by Steve Favill
I had the mixed fortune of owning a 1975 Austin Maxi back in 1984. I didn’t own it for long, and this little tale explains why...
MOE 920P was a Maxi 1500, with the dreaded cable gearbox linkage which was about as precise as stirring a bowl of custard once the car reached a certain age. Mine had reached that age... with a little practice and patience one would usually be able to select the desired gear ratio, but this was not always guaranteed.
To add insult to injury, the driver’s seat back would not lock in place, and so the driver was able to develop his or her abs wonderfully whilst driving, and should you want to recline you just had to lean back. Yes, that wasn’t safe but the car was purchased from a mate of mine from work, and it was cheap, so I really shouldn’t complain.
Finished in a shade of burgundy with a beige vinyl interior, the car was roomy and it was perfectly reliable in the short time that I had it, and with three children including a new baby it did what I needed it to do.
I had a few adventures with the car which I won’t go into here, but they involved a police dog and keeping observations waiting for bad guys. Otherwise, the vehicle was completely unremarkable with the one exception - how it met its demise.
One afternoon in early summer of 1984, I had the day off work, and my wife was going to drove over to her parents’ house for a visit. As luck would have it I was in the front garden digging out weeds in the rose beds, and I paused to lean on my spade and watch her reversing off the drive.
She had reached the end of the driveway when I suddenly saw a flash of fire across the front of the car behind the grille, accompanied with the characteristic “whoomph” that always accompanies petrol igniting. I dropped the spade and ran towards the car, shouting for her to stop. Naturally looking behind whilst reversing, and having the radio on, my wife was unaware of anything being wrong, but luckily she glanced back, saw me and stopped. I opened her door, told her to get out of the car and why, then opened the rear door and unfastened our baby son.
Switching the engine off I then went inside and returned with our fire extinguisher from the house, as luck would have it, a dry-powder extinguisher. Without opening the bonnet (I remembered that was a bad thing to do) I emptied the extinguisher through the grille, and thankfully it put the fire out.
Of course the fire brigade show up a few minutes late and me being a copper, they thought the situation to be most amusing. They pry open the bonnet, cut the battery leads and douse the engine compartment just in case. There the poor Maxi sat until I could get it hauled away.
The insurance company wrote the car off, naturally, and with the proceeds I replaced it with a 1972 Triumph 2000 Mk2 Estate. In brown. But that’s another story.
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