Randalstown man gives new life to 80-year-old automobile

An 80-year-old car, a 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12, pays a visit to a 400-year-old house, Shane's Castle Gate Lodge in Antrim
An 80-year-old car, a 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12, pays a visit to a 400-year-old house, Shane's Castle Gate Lodge in Antrim

GRAEME COUSINS chats to vintage car enthusiast David Selfridge about a project that has seen him bring a rare pre-WWII automobile back to its former glories

For 44 years Randalstown man David Selfridge has been in love with his wife Betty, however in the past four years he has begun to develop strong feelings for an older ‘lady’.

At the competition in Birmingham

At the competition in Birmingham

“She’ll be 80-year-old this year,” said David. “She’s an extremely rare model.”

The model in question is a 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12.

He said: “She’s very, very rare because Andre Citroen (the car company’s founder) made this car just before the Second World War.

“He didn’t make any cars during the war because he was primarily a gear maker and he was working on tanks during the war.

The 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12

The 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12

“After the war he made a Light 15 which had slightly more horsepower so it made the car that I have very rare.

“There’s only another four in the UK and this is the only one in Ireland.

“They wouldn’t be in the same condition as mine.

“I don’t think there’s very many in Europe. My guess would be 20 or 30 in total.”

David with his third place trophy

David with his third place trophy

So is it just a trophy car or is David’s 80-year-old automobile still roadworthy?

He said: “I’m still able to drive it though she’s exempt from MOT because she’s actually a historic vehicle rather than a classic car.”

Most recently the car did a 300-mile round trip to Birmingham for one of the largest motor shows in the world on November 11.

“We drove her from Randalstown to Belfast, across on the ferry to Liverpool then down the M6 right down to Birmingham.

The car during restoration

The car during restoration

“We did the same on the way back again. It’s around about a 300 mile trip.

“When we got her down that motorway she was like a rally car because of the dust and dirt.

“We had to wash her and polish her and get her under the spotlight. Then it was Friday, Saturday and Sunday on show.

“It’s fair to say I was like a child in a sweet shop with all the old cars they had on show.”

David was extremely proud of his third place finish at the Lancaster Insurance Pride of Ownership motor show in the NEC in Birmingham.

He said: “After three days of polishing and preparing and pestering the public for votes we were present with a credible third place in very, very stiff opposition.

“The show is open for cars from 1920 to 2000. We were up against nearly every car you can think of.

“The final was contested by tough opponents including a 911 Porsche, MG, Jaguar, Bugatti, Lotus Asprit, Daimler, Maserati, BMW and Ford Cosworth.

“This was such an amazing achievement and I would like to thank my friends for coming on this long journey over many weeks to present my car a such a prestigious and large event.

Asked how he fell in love with motor cars, Citroens in particular he said: “I had three other old cars before this one. They were all Citroens. I’m a Citroen man.

“You tend to get people who sway the one way and that’s how they stay.”

He said: “When I was a wee boy around Randalstown there was a man who always bought those cars when they were new.

“Nobody bought new cars in them days in the 50s and 60s.

“His cars were always gleaming. I always used to hang around looking at them.

“That’s where it started.

“It’s the old stuff I really admire. Especially the pre-war stuff with the big sweeping wings.”

Despite his passion for historic and classic cars, David does not drive a car on a day to day basis.

He said: “I don’t actually drive a car. I was a contractor all my life. I always drove a van. I’ve got a Ford Custom. I’m a Citroen man but also a van man.”

David bought the 1938 Citroen Traction Avant Light 12 in 2014: “I paid in around £6,000 for it but I spent about £14,000 on it. I put all new leather in it, all new door cards (panels), seating, carpets, completely stripped it down to the bare metal and repainted it and rechromed it.

“I did all the restorations over a 12-month period. She’s really just like a new car now.

“I bought the car just after I retired to give me something to do, something to poke around at.”

David retired from his position as company director of Craigstown Roofing and Cladding Limited around four and half years ago. The company is now run by his nephew.

David has been married to Betty for 44 years.

They have no children although David said that his car got so much careful attention that it could be considered part of the family.

Asked how long he spends looking after his car, David said: “According to my wife – too long.

“I do spend a long time looking after it.

“I have it sitting in a garage that doesn’t drop below five degrees.

“I actually renovated the garage and dropped the ceiling away down so it was easier to heat.

“My wife says if the house ever gets cold she’ll go down and sit in the car because it’s warmer.”

David sometimes takes his car to Creavery Primary School, where his wife works, to show the children.

He said: “The children love it. They do some lessons on transport and I always take the car up to show them.”