by Lance Hill
“OH FOR GODS SAKE!!! I KNEW we should have put the bonnet on”
“Too late now. I wish that thing would shut up!! It’s your car - go pull its wires off, drape this tarp over the front of the motor and while you’re at it, go back to the shed and get the bonnet”
“That’s not a tarp – it’s Dave’s old leather jacket. He’s been looking for it for years”
“It’s obviously been in HERE for years then, hasn’t it?” I finished dragging the thing out from under my seat and held it out to him. The sleeve fell off and we both laughed.
“Okay then. I’ll kill the horn and go get the bonnet. You put this manky thing over the engine and if Dave sees it, tell him we found it under the trees.”
The rain, having achieved its goal of killing the Mini in its tracks, had subsided a fair bit, so we each got out to do our respective tasks. The sun was even poking through the clouds when Noel returned with the bonnet and sat it over the engine bay and the jacket. I grabbed the can of CRC and, lifting them both off the spark plugs, liberally doused the leads and distributor cap with the stuff. Then as an afterthought, popped the distributor cap off and sprayed in there too, put everything back how it was supposed to be and got back in the car. Noel looked like a drowned rat, but was grinning despite this.
“This Mini of yours needs some hard work, man. You seen them rust holes up the front? The driver’s side headlight swings every time we go over a bump. I’ve been watching and the passenger’s front guard flaps about in a light breeze too. We’ve lost the passenger’s front indicator lens either when we were bouncing across the paddock or when we got to the road and looking at the rego sticker, this old girl was last on the road 11 years ago. The last WOF (that's an MOT to our British readers - Ed) sticker backs this up too. I dunno, but I reckon that milage has gotta be the second time round. At least.”
“Nah. Dave told me it was genuine and that it spent all its life just driving around the farm in Whangamata. Only had one owner too.”
“You trying to tell me that this thing has only done 33,000 miles since new and it’s all by bouncing around a farm being driven by the same bloke?”
“It was a woman, he said. What else could explain its condition? Seats are ok, aren’t they? Motor’s ok, isn’t it?”
I gave up trying to discuss it at that point, because there was the sound of an unmuffled two stroke motorbike heading our way and neither of us could see it because of the state of the windows. The rain had stopped so we got out and saw it was Dave coming up the road looking for us. He had a huge grin on his face.
“Did you blokes push this thing out this far? You’re keen.”
“Didn’t push it”, said Noel. “We drove it, but water in the electrics and a flat battery stopped us here. Just waiting for things to dry out a bit before we push start it. “
“I’ll go get Judy – she’s gotta see this – and we’ll give ya a hand”
“No thanks” said Noel grumpily. “We’ll do it”
“Hey – no sweat, Dave” I said. “That’d be great. Go get Judy and we’ll have a go”
Noel looked at me rather peeved
“Why’d you go and do that then?” he asked hotly as Dave roared away
“Because now we got the chance to get that leather jacket off the motor without him seeing it, that’s why!”
We retrieved the jacket, shoving it back under the driver’s seat and wiped the windows as best we could with what rags we had. I grabbed the CRC and gave the electrics another dose of the stuff. We were just setting the bonnet in such a way that the fuel line wouldn’t be squashed if we left it on the car, when we heard the motorbike again.
Judy was just as awestruck by the fact the Mini was halfway home as Dave had been. Neither of them truly believed that we had driven it under its own power, but were prepared to play along in order that they could rag us some more when the ‘truth’ came out. Dave, Judy and I went to the back of the Mini and each found a spot that we could push from while Noel jumped into the driver’s seat. Through the fogged up and murky rear window, a slight red and orange glow from the centre of the dashboard told me that he had put the two wires together. After a bit of other movement in the car as he found second gear and got ready, the single working brake light went off, so David, Judy and I leant on the back of the Mini and took the strain…….but the car wasn’t moving.
“Did you pump the clutch before you held it in?”
“Oh. Right.” He said as the sound of someone furiously pumping the clutch pedal with their left leg was heard and felt through the car. The car started to jerk forward under our pressure when Noel was on a downward stroke.
“Hold it in!!” I yelled
Noel held the clutch in and we heaved on the rear of the old car until it started moving quick enough on the loose metal road for a rolling start attempt. At our call, Noel dropped the clutch and the Mini skidded to a halt on the broken surface. The brake light came on and the sound of someone furiously pumping the clutch was again heard as we caught up and braced for another go. This time we were all running behind the car when we gave Noel the signal to let the clutch out and the Mini skidded until the front wheels couldn’t stop the momentum anymore and rotated, turning the engine over. She burst into life again and Noel hurtled away down the slope. I turned on hearing Dave’s chuckle of incredulity
“Never thought I’d see that thing run again, it’s been there that long.”
It turned out that after being driven onto the trailer in Whangamata, the Mini had refused to start when it got to its new home. Dave had plans of cutting the Mini’s roof off and using it as a farm ute to carry feed, fencing tools or whatever around the farm, but had lost interest when she wouldn’t fire and just pushed the Mini under the trees…..and there it had stayed for over three years until being “gifted” to Noel. The left hand rear indicator on the Mini flicked a couple of times as Noel finished climbing a slight rise and turned left off the road and up the race toward the farmhouse’s steep drive. We heard him open the throttle a bit and then heard the Mini stutter and then stall.
“Damn – he’s out of gas again” I exclaimed and as we jogged to catch up with where the Mini had stopped, then explained to them both how the fuel pump appeared not to be working and that we’d had to siphon fuel from the fuel tank into the washer bottle to drip feed the carb temporarily.
“Thought you were gunna tell me that you got the petrol out the farm supply tank” growled Dave. “Old Fred’d have your hide for that. He had one bloke working for him who used to fill his car up as well as the tractor, so he’s been pretty hot on how much petrol gets used on the farm.”
“Oh.” I said non-committally and tried real hard not to look guilty. It wasn’t ME who’d done it after all and I HAD told the truth – I HAD only siphoned gas from the Mini’s tank.
We rounded the corner and saw Noel sitting in the car in the middle of the race about half way up the slope between the road and the farmhouse driveway. I grabbed the hose off him and siphoned some more petrol from the tank to the little washer bottle. Judy collapsed on the long grass on the side of the race in hysterics.
“Here – hang onto this while I get in the car” I asked and handed her the washer bottle after screwing the lid back on and ensuring the pipe to the carb was still attached
“You’ll see – there’s another reason why the Mini stopped” I said as I sat down in the passenger’s seat, slammed the door and reached through the glass slider for the bottle. Judy looked puzzled until I explained, then she returned to the long grass, laughing uncontrollably. David meanwhile had brought the motorbike up the race, parked it and was preparing to give us another shove.
“Reckon we’ll have to crash her in reverse. Just don’t let it get going too fast and let the clutch out slowly to get the engine up to speed”, he said.
The old Mini started rolling slowly backward after the obligatory ritual with the ignition wires and the clutch. Upon letting the clutch out, there was movement from the gear stick and a sort of half-graunching noise that sounded like a gear only half selected. Noel had the same thought and thumped the gear stick toward where reverse should be. The gearbox responded with a noise like teeth being stripped off two cogs, but refused to go into the gear. Noel uttered a couple of oaths that traced the ancestry of the makers of the gearbox and stomped on the brake. He rubbed his left hand for a couple of seconds and then tried for reverse again. This time she stayed put on the slope when he took his foot off the clutch, so we knew he had the gear itself.
He pumped the clutch and with Dave and Judy pushing us back down the race, it wasn’t long before we were up to speed and able to restart the Mini.
Noel released the clutch slowly and once again the Mini’s wheels skidded on the loose surface for what seemed like an age and then reluctantly began to rotate, bringing the engine to life. Noel braked and hit the car out of gear, pumped the clutch, grabbed first, gave it some berries and let the clutch out. The Mini’s wheels again spun and Noel let out a whoop of laughter and accelerated up past his brother and on up to the farmhouse, parking it neatly beside our bedroom window. He was still laughing when he disconnected the wires and killed the Mini’s engine.
“That was fun!”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t do it too often right beside your bro, mate. He didn’t look too happy to be sprayed with stones”
“He’d be more worried about his bike than his skin”
“What about his Mrs?”
“What about her”
“Never mind. Let’s go get some lunch and I could kill for a coffee.”
Over lunch we considered the things we needed to do to the Mini in the time we had left and prioritised a few. We reckoned the first call would be to pull the fuel pump and clean its contacts to see whether we could coax it to work and save us the ongoing washer bottle fiasco. The second idea would be to rig up something with the insulation tape and a couple of switches Noel had brought with him in order to make life easier with a temporary ignition and starter without twisting or touching wires under the dash. As the nearest petrol station was in Wellsford, we gave up on the idea of bleeding the clutch but both laughed at the thought of attempting that 20-mile trip with the Mini in her current state – having to stop roughly once a mile to fill the washer bottle and not to mention having to stop on a downward slope each time in order that crash starting the old girl would be easier
But when we got outside, the sun was finally shining and the smell of the fresh air made us want to go for another joyride. All plans for the afternoon were postponed as we topped off the washer bottle and hooked the ignition wires together. We started rolling it back down the drive and Noel jumped in the driver’s seat to steer. All of a sudden, the Mini swerved into the long grass at the side of the farmhouse driveway and stopped.
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