Cars and other stories



My first mini was a van which I got as a work car when I was working for my old man. It was a bog standard 850 with the floor mounted starter button and the long gear stick that ended up somewhere under the dash and took quite a bit to get used to.

Like all minis, though, it was incredibly zippy to drive around in, and could park just about anywhere.

As the old joke goes A Rolls Royce is backing into a parking spot, and a mini whizzes in behind him and grabs the spot. The Mini driver jumps out and says to the fuming Roller driver

“See, that’s what you can do when you’ve got a mini.”

The Roller driver keeps reversing, crunching up the mini and pushing it out of the parking spot. He then hops out, gives his card to the stunned mini driver and says

“See, that’s what you can do when you’ve got a Rolls!”


I passed on the car to my father when I bought the XK150s. He drove it for work for a while, then it was stolen and dumped in a creek in the country. A policeman bought it off him for a couple of hundred dollars.


The second van I bought secondhand when I got back from visiting the States in ‘75. It too was a bog standard one, but I replaced the 850 with a twin carburetted 1100, and installed the remote gear change linkage too. This was a great car to drive; fast and a whole lot of fun.

I took it to a car club sprint meeting around the Winton circuit, in country Victoria. One standing start lap followed by a flying lap, against the clock.

My first time put me 2nd in a field of 30. Not bad for a little mini up against people in open wheel racers, but they tried to tell me there had been a timing mistake! Sadly this may have been true, as my subsequent times put me at about 20th! 

A bad whack in the front end while I loaned it to a friend brought about its demise, and he replaced it for me with a pale blue late model van with the long nose.

I was determined to customise this one. So I replaced the standard pair of rear doors with a one piece fibreglass rear door, hinged it from the roof and with the addition of a couple of gas struts turned it into a pretty acceptable hatchback.

Next I installed a bubble top moon roof, which gave it an attractive lump on top, and installed brown shag pile carpet throughout. Why brown? It didn’t go with the pale blue very well, but I had some left over from carpeting the shop!

I was never happy with its pale blue colour, so one day I picked up my copy of Allied Aircraft WW II marking and paint schemes, and drove down to the local paint shop.

“I’ll have a litre of this brown and a litre of that green,” I said, plopping the book down on the counter open at the picture of a Mk V Spitfire.

“Ah, painting a few models are you mate?” asked the guy behind the counter.

“No,” I replied looking shocked. I’m painting my car!”

He stared at me as if I were a bit loopy, then got me out of the shop as fast as he could.

So, that afternoon I broke out the paint brushes and painted the whole thing to look like a refugee from the Battle of Britain. 

The only surviving picture of the camouflage mini, very blurred, seen from the back. The bubble top can be seen as well as the unique paint job!

Pic is computer enhanced to pull it out of the background

The car was a bit of an ongoing project, which I was happy to let any of my friends use, if they were that desperate. One such desperate was Col, who was backing it out of his driveway one day when the whole steering column and wheel came away in his hands! The car had been worked on so much that at some stage I had forgotten to put the bolt back in that held it to the steering rack! It was OK as long as you didn’t pull on the wheel too hard, but the concept of driving gently was not one that sat happily with Col.

Luckily no damage was done!

And on the subject of steering, another time someone stole the alloy rimmed steering wheel I had on the car, so I was just slipping the standard one back on when the phone rang.

It was my trusty assistant Jim Laing. Could I pick him up from the station?

I hopped in the car without bolting the steering wheel on, and carefully drove down to the station.

On the way back I deliberately took a quiet backstreet and drove very slowly. Time for some fun. I pretended to be trying to get something out of my back pocket without success.

“Er, Jim, could you hold the steering wheel for a sec?” I asked

“Sure,” he said, and started to lean over to my side. I slipped the wheel off the end of the steering column and passed it to him.

He stared at it for a split second, and then screamed “AAAAGH - we’re all going to die” as he turned the wheel this way and that, trying to make it work!

The car slowly slid over to the side of the road and stopped, as I curled up in my seat laughing my head off, while Jim sat there fuming. But not for long.

Ah, minis are such fun!


Then the police put if off the road for being unroadworthy


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