by Jim Lodder
My second Mini was not quite as old as The Bomb – this one (5577 HP) was a 1961 model! Not quite as expensive as a 1959 one these days, but not far off. It was a real bargain though. A bit tatty and rough round the edges, with both front wings in Red Oxide primer, but it was only £35! Another 850cc model, I originally intended to “do it up” but a change of job and a lack of finances prevented this, so I just had to keep it maintained.
Around this time my parents had bought a holiday caravan in mid Wales, so most weekends I used to head for Wales with a mate or two in the Mini, whilst the parents sped ahead in the GT6. They used to do it in around 2 ½ hours, I used to take nearer 3 ½ ! One weekend the exhaust manifold cracked whilst in Wales – I “repaired” it with a baked bean can and 2 jubilee clips. It stayed together as far as Warwick, almost home!
Shortly after this, my parents returned from Wales one weekend to announce that they had decided to give up their well paid jobs, sell the house, and move to mid-Wales permanently where they were going to buy the shop on the caravan site and make their fortunes. Did I want to go with them, or did I want to buy the house and stay there?
With hindsight probably should have done the latter rather than the former, but hindsight is a great thing! So armed with the knowledge that I was going to be living at the seaside in the near future, I sold 5577 HP and bought…………….. an ex British Army Austin Champ!
The Champ was a real hoot, limited to 55 mph despite having a 2.8 litre Rolls Royce engine under the big bonnet. And around 15 miles to the gallon! To get from Coventry to mid Wales required a tankful of petrol plus the reserve in the jerry can on the back; plus it took most of the day. It only sported a canvas hood, no side screens, so the horizontal Welsh rain soaked me through to the bone.
Once settled in my caravan with the Champ proudly parked outside, it started to unexpectedly earn a living! The slipway down to the beach was quite steep, with a bit of a drop at the bottom during low tide and the beach was mostly shingle. Once word got round that the Champ was mine I started to get lots of people asking me to tow their boat trailers down to the sea, and subsequently back onto dry land again, for a bit of “petrol money”. Turned out to be quite a lucrative hobby.
Plus on one occasion I dragged a stranded Vauxhall Cresta off the beach – never did get to the bottom of why the owner thought it was a good idea to try driving onto there in the first place though. Of course I soon found out how much fun could be had actually driving the thing in the sea! As it had a 5 speed box with a transfer box that selected forward or reverse motion, it was possible to drive as fast backwards as it was forwards. Changing gears whilst reversing was a bizarre experience!
Inevitably within a few short years the body tub disintegrated because of the salt water and the poor old Champ got scrapped. In the meantime my Dad had bought an Austin Maxi that then became my daily transport. It was an early one, with the cable operated gear change……………
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