Brave New World
It was on a Friday evening in June 1962 that we first looked through the glass at our Mini. It was lightly floodlit in the showroom of Tanunda Motors; a shining pale green and chrome thing of beauty.
My ears were still ringing from my 90-mile drive down from the Riverland in “Little Bill”, a 1937-ish Ford Ten. Little Bill had many faults: the lights would turn off without warning; the transverse springs made it roll like a drunk; but that night I had come off the Blanchetown punt with a little too much verve and pulled the exhaust out of the manifold.
The drive had turned into a really loud experience, and looking down past my feet through a hole in the floorboards I had been fascinated to see the exhaust flames from the open manifold playing on the glass petrol filter bowl. A fitting end to my old-bomb driving years.
“We” were my lovely girlfriend Kathy and I. Little Bill had been pre-sold to an old-car enthusiast, who was not impressed when he collected it Saturday morning sounding like a very loud tractor. Still, I had his twenty quid in my pocket, so he tractored away, and I walked with Kathy up to Tanunda Motors to take delivery of my first new car.
I handed over a bank cheque for £745 7s 6d, hit the floor starter and became a Mini owner. It was a new world. People in the streets stopped and watched my passing. Children grabbed their mothers’ skirts and pointed. It was 1962 and our Mini was the first one they had seen, and it was little.
Very little. The wheels were little. It was about the length of a Ford Fairlane bonnet. But, instead of puttering along like small cars should, it went fast. It had a cheeky “raaaaaaast” exhaust.
And in my new Mini it also had the worst gear change ever. I returned to double-declutching to get the little bugger into the next gear. Surely I wasn’t suddenly gearly unskillful.
“Ah”, said the folk at Tanunda Motors, “it has running–in oil; be patient”. Time passed; an oil change came; and the absence of synchromesh continued. I now know that the first Minis had gears from, I’m told, the Austin A30. The synchros were ineffective with the engine oil in the shared Mini sump. Months later I was offered a rebuild of the ’box, making it baulk-ring actuated. I recall it would have cost me about a hundred quid. I simply didn’t have it, so to this day we use a double-shuffle for gear changes. Warranty rules were very different back in 1962.
Yes, I say “to this day”, because we still have our Mini.
In time my lovely girlfriend became my lovely wife, and we needed a larger car in 1969. Somehow, even the amazing Mini interior space wasn’t able to handle a fully-grown Labrador and a bassinet in comfort.
Mini was still healthy and fun, but when we were offered peanuts as a trade-in we kept it and ran two cars until around 1974, when Kathy and I went into business.
Mini went into a stable and gathered dust, until our first-born turned 16 and we pulled it out, bunged in some petrol, and he had wheels. A couple of years later his little sister took it over, and it was regularly seen around Adelaide filled with giggling uni students. This was handy if a push was needed, as the electric fuel pump occasionally hiccupped – or it rained.
The BMC Experience Issue 22. Jul-Sep 2017 Magazine
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