by Lance Hill
Part VI – On the Turning Away
“Where’s the grille, Noel? Did you take it off when we were in the shed?”
“Er….No. We’ll have to keep an eye out on the way back.”
I finished topping up the washer bottle and sat down in the passenger’s seat for a breather – mostly because this time I’d managed to swallow a mouthful of petrol and wasn’t feeling the best. On the off-chance that our luck was going to change, I asked Noel to check and see if the Mini would start on the battery so I didn’t have to push it.
“Ok, ok, I get the picture….” I said as I got out and headed for the left rear pillar. Once the usual thudding, pushing, skidding and yelling that was the current mode of starting the Mini was over, we headed for home. Barreling round one corner, keeping one eye on the road through the murky windscreen, another on the ‘fuel tank’ and both of them looking for a sparkle in the long grass at the side of the road that might be the missing grille, I had a sinking feeling and started to realise that either the Mini was growing or I was falling through the passenger’s seat. Unfortunately for me, it was the latter and it got to the point where I had to bring it to Noel’s attention, as it wouldn’t be long before I inadvertently dropped the washer bottle on the road.
Noel brought the Mini to a stop and came around to the passenger’s side to rescue the washer bottle and help me out the seat. I was well and truly stuck between the bars in the metal frame along with the decayed vinyl and stuffing and I still wasn’t feeling too charitable after my earlier petrol-gargling experience. Noel reckoned it was just a few ‘teething troubles’ and he’d have them sorted in no time. I reckoned the car would be gummy long before he got around to fixing them all and told him that we were going to start running out of space in the back seat before long.
I was not popular – especially after also observing that if the Mini kept up at the rate it was currently shedding bits of its anatomy, he may well need the area on the passenger’s seat for car parts or maybe we’d end up having to walk home and get Dave’s Cortina and trailer to carry them all in. He gave me a sudden jerk out of annoyance…and out I popped. The seat crashed back into the floor well. Flakes of rust drifted down from under the car and I found a convenient oil container in the back that I could shove under the seat to prop up its remains.
I resolved at that point to start referring to the Mini as ‘The Min’ for reasons you will find out about later (and which he – 30 years later – still doesn’t know about). Noel and I then filled up the washer bottle before the tank ran dry and got back in to do Noel’s first standing start while the engine was running.
“Ok mate. Pump the clutch about ten times and then go into second, then first”
“Why not straight into first?”
“Because with these selectors, it’s just easier to find first if you put it in second beforehand”
“What a load of bull” he said as he pumped the clutch a half dozen times and then slammed it in the general direction of first gear – and I do mean SLAMMED.
There was a huge bang and the car lurched forward and stalled. We sat rocking backward and forward gently with the idiot lights on the dashboard glaring at us for such a stupid mistake….
“I’m going, I’m going” I said as I got out and assumed my usual position behind the car. Noel I think was a bit stunned as he didn’t ready the car for a restart for a good minute or so. I myself was seriously thinking of stealing a smoke or two from Judy’s packet when we got back.
The typical Min-starting ritual was performed……and away we went again. We eventually found the grille where the farm road met the main highway and threw it in the back seat with the rest of the bits. On the way up the road toward the farm, we came across a heap of cows wandering down the road unaccompanied.
“Geez, these look like Dave’s cows” Noel remarked. “Must have gotten out somewhere”
Noel was keen to give the Mini it’s “first official job” and round the cows up for his brother. I was concerned that he was going to attempt to jump the road ditch in the Min and that we’d just end up in a swampy mud puddle, surrounded by a pile of ferrous oxide while the cows just moved around a bit and looked dopily over their shoulders at us. There was also the suggestion of splitting up and each working one side of the drain, but the coordination involved with keeping the Min running was a two-man job, so we resolved to stick to rounding up the ones on the road and tell Dave about the others when we saw him.
So…..the tired old pink Min ambled slowly up the road, burbling loudly, with Noel weaving from side to side in order to get the cows to go where we wanted. The horn was disconnected, but we could startle them easy with a quick nudge on the throttle and the resulting blatt from the non-existent exhaust pipe.
“Hey mate – is that Dave on the bike coming across the field there?”
“Yep! That’s him. Bet he’ll be pleased we stopped them getting out on the main road and got them heading back in the right direction”
I wasn’t so sure. The bike was revving so high it sounded like a VERY annoyed mosquito. “What the do you think you are doing with my cows?” he bellowed. “I’m trying to get them to that paddock over there. You know? The one with the milking shed in it??? Now clear off and keep out of my way. Christ, but you’ve agitated the hell out of them! I’ll be lucky to get any milk out of them at ALL at this rate!!” “Jeez – sorry mate” I said. “Sorry Dave” said Noel and he goosed the throttle and the car backfired from being low on fuel, startling the remaining few cows in front of us further away from the milking shed at a canter.
This only made Dave invent new and exciting combinations for some common swear words, along with (and I’m certain of this) some completely new ones for dictionaries all over the world. We were not popular. “Garn! Gedd outta here for I kick ya bluddy backsides inta next week!!!!!!”
We did. We spent the rest of the day attempting to fix bits of the Min that didn’t work and put bits back on which had fallen off, with no experience, parts or knowledge and a rudimentary understanding of mechanics. We were successful with the fuel pump and putting an ignition switch (of sorts) in, but that was about it. The Min was left parked outside our bedroom window that evening, as ready for its trip back to Auckland as we could make it, as we had to leave to catch the bus back to Auckland the following morning. We packed ourselves up and were waiting in the Wellsford station at 10am……and counted 112 Minis on our trip between Wellsford and home.
Part VII – A New Machine
The Mini came down from Wellsford just before Christmas on an A-frame, towed by Noel’s Dad in his Holden Kingswood wagon. I caught up with Noel shortly before I headed to Otama with my family for the holidays and saw the Mini in all her glory, getting readied for the trip back to where Dave bought her from in Whangamata. Noel had talked his sister’s husband into doing some serious bodywork on it over the break and was looking forward to the work to get her closer to looking her best.
“You passed then?” he said, as he saw I wasn’t riding my 10-speed, but driving my Austin A30. “Yep – got it this morning. Cancellation. They rang me, I was available, I went, I got it”
“Red hot, mate! Wanna go for a drive?” “Can’t – gotta go pick up Dad and Uncle Paul in a few minutes. Whatcha doin’ with the Min?” “Putting the exhaust back on. Gotta go up the Kopu – Hikuai and Dad wants me to drive it up there instead of him towing it. Apparently the Kingswood didn’t like it too much on the hills on the way down from Tapora, so gotta at least make it a bit quieter so the cops don’t take much notice”
I chose not to mention that if it had been me, I wouldn’t have bothered. There was an obvious pile of other things that the cops WOULD be interested in pulling him up for and a noisy exhaust would just be a footnote. However, I decided to give him a hand for a few minutes as he had the header pipe out the manifold and was trying to line it up with the rest of the exhaust.
Not having any welding gear, we cut pieces of aluminium from an offset printing press plate and drilled holes in them and the two pieces of exhaust. We then pop-riveted them into place and the exhaust was whole again, albeit for a one or 2mm gap between the header pipe and the rest. Noel then had the brilliant idea of cutting up an old gumboot and wrapping this around the gap in order to muffle the sound further.
This was secured to the exhaust with another aluminium printing plate wrapped around the pipe and some number eight fencing wire at each end to hold the bandage on. We fit the pipe back into place – with the muffler and tailpipe also secured to parts of the undercarriage with fencing wire – and started the motor with the new battery he had bought. She sounded good, so I left him to the rest and didn’t see him until we both got back.
The Mini was transformed. No more rust holes, the seats were replaced, all lights working, brakes fine, wheel bearings replaced, clutch adjusted and all parts that had fallen off were back on the car. It even had a set of new number plates as she had been registered (but not warrant of fitness tested) while in Whangamata. The main of the body was still pinky-beige and now clean, but it also had large patches of lime green primer on it. I asked him if the exhaust had held up.
“Funny story that”
“Did it or didn’t it?”
“Well, it did and it didn’t. It’s ok now – we’ve welded it”
“Did it break?”
“No – but it sure did blow a hell of a lot of smoke out the back!”
“That ruddy gumboot mate. We got the car off the A-frame at the bottom of the hill and Dad and I got in the Min, with Mum driving the Holden behind us. We drove her along the flats ok and then as we started the climb, Mum said she started to see smoke coming out from under the car. She flashed her lights at us, but we didn’t slow down or stop. Inside the car, I could smell burning rubber for a bit and then it started to go a bit misty in there, so we opened the windows and it was fine. But Mum was seeing a huge grey cloud billowing out from under the car now, so she had the lights on full, the hazard flashers on, the wipers on and was apparently beeping the horn. Never saw or heard a thing”
“Eh? Them air horns are quite loud, matey”
“Not as loud as a Mini with no exhaust pipe. Glad we put the metal sleeve on it because that held the thing in place when the rivets let go. That ruddy gumboot!! Lucky we didn’t catch fire!”
“Won’t do that again, eh?” I said laughing
“Na – who’s stupid idea was it anyway?”
“Yours matey – hang about. Didn’t you see the lights and flashers and such your Mum had going?”
“Na – the mirror fell off part way along the flat, so I didn’t see a thing. She was right peeved when we stopped at the top to give the Min a breather. She thought we were deliberately ignoring her!”
I couldn’t stop laughing – for two reasons. One – the story was the fitting end to the beginning of that restoration – resurrection? – and the Mini herself eventually ended up a showpiece, painted in a beautiful copper bronze, with all her chrome work gleaming, a HUGE stereo for the time, high intensity headlights, twin carbs, luxury carpet and seat covers and customised dash with full instrumentation….but all that was still a couple of years off.
The other reason was that Noel was now regularly using my nickname for the Mini – the Min - which I’d coined out of spite as bits kept falling off and therefore leaving less of the car, so therefore it wasn’t a whole Mini – just a Min. He had the wee car for a total of four and a half years - it served him well.
He had a ball in it and it taught him a lot about automobile mechanics…and when he sold it after all that work, he got exactly the same as I did when I traded in my A30, but all I ever did to that was put oil and petrol in it.
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