My little getaway

Last week John Mallon wrote about his Renault 4.

My first car was an Austin Mini.

Austin Mini

I bought it from some acquaintance of my parents back in the early seventies, and to say it was in shit order was giving it credit that wasn't due.

It was my first car though and I didn't give a damn.  It was mine.  All mine.  I loved it.

My Mini was one of the very early models.  All those fancy gizmos like radios, rear window heaters and wing mirrors were all but a future dream.   To say it was basic would be a gross exaggeration.

Starting the car was relatively simple.  You put the key in the lock and twist.  You then press a button on the floor to start the engine.  So far so good.  Assuming the engine is still running [quite a big assumption] you gently ease out the clutch to start moving.  Now if you weren't gentle enough on the clutch the engine would jerk on its mountings, the gear lever would shoot back striking the chassis and knock it out of gear.  It was quite a good anti theft device.

The photograph above is very similar to my banger.  However mine didn't have the chrome stripes over the wheels as they started waving around so I removed them.  The hubcaps were a luxury I couldn't afford to replace.  The paintwork in the photo is suspiciously new looking too, whereas mine lacked shine which was compensated for by large quantities of rust.  I also got tired of removing the radiator grill to access the engine so in the end I just dumped it.

One minor defect the car had when I bought it was that it didn't have any brakes.  This as a minor matter as to stop, it was a case of pumping the brake pedal furiously well in advance of stopping.  I had to revise that tactic though as one night [OK, I had quite a few pints on me] I left it too late to start pumping and smacked into the back of a car at some traffic lights.  I decided to get the breaks fixed.  I brought it to a garage and told 'em I wanted the whole brake system overhauled. 

The next day I collected the car, went to drive home but at the first junction the brake pedal hit the floor.  Pumping was useless and I happily drove into a hedge.  I drove [very fucking slowly] back to the garage, and told the manager to take it for a test drive.  He came back a few minutes later with a very white face and admitted that they hadn't bothered their arses looking at the master cylinder which was completely fucked.  They fixed it.

I drove that car the length and breadth of Ireland and it was a rare journey where the car didn't break down.  At various times I had to strip the cylinder block down at the side of the road, or tie something up with a length of rope. Once I had to drive forty miles with no water in the radiator to find a place that would sell me a hose.  That car taught me everything I needed to know about auto-mechanics and a good deal more.

That car had real personality.  It had moss and ferns growing inside in the little channels that the side windows slid in.  I used to water the ferns in dry weather.  It also liked to keep me guessing and never developed the same fault twice in succession. 

One night it was stolen from outside the pub.  I was gutted.

I got a call from the Law a couple of days later to say they had found it.  Apparently it had been used as a getaway car in some heinous crime or other.  They were probably caught as they tried to fix the starter motor or the clutch or something at the side of the road.  It gave me a laugh anyway – my trusty old banger as a getaway car?!!

One morning I went out to drive into work.

I turned the key in the lock and pressed the button on the floor.  The engine started, sweet as a nut.

I eased up the clutch.

There was a loud thump from the front, followed by complete silence.

I took a look.

The engine mountings had finally given way and the engine in its entirety was now sitting on the driveway.

Somehow, motoring has never quite been the same since.


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My little getaway — 15 Comments

    • So we all started off with just about the smallest cars available?  Makes sense.

      Hang on – Fiat 600?  How tall are you?

      • My first car was the Renault 4 – good on fuel consumption but it was light and vulnerable to strong cross winds on open roads. The Mini was a great starter car for people in the 1960s and 70s. I see the VW Beetle has made a comeback, but it is pricey and not an affordable starter car for young uns. The old Morris Minor was a fine low cost car in its day, with a sensible body design.

  1. Tha' was lucky, my first car was an Austin Metro, to call it a Friday afternoon job would be to insult the skill and craftsmanship of those who have had a few pints at dinner time and are doing no more than counting down the minutes until five o'clock 

  2. Sell you a hose eh?  Was it a wee fucking thing about 3″ long that

    engaged under the thermostat housing, and was a cat’s anus to


    • Ah, the notorious by-pass hose! I didn’t have a mini in the early days, but in the 80s when I was making a bit of money, I bought  1972 (I think) Austin Cooper ‘S’. A mean machine if ever there was one. It had been bored out to 1400 cc and had uprated carbs, race balanced crankshaft (whatever that meant) and went like shit off a stick. But it still had that little by-pass hose. Fortunately, by the time I inevitably had to change it, they had started producing by-pass hoses which could concertina a bit. It was still a bugger to replace, but better than the straight hoses, which really necessitated removing the head to fit.

      •  A 'race' balanced crankshaft means the crankshaft assembly was balanced to have minimum vibration at maximum engine revs. Good for a track car but not really what you want in a 5 mile traffic jam.


  3. I passed my test in a Morris 1100, and my first car was an Austin A35 pick-up which I bought off some gypsies for (if memory serves) fifteen quid. It didn’t look nearly as smart as the one in the link above, though! I couldn’t understand why at 70mph the steering would shake like it had delirium tremens, until I realised it had different size wheels and tyres on the front axle. Once I picked up a matching wheel / tyre from a scrapyard and fitted it, the shaking stopped. My first foray into car mechanics!

  4. My first car was a Triumph Herald. Replaced the clutch in a muddy car park, back of Hatfield Polly. Eventually rusted away 🙁
    Then an Austin 1100. Less said the better.
    Then a whole succession of Citroen Dyannes – wonderful machines! We could do with a return to simple, well designed tools like them, rather than all these over complicated, over regulated, “environmentally friendly”, computer controlled pieces of sh*te on offer today.

    BTW: I cut up a Fiat 500 and a number of Dyannes with tinsnips and hacksaw once the pile of wrecks got too big. This is now of course “Strengverboten” by our EU overlords as it does not comply with the necessary paperwork.

  5. The auld floor starter button, that brings back memories. I used one for years as an anti-theft kill switch under the carpet. I'd hit the switch getting out when someone else wanted to drive, great craic!

  6. Sounds like you and James Herriot had the same Austin–especially the lack of brakes.

    And now, a short poem:

    I knew a man from Boston,

    who bought himself an Austin.

    He had room for his ass…

    …and a gallon of gas…

    …but his nuts hung out and he lost 'em.


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