by Jim Lodder
A long time ago, in a city far away, this 17 year old had just spent 4 days in hospital after coming off his motor scooter (Italian, so not to be identified here) on his way to the school 6th Form. Not my fault by the way, although the scooter was a write off.
So the parents agree that he will be safer with four wheels, plus his car driving test is imminent. Having had to resort to the bus to get to school, which admittedly was considerably easier in those days; just walk to the bus stop and wait for the next one to arrive; I used to come home every afternoon, turn the corner into our road, and hope that there would be a nice shiny Mini Cooper S parked outside our house, bought for me by my generous caring father! (He was actually neither of those things, but that’s another story).
Having passed my test first time, the nice Co-op insurance man (who else remembers the insurance man calling each week to collect premium instalments?) explained patiently that there was no way on I’d get cover on a Cooper S, why didn’t I aim lower and get a basic 850cc Mini? Sensible chap!
So trawling the classified ads in the evening paper – Thursday was the car ads night – I found a 12 year old Morris Mini Minor in beige with a brown roof – registration 659 BOM. Several previous owners but seemed to be in reasonable condition, and £135, which was the equivalent of around 10 weeks of my wages at the time.
Of course, back then a 12 year old Mini was just an old car. Now of course, realising that “then” was 1971, that 12 year old Mini was an early 1959 model complete with floor mounted starter, dog leg gear stick and floor mounted dip switch. Worth a small fortune now, but sadly I suspect long gone to the great scrapyard in the sky.
Shortly after getting the Mini several mates and I came back from the Racing Motor Show with lots and lots of stickers – Castrol, STP, Esso, Duckhams etc etc which I proceeded to cover the Mini with! I thought it looked really cool; my manager at the bank where I worked was less impressed and asked me to park it out of sight of our customers.
Over the next year or so 659 BOM (affectionately known as “The Bomb”) provided regular service with only the occasional breakdown, usually during heavy rain. Anyone who’s had an early Mini will understand why!
Then one day, on the way to the girlfriend's house, I lost all gears except reverse. The nice AA man towed me home, and at the weekend my Dad took his brand new Triumph GT6 Mk 3 out of the garage (it only usually came out at the weekends) and we pushed the Mini in backwards. To cut to the chase, bonnet off, front subframe unbolted, we lifted the front of the Mini and pushed the body to the back of the garage. Engine and box separated, we rebuilt the gearbox on the garage floor over many long evenings and weekends with guidance from the Haynes manual.
Whilst sitting on the garage floor with the ‘box at my feet, I began to ponder tidying up The Bomb. So off came all the stickers and the paint was flatted (mostly to get rid of all the adhesive residues). Now at that time I had an uncle who worked at Standard Triumph as a paint sprayer, whilst my dad worked at Massey Ferguson as a maintenance electrician. So when The Bomb finally hit the road once more, it was now Tractor Red with a matt black bonnet and boodlid (and a few new stickers!)
Sometime later I added a black vinyl roof, bought as a kit from the girlfriends mother’s Kays catalogue at 50p a week! I used to spend every Saturday morning at the local scrappies, climbing through the wrecks looking for anything I could add to the Mini. I got lucky one time with a newly arrived Mk2 Jaguar and along with the switch panel I took most of the gauges as well. These I fitted to a plywood dash panel in the Mini along with other toggle switches, most of which did nothing! I also fell lucky when someone I worked with at the bank, who also had a Mini, offered me a set of five reverse rim Mini Cooper S wheels that just needed a repaint. For free!!
The Mini provided a further year or so of fun transport, including holidays to Wales and Cornwall (that journey used to take over 12 hours!) The girlfriend and I slept in it on a Welsh beach once, did “other” things in it (it is possible in a Mini, but only if you’re young and flexible) and generally had good times with The Bomb.
However, the girlfriend decided one day that “we” needed something bigger (she didn’t drive) following our recent new status as “engaged”, so the Mini was sold and I bought a C reg Herald Estate in Conifer Green with a white stripe. But more on that next time!
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