Young Alastair and an early  Brabham car.
Young Alastair and an early
Brabham car.

At the age of 17 I was preparing the Queen’s Rolls Royce and the Prime Minister’s Jaguar.

1960 Training with the post office

Alastair becomes a mechanic through his apprenticeship with the Post Office.

My Father wanted us all to go to University. He was convinced from birth that we’d all be vets or university professors. Of course that’s the worst thing you can do with your children: tell them they’re going to do. If you want your children to do something tell them not to do it and then you might have a chance. My eldest brother went to university, my middle brother went briefly, but I had no intention: I wanted to get a job. My father was set against the idea and told me so, but he was too late as I’d already got one successfully. 'You have to find yourself a trade,’ he said. I knew liked fixing cars a lot and driving: 'I’ll be a mechanic.’

I was an apprentice mechanic for the Post Office in New Zealand, which was a brilliant job. I thought it was boring at the time, I wanted to be a mechanic with Jaguar agencies but none of them wanted me. My father was a senior civil servant and he talked to the Post Office and they took me on. Well it turned out to be a fantastic place to be an apprentice mechanic because 1) you didn’t have to do any work and 2) they had every type of vehicle. There were great big trucks, two-stroke lawn mowers, police cars, Jaguars, Ministerial cars… every range. It soon became apparent that I was quite good at being a mechanic and I soon had my own apprentice working under me.

We moved to Wellington because my father got promoted. I was seventeen. Wellington was the seat of government and the Post Office provided the cars for all of the government departments. They had a huge range of vehicles including the Queen’s Rolls Royce. At the age of seventeen I was preparing the Queen’s Rolls Royce and the Prime Minister’s Jaguar. The more sophisticated and complicated the job: I got to do it. They wanted someone to volunteer: ’I’ll do it.’

I went to night-school and got my certificate to say I was a qualified mechanic: an A-grade mechanic. The Garage I was working in paid A-grade mechanics £22 a week. I was on £7.50 a week because I was still classed as an apprentice. I was now married (at nineteen to Jean) so I was getting the married mans’ minimum wage. The guys I was working with were getting £22 and I was their boss. It didn’t seem right so I took action.

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