My first car
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.
But did you name her?
Her? Mary? Josephine? Petal? Nah! It was a car, purely functional, nameless and great fun. There were times when I called it names though….
I've had a lot of interesting episodes with the vehicles I owned when I was young but none where the engine actually fell out. You definitely did me one better on that.
That was a very early Mini if the starter-button was on the floor – I assume it also had the sliding windows and the pull-cord to open the doors, plus a tendency to stop when it rained heavily, as the unprotected distributor was immediately behind the radiator grille and collected all the lashing rain. Engine fall-out was not rare – apart from the mounts, there was usually terminal tin-worm eating away at the sub-frame, so not much to mount onto.
Yup. Sliding windows that ran in little slots. The slots were always wet and I literally grew little ferns in them. I had quite a garden with the damp in that car. I vaguely remember having to clear out the distributor quiet often. So often in fact that I stopped replacing the grill – it made access easier.
This is a bit creepy. From 1961 to 64 I ran a 1947 Ford Anglia. Wooden floor boards with a road surface inspection hole built in. Rod brakes and rod clutch. Vacuum wipers, starting handle. No power to speak of. Had three passengers on one trip of 40 miles and nearly didn't make it home. My Granny was a bit "big" and simply slowed the poor car to slow walking pace on some hillocks.. Not much traffic in those days luckily. One of my front wings started to flap in the wind till I taped it up well. It looked as bad as it was and one day going to work the swankiest police car in the force overtook me. The driver and rear seat passenger stared at me and the car. It pulled in front and braked very hard. Rather than hit the fool I drove off the road up on to the grass verge at stopped about four car lengths past the cop car. It was in fact the Chief Constable being driven to work. By some divine intervention I got away with a serious telling off and recommendation to scrap the wreck.
My next was a Minivan previously owned by the Gas Board. The walls of the poor thing were simply a collection on dents where various loads had tried to escape over the years. I too fiddled with strobe lights, tappets, decokes, SU carbs, useless battery under the mezzanine floor behind the drivers seat. Davids Isapon (?spelling) fought a losing battle with body rot mainly caused by using the car body as the return route in the electric circuits. I liked the floor mounted dip switch.
Every lunch time (it seemed like) my wife pointed out the lump of rotten subframe that had fallen off as I had driven away in the morning. Can't wait for further revelations of parallel motoring. Really enjoying your memories.
I don't think people realise how dramatically cars have evolved over the years. I remember on one holiday in the West we came across a car that had skidded on a bad bend and had ended on its roof. The occupants were very shaken but otherwise unhurt. My father helped the driver roll the car back onto its wheels and they then drove off with just some scratched paintwork. Nowadays ther'd be a few squad cars, and ambulance or two, probably a fire brigade and a towtruck.
As "Mudplugger" notes it would have been a Mk1 Mini (same as the type I learned to drive in). But that being the case, it would have the long (angled) gear lever and no syncromesh on first gear, which is why I taught myself to double-declutch. The distributor behind the grill was common to all the BMC front wheel drive cars with a transverse mounted engine, but the later Mini's and other variants had a plastic shield to keep the water off, and the succession of Maxi's that I ran were completely unaffected by splashing through even deep water. I remember having the engine upper tiebar mounting fracture on the first Mini, which lead to an interesting drive home – it was O.K. with the power on, but I had to de-clutch as soon as I came off the throttle, or the engine would try and rock forwards alarmingly. The Mk2 Mini had 4 speed syncro & much improved controls, as well as proper wind up windows, but consequently lost the wonderful door "Bins", which would hold all manner of stuff.
I must be alone in having had very little trouble with CV joints on a variety of cars over nearly 50 years. The critical thing is to make sure the rubber boots are not damaged, or else water and grit get in and quickly become grinding paste! I have caught some small splits in time, and made a temporary repair by cleaning the area with solvent and Super Gluing the opening shut. I also have (distant) memories of repairing disintegrating engine mounting rubbers with the same method…