Seaton residents stage 97th birthday surprise for vintage car fan

Captain Mike Cooke at the wheel of Judith Dale's Austin 7, with Judith looking on

Captain Mike Cooke at the wheel of Judith Dale's Austin 7, with Judith looking on - Credit: Michael Tabeart

A ride down memory lane in a convoy of vintage cars was the perfect 97th birthday treat for a man with connections with Seaton. 

Captain Mike Cooke, who now lives in Plymouth, is the son of the late Reverend Robert Cooke who was the parish priest at Seaton’s St Gregory’s Church between 1939 and 1957. Captain Cooke had bought his first car, an Austin 7, in Seaton after returning from Army service in Hong Kong in 1952, and has very fond memories of the car. He had also renewed his driving licence shortly before his 97th birthday. 

Wanting to arrange something special for his father’s birthday, Captain Cooke’s son Richard contacted the Devon Austin 7 Club, and was put in touch with a local member, Michael Tabeart, who lives in Seaton. Michael is still the owner of a 1932 Austin 7 RN Box saloon – the same model that Captain Cooke had owned in 1952. He made contact with some other members of the club, and arranged for three others to join him driving their Austin 7s to St Gregory’s Church on March 19 – Captain Cooke’s birthday. Meanwhile, his son Richard and daughter Louise had arranged to be there with him when the cars rolled up. 

Michael Tabeart, left, with his Austin 7, and Captain Mike Cooke

Michael Tabeart, left, with his Austin 7, and Captain Mike Cooke - Credit: Michael Tabeart

St Gregory’s churchwarden Dave Bruce, who had been involved in arranging the event, said: “You should have seen the Captain’s face when all these lovely Austin 7s suddenly turned up- a wonderful surprise for him. 

Michael Tabeart at the wheel of his Austin 7 with Captain Mike Cooke as passenger

Michael Tabeart at the wheel of his Austin 7 with Captain Mike Cooke as passenger - Credit: Michael Tabeart

“The Captain had a smashing time talking classic cars to all the Austin 7 members, and was later treated to a ride in Michael Tabeart’s Austin 7. Michael took the Captain for a drive through the town down the Harbour Road, past the Yacht Club, over the bridge along the River Axe to Axmouth and then Musbury ,before turning back to home in Seaton via Colyford.  

“My wife Sharon and I got into our good friend Phil Armour’s restored Morris 8 to follow the procession. Everywhere we went we had lovely smiles and waving from interested members of the public all enjoying the spectacle. 

“I was delighted to help in the surprise 97th birthday treat for an amazing and interesting man."