Mystery of the 1950s Ford Popular unearthed in a back garden is solved

Mystery of the 1950s Ford Popular unearthed in a back garden is solved after owner’s son reveals his WWII veteran father buried it there 50 years ago because it was too expensive to mend

  • John Brayshaw was stunned by find at his Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire home 
  • The 1950s Ford Popular was found while John was digging in his back garden
  • Now, the son of the man who buried it in 1964, has explained why it was there
  • Harold Lyles, a World War II veteran, buried it after mechanics wrote it off and he did not want to pay for it to be scrapped 

A rusty 70-year-old Ford Popular found buried in a garden was put there by its previous WWII veteran owner 50 years ago because it had been too expensive to repair or tow away, it emerged today.

The 1950s Ford Popular 103E car was unearthed by father-of-two John Brayshaw, 40, just inches beneath the surface of his lawn when he was digging in his back garden in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, earlier this month.

John had the shock of his life when he came across the car as he was starting to dig for decking posts while on furlough leave.

But he has since discovered that the motor was buried there in 1964 by previous home owner Harold Lyles, a World War II veteran, after mechanics wrote it off and he did not want to pay for it to be scrapped.

John Brayshaw was left stunned after uncovering a Ford Popular underneath his garden lawn

He said he had the shock of his life when he came across the car as he was starting to dig for decking posts while on furlough leave

John said: ‘It’s absolutely fantastic to have the answers to the mystery. I’m over the moon to have found the car and put a story to it.

‘It’s amazing that his family is still around and I’m glad they have got to see this.’

He has since discovered that the motor was buried there in 1964 by previous home owner Harold Lyles, a World War II veteran

John said that WW2 veteran Harold’s son Nigel got in touch after recognising the car on the news and revealed that his father had buried the car in the garden.

He said that Harold, a former electrician, had bought the car when it was just three months old in 1958 for his wife Margaret, but she hated it.

Harold drove it for six years until a mechanical failure proved too expensive to repair and he was told it would cost to have the car taken away for scrap.

He left it in the garden, where his two sons used it as a play den for a while, before deciding to turn into a time capsule and bury to be found by later generations.

Harold enlisted the help of his brother, who was a local builder, to use soil to back fill the 7ftx10 hole in his lawn.

Inside the motor, he buried a 1940s valve radio with artefacts of the time including milk bottles and a medicine bottle had been used to store paraffin. 

Bottles and crates found in the car. Harold’s son Nigel got in touch and revealed his father had buried the car in the garden after it broke down and was too expensive to repair

The Valve radio found in the car. Harold drove it for six years until a mechanical failure proved too expensive to repair

Although the car was broken up, noticeable elements including its number plate were found

Harold, who lived at the house from 1964 until his death 1987 told his sons he hoped they would be of interest to whoever found it.

Harold, who was born in August 1920, served in the Eight Army during the Italian and North African military campaigns when he was just 18.

After the war, he worked as an electrician and settled in Heckmondwike, where his widow Margaret still lives at the age of 91.

FORD POPULAR 103E

Engine: 1172 cc straight-4 side-valve

Power: 30 bhp

Transmission: Three-speed manual

Wheelbase: 90 inches (2,286 mm)

Length: 151.5 inches (3,848 mm)

Width: 56.5 inches (1,435 mm)

Height: 64.5 inches (1,638 mm)

Curb weight: 1,624 lb (737 kg)

John added: ‘If it wasn’t for the lockdown, I would take all the parts round to her so she can see it.

‘But she has seen photographs of it and her family said she it put a lump in her throat.’

And in another twist of fate, Harold’s grandson Damien is married to the headteacher at John’s daughter’s school.

Damian, 41, would play on the lawn as a child, blissfully unaware of the piece of family history buried under his feet.

He said: ‘Only close friends and family knew about what happened, my grandad was a private man.

‘My father told me over the phone at first – when he saw it on the news, he shouted out the number plate and cracked up laughing.

‘My nan laughed like the ummers when she found out it had been found.

‘She remembers helping to push the thing into the hole before my great uncle poured earth over it.


Harold, a former electrician, had bought the car when it was just three months old in 1958 for his wife Margaret, but she hated it

‘It’s lovely that it has been found as it brings back lovely memories of my grandad.

‘I was very close to my grandparents, I basically lived with them as a small child in the house that John lives in now.’

Harold’s widow Margaret Lyles, 91, said: ‘I giggled like mad when I first heard the car had been found.

‘It was lovely to hear it had been found, it brought back lots of great memories.

‘Harold bought the car when it was just three months old, we were living in Dewsbury at the time.

‘We were the first family on the street to own a car.

The Ford Popular was a common vehicle on British roads during the 1950s and early 1960s

‘Peter and Nigel were so excited, they were always asking to be taken to the seaside on weekends.

‘We had many lovely family trips out in it.’

John, a contracts manager, uncovered the Ford Popular, the budget family car of the day, in a 7ft x 10ft hole before the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

The Ford Popular – nicknamed Pop – could be seen on virtually every UK street in the 1950s.

It cost around £390 but came with only a single vacuum-powered windscreen wiper and no heater.

The 103E model had a top speed of 60mph but took 24 seconds to reach 50mph.

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