As UK motor dealers get set for the biggest month of the year for registrations, and hundreds of thousands of motorists prepare to take delivery of a new car, Andy Russell kicks off a new features series – My First Car.
It was one of those offers you could not refuse – sell your beloved motorcycle and buy your mother’s car.
It was a mother’s way of forcing her only son to switch from two to four wheels but the downside was swapping my Honda 400 Four – a real collectors’ bike nowadays – for a Mini 1000. The upside was that my motorbike was off the road, being repaired after a car took me out, and all I had to pay my mother for her three-year-old Mini was what I sold the bike for… and when I eventually got it back! No brainer.
So £625 eventually bought me a one lady owner, 20,000-mile red Mini – registration RNG 844R – probably worth double that. It was officially my first car but one I knew well, having learned to drive in it and an identical Mini at British School of Motoring, now BSM.
The Mini may have been dull compared to a motorcycle but it was preferable to being soaked in wet weather, frozen in winter weather and blown all over the road in windy weather. And it was much easier for carrying camping gear for weekends away.
But, with the car travelling considerably further than when my mother owned it, a few desirable extras were needed.
Mother has never been one for listening to the radio, especially in a car, so the fact the Mini did not come with one had never worried her but it did me. The biggest dilemma was where to fit it with no proper dashboard and that big central speedo, and fuel gauge and temperature gauge on the 1000 version, and a little shelf each side.
So my sound system – a cheap radio/cassette – was bolted beneath one of those shelves. It had to be on the passenger side so it did not smack into my legs, despite them being short, which meant the driver having to lean over to the passenger side in order to change radio channels or cassettes and, while doing so, ducking beneath the windscreen which was not ideal and certainly not safe! And the wires running to the speakers on the rear shelf all had to be hidden away – if not they were like trip wires for anyone squeezing into the back seats.
The lights left something to be desired too so a friend, who was good with electrics, fitted a pair of spotlights on to the front bumper but wired them so they could be switched on independently rather than having them come on with main beam headlights. They came into their own on dark, deserted country roads and made driving in deepest Norfolk much easier – just the job for a young junior reporter turning out at the dead of night.
At the time I was a Scout leader and mine was the car used by one of the fathers, who was a mechanic and stock car driver, for the boys to do their mechanics badge and I got mine too! With a little pre-planning on my anticipated mileage and that father’s availability, I could run a mechanics badge course twice a year and keep my Mini serviced and in tip-top order, complete with a shot of Redex into the carburettor air intake which created clouds of white exhaust smoke when fired up again, for just the price of the parts and oil.
I even persuaded the boys to give it a clean and polish, now all part of the customer service at many dealerships, so I was way ahead of the times! It helped that they really wanted their mechanics badge.
I kept the Mini for a couple of years and another 25,000 miles before selling it privately to a guy who worked at Hethel building Lotuses and wanted a runaround for his wife.
It’s the only car I didn’t lose money on… in fact I seem to remember selling it for a profit. But let’s keep mum about that in case mother wants a top-up payment.
Tell me about your first car. Email the story and picture to firstname.lastname@example.org