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…