Brightons at the time and the boom was probably heard all around the village. The neighbours seemed to get used to it, or perhaps they just looked at each other shell shocked as the echoes gradually receded and the smoke dissipated. Amazingly, I never received a single complaint!

Years later, I saw a film called “Uncle Buck” and was amazed to find that the kindly uncle drove a much larger car which made exactly the same sound. I had never laughed so much as I watched the people in the film diving for cover each time his car backfired with a large puff of white smoke! At least I didn't have anyone diving for cover, although who knows? I was mostly just sitting in the drive as the engine warmed up and maybe this rather spectacular event would have happened if I had been driving in a town while the engine was still cold!

How I came by the car was that a colleague of my dad had driven the Fiat 500 into work at the large bus engineering depot one morning and had parked it round the back of the workshop in the yard. It wasn't in the way of anything, but very close to all the buses and was absolutely dwarfed by them! The car actually belonged to his mother in law who was on holiday and she had asked him if he could possibly drive the car each day to “heat it up.” She had found the car tended to have trouble starting if it was left for a couple of weeks. However if it was driven every day, it would run just fine.

This little car soon attracted an audience of fascinated vehicle mechanics, coach builders and coach painters. They were used to working with huge double deck buses and probably had never seen a vehicle so small. The mechanics would marvel at the size of the engine. They normally maintained engines that were larger than the whole car! Cylinders and gaskets were carefully examined and every inch of the tiny engine was inspected.

“What a superb wee engine!” one of them exclaimed in awed tones.

“Does this thing actually go out on the road?” a more cynical colleague asked.

As the days passed by, the car soon gained a cult following and became very popular as more and more employees came to have a look as it sat looking very lonely and out of place beside such large vehicles.

My dad also found out that his colleague's mother in law was thinking about selling the Fiat 500, as she was going to buy a new car once she returned from her holidays. I had just passed my test and he thought what a great wee car this would be for someone who was just starting out. My dad worked as a foreman coach painter, but he also happened to be in the right place to get advice about cars, in a garage full of mechanics, trimmers and coach builders.

He knew the very man to ask. There was a mechanic friend who often gave him a lift home and happened to own a very old but larger and more luxurious Fiat car.

“Are these engines any good? asked my dad.

This mechanic was very skilled and my dad knew he would go into a really technical description about the pros and cons. This time though he simply replied something that was music to my dad's ears –

“You have to shoot them to stop them!”

Smiling, my dad happened to glance behind at the floor of his friend's car, as he could feel a draft. He soon found the source. Just in front of the rear seat, there was a six inch diameter hole in the floor with strands of frayed carpet dangling down. You could actually see the road rushing by below.

“They've got really good air conditioning too!” his friend added with a wry smile.

A few weeks later, the mother in law had returned and the deal was done. I was now the proud owner of a Fiat 500L complete with a trendy canvas sunroof which opened without much protest at all. The car remained parked in the bus yard for a few days thanks to a kindly foreman while the insurance and paperwork were all sorted out. In the course of those few days some really good things happened.

My dad's mechanic friend had taken a shine to the car and during his spare time, he checked the engine and gave it a small service, changing the oil and spark plugs. He also fitted a modification which was probably not recommended by the manufacturers but was great fun. One of the buses had recently got its windscreen washers replaced with a new set. The old washers were still working and were destined to be thrown out. You can guess what happened next! The mechanic wasted no time and fitted them on the Fiat 500!

A large black button was fitted to the dashboard and when this was pressed, the windscreen on the 500 was not the only one that got washed. The washers were after all designed for a bus and when the button was pressed the water not only washed the windscreen like a carwash, but also jetted over the roof with a tremendous force.

If you happened to look in the rear view mirror at that moment, you would see the windscreen wipers of the next two cars behind coming on as well! It was a bit like having the “Old Faithful Geyser” at your disposal but being able to use it to order! When the car later went through its next MOT test, someone with a sense of humour who carried out the inspection put two ticks in the box beside “Effectiveness of windscreen washers” rather than one!

I had so much fun that year. I had just passed my driving test but still had a lot to learn. I spent the whole summer driving along the quiet country roads that we have around here, honing my driving skills and building up my confidence. I drove many times past Wester Shieldhill, then on to Slamannan. I would then explore the roads beyond Greengairs and Fannyside Loch. I also had hours of fun driving along what local people will know as “The Loan” and “The Coal Road” near Maddiston. Many a time I would drive to Muiravonside Cemetery with the little car hardly taking up any space in the approach road past the church.

Many funny things happened too. As I got to know the car better, I learned that Fiat 500 owners with the early version should always be ready to expect the unexpected! There was one occasion when I was driving up Glenbrae after leaving Falkirk to head up past Glen Village . The little car could only manage about fifteen miles an hour where the hill is at its steepest and this time, I was aware of a shape passing by me on the inside. I was being overtaken by someone on a bicycle no less! To make matters worse and to add to my embarrassment, he was also leaving me standing!

Another time, I was driving down Grahams Road in Falkirk when the car's bonnet suddenly flew up, making it absolutely impossible to see where I was going. By this time however, I was a bit more experienced and simply pulled into the side of the road, got out and nonchalantly pushed the bonnet closed, as if these things happened all the time!

It was all part of a learning process. It would be easy to use an old pun and say that the little car became a “driving force” and boosted my confidence as I learned the necessary skills to consolidate and perfect my driving. Even after all those years, it has made me reflect on how I am still learning new things each day in so many aspects of my life. We all do of course. How many times has it been that every one of us has probably remarked

“You learn something new every day.”

In a religious sense this applies all the time and it is one of the wonderful aspects of the Bible. No matter how often we read a piece of Scripture, something new will manifest itself. It could be a new understanding of God's love for us. It might be a sudden revelation which provides that elusive answer to a problem we are trying to solve. It may take the form of a phrase or concept which brings immense comfort or perhaps strikes a chord which resonates deep within our soul and lets us know that God is with us and we are not alone.

Each time these sacred words are read or reflected on, so much is learned and some new aspect is discovered even if we have been reading the Scriptures for a lifetime. Some people compare the revelation of all these different aspects by using the analogy of the Russian dolls which are all slightly different sizes and fit into each other. One by one each doll is revealed as the doll on top is pulled off, whereas in the beginning only a single original doll was visible.

The most well known “learners” in the Bible were of course the twelve disciples. The word “disciple” originates from the Greek mathetes which means a learner or an apprentice. The Latin form is discipulus which again is a learner or student. They later became apostles or envoys spreading the Gospel.

It is so fascinating when new levels of understanding about Jesus and his teachings are revealed in Scripture. Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, once made an observation that sums up how we never stop learning, no matter how in depth our studies are.

“To be a teacher in the right sense, is to be a learner, I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.”

This is now my main driving force – to learn more as a fellow student by exploring new levels of understanding in the Scriptures and rejoice in what they reveal.

I know I will never be disappointed.



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©2014 Drew Robertson

Blackbraes and Shieldhill Parish Church of Scotland

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