WhEN Jim Haggart began work with the AA in Glasgow in 1966, a Hillman Imp Sunbeam Sport could be bought straight off the Linwood production line for a few hundred pounds.

Road fatalities reached almost 8,000, a figure that has never been surpassed, highlighting the importance of the new UK-wide 70mph national speed limit introduced one year earlier.

Work had only just started on the Erskine Bridge and the city's Kingston Bridge was four years away from being opened, but the congestion endured by motorists today was unheard of.

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New car sales were also in the doldrums as Mr Haggart, the AA's longest-serving patrolman is retiring after 1.4 million miles on the road, began work that August as a 16-year-old cadet after spotting the opportunity in a newspaper advert.

The 64-year-old has helped an estimated 87,000 motorists with car trouble, between 1,500 and 2,000 a year, around the west of Scotland, rescuing animals, young children and even babies that have been accidentally locked in vehicles.

Extensive car knowledge would seem an obvious requirement for his job but Mr Haggart said he knew nothing about them when he first started and he had to pass his driving test while on the job.

He said: "One of the first tasks as a cadet was obviously to get your licence. I took my test privately the first time and failed spectacularly. The second time, I went out with my old superintendent who was also an examiner, there was some pressure having the boss sitting next to me.

"I knew absolutely nothing about cars when I joined but I got trained well.

"A lot of the cadets left and I think the programme was phased out as more mechanics could do the job, but I enjoyed it so much that I stayed on."

He started his final shift today with a wheel change in the south side of Glasgow.

As well as the traditional yellow AA vans, Mr Haggart has used a BSA Bantam motorbike, an Austin Minor, a Morris Marina and a Talbot Express to get around to jobs. The tools of his job have also changed dramatically over the years.

"It's all technical now with diagnostics," Mr Haggart said.

"We still have tools ­obviously, and I do wheel changes and a lot of mechanical stuff, but most things now we plug into the computer in the car and find out why certain lights are on and pick out the faults."

He laughed as he said: "When I first started I ­basically had a tool box with a couple of spanners, a couple of screwdrivers, a gallon of petrol and a jack, that was it. Cars themselves have changed beyond all recognition.

"Guys years ago who were willing to change the plugs in their car can't even find the spark plugs in modern cars nowadays."

The AA say Mr Haggart has rescued about 87,000 people at the roadside.