I had my first driving lesson in 1952, when I was ten. That probably sounds very young, but being able to drive was important in a rural area like Maungaturoto.
I can actually remember that first lesson quite well. We had a Vauxhall Velox at the time, which looked something like the one in the picture.
I was too short to reach the foot pedals, so dad sat in the driver’s seat with me on his knee. He operated the accelerator and the footbrake and I steered. I told him when I wanted to change gear and he pressed the clutch pedal down while I moved the gear lever. In those days, the gear lever was a “stalk” on the steering column, similar to the indicator and windscreen wiper stalks on a modern car (but much larger), so I could reach it easily.
I clearly remember that I got the car up to 45 miles per hour (about 70kph), which the ten year old Dale thought was very fast indeed. But I also remember how disappointed I was, afterwards, when we visited my parent’s friends, the Brooks family (they owned the local bus company). When I boasted about how fast I’d driven, Brooksie (as she was known) totally deflated me by pointing out that speedometers in those days were unreliable and, since I’d been driving up a hill at the time, it would have overstated the car’s speed. It’s now 65 years later and I still haven’t forgiven her for ruining my proud story!!!
Cars were a bit different in those days. The front seat used to be a “bench” across the whole width of the car, rather than two individual seats, so you tended to sway a bit when you went round corners as there was less lateral support. And there were no electrically-operated windows or wing mirrors (you had to wind a handle to get the windows to go up and down). And, of course, there was no air conditioning (if you’re hot, open the window).
Cars didn’t have indicators, either. To indicate you were turning right, the driver had to wind down their window and put their arm out, like in the first photo on the right.
Later on, what were known as trafficators were introduced, like the one in the second photo on the right. They weren’t very successful, mainly because it was very easy to break them.
Not many years later, trafficators were replaced with the modern blinking-light indicators.
In those days, many country roads weren’t tar sealed, so car trips took a lot longer. You had to drive much more slowly, because otherwise it was really bumpy. Anyway, it was too dangerous if you went fast, as the car could skid and you could end up crashing off the side of the road.
Gravel roads also made it more difficult going up hills. You still sometimes see a road sign asking downhill traffic to give way to uphill traffic. That’s because, in the olden days, if you stopped to give way while driving up a hill, it was much more difficult to get started again (partly because of the skiddy gravel and partly because cars were less powerful).