Mick Howard, who hand-built his Hot Rod custom made car, drove it to the Hospice to visit his friend Stuart Fall, on 4 July, which happens to be American Independence Day. Stuart, or Stu as he’s known to his friends, has always been obsessed with anything American, as he explains to the Hospice’s PR & Communications team:
“Before I left school my interests were birds of prey, Harley Davidson motorcycles, custom cars, dragsters, American movies – anything from America. Some friends of mine and I, have been into the custom car and bike scene for over 40 years and my friend Mick has what they call a Hot Rod car. He’d promised to take me out for a ride in this car, ever since I rekindled my relationship with him, since this illness. He’s called Big Mick; there were two friends and they were called Big Mick and Little Mick; obviously because one was big, one was small!
Before the visit, Stuart had been enjoying getting out into the open air and feeling the sun on his face in the garden areas of the Hospice - for the first time since he was diagnosed in December 2017. Having been cared for in the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit since 29 June, he says: “this place is better than most 5- star hotels!”. He has been an outdoor man all his life – having also enjoyed falconry, flying Peregrines, Merlin and especially Goshawks – and adds:
“I don’t want to be labelled as this person or that person, I want to fit in with the whole of this life you know? I can go anywhere: I love getting dressed up in tweeds, as much as I love getting dressed up in a pair of 501s.”
Stuart explains more about how his friendship with Mick came about:
“We first met – me and Big Mick - because his Harley Davidson had broken down. I was 14, just getting a loaf of bread in town or something, in Cambridge - and he was on the side of the road. He just looked like this archetypal Biker; he was seven years older than me and I could see how beautiful his Harley was; he was straight away a bit of a hero to me.
“So, we had this common interest and he said ‘Oh, come round to my house in Ainsworth Street’, which was a little back street, one up, one down, terrace houses. And in his bedroom... he’s got this custom AJS Chopper motorbike! Me - being out of a family that’s quite prim and proper: to see this guy who’s got a motorbike… in his bedroom!!! I think I spent most of the night there, just in awe…
“He’s been a friend now for over 35 years, from that chance meeting. That’s how it happens: he met Mick – Little Mick – his friend, because Little Mick had broken down on his Harley Davidson and Big Mick stopped to help Little Mick. He got back on the road and got him home. At the time, Harley Davidsons were as rare as hen’s teeth. So, if you had a Harley Davidson in Cambridge, back in 1981 or 79 – end of the 70s – you were kind of part of the elitism of motorcycling, just by the status of the bike you owned. It didn’t matter what you looked like, that’s why you see these old pictures of the Bikers and they’re just full of grease, hanging off a motorbike, and they don’t care what they look like. It was all about the bike.”
The conversation returns to the Hot Rod and Stuart explains what happened on the 4 July, outside the doors of the Arthur Rank Hospice at Shelford Bottom:
“So, Big Mick, he’d already been up to see me, but he didn’t come up in the car, so the next time he got in touch with my wife (who is sort of acting as my PA whist I’m in this position), I told her ‘Tell Mick and Rita (his wife) that next time he comes up to see us, to come up in the Rod.’
“So that’s what they did. The next time they came, they just parked in a normal parking space and we had an hour or two talking in my room. Then, when they were going we asked permission to park right outside the sliding doors. The lady on Reception said ‘Yes, that’s fine’; he parked the Rod right up outside the doors and we took photographs; interchanging with my “adopted son” Martin Smith, Mick and Rita, and myself and Mandy; we even took some film footage of him driving up and down the car park. When you’re outside in our favourite spot at the Hospice, you can sometimes hear Big Mick’s Rod coming over Lime Kiln Hill, with its big American V8 old engine. It sounds beautiful – really runs strong on the engine.
His passion shines through, as he goes on to explain how the Hot Rod cars first came into being:
“These Hot Rods – they came about when the GIs came back from the Second World War: they were restless and rebellious; they’d been out there, with the speed of the planes and the cars and everything; and then when they got home, they had nothing to do. But there were all these supplies left over from the War, so they were able to buy these big V8 engines, from the army supplies (they were giving them away, there was so many of them!). The boys were getting the old Fords, taking the little put-put-850 CC engines out of them and planting these V8 engines into them and up-rating the brakes. They would use lorry, van or truck wheels that were bigger, wider and had a lot more grip, so they could get the traction. They’d basically change the bits that either made the car go faster, brake harder or grip harder; and that’s where drag racing started. They’d take them on the beach, where there wasn’t anybody and two of them would go side by side, a beautiful woman with a flag in the middle, she would start them, and whoever got to the other end fastest was the winner.
“So, it’s been going on since the war. But - you know how there’s phases of fashion - then it went to cars that used new technology and all the F1 cars. The Rod wasn’t thought that much of 20 years ago, but now there’s a big following in the old retro Rod, that they first made back then. And Big Mick, he built his own – the one that came here to see us here, the other day. It’s a 1928 Ford, with a 1956 Chevrolet V8 4.3 litre engine, “
The car has an original 1928 Ford body and chassis – uprated and straightened to take the larger engine and running gear, - Firestone Vantage tyres, Chevrolet brakes at the rear and Ford Pick-up Truck brakes at the front. It took Big Mick three and a half years to build, on evenings and weekends. You might well see the distinctive vehicle at a local car show this summer or purring down one of Cambridgeshire’s country lanes of (or you will at least hear it coming!) …but remember, you saw it outside the doors of Arthur Rank Hospice first, thanks to the passions of an ordinary extraordinary man, Stuart Fall.