Ex-rated plates from golden days of driving

Ah! The joys of the open road... Those were the days when urban Great Yarmouth and Gorleston had its own licensing registration, EX (later AEX etc) before we were lumped together with Norwich and Norfolk in the mid-1970s.

Traffic was comparatively light in this area. Bottlenecks and tailbacks occurred only on Bank Holidays when trippers swarmed in or when vehicles had to stop because the Haven Bridge had lifted to allow shipping to pass.

Parking was a doddle, double-yellow lines and speed humps and enforcement cameras were unheard of; petrol cost a few shillings a gallon and we queued to top up when it was announced in mid-afternoon annual Budgets that at teatime the price would rise by a penny or two, and garage pumps stretched across the pavement to reach your tank.

Mind you, there was a downside: family cars were unheated or inadequately so. Steering was heavy, there were no reversing lights or screen-washer, plastic seats were cold or searingly hot, radios were hit or miss, windows had to be hand-wound...

Many local folk still miss our old EX prefix and, after I resurrected the topic in the autumn – linking it with EX10, a 1900 Daimler still going strong after more than a century – a few got in touch.

One who did not sign his note envied Essex and Suffolk Water employees whose vans had EX plates, although these are in the current format and EX is allocated to Essex, I believe.

From her home in Caister, Mrs Valona Thacker told me that she has always tried to have an EX plated car, recent ones being MEX and REX.

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John Rudrum, chairman of Belton parish council, another EX enthusiast, bought 1AEX as a virgin number from the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), putting it on to his motor-cycle “because it looked good on there.” Over the years he has acquired other personalised plates.

A letter from David Buddery, who lives in Addison Road, Gorleston, offers me a detailed history of EX10, much of it learned first-hand.

It was bought new by a Merchant Navy officer, Captain Briggs, who lived with his spinster daughter on Southtown Road opposite Frank Bately’s garage but died of pneumonia after only his third drive, says Mr Buddery.

Jack Pitchers, a relative of Mr Buddery, suspended the car from the roof of a large shed in her grounds and agreed to maintain it. After her death in 1944, Mr Bately bought the property – and the car with it, still in the shed.

His consulting engineer was Edward Proctor whose father held an important position at Fellows Dock, the family living on Southtown Road where, in an outbuilding, the son stripped the engine and replaced faulty components. When it was taken across to the Bately garage, “I happened to be present when the engine was started. After a suitable modification to the fuel, the engine started quickly.”

Mr Buddery says the Daimler had no electrics, a magnificent brass carburettor, one dashboard instrument (pressure gauge calibrated in pounds per square inch), leather-lined clutch and brake shoes (repaired by a local cobbler if they slipped), two gear boxes, candle lamps...

“Mr Bately and Mr Proctor regularly entered the car in the Emancipation Run (the 55-mile London-Brighton veteran car rally) on the first Sunday in November and always completed the course despite an exhaust valve breaking on one run.

“Undeterred, the two men drained the engine and replaced the valve by the roadside and completed the journey with but two minutes to spare.”

Frank’s daughter, Joan, inherited the car on his death but subsequently sold it, possibly to the owner of National Car Parks, Mr Buddery continues. He lost track of EX10 for several years but “one day I saw it on a trailer near Wantage (Oxfordshire). I was sorry to see the then condition of the car.

“It had obviously been neglected; the day was wet, with heavy rain, but the vehicle was only partially covered by an indifferent tarpaulin which appeared to have been inadequately attached. Indeed, the Daimler appeared to be not very well attached to the trailer.”

He understood an American woman bought the car but left it in the UK and drove it occasionally but changed the ignition system. The present owner has been unable to find anyone to restore the hot-tube ignition system and now has electric ignition.

The present owner invited Mr Buddery to accompany him on the 2009 Emancipation Run but “I declined: at 88 and with arthritis, a trip in a very open car would be just too much.”

That was a wise decision, for although the journey was trouble-free, heavy rain poured down throughout the rally.

Regular correspondent Peter Allard, of Mallard Way in Bradwell, well remembers AEX 1, allocated by ballot to Watson’s Garage on Southtown Road and fixed on a metallic green Vauxhall Wyvern in which Mercury photographer Les Gould and I were driven to Hopton White Hart on its maiden journey in 1956.

As for EX 10, he says that “previous owner Ernest Smith sadly died a few years ago and it was then purchased from his estate by an American lady who intended to take it across the Atlantic.

“Fortunately, a John Worth was lucky to purchase it at the last moment and the car is now in safe hands in Hertfordshire. It was a close call apparently. I keep in touch with John from time to time.”

John Worth was again at the wheel of EX10 when it participated in November 2010’s veteran car run to Brighton and safely completed the course.

I am sure it was only coincidence that last month the Mercury births announcements included the arrival of a baby girl named...LEXI. Now there’s a fitting name for a personalised car number plate paying tribute to the long-gone EX Yarmouth vehicle registration series.