Always Worth Saying’s Car Review, Part Two

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
As if a plastic, metal and rubber spouse.
Automotive storage facility,
Peter Broomfield
Unsplash Licence

The businessman’s businessman, over the phone Mr Thrifty confided since the pandemic I was only his 6th customer. They now rent to trade and for insurance purposes rather than to passing trade or to those of us who have happy memories of cheapo sporty cars on empty roads during the pandemic.

Busy with the vans and courtesy cars he wouldn’t be offended if I came to pick up my rental at a different time and on a different day than booked on the internet. Fair enough, I’ll drive it about more.

Rendezvousing at the barbed wire beside the bypass in the middle of a cold February night, I recounted the grisly tale I told Puffins last time. Thirty years of happy motoring literally went crunch during storm Isha when my trampoline took off and hit my Polo. ‘Thirty years happy motoring in a Polo?’ wondered Mr Thrifty with suspision. No, no, I used to drive Benzes. Me, snooker’s young Steven Hendry and a line of big gipsies would queue up at the midnight registration change to buy our new cars from a Debatable Lands’ third-generation family-owned franchise. Pop and trays of sandwiches may also have been involved, bunches of flowers for the ladies certainly were.

Much is changed. For a start, who are these shady characters with carrier bags bulging with crimson Scottish hundreds? Tell them to put their pennies away, open the app and click on a 2-year PCP with balloon payment – or something like that. While you’re at it, phone the money laundering Stasi and report your treasured customers.

‘The nice Steven Hendry?’ you ask, ‘Queuing up with the villains?’ Because of his age and his fellow countrymen’s driving, it was rumoured the King of The Crucible, Auchterarder’s canny Golden Bairn, strayed south of the border for insurance purposes.

My first car was a Mini, inherited when my mother died. Liking the trains and the buses, having a bike and not being frightened of walking, I’d never thought of learning to drive. You can’t miss what you’ve never done. I would sell it. This was in the days when your phone number appeared in Exchange and Mart amongst the adverts for mail-order live crocodiles, Thai brides and ammunition.

I fielded some strange calls, including one from a gentleman who wanted me to get my D reg 998cc Mini City E from Cumbria to Cornwall on the off-chance his daughter might like the look of it.

The road of least resistance proved to be taking lessons and joining the normies in their tin cans on the tarmac. After a wobbly start, I got the hang of such things and passed my test on the second attempt – according to me. Not according to an uncooperative examiner who failed me because next month’s bookings were thin. Whereas all the girls who failed would burst into tears and give up, all the boys booked another test. However, I bear no grudge against the driving examiner community. Far from it. I owe them my life.

I failed my first test with distinction. No complaints. Instructed to turn right across a lane of traffic at the next controlled junction, I spotted a green light but not the blank filter below. The examiner applied his emergency brake as the biggest lorry in the world approached at speed.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Not mine but the same model and colour.
1987 Austin Mini 1000 City E,
Kieran white
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a right of passage which all newly qualified Mini drivers must cross. A lesson to be learned. In fact, you’re not a paid-up member of the Mini club until this happens to you. As every former owner will tell you, the car proved to be a totty magnet. Soon I was doing my courting with a young Mrs AWS. After one particular night on the tiles, we let ourselves into the car and sat. Something didn’t feel right.

A furry dice? The speedometer in the middle, old style, rather than in front of the driver, 1987 style? Important Mini initiation – after not a lot of wear and tear on the lock, any Mini key will open any Mini car. Pretend it hasn’t happened. Let yourself out. Stand tall. Walk towards where you parked your own and hope someone else hasn’t driven off in it.

After we married and my wife was expecting, we needed something with four doors and a boot. I set off to buy an Astra but en route walked past an impressive black Benz on a plinth. I couldn’t resist. One of the franchise’s family owners approached. A salesman of the old school, Bob could sell sand to the Arabs while Eskimos queued around the block in anticipation of the next delivery of snow. A test drive sealed the deal.

An automatic, you didn’t have to change gears let alone listen to the gearbox whine between them. Water didn’t come up through the floor. When you turned off the ignition and removed the key, the engine stopped, whereas the Mini’s kept on running and could only be halted by a stall.

One assumed no need to adjust the carburettor before a push to an emissions test, a push out of the test and a re-adjustment to the carburettor before driving away with a pass.

As for the haggling.

‘One to trade in, sir?’ Asked Bob.

I pointed.

‘The burgundy BMW? Nice to look at but I wouldn’t have one.’

‘No, there.’

‘The British Racing Green XJ6? Somebody bought one?’

‘No, between the BMW and the Jaguar.’

‘Mr Bean’s yellow Mini?’

‘You couldn’t be more wrong,’ I contradicted him, cutting him to the quick. I quoted by memory from the log book, ‘British Leyland Motor Corporation champagne, don’t you know.’

That’ll teach him to mess with a Mini man. And it’s still about. No doubt the Mercedes is too, although providing granny-with-sack-of-corn taxi rides along country lanes in Bulgaria as the mileage touches 300,000. No, if you type the plate in, my old Mini is still registered. Although all and sundry wanted me to ‘improve’ it, I kept it in ex-works condition as if moments ago pushed by management onto a Longbridge trailer during a strike.

As such, I would suggest it stayed in the trade, and either somebody from the Mercedes franchise or someone from something similar nearby gave it a knowledgeable and loving home.

‘In which case,’ replied a glassy-eyed Mr Thrifty in between yawns, ‘You can have one of these.’ He disappeared down the lot and returned with …

To be continued…

© Always Worth Saying 2024