Colour Family Album

Andrea and David Sparrow

Veloce Publishing PLC, 1997; bound with illustrated cloth boards and colour photos; rebound with one quarter leather, and slip case.

My first Mini will almost certainly be my last car.  What a way to go out!  Mine is almost identical to the Mini Cooper shown on the front and rear covers of this book – red with white stripes, roof, and mirror caps.  The cover also features a Britannica, with the Union Jack on the shield.  She has the kind of look on her face that people get walking to the dentist’s chair.  This may because she has been asked to pose with the helmet, spear and shield – and designer sun-glasses.  Well you also get a badge for the Rallye Monte-Carlo.  Could this vehicle come within the purview of that frightful word ‘iconic’?

I don’t know, but since I got mine, I can see why some people call it the poor man’s Ferrari.  It may only cost about one twentieth of a Ferrari, but you get personality and style – and raw driving pleasure.  I am far too old to claim the benefit of a mid-life crisis, but I am happy to admit to wallowing in one last fling.  I have not driven a Ferrari – and will sadly shuffle off this mortal coil marked by that virginity – but I suspect that those who do have a Ferrari know what it is like not just to provoke being looked at – but to invite and to get raw smiles.  You may be surprised how often people come up to you after you have parked your Mini and say – ‘I like your car, Mate,’ or ‘My Dad had one of those and can’t stop talking about it’, or ‘My young daughter has her heart set on a Mini’.  Even an eight year old girl outside my General Store said ‘Gee, I love that Mini Cooper.’  The man who I guess was her dad had probably put her up to it, but it was not a bad start to that day.  Why shouldn’t a charming car be the engine of goodwill among people?

The Mini was born in England in 1959.  It was then associated with two great names in British motoring – Austin and Morris – and it was owned by the British Motor Corporation.  In 1969 it came out in its own name.  For many reasons, not least its role in some movies, such as The Italian Job, it achieved something like a cult status that is still recalled by people of my age – and many a lot younger. 

Ownership of the marque moved from British Leyland to Rover to BMW.  As owners of Bentleys will tell you, there is a lot to be said for a car that has a German engine and English coachwork.  People who turn their noses up at the English component forget the long proud history of that nation in making motor cars.  They still make most of the cars that surround the engines of most F1 cars.  Motor racing does appeal to a very different demographic (social class, Old Boy) in England and Germany than in Australia.  You might be surprised where you will run into the most polite kind of petrol head.  You might even find some in our most discrete gentlemen’s clubs.

Most Minis now take part of their name from John Cooper.  He was a most extraordinary engineer, even by the high standards of those involved in British motor car engineering.  It was he who changed the face of motor sport at its fastest and highest levels by putting the engine behind the driver in Formula I and the Indianapolis 500.  ‘We certainly had no feeling that we were creating some scientific breakthrough!…We put the engine at the rear…because it was the practical thing to do’.  That is a definitively English remark. 

Cooper effected a similar revolution in ordinary motor car racing with the distinctive handling of the Mini.  Younger people may not be aware of the impact of this kind of car on that kind of racing.  It won rallies all round the world.  It even won at Bathurst, and it won the Dakar, perhaps the toughest competitive event in sport, for four years straight from 2012 to 2015.  Whichever way you look at it, the pedigree of the Mini Cooper is assured.  

This book speaks to most of all that, but I have the book for the pictures – including the mini-skirt – and a slice of English social history.  The Introduction reads:

Surely anyone in Britain who remembers the sixties will have fond memories of the Mini.  At some point in the sixties or seventies, you either owned one or learned to drive in one, dated someone with one, or sadly could not afford one.  If you were to be transported back to those heady days, of course, you could discover that the ride was not very comfortable, and that older models came with ‘free indoor rain’; that wasn’t the point.  In the sixties the Mini was not just a car, but part of a whole new way of life.  Post-war austerities had given way to new freedoms – of movement, of expression, and of views.  This was the car being seen increasingly on the streets, the car that was winning the Monte Carlo Rally, the car that everyone wanted.  The production life of the Mini has spanned three distinct eras [1997- pre BMW] – BMC, Leyland and Rover.  And woven into the first and last of these eras is the amazing Cooper success story.  Clearly the Mini has earned the accolade of a true classic.

Well, some of those older Ferraris were doubtless not that easy to handle, and the Mini Cooper you get now has none of characteristic problems of cars made half a century ago.  Rather the marriage of German and English history and engineering delivers an appealing hat trick – style (or charm), heft, and reliability; you may as well add economy; and history. 

If I have a philosophy, this car fits two of its premises very well.  The first is that I believe that God laid out a very handsome table for us all, and that courtesy requires that I should do all I can to enjoy what is on offer.  The second is that if you have worked hard and been paid for it, you should not hesitate to reward yourself.  In my view money is only of any use when you part with it to get back something that means more to you – either something that you need or that just gives raw pleasure.  There has to be more to life than work and money.  Or, as the German historian Theodor Mommsen said:

When a man no longer finds enjoyment in work, and works merely in order to attain enjoyment as quickly as possible, it is a mere accident that he does not become a criminal.

You can drive my Mini Cooper either in automatic or manually.  I took mine to the Grampians to test out the gearing on the sandy roads out the back – the terrain is typical of WRC rally tracks.  The locals told me it was too wet.  So, I went to the top of the biggest mountain on bitumen, and then, at the second attempt, came down without touching the brakes once.  When I got back home, I reported on this to two very distinguished and proper ladies of letters.  One of them replied:

Whee! My greatest car thrill was driving down the Stelvio – 27 hairpin bends, I think – into Italy. Took it as fast as I could. Loved it.

‘Whee!’, indeed.  There should be a lot more of it.  We could all be bloody dead tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “MY SECOND TOP SHELF – 42

  1. About ten years ago I was in Japan in March. On the last day of the trip we were driving through the mountains back to Tokyo when our host suggested that we stop at a restaurant where they cooked dumplings in trays over an open fire. As we approached, we saw that about 15 or so minis (original models) were parked along the road outside. All were pristine including at least one very handsome Cooper S. Inside their drivers were readily identifiable by their kit-driving shoes and perhaps the odd string back driving glove. Imagine all the tiny cars of domestic origin that they had to go past to end up driving a Mini in Japan!

    • Wonderful. I have string-backed driving gloves. I sold the Mini. I wanted one with a sunroof but BMW said it would take more than 12 months. I bought an Alfa. Probably the first real prestige car I have had. Just gorgeous. More power but less acceleration. The Mini cost me my licence. The Alfa tells me when I am above the local limit. Could have saved me a fortune. I could have bought a bloody Ferrari.

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