Last week John Mallon wrote about his Renault 4.
My first car was an 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.