My First Car: Mini

My first car came and went by pure chance. I took my time passing my driving test, when I did I was the only person in my house to hold a licence and had been in my first (poorly paid) job for 3 months, so I knew I was unlikely to be on the road for a while.  Then my neighbour announced that she was about to upgrade her car, which meant I had first refusal on a Red 1977 Mini, taxed and MOT’d for £300.

With a hasty loan arranged from my brother (whose job at AA insurance sorted the other thing I was lacking), I picked up the keys on a Friday evening, just over a week since being given my wings.  My neighbour’s dad showed me round the car - explaining the oddities of Mini ownership, such as topping up the carburettor with oil and finding the battery in the boot – before we got in for a drive.  Looking back it seems odd that two six-footers were able to get in and drive such a small car, but it wasn’t a problem then.

We went around the block before I got in for my first drive of my new car. The strangest thing about this was going from a new Toyota learner car to an ageing budget product of seventies Britain – no creature comforts, weather-beaten panels, rust and unreliability.  Actually, to be fair it ran pretty well – but a worn choke mechanism and a dying alternator meant it could be reluctant to start on occasion.  Once I took it round to a mate for some fettling and after filling the carb with Redex we smoked out the neighbourhood for half an hour.

But back to that first drive. I stalled the engine. Twice. Then kangaroo’d down the road before getting the hang of the worn pedals. Even so I stalled a couple more times and as my neighbour got out of the car the look of horror on his face as I announced I was off to show the car off to a few friends was clear. He needn’t have worried, though. Once I pulled away on my own and with no immediate pressure, I felt like I’d been driving for years. As it was getting late I put the headlights on and wondered why everyone was flashing me. Later I realised that I’d had the full beams on, another legacy of the odd layout of the car.

I had some good times with that Mini, low power but great handling taught me lots about driving and its age increased my mechanical knowledge. I did all the usual first car things, fitted a stereo, tidied up the rust and even brought the shine back to the roof with some T-Cut.  I discovered the joys of crawling over old cars at breaker’s yards, plundering them for parts, the drawback with small cars being that they were always at the top of the pile. I suspect Health and Safety would have a thing or two to say about that these days.But it wasn’t all great – after a bill for new brake cylinders, a faulty slave cylinder and the need to replace the alternator, compounded by a steering rack with too much play, I was beginning to wonder if it was worth spending so much money on it.

In the end the decision was rather rudely made for me.  Waking up one morning to find the car missing from its usual spot, I became another victim of the early nineties joy-riding epidemic.  The car was never found, which is a shame as I’d hoped the scoundrels had found out about the steering rack the hard way.  Bloody typical that it managed to start that night, though…

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  • chunkymonkey71 06 May 2008

    Nice one! I forgot about the character building exercise that was crawling about Scrap Yards...!

  • MatteoB 06 May 2008

    LOL a lot of this rings true with my first car too. A little 1990 FIAT Uno 45. Not much in the way of power but the little engine would scream all day at maximum revs and took all kinds of abuse.Caused me all kinds of grief with the clutch and box going and the coil making the thing run rough. It also leaked like a sieve but if I found "a little old lady"version today I'd probably buy it! It also had a manual choke which in 1996 was pretty quaint. It smelt like a car as well, you know the petrol and the oil smell after a run.I don't find that today.I think modern cars are so sanitised.

    I'm a big fan of small cars in general, looking forward to the 500 Abarth! It s also an ambition to own an orginal Mini one day!

  • Bobdenero 06 May 2008

    You are right about low powered cars giving an insight into the benefits of maintaining momentum. My first taste of a proper company car, i.e. one which is bought serviced and maintained by someone else! was in fact a Mini 850 van.
    In equal measure, fond and frightening memories of thrashing that poor little van down narrow track roads, upsetting all those sports car owners who couldnt shake me off.

  • Pip1968 06 May 2008

    I too had a sand/orange/yellow Mini as a first car and loved it. What with me, my girlfriend and my young son in the back, it was quite a squeeze especially as we had to squeeze a folding pushchair in (wedged behind the passenger seat - just). The only real downside was going any long distances on the motorway. We once went around the M25 with my best mate in the car too (6ft 4") who had the audacity to point out that it was illegal to go slower than 30mph on the motorway - we were going up the massive hill by junction 8/9 Reigate!!


  • Oddball RS 06 May 2008

    "Later I realised that I’d had the full beams on, another legacy of the odd layout of the car."

    Dont get it whats odd about pushing a stalk forward for main beam and pulling it back for a flash?

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