“How reuniting my dad with his beloved long-lost car helped with his dementia”

Nicola Evans tells how tracking down the racing car her father hand-built in the 1950s was a boon to both of them.

When Nicola Evans’s father was diagnosed with vascular dementia, their life-long passion for cars came to the rescue in the greatest way possible. A chance search on the internet for her father Richard’s old number plate, 1 EMX, resulted in her rediscovering the racing car he’d hand-built in the 1950s. And, after a few phone calls, the pair were reunited. 

Richard Evans poses with his sports car, 1 EMXCredit: Nicola Evans
It was an emotional moment when Richard was reunited with the car he’d built from scratch in the 1950s

Project “dementia”

Evans – a technical official for England Athletics and former university fencing captain who is now involved with a local sailing club – knows the value of a project when it comes to dealing with dementia. She recognises how great it can be for the mental health and wellbeing of both patient and carer alike. 

So, before rediscovering the car, Evans, 50, had created a scrapbook. It was to help Richard, who recently celebrated his 96th birthday, recall his action-packed past. From there, it was a case of one thing leading to another. The pair would often sit down and look at the pictures, which led to Evans thinking about how great it would be to see where the car was today. 

Richard behind the wheel of 1 EMXCredit: Nicola Evans
Richard behind the wheel of his beloved 1 EMX

Rediscovering the past

The love of his life has always been the car. Evans says: “My dad built the car registered as 1 EMX in the 1950s and raced at Silverstone, Goodwood, Thruxton and Brands Hatch. I think 1 EMX stood for Evans Motor Xperimental. I’m told it was really his love – a real sports car.”  

But as is almost always the case with cars, it was eventually sold and, quickly, Evans’s dad lost touch with its whereabouts. “Then one Christmas a couple of years ago I was trying to decide what to get Dad,” Evans says. “Knowing it’s good to revisit the past with dementia patients, I thought I’d create a montage of photos of 1 EMX.

“I was browsing the internet for any sign of 1 EMX photos (as I had done on many occasions previously) and suddenly there was a new link – a new thread in the Autosport Forum from a man who had just purchased 1 EMX and was looking for more history.” 

Dennis and his wife at the wheel of their car, 1 EMXCredit: Nicola Evans
1 EMX as it looks today – as magnficent as it did in the 1950s

Picking up the pace

Things progressed quickly and before she knew it, Richard had the chance to chat with the new owner, Dennis, on the phone where he lived in Belgium. “They spent a great hour chatting about the past and reliving all the moments the car had been through,” says Evans, able to see the positive effect it had on her father’s own mind as well as how pleasing it was for her, her mother and the current owner. “Sometimes seeing a loved one happy is enough to brighten your own mood for a long time.” 

Things took an even better turn when, by chance, Evans’s parents booked a Saga cruise that passed through Zeebrugge in Belgium, so a reuniting of car and owner was quickly arranged. 

Nicola's MR2 meets 1 EMX at the docksCredit: Nicola Evans
Nicola Evans’s Toyota MR2 parked next to her dad Richard’s “1 EMX”

It runs in the family

Of course, Evans also loves cars – no surprise given her family’s passion for them. And she owns a Toyota MR2, which she bought brand new back in 1997. “I remember haggling between two local Toyota dealers to get the best deal on a new car. I finally accepted an offer from Toyota Weybridge – coincidentally a stone’s throw from Brooklands (where Dad raced his car). Of course, it had to be Goodwood Green! The sales assistant was also called Nicola and it was her first ever sale. 

“So I knew I had just had to drive over in my MR2, and see my dad finally get reunited with 1 EMX, line the two classics up and take some photos,” she laughs.  

The big moment

It was an amazing experience, Evans recalls. “Dad was very animated for the next few hours, which made it all worth it. Although his memory is deteriorating, he of course remembered everything from the 1950s, and spoke extensively with Dennis, his father, and his wife. Dennis gave him a full tour of the restored car. My dad even signed his name in the engine bay – apparently a common practice in the past but my dad had never done it. 

“I took lots of photos and videos, including of course the MR2 and 1 EMX parked alongside each other.” 

Looking down on an open-topped 1 EMXCredit: Nicola Evans
1 EMX in all its grandeur

Finally, to cap off an amazing day, Richard got in the car. “My dad has some mobility troubles with his leg, but on my insistence, we lifted him into the once-familiar driving seat. He said that it was easier in his youth as there used to be doors – but whoever restored it had welded them shut. There were some other changes: there’s a Perspex double windscreen replacing the original Healey 100 screen which was easily removed for racing. And there was also a much more comfortable seat. There’s also extra dials and safety features now required for when Dennis does his European rallies. But it really was like going back in time.  

“We also made him a flip photo book with photos past and present. It’s good for keeping memories and the dementia patient healthy,” she says. 

Battling dementia takes some thought

Dementia UK agrees that something like this, termed “cognitive stimulation therapy”, aims to stimulate thinking and memory in general.  

The charity suggests having discussions about past and present (perfect regarding the old car and Nicola’s newer model) as well as topics of interest, plus word games, puzzles, music, and practical activities, such as baking or gardening.  

The good news is research has shown that people living with dementia who received cognitive stimulation demonstrated greater benefits in memory and mental tests than those who had received standard treatments. Also, the benefits last long after cognitive stimulation stops.   

Indeed, a year later Evans presented Richard with a wooden steering wheel she was going to fit in the MR2 for a more classic look, which prompted more discussions on the past. 

 

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

Published:

Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.