After the bus crash I got my compensation cheque. My father brought me into the bank in Terenure where he had his account. I was introduced to the manager and opened my first bank account. I was rich, now had a chequebook and was eager to write a cheque.
My mother had a friend who was selling her car. Was I interested?
Frankly the only thing I wanted was something with four wheels and an engine. I knew all the mechanics side of things but had no preference for model or colour. It transpired that my mother’s contact’s car was an old red Austin Mini. I didn’t give a damn what it was – it drove and I could afford it so I bought it!
I loved that car. It was a bit of a squeeze as I’m over six feet tall but that was the least of my concerns. It was about as basic as any car could get. To start it, you pulled out the choke, switched on the ignition and then pressed a button on the floor. With luck, the engine would fire and you could start easing the choke in. It had four gears which fortunately had a modern invention – synchromesh – which avoided the horror of double-declutching. It had a heater too but that didn’t work. It had a headlight dip-switch which was on the floor behind the clutch pedal which was strange. I had to kick it to dim the lights.
Apart from the heater I discovered on my first trip that the brakes weren’t too hot either. To stop suddenly meant pumping frantically on the brake pedal. That was just a minor inconvenience though. Or so I thought until one evening I was driving home from a pub and the car in front of me decided to stop suddenly. I pumped the brake pedal but still managed to smack into the other car. I broke his rear light and mangled the front of the Mini. The other driver was a decent bloke who said if I paid for the fix to his light we’d say nothing more about it.
I had learned a lesson though and promptly brought the car to a proper garage. They did a load of work and I duly went to test drive it. I got a couple of hundred yards when the brakes failed completely. I crawled back to the garage in a bit of a mood and tore into the mechanic. He said he had fixed everything so I told him to test drive it. He came back somewhat ashen faced and admitted there was something wrong. I asked if he had checked the master cylinder. He said he had. I asked him how he had checked it when the bolts obviously hadn’t been removed (they weren’t clean). He admitted he hadn’t bothered checking as “he was sure the master cylinder was fine”. He replaced the seals in the cylinder and for the first time I could start and stop my pride and joy with ease.
That car taught me a lot about engines. I learned to tune the engine like a pro. Of course I was an expert on tappets so they were constantly adjusted. I learned the intricacies of the SU carburettor and could fine tune it to perfection. I could set the timing by using a strobe light. I could even strip down the cylinder head and replace the gaskets (I even did that once on the side of the road on the way to Limerick). I even had the confidence to work on the brakes.
The one thing I couldn’t fix were the Constant Velocity Joints. The CVJs were yokes that allowed a car with front wheel drive to turn a corner. The only constant thing about them was that they constantly wore out on my Mini and I would hear that grinding clacking noise from the front wheels as I turned a corner. CVJs were a massive pain in the neck, and an extra unwanted expense.
Over the course of a year or two I added a fair bit to that car. I added a stick-on rear window heating element to defrost it. I added a wing mirror. I even added a stereo cassette player.
The one thing I didn’t fix was the engine mounting. The various brackets that held the engine got progressively worn. If I accelerated too suddenly the engine would rock and knock the gear lever into neutral which led to some interesting experiences.
One morning I went to go to work. I turned the ignition key. I pressed the starter button on the floor. There was a loud thump from the front of the car. The engine had fallen out and was sitting on the ground.
My Mini was dead.